Monday of the First Week of Lent
Jesus entering the desert as imagined by William Hole, 1908
Reading 1 Lv 19:1-2, 11-18
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.“You shall not steal.
You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another.
You shall not swear falsely by my name,
thus profaning the name of your God.
I am the LORD.“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.“You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD.“You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 19:8, 9, 10, 15
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
R. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Verse Before the Gospel 2 Cor 6:2b
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.
Gospel Mt 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46 from Living Space
Both of today’s readings deal with the way we ought to behave towards each other. The First Reading tells us the kinds of things we ought not to do while the Gospel emphasises more what we should be doing.
The Gospel is the great scene of the Last Judgment when all will face their Lord Jesus. We will be divided into sheep and goats – those who are with Jesus and those who are not. The criteria on which we will be judged are interesting. Nothing about the Ten Commandments (normally the matter of our confessions). Nothing about the things mentioned in the First Reading, which more or less reflect the contents of the Ten Commandments. There is nothing about what we normally call ‘religious obligations’ (e.g. being ‘at Mass’ on Sundays and holydays).
The test will be very simple. Did we love all our brothers and sisters or not? There is some discussion as to the identity of these ‘brothers and sisters’. Does it refer to all who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothes, in need of medical care or in jail or to a particular group? The passage may primarily be thinking of Christians, and especially Christian missionaries whose preaching brought them suffering and persecution. These were more likely, too, to end up in prison. To reject and abuse these people and their message is tantamount to rejecting Jesus himself.
However, we have traditionally extended the passage to include all who suffer in any way because of our neglect and we recognise Jesus as being present in these people in a special way.
And the things we are supposed to do are so simple: give food to Jesus hungry and drink to Jesus thirsty; to clothe Jesus naked; to visit Jesus sick and Jesus in jail. And naturally people will ask: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison?” And the Judge will answer: “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me.” Whether we realise it or not, every time we spontaneously take care of a brother or sister in need it is Jesus himself we are serving.
Notice: You did it TO me, not FOR me. Jesus identifies himself especially with the person in need. Every time we neglect to help a brother or sister in need, we neglect Jesus himself. Our worst sins, our most dangerous sins will be our sins of omission. We can keep the 10 Commandments perfectly and still fail here. The next time we examine our conscience let us think about that.
From The Abbot
The Gospel from Matthew brings us to the image of the judgment. Using this image, Matthew makes clear that it is a judgment based on our love and care for others. This is where we are to focus our attention in this life: love and care of others, especially for those who have most needs.
Lectio Divina from the Carmelites . Reflection
The Son of man:
The Son of man is a Semitic expression that simply means a human being (see for instance the parallelism between “man” and “son of man” in Psalm 8:5). The book of Ezekiel often uses this term with this meaning when God addresses himself to the prophet as “son of man” (2:1, 3, 6, 8; 3: 1, 2, 4, 10, 16+) in order to emphasize the distance between God who is transcendent and the prophet who is but a man. However, in Daniel 7:13-14 the expression acquires a special meaning.
The prophet sees “coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man” who receives from God “sovereignty, glory and kingship”. This text is still talking of a human being who, however, is introduced into the sphere of God. The text has been interpreted both in a personal and a collective sense, but always in a messianic sense. Thus, whether we are dealing with one person or with all of the People of God, the Son of man is the Messiah who gives rise to the Realm of God, an eternal and universal realm.
The application of the term “Son of man” to Jesus as it is used in Daniel 7:13-14 is very common in the Gospels. We also find it in Acts 7:56 and the Apocalypse 1:13 and 14:14. Scholars think that Jesus gave himself this title. In the Gospel of Matthew this term is attributed to Jesus especially when he speaks of his passion (17:12, 22; 20:18, 28)), his resurrection as an eschatological event (17: 19; 26:64) and his glorious return (24:30 and 25:31, the beginning of our text).
● Jesus king, judge and shepherd:
Matthew also gives Jesus the title of king (1:23; 13:41; 16:28; 20:21). The kingship of God is a theme very dear to the Bible. Because Jesus is the Son of God, he rules together with the Father. In our text the king is Jesus, but he exercises his royal power in close relationship with the Father. The elect are “blessed of my Father” and the realm to which they are invited is the realm prepared for them by God, as the passive form of the verb indicates. This form of the verb, called the divine passive, is often found in the Bible and always has God as its implicit subject. In this text, the realm points to eternal life.
As in Daniel 7 (see especially verses 22, 26 and 27), in our text also the royal status of the Son of man is connected with the judgement. The king, especially in ancient times, has always been considered the supreme judge. The judgement that Jesus exercises is a universal judgement, a judgement that involves all peoples (see v.32). And yet it is not a collective judgement. It is not the peoples that are judged but individual persons.
In the same way, the pastoral symbolism is connected with the royal status. In ancient times, the king was often presented as shepherd of his people. The Old Testament too speaks of God, king of Israel, as shepherd (see for instance Psalm 23, Is 40:11; Ez 34) and the New Testament also applies the title to Jesus (Mt 9:36; 26:31; Jn 10). The shepherds of the Holy Land, in the time of Jesus, shepherded mixed flocks of sheep and goats. However, at night they were separated because sheep sleep in the open while goats prefer to sleep under shelter. In our text the sheep represent the elect because of their superior financial value over goats and because of their white colour that often stands for salvation in the Bible.
● The least of my brethren:
Traditionally, this Gospel passage was interpreted to mean that Jesus identified himself with the poor and marginalized. Jesus will judge everyone, and especially those who have not had the chance to know his Gospel, according to the mercy they have shown towards the needy. All have the opportunity to welcome or reject him, if not personally, at least in the person of the needy with whom Jesus identifies himself.
Modern exegesis tends to read the text in a more ecclesiological sense. It is placed next to Matthew 10:40-42 and exegetes insist that it is not a question of philanthropy but of a response to the Gospel of the Realm that is spread by Jesus’ brethren, even the most insignificant of them, not by the leaders of the Church only.
The nations, that is the pagans, are therefore invited to welcome the disciples of Jesus who preach the Gospel to them and suffer for its sake, as if they were welcoming Jesus himself. Christians on their part are invited to practise generous hospitality towards their brothers who are itinerant preachers of the Gospel and who suffer persecution (see 2Jn 5-8). In this manner they would show the authenticity of their commitment as disciples.
In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, this latter interpretation is probably more accurate. However, in the context of the whole of the Bible (see for instance Is 58:7; Jer 2:1-9; 1Jn 3:16-19) the first interpretation cannot be set aside entirely.
The Messiah-King promotes justice and peace
Give the king thy justice,
O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge thy people with righteousness,
and thy poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon,
throughout all generations!
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may righteousness flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May his foes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!
For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.
Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field!
May his name endure for ever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May men bless themselves by him,
all nations call him blessed!
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth! Amen and Amen!
Lord God, you have set Jesus, your Son, to be universal king and judge. He will come at the end of time to judge all the nations. He comes to us every day in a thousand ways and asks us to welcome him. We meet him in the Word and in the broken bread. But we also meet him in our broken brothers and sisters, disfigured by hunger, oppression, injustice, sickness and the stigma of our society. Open our hearts that we may welcome him today in our lives so that we may be welcomed by him in the eternity of his realm.
We ask this through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
CHARITY AS THE SOUL OF HOLINESS AND HOLINESS AS THE PRE-REQUISITE OF MISSION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: LEV 19:1-2.11-18; MT 25:31-46
The first four days of Lent immediately after Ash Wednesday give an overall orientation to the whole season of Lent. There are actually two parts to the celebration of Lent. The first four weeks of Lent are concerned with the deepening of the Christian’s spiritual life. It is only from the fifth week of Lent and the Holy Week that the Church begins to focus on the passion of Christ. This is important as it gives us the right perspective to approaching Lent.
But what is the purpose of deepening our spiritual life? Today, the liturgy touches on the fundamental calling of every Christian, which is the call to holiness. Indeed, this is what spiritual life is all about. The goal of Christian living is holiness. But why is holiness our goal? As the first reading tells us, we are called to be holy for God is holy. “The Lord spoke to Moses; he said: ‘speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” So the call to holiness is fundamental to every Christian. If we want to find fullness of life, then holiness is the only way. To be holy is to be like God, as the Lord told Moses and the Israelites.
To be holy is to recover the likeness of God that we have lost through sin. Because of sin and the lack of holiness, we live not as children of God but as slaves of Satan and his works. Necessarily, striving for holiness should be a priority in our hearts. Indeed, if we are to present the face of Christ to others, being the other Christ, then holiness is for us to reflect Christ in our lives.
How do we know we have grown in holiness? Lest we think that holiness is something purely vertical and sentimental, the liturgy reminds us that holiness is essentially the perfection of charity. The measure of holiness is not by how much time we spend in prayer, but how much we have grown in love for the Lord, which is measured by our love for others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it ‘governs, shapes and perfects all the means of sanctification.’” St. John of the Cross reminds us that we will be judged on the degree and the quality of our love for God and for man.
St. Teresa of Avila says that the Lord asks only two things of us: love for His Majesty and love of our neighbor. However, she cautioned that the surest way that we know we are loving God is when we love our neighbors. She said, “We cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reasons for believing that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor.”
Furthermore, she assures us that when we increase in our love for our neighbors, we will love God even more, and He will increase His love in us.
This charity however must be seen in three dimensions. The fundamental level of charity is justice. In the first reading from Leviticus, charity is explained in terms of justice, what we must not do to our neighbors, like cheating, stealing, swearing falsely, slander and jeopardizing their lives and happiness. Of course, charity is not to be seen in terms of not doing evil but not omitting the good we should do. Furthermore, charity must not be confined to love of our friends and people whom we know. Loving and caring for those whom we know is still on the level of human love. True charity requires that we go beyond extending help to our friends and loved ones to those whom we do not know as well. This is the height of charity that the Lord invites us to in today’s gospel.
That is why the third dimension of charity which is extended to those whom we do not know is intimately connected with mission. The call to holiness is closely connected to mission. It is a call to reach out to everyone regardless of race or religion. Pope John Paul II reminds us: “The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness and to mission.” There is no genuine holiness apart from the mission to care for the spiritual and material good of others.
Consequently, Christian charity is more than just social work. Rather, it is to bring Christ to others. The parable in today’s gospel underscores that Christian service is not simply charitable work but rather, the service of our neighbours is performed with a supernatural motive, which is for the love of Christ who lives in our neighbours. In doing good, we are called to meet Christ in the needy and at the same time, to bring Christ to those whom we serve. This presupposes that we can see Christ in others. This is our spiritual goal in life.
When we apply this to our own lives, it is important that we reflect on which level of charity we are at. I suspect many of us are still only living out the level of justice and love for our neigbours, meaning our friends and loved ones. On the level of justice, we are respectful of the privacy of others. We do our part in the community. In this way, we do justice to the Church. On the level of charity towards others, we are kind and helpful to those who are closer to us. We feel with them and help them.
But if our charity remains on these two levels, then we have not arrived at the heart of charity, which is to reach out to those who are complete strangers to us. The truth is that it is in strangers that Christ is most present, especially if that stranger is in need. It is perhaps this level of charity that we need to reflect for ourselves since Christ died for us sinners and for all. But more importantly, how often do we forget the purpose of our mission, which is ultimately to bring others to Christ by inviting them to a life of holiness.
Let us seek inspiration from a story in the life of Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier and still seeking the true faith. One day, he met a man in the freezing cold without clothes begging for alms. He took pity on him, cut his coat in two and gave half to the stranger. That same night he dreamt of Jesus appearing with a torn cloak. When one of the angels asked him, “Master, why do you wear that battered cloak?” Jesus replied, “My servant Martin gave it to me.” After this vision, Martin got baptised immediately.
– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/reflections/#sthash.mKVRVHbH.dpuf