1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

1 Peter
2 Peter

Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics

War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2


Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2019


Sundays, 1-34, A
Sundays, 1-34, B
Sundays, 1-34, C

(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)

Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)

Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

Saints Days


Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Weekdays, Year 1
Weeks 12-22

Week 12


Week 13


Week 14


Week 15


Week 16


Week 17


Week 18


Week 19


Week 20


Week 21


Week 22


Mass Readings as in Irish Liturgical Calendar.
Homilies from ACP website, (Liturgy)

Week 12, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 12

1st Reading: Genesis 12:1-9

God calls Abram to "go to the land that I will show you." This brings a blessing on all mankind

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

Responsorial: Psalm 32:12-13, 18-20, 22

R./: The just will live in the presence of the Lord

They are happy, whose God is the Lord,
  the people he has chosen as his own.
From the heavens the Lord looks forth,
  he sees all the children of men. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
  on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
  to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
  The Lord is our help and our shield.
May your love be upon us, O Lord,
  as we place all our hope in you. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 7:1-5

As we judge others, God will judge us

Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is 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 neighbour's eye."


Faith like Abraham's

Abram's call by God to leave home an move to another country marks the beginning of Israel's salvation history. His response, when this rugged nomad migrated to the land of promise eventually brought a great blessing for everyone on earth. The mystery of divine providence cannot be explained in any logical way, why some are chosen and others seem (relatively) unchosen. The classic explanation is offered by Deuteronomy, where Moses says: "It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery" (Deut 7:7-8). From this text we see that God's basic requirement of them was a sense of humble gratitude.

Abram left Haran in upper Syria, going into an unknown land and leaving behind his relatives and his home and everything he knew, for the sake of a promise and a blessing. Even the new land was also to remain promised, never completely possessed. God said to Israel, "The land is mine; you are but aliens who have become my tenants" (Lev 25:23). Land was to be shared, so that no one would be homeless among God's people. Never to possess it absolutely, but always to receive as a gift meant that Israel was to be "the smallest of all nations."

The ideals of love and humility are implicit in today's Gospel. The humble person cannot be judgmental towards others. If we dare to judge their neighbours, they may turn out to be more righteous than ourselves. Humble people will not lose the promised land, the divine blessing promised to Abraham. Humility towards God sparks in us a spirit of kindliness towards our neighbour. To inherit what was promised to Abraham we need to respect the earth and preserve the environment, be disposed to think well of our neighbour, and be generous in sharing with them the blessings of God that we have received.

A humorous comparison

We don't often think of Jesus as using humour in his teaching. A real sense of mischievous humour comes across in today's the odd picture he paints (amusing because it is so incongruous) of a man with a plank in his eye struggling to remove a splinter from someone else's eye. Behind the humour there is a serious message. We must beware of tendency to be harsh about the failings of others while being blind to our own failings. Finger-wagging at the perceived failings of others is a real temptation.

In a recent exchange on television between a bishop and a newspaper correspondent, I was watching the body-language of both of them. What remained with me after the programme was not what either of them said but the sight of each wagging his finger at the other, at regular intervals. The Lord wants us to examine ourselves carefully before turning the spotlight of criticism on others. We need to be in touch with our own humanity before we offer a judgment on others, and then the more we know ourselves the less inclined we will be to accuse others of bad faith.

Tuesday of Week 12

1st Reading: Genesis 13:2, 5-18

The herdsmen of Abram and Lot quarrel, and the two groups go their separate ways

Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together, and there was strife between the herders of Abram’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, "Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left." Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward; thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you."

So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 14:2-5

Response: The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice and speaks the truth from his heart;
he who does not slander with his tongue. (R./)

He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord.

He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 7:6, 12-14

Various warnings, towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you."

"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it; but the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."


Coping with Success

People often flourish better while working hard on a meaningful project, than if they had too much leisure and too little to do. People who work hard in developing a business, a farm, or a family inheritance, can enjoy more sense of achievement than the next generation who simply receive the profit of their parents’ work on a golden platter. We tend to make our worst mistakes when we have the money and the leisure to do so, and even family members turn against each other in the flush of prosperity.

Abram’s story  shows a way out of this impasse. His first goal was not wealth, prestige, honour or security, but peace. Amiably he says to Lot, "Let there be no strife between your herdsmen and mine, for we are relatives." With dignity and love and a strong sense of family, he makes the gracious offer: "If you prefer the left, I will go to the right; if you prefer the right, I will go to the left." Abram shows flexibility and good judgment, an approach that illustrates the advice of Jesus, not to toss your pearls before swine, or to follow the wide and easy way to a meaningless existence.

Through the narrow gate

The images of the narrow gate and the hard road suggest that discipleship can be a challenging path to follow. While one can saunter through a wide gate without a second thought, to get through a narrow gate we must concentrate and focus our attention. It takes commitment to get through such a narrow gap. Being a true follower of Jesus requires all of our goodwill.

The word "narrow" is generally pejorative. We like to think of ourselves as broad-minded. No one wants to be considered narrow-minded. But the gospel calls for a certain narrowing of focus in following Christ, excluding some pathways that are easy and well trodden. Saying "yes" to Christ’s way requires saying "no" to selfish ways. But any "narrowing down" and self-denial in the following of Jesus ultimately leads to a great expansiveness, a full sharing of God’s life. What lies beyond the narrow gate has a length, breath, width and depth which surpasses knowledge.

Wednesday of Week 12

1st Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

God’s promise of descendants to Abraham is renewed

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the Lord came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; nobody but your very own issue shall be your heir."

He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. AbrahamOn that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

Responsorial: Psalm 104:1-4, 6-9

Response: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
O sing to him, sing his praise;
tell all his wonderful works! (R./)

Be proud of his holy name,
let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
Consider the Lord and his strength;
constantly seek his face. (R./)

O children of Abraham, his servant,
O sons of the Jacob he chose.
He, the Lord, is our God:
his judgements prevail in all the earth. (R./)

He remembers his covenant for ever,
his promise for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 7:15-20

A warning against false prophets

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits."


Tried, tested and approved

When judging a tree by its fruit, Jesus was speaking like a countryman who has often seen his neighbours harvesting olives and other fruits. He knew how the produce of a tree could be improved by careful cultivation and timely pruning. Extending the analogy, we know that generally a tree does not die in a single moment but rather decays gradually from within. Such a fruitless tree can cause disappointment and frustration.

Such was the trial of Abram. When after long years of marriage Sarah has conceived no child, he complained to God, "What good will your gifts be, if I have nobody to inherit them but the steward of my house, Eliezer?" The long testing of Abram’s confidence was getting the better of him. Why keep on hoping against hope (Rom 4:18)? His dream not only churned up his doubts but also helped him persevere in hope. After dividing the sacrificial animals on two sides, he saw a smoking brazier and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. When the birds of prey swooped down, Abram had to stay with the sacrifice and drive off the birds. Even though doubts and hesitation threatened his faith, he clung on and persevered.

In the symbols of smoke and fire, the Lord passed between the divided animals, whose blood, flowing on the altar, symbolised the bond of life between God and his servant Abram. At this spiritual sign, Abram shared his agony with God, and he believed — not merely with intellectual assent but with a surrender of his whole self and his ambitions, to the living God. Abraham became like a tree that bore good fruit, retaining its health and vigor all through the years!

Judge them by their fruits

What a gap there can be between appearance and reality. Just as there is more to some people than meets the eye,  others may turn out to be less than they first seemed. Jesus warns against false leaders whose ambitions are quite the opposite to what they promise. Outwardly they may look like sheep but underneath they are ravenous wolves. The suave image they project is false and deceptive. What we really desire is not always what others might think. Fro Jesus, the real test of our heart’s desire is the kind of fruit that our lives bear. ‘You will be able to tell them by their fruits.’

St Paul also uses the image of ‘fruit’ when, in his letter to the Galatians, he lists the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ — ‘love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ The practical effects of the Spirit can be described in all these different ways; but the key fruit is ‘love.’ If our lives bear that kind of fruit, we are like the ‘sound tree’ Jesus speaks about.


Thursday of Week 12

1st Reading: Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16

Hagar is driven out, but an angel is sent to rescue her

Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, "You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!" But Abram said to Sarai, "Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please." Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the desert, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, "Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" She said, "I am running away from my mistress Sarai." The angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit to her." The angel of the Lord also said to her, "I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude." And the angel of the Lord said to her, "Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin."

Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Responsorial: Psalm 105:1-5

Response: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good;
for his great love is without end.
Who can tell the Lord’s mighty deeds?
Who can recount all his praise? (R./)

They are happy who do what is right,
who at all times do what is just.
O Lord, remember me
out of the love you have for your people. (R./)

Come to me, Lord, with your help
that I may see the joy of your chosen ones
and may rejoice in the gladness of your nation
and share the glory of your people. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 7:21-29

Hearing God’s word and acting upon it

Jesus said to his disciples,
"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!"

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.


Working for justice and peace

In the culture of their time, Abram and Sarah hoped for children as the surest way to provide for their old age. After years of childless marriage, Sarah turned in desperation to the local custom of getting another woman as surrogate, to bear her a child. However, when the maidservant Hagar conceives, she scorns her mistress for being childless; and Sarah blamed this on Abram. Since it was the wife’s place to control the female house servants, Abram tries to solve the problem by opting out, "Your maid is in your power. Do to her whatever you please." We may frown at both Abram and Sarah in this case. But God showed compassion and cared for Hagar and her child Ishmael. This child too was promised protection and a future that was to bring much trouble to Abram’s other offspring. Even today, the Arab descendants of Ishmael, and the Jewish descendants of Isaac are deeply antagonistic.

Weighty problems often begin when people act too hastily, without regard for the feelings of others. Like Abram we can opt out of a difficult situation and disown our responsibility. Or like Sarah we can be driven by envy and spite. Yet, even amid painful consequences of our faults we need to recognize the purifying hand of God. This story was written for our instruction.

The Spirit of God can change our perspective so that our former enemy is seen as actually a neighbour, a fellow-member of our human family, just as Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, and Isaac, the father of the Jews, were both sons of Abraham. The eucharist that unites us around the Lord’s table reminds us of our larger family ties, for in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal 3:28).

Our neighbourliness must go deeper than words. It’s not enough to simply say "my brother, my sister" or "Lord, Lord!" Or to think we have done justice to our neighbour by one single act of goodwill. A house of mere words will not last; it is built on sand and will be easily washed away at the next storm. Jesus calls us to do the will of our heavenly Father, his Father and ours. We enter the kingdom of God, the secure house of faithful love, by doing the will of God continuously and faithfully.

The two houses

When they were newly built, the two houses in the parable looked quite alike. A casual observer would hardly notice any difference between them. Yet, there was a crucial, invisible difference that was all too visible when the storm struck. For the houses were built on very different foundations. One house was set on rock, and safely withstood the storm, and the other collapsed because it was built on sand. As things turned out, the invisible foundations were more significant all that what was visible above ground.

The same can apply to how our lives are built, in a spiritual sense. Two lives can look much the same, whereas one reasts on shakier ground than the other. For Jesus, the surest foundation for living is to hear and follow his word. He is the rock and if we build our lives on him, on his values and attitudes, our lives will be solidly rooted and we will come through whatever come our way.


Friday of Week 12

1st Reading: Genesis 17:1, 9-10, 15-22

Abram's name is changed. The promised child will be God's special gift

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram again, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless." God said to Abraam, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

God said to Abraham, "As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, "Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" And Abraham said to God, "O that Ishmael might live in your sight!" God said, "No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year." And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

Responsorial: Psalm 127:1-5

R./: See how the Lord blesses those who fear him

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
  and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper. (R./)

Your wife like a fruitful vine
  in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
  around your table. (R./)

Indeed thus shall be blessed
  the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
  all the days of your life! (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 8:1-4

A leper is touched and cured by Jesus

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean." He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."


Compassion and the law

Some laws are fundamental while others may be disregarded, in certain circumstance. When Jesus cured the man of a contagious skin disease, he reminded him, "See to it that you tell no one. Go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses prescribed.." We may ask, couldn't the priests get along without the gift from a poor man who had very little to spare? But the required gift was very small, and it served to show that the former outcast was welcome back join the community. The leper would be allowed back into the temple and synagogue, after years of enforced absence. He would have his self-respect and dignity restored.

Laws are sometimes also disregarded, for good reason. Tradition forbade a devout Jew to touch anyone legally unclean; and lepers were among the most untouchable of all. On hearing the leper's passionate plea, "Sir, if you want to, you can cure me!" Jesus chose to ignore that prohibition, and with deep compassion touched the man, and cured him. That gesture made Jesus ceremonially unclean and would keep him from entering the house of God until he made amends. This was not a disdainful breaking of the law; Jesus went around or above it, giving priority to the supreme law of compassion. One must keep laws in the spirit of their originator, which is the merciful God.

This same merciful God finally gave Abraham and Sarah what they had longed for. Where hope continues to spring up, "Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing" (Ps 126:5). The elderly couple will give birth to new life. Such are the ways of a compassionate God.

No untouchables

Lepers in antiquity were the great untouchables. Through touch, their disease could pass to other members of the community. The law demanded that lepers lives apart, with only other lepers for company. But Jesus did not hesitate to touch the leper. He did not fear to be contaminated by that outreach, rather, his touch would heal the leper. The man had approached Jesus with the very tentative request, "If you want to, you can cure me." But there was nothing tentative about Jesus' response, "Of course I want to. Be made clean!"

The story shows how Jesus does not hesitate to touch us, even the damaged parts of our lives. The Lord has no fear of being contaminated by us. He enters fully into the darker places of our experience, with his healing, life-giving presence. His concern for our well-being knows no barriers. The Lord wants to touch us just as we are, not as we should be or could be. But we need to approach him with trust, as the leper did, "Lord, if you want to, you can cure me."

Saturday of Week 12

1st Reading: Genesis 18:1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on - since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" The Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh."

Responsorial: Luke 1:46-50, 53-55

R./: The Lord has remembered his mercy

My soul glorifies the Lord,
  my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.
He looks on his servant in her nothingness;
  henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me.
  Holy his name! (R./)

His mercy is from age to age,
  on those who fear him.
He fills the starving with good things,
  sends the rich away empty. (R./)

He protects Israel, his servant,
  remembering his mercy,
the mercy promised to our fathers,
  for Abraham and his sons for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-17

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and cure him." The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it." When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; let it be done for you according to your faith." And the servant was healed in that hour.

When Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.

That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases."


Answering need

Whenever Jesus encountered a sick person, his compassion came to the fore. The one needing help might be a foreigner, even an officer of the hated Roman occupation force, or a leper, a poor widow, a demented person roaming the countryside or someone he knew, like Peter's mother-in-law. Regardless of the person's nationality, gender, social level, mental or moral condition, what mattered was their obvious need, which touched his heart.

Jesus looked for trusting faith as the condition for a cure, an attitude that was absent among the people of his home town of Nazareth (Mark 6:5). Through his miracles he came to be known most of all as a man of compassion, reaching out to suffering people. As we read in Isaiah, he was "accustomed to infirmity" because the sick gravitated towards him. Many passages from Isaiah 53 read like a commentary on the public ministry of Jesus.

He stood within a long tradition where people devoted to God showed mercy to strangers and outsiders. We have seen how Abraham could not let the weary travellers pass by his tent without offering them kindness and hospitality: bathing their feet and then feeding them with a special meal. They in turn could not ignore the lonely sterility of Abraham and Sarah's marriage, and so they promised that within the next year the aged couple would have the child they longed form.

Reaching out

For most of the gospel story Jesus meets with and dialogues with people of his own Jewish race. Today's gospel is one of the relatively few places where Jesus is portrayed as entering into conversation with a pagan. This man was no ordinary pagan; he was a Roman centurion, man of authority, a commander in the occupying army. He came to Jesus as a man who was used to giving orders; he knew the power of his own word. Yet, he recognized that the word of this prophet from Nazareth had a power which even his word did not have. "Just give the word," he said to Jesus, "and my servant will be cured."

A version of that centurion's plea has made its way into our Eucharist, "only say the word and I shall be healed." How wonderful that the words of a Roman centurion should feature in the church's Eucharist. Yet, this Roman centurion was clearly a man of great faith in Jesus, as Jesus remarks in response, "nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this." The gospel suggests that faith is in unexpected places, unexpected people. It is not always where we expect it to be, and it can be where we least expect it. This pagan centurion calls out to us through the pages of the gospel to entrust ourselves to the healing and life-giving power of the Lord's word, as he did.

Week 13, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 18:16-33

Abraham argues with God to spare the wicked cities of the plain

The men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." Then the Lord said, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angy if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." And when he had finished speaking to Abraham the Lord went his way, and Abraham returned to his place.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-4, 8-11

Response: The Lord is kind and merciful.

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
slow to anger and rich in mercy.
His wrath will come to an end;
he will not be angry for ever. (R./)

He does not treat us according to our sins
nor repay us according to our faults.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
so strong is his love for those who fear him. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 8:18-22

The stern challenge, to let the dead bury the dead

When Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

Another of his disciples said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."


Arguing with God

Abraham tried bargaining with God to have the wicked cities spared. He begins with a quorum of fifty: Can the cities be spared if fifty innocent people are found there? When God agrees, Abraham tries again: suppose that only forty-five are found innocent. This haggling prayer continues until he gets down to ten. At that point God ends the conversation. This haggling prayer is a classic that reveals two aspects of Israel’s faith: their freedom to argue with God and God’s patience to listen to them. The story shows the closeness between the compassionate God and his people. But finally they yield to God’s wisdom and sovereignty.

On hearing the harsh Gospel statement "Let the dead bury their dead", we might want to argue as Abraham did. Like him, we feel that justice and decency are on our side. How can the dead bury their dead? When Jesus himself died on Calvary, his friends took care of his burial. The phrase, Let the dead bury their dead is a figure of speech to emphasise the urgency of following God’s call when it comes.

Even if we still want to argue, we trust that God always wants to give healing and life.

Not even a bed to sleep on

When people were crowding around Jesus, an educated man came to him, saying that he wanted to follow Jesus wherever he went. Who wouldn’t want to be in the company of this celebrated healer who generated such popularity? We can sense the scribe’s enthusiasm in his forthright request. In response, Jesus was equally forthright in describing what following him could mean. It would be an insecure, austere lifestyle, for ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ The would-be follower needed to know that there were darker days ahead, under the shadow of the cross.

Many want to follow Christ who in good times can fall away from him when times get hard. Sometimes everything seems well, but later things fall apart. We need to trust the Lord in dark times as well as in sunshine and light. Like the promise a couple makes on the day of the marriage, we need to give ourselves to him ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, all the days of our lives.’ He asks us to be faithful, regardless of our shifting circumstances, and trust he will be faithful to us.

Tuesday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 19:15-29

Before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, God saved Lot and his family

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Get up, take your wife and your two daughters away from here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city." But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said, "Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed." And Lot said to them, "Oh, no, my lords; your servant has found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there–is it not a little one?–an my life will be saved!" He said to him, "Very well, I grant you this favour too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there." Therefore the city was called Zoar. The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace. So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew he cities in which Lot had settled.

Responsorial: Psalm 25:2-3, 9-12

Response: O Lord, your kindness is before my eyes.

Examine me, Lord, and try me;
O test my heart and my mind,
for your love is before my eyes
and I walk according to your truth. (R./)

Do not sweep me away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men
in whose hands are evil plots,
whose right hands are filled with gold. (R./)

As for me, I walk the path of perfection.
Redeem me and show me your mercy.
My foot stands on level ground:
I will bless the Lord in the assembly. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus calms the storm on the lake; the apostles see him in a new light

When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"

And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?"


Without hesitation

It took a great deal of persuasion to get Lot to do what was needed, to save himself and his family. But his uncle Abraham had prayed earnestly for him, so Lot’s family were led to safety by an angel. If people cannot turn aside from serious temptation, not even the prayer of someone like Abraham can save them. If facing some impending disaster, we need not be passive victims but can be saved by an energetic response, trusting in God. Lot’s hesitation almost costs him and his family their lives. They had to be dragged out of the sinful city of Sodom, and led to safety. But later, Lot’s wife looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. This legend probably comes from the strange, columns of salt that could once be seen at the southwestern edge of the Dead Sea. Such a column resembled a woman gazing perpetually on the desolate expanse of this salty sea.

Our faith in divine providence can help us survive crises and disturbances and not be swept into utter panic. In the Gospel, the storm continued to rage, even after the disciples stirred up Jesus from sleep. He wanted to know, "Where is your courage?" Only then did he bring them back to a calm state of mind. Whoever cries out from the heart to Christ our Saviour–whatever the situation– can find new assurance from his presence, and inner peace.

Coping with crisis

This storm on the Sea of Galilee was sudden and unexpected… Sometimes our personal circumstances can change without warning. We can suddenly find ourselves in the midst of some overwhelming crisis. If yesterday all seemed well, but today we are in crisis, this gospel has a vital message for us.

Matthew’s account of the storm links it more closely to his church experience than Mark’s original version of that story. The shouted prayer of the disciples, "Save us, Lord, we are going down" echoed the needs of St Matthew’s readers. It is the cry of us all at some time in our lives. The message is that the Lord is near. Our desperate prayers for help will not go unanswered. The Lord is stronger than any storm that may threaten us, and in calling out "Lord, save us!" we will not be left without help.

Wednesday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 21:5, 8-20

Abraham drives out the slave-wife Hagar and her son

Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; so she demanded of Abraham: "Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!" Abraham was greatly distressed, especially on account of his son Ishmael. But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed about the boy or about your slave woman. Heed the demands of Sarah, no matter what she is asking of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a great nation of him also, since he too is your offspring."

Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away. As she roamed aimlessly in the desert of Beersheba, the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under a shrub, and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away; for she said to herself, "Let me not watch to see the child die." As she sat opposite Ishmael, he began to cry. God heard the boy's cry, and God's messenger called to Hagar from heaven: "What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, then let the boy drink. God was with the boy as he grew up.

Responsorial: Psalm 33:7-8, 10-13

R./: The Lord hears the cry of the poor

This poor man called; the Lord heard him
  and rescued him from all his distress.
The angel of the Lord is encamped
  around those who revere him, to rescue them. (R./)

Revere the Lord, you his saints.
They lack nothing, those who revere him.
Strong lions suffer want and go hungry
  but those who seek the Lord lack no blessing. (R./)

Come, children, and hear me
  that I may teach you the fear of the Lord.
Who is he who longs for life and many days,
  to enjoy his prosperity? (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 8:28-34

Demons enter into the Gadarene swine

When Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tomb met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, "If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine." And he said to them, "Go!" So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.


Trusting Providence

It is hard to see what we can gain from hearing of Abraham banishing the slave woman and her son. It's equally problematic in the next chapter how Abraham could believe that God wanted him to kill his son Isaad as a sacrifice. We could not possibly accept either decision (banishing his illegitimate son or slaying his true-born son) as a mandate from the true God. But Abraham, a man of primitive faith some four thousand years ago, was following what he thought to be right. This is the basic rule of conscience: we should judge every decision in the light of what we know.

Abraham judged what he should do, in the light of contemporary custom. Infant sacrifice was widespread, as was polygamy. But in Hagar's case he seems to violate another contemporary custom, the law of hospitality and the obligation to protect anyone received into the group! How could he in conscience drive out Hagar and her son? Maybe in light of Sarah's insistence that Isaac is his rightful heir! Clearly, not everything in the Bible is to be imitated literally. In faith and trust Abraham did all that he believed God was asking of him; and he would gradually learn from Life experience how to move on from his earlier convictions. That is how God's providence guides our lives. At the story's end we see how God provides for Hagar and Ishmael, for His providence is universal. God's care for the poor is perhaps the basic moral of the story.

Today's Gospel has the odd story of how a set of demons that Jesus has driven out from a wild man then begged him to let them enter into a nearby herd of pigs. As soon as they enter the pigs, the whole herd rushes headlong over a cliff and drowns in the lake below. The swineherds and the nearby townspeople not surprisingly, begged Jesus to go somewhere else. The pigs might be ritually unclean, but they had economic value just the same. The purpose of the story, of course, is to focus on Jesus' power to liberate people from evil influences that held them enslaved. The stampede of the pigs just adds an extra flair of drama to the tale.

Back to fuller life

By his healing power, Jesus restored two madmen back to sanity and a normal life. It is striking that after doing this, the people of the region begged him to leave the neighbourhood. We would expect them to want Jesus, this man who could bring freedom to the enslaved, to stay among them for some time. Surely there were others in this locality who needed the presence of God's power at work in Jesus.

We too can be tempted to ask Jesus to leave us in peace. We sometimes want to keep him at a distance. We sense his nearness as very demanding. He might call us to go out towards those who live on the edge of the community, as he himself went out towards the two demoniacs who lived among the tombs. But if we warmly welcome the Lord into our lives, rather than keeping him at a distance, he will give us the strength to respond to what is needed, and we too will find a greater fullness of life.

Thursday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 22:1-19

If God directs him, Abraham is prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place "The Lord will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided."

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

Responsorial: Psalm 114:1-6, 8-9

R./: I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living

I love the Lord for he has heard
  the cry of my appeal;
  for he turned his ear to me
  in the day when I called him. (R./)

They surrounded me, the snares of death,
  with the anguish of the tomb;
  they caught me, sorrow and distress.
  I called on the Lord's name. O Lord my God, deliver me! (R./)

How gracious is the Lord, and just; our God has compassion.
The Lord protects the simple hearts;
  I was helpless so he saved me. (R./)

He has kept my soul from death,
  my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling.
  I will walk in the presence of the Lord
  in the land of the living. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

Cureing the paralysed man proves Jesus' power to forgive sin

Getting into a boat Jesus crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." Then some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins", he then said to the paralytic, "Stand up, take your bed and go to your home." And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.


Learning a lesson

The story of the Binding of Isaac, which Jewish tradition simply calls "The Binding" ("Akedah"), is a real challenge to Christian interpreters. But its opening sentence tells us in advance that God was testing Abraham. This lets us (the readers) know from the outset that it was never God’s will for human beings to kill other people as a form of worship. Abraham was sincere but  misguided in thinking that God wanted human sacrifice.

What an interesting contrast there is between the responses of Abraham and the Pharisees, on learning that their first opinions were mistaken. The Pharisees were orthodox in their theology that only God can forgive sin – but misguided in thinking that forgiveness should not be dispensed on the Sabbath. It is clear that even good intentions (on Abraham’s part) and rigid ideas (on the Pharisees’ part) cannot go unchallenged. One of the most difficult of tasks is to help good people see that they have room for improvement, or to show them a dark side of their character to which they are blind. Like the dark side of the moon which is never seen from earth, a good man can be oblivious of his failings.

Abraham made careful preparations for the sacrifice of Isaac, because he wanted to do what he thought was required of him. All the Canaanites of his time believed it was their sacred duty to sacrifice their firstborn son to the gods. The heroic demand made of Abraham echoes in the opening line, "Take your son, Isaac, your only one, the one you love." Each syllable of the command wrenches the fibres of his heart. He is to go to the land of Moriah; the place was later identified with the site of the Jerusalem temple. Perhaps heroic impulses are permitted by God so that we can discover a vision of something else. When he got that new vision of mercy and compassion, Abraham at once changed his plans and obeyed the real will of God.

Are our minds open to correction, willing to learn that some of our traditionals about ritual need to change, radically? Without abandoning the Mass as a sacrifice, we are challenged to celebrate it in such a way that our people can really feel a part of what is happening around the altar. It is a sacrifice of praise, rather than a ritual of atonement.

Faith and goodwill

What a true spirit of friendship is shown by the four men carrying their friend on a stretcher. They were determined to get their paralyzed friend to this famous healer, whatever it might take. When the crowds around Jesus were too big to get their friend to him by the conventional route of the front door, they lifted him up onto the roof of the house and created an opening to lower their friend in front of Jesus. True friendship is the kind that opens up people to the presence of the Lord. The friends of the paralyzed man certainly did that.

It was a combination of goodwill and faith that led this man to Jesus. The energy behind their unorthodox actions was their love for their friend. When the man was lowered down into the room, it was the faith of his friends that Jesus recognized. The Gospel says, "seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man." Paul in Galatians speaks about faith working through love. These four friends model for us the faith that finds expression in love. Today we pray for an increase of such faith in our lives.

Friday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67

The burial of Sarah. Abraham finds a wife for Isaac

Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years; this was the length of Sarah's life. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, "I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight." After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac." The servant said to him, "Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?" Abraham said to him, "See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, 'To your offspring I will give this land,' he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to fllow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there."

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, "Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?" The servant said, "It is my master." So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

Responsorial: Psalm 105:1-5

R./: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good;
  for his great love is without end.
Who can tell the Lord's mighty deeds?
Who can recount all his praise? (R./)

They are happy who do what is right,
  who at all times do what is just.
  O Lord, remember me
  out of the love you have for your people. (R./)

Come to me, Lord, with your help
  that I may see the joy of your chosen ones
  and may rejoice in the gladness of your nation
  and share the glory of your people. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13

The call of the tax-gatherer, to follow Jesus

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."


Lord of surprises

In The God of Surprises Gerald Hughes notes how God can surprise us in so many ways. Isaiah said so explicitly, "God’s ways are not our ways." Jesus also shows us that God’s ways are full of surprises. How often  the people were amazed at what he said and did. He didn’t follow convention, or act like the other religious leaders of Judaism. His unorthodox approach appears in today’s gospel. Jesus calls an unlikely character, a tax collector, to be  his friend and goes on to share a meal with tax collectors and sinners. Matthew and his friends were despised as sinners, collaborators with the Romans, lax in their morals, non observers of God’s law. Such people were to be avoided for fear of contamination.

Jesus did not follow this path of exclusion and avoidance. He was not afraid of being contaminated by others. On the contrary, he wanted to change others and draw them to a better lifestyle. He went on to say, "what I want is mercy not sacrifice." This is a key principle for Christian morality. Our Lord wants his own merciful spirit to find expression in the lives of his followers. We too are called to transform others by our openness and compassion. We are all to be agents of the Lord’s transforming love and mercy.

Tax-collector and Gospel-writer

The name Matthew is from the Hebrew Mattija. He is mentioned five times in the New Testament. In Matthew 9:9, he is called to follow Jesus; and later he is four times named in the list of the apostles, (Luke 6:15; Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3, and Acts 1:13). The man in today’s Gospel story is the same as Levi, whom Mark and Luke describe as "sitting at the custom-desk" (Mk 2:14; Lk 5:27). The account in the three Synoptics is basicaly the same, where Jesus invites the tax-collector: "Follow me". Levi was probably the original name of the man who subsequently called himself Matthew. It is even possible that Mattija, "gift of Jahweh," was an added name given to the tax-gatherer when Jesus called him to discipleship, and by it he was thenceforth known among his Christian brethren.

As tax-gatherer at Capharnaum, Matthew collected custom duties for Herod Antipas, and was despised as a traitor by the Pharisees, who hated the Roman occupation of their land. When summoned by Jesus, Matthew followed him immediately, and then held a party in his house, where other tax-gatherers sat at table with Christ and his disciples. When the Pharisees protested at the company Jesus was keeping, he rebuked them sharply: "I came not to call the just, but sinners." Nothing further is said of Matthew, except that he was listed among the apostles. He followed Jesus up to the time of His Passion and later, in Galilee, was one of the witnesses of His Resurrection. Matthew was present with the others at the Ascension, and afterwards in the upper room in Jerusalem, along with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren (Acts 1:10 and 1:14).

Of Matthew’s subsequent career we have only insecure or legendary data. St Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached among the Hebrews, Clement of Alexandria says he did this for fifteen years, and Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, Matthew gave the Hebrews his Gospel in the mother tongue. Ancient writers do not agree on which countries were evangelized by Matthew, but some mention a region to the south of the Caspian Sea, perhaps Persia or modern-day Iran.


Saturday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 27:1-5, 15-29

Rebecca disguises Jacob so that blind Isaac gives him the first-born's blessing

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, "My son"; and he answered, "Here I am." He said, "See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die." Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau.

Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.

So he went in to his father, and said, "My father"; and he said, "Here I am. Who are you, my son?" Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me." But Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?" He answered, "Because the Lord your God granted me success." Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not." So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. He said, "Are you really my son Esau?" He answered, "I am." Then he said, "Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you." So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, "Come near and kiss me, my son." So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, "Ah, the smell of my so is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!"

Responsorial: Psalm 134:1-6

R./: Praise the Lord for he is good!

Praise the name of the Lord,
  praise him, servants of the Lord,
who stand in the house of the Lord
  in the courts of the house of our God. (R./)

Praise the Lord for the Lord is good.
  Sing a psalm to his name for he is loving.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself
  and Israel for his own possession. (R./)

For I know the Lord is great,
  that our Lord is high above all gods.
The Lord does whatever he wills,
  in heaven, on earth, in the seas. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:14-17

The disciples need not fast so long as Jesus, "the bridegroom," is with them

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."


New wineskins

How hard it is for us older folk to cope with the volume of change in our world. We have experienced so much cultural and social change, legal and even constitutional changes, as well as having to adapt to new technologies, apps on our smartphones, and banks wanting us to do all our business online. It can be tempting to look back on the "Good old Days" until we remember that there were many abuses in those old days, and many good things available to us in the here and now.

But people always had to be ready for change, in order to follow Jesus and take him as a guide for living. The difference between his message and that of John the Baptist is put in homespun imagery. We cannot sew unshrunken cloth–or animal skins that have not been tanned–onto old leather cloaks; the new will shrink and then pull away and the rip will only get worse. If animal skins were used to hold fermenting wine, new skins had the elasticity to stretch, while old skins will burst open and the wine will be lost. This image from everyday life points to a dramatic discontinuity with the past, in Jesus’ preaching and outlook. What began as a finge movement now moves to the centre. There is to be rejoicing, an entirely new cloak rather than an old one with patches, new wineskins for the new wine.

Change provokes various reactions. We must be willing to adapt to the conditions among which God and history have put us. The ways of Providence are surely leading towards a noble, final goal, but they pass through many vagaries of custom and circumstance. We pray to be worthy disciples of Jesus, letting him pour his new wine into new wineskins, and be as realistic as he was, in accepting change.

The bridegroom is with us

Jesus is the bridegroom, and his disciples the bride. His public ministry is like a wedding celebration, when fasting is not appropriate. In keeping with that wedding image, he speaks of the new wine of his ministry, new wine that needs new wineskins.

We are always in the presence of that bridegroom and gifted with his new wine, the wine of grace and of God’s kingdom. So we must cheerfully abandon our old wineskins as obsolete. The Lord, the Spirit, does not let us get too comfortable in our ways. We always stand before the Lord’s call for a renewal of life that is worthy of the bridegroom, a renewal that can receive the new wine of the kingdom of God.

Week 14, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 14

1st Reading: Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob dreams of a ladder stretching between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending

Jacob left Beer-sheva and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you."

Responsorial: Psalm 90:1-4, 14-15

R./: In you, my God, I place my trust

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
  and abides in the shade of the Almighty
  says to the Lord: 'My refuge, my stronghold,
  my God in whom I trust!' (R./)

It is he who will free you from the snare
  of the fowler who seeks to destroy you;
he will conceal you with his pinions
  and under his wings you will find refuge. (R./)

His love he set on me, so I will rescue him;
  protect him for he knows my name.
When he calls I shall answer: 'I am with you.'
  I will save him in distress. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26

Jesus cures a woman's haemorrhages and raises to life the daughter of a synagogue leader

While Jesus was speaking, a leader of the synagogue came up and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well.

When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this sprad throughout that district.


Not hidebound by convention

Family and personal problems feature in today’s readings. The envy of his twin brother forced Jacob to flee for his life; and Jesus responds to a family tragedy, the death of the synagogue leader’s daughter. Repeatedly Biblical religion has to do with the needs and crises of people in everyday life. The ancient sanctuary of Bethel (Hebrew "House of God") is linked toJacob’s flight from his brother Esau and with the exhausted Jacob’s need for sleep. It was already a shrine, but its sacred character is reinterpreted due to Jacob’s dream.

Sibling rivalry can cause serious problems in any family. Jacob had stolen the blessing of the first-born from his blind father, Isaac. Worse still, he was helped in this by his mother, Rebekah, who favoured Jacob over her more uncouth son Esau. When Esau wanted for revenge, Jacob had to flee to the place where Abraham had not wanted his offspring to settle, (as we read last Friday). The setting for Jacob’s dream of angels and for God’s renewal of covenantal promises was hardly the tranquil sanctuary it later became.

By letting himself be touched by a woman with a flow of blood and by taking a dead child by the hand, Jesus too was stepping outside conventional norms. There must have been a great freedom in Jesus, an overwhelming compassion, a decisive urge to help the needy, so that people deemed "unclean" would presume to touch him and even request him to touch them. These examples invite us to think outside the box, as we seek an authentic way to live our religion in today’s world.

How we approach him

Two people approached Jesus in with two quite different needs. One was a synagogue official who came on behalf of his daughter and the other a woman with a haemorrhage who came on her own behalf. Their ways of approaching him are quite different. The synagogue official came quite publicly, and spoke aloud his need and his request. The woman came secretly, touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, and speaking only to herself.

Our own approach to the Lord always has a quality unique to each of us, as individual as our way of relating to other people. Both the synagogue official and the bleeding woman were people of faith but they expressed their faith differently. Our faith brings us together as a community, but it does not suppress our individuality. Jesus responded warmly to both the synagogue official and the woman. He was equally responsive to their need and their cry for help. The Lord’s response to us is always measured to the way we approach him.

Tuesday of Week 14

1st Reading: Genesis 32:23-33

On returning from exile, Jacob finds himself wrestling with an angel of God, at Peniel

He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

Responsorial: Psalm 16:1-3, 6-8, 15

R./: In my justice, I shall see your face, O Lord

Lord, hear a cause that is just,
  pay heed to my cry.
Turn your ear to my prayer:
  no deceit is on my lips. (R./)

From you may my judgement come forth.
  Your eyes discern the truth.
You search my heart, you visit me by night.
You test me and you find in me no wrong. (R./)

I am here and I call,
  you will hear me, O God.
Turn your ear to me;
  hear my words.
Display your great love,
  you whose right hand saves your friends
  from those who rebel against them. (R./)

Guard me as the apple of your eye.
  Hide me in the shadow of your wings.
In my justice I shall see your face
  and be filled, when I awake,
  with the sight of your glory. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:32-38

Jesus cures the sick, teaches and proclaims the good news of the reign of God, for the harvest is ready

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was dumb was brought to Jesus. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been dumb spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, "Never has anything like this been seen in Israel." But the Pharisees said, "By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons."

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."


Adapting to change

A life-change is mentioned in the gospel and treated at more length in Genesis. Matthew has Jesus saving a man from demonic possession. But he does not say how the man, once cured by Jesus, adapted to his new situation. Suddenly he was cured and could speak again, and his entire life must be re-thought.

The Genesis story describes Jacob wresting all night long with some unseen force. In the end Jacob finds that he has been wrestling with God. For this reason he named the place "Peniel," in Hebrew, "face of God." He is amazed to have survived, "I have seen God face to face yet my life has been spared" — which conflicts with the established belief that nobody can see the face of God and live (Exod 33:20). Jacob had his dramatic night-time struggle while returning from Haran to the promised land, eventually to be named "Israel" after him. His future is foretold, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed." His future life was markedly different from his past and more clearly under God’s guiding providence.

For the rest of his life Jacob carried a notable limp after his wrestling with the angel. Sometimes we too can no longer stand as tall as before. We may hear God’s call to us anew, asking us to make a new and different contribution to the life of others. In Jacob’s story we can find a new type of strength. For God chooses those whom the world considers foolish to shame the wise; he selects the weak to show new aspects of life to the strong. Our life finds its fullest realisation if we don’t shun the struggle entailed.

Seeing things positively

What a contrast between how ordinary folk admired Jesus’ miracles and how the Pharisees scorned them. The people said, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel." The Pharisees said, "It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils." The people saw God at work in what Jesus was doing; the Pharisees saw Satan at work in him. It is hard to imagine a more contrasting response. The people, in contrast to the Pharisees, were attuned to the presence and action of God in Jesus.

This gospel invites us to ask ourselves, "To what extent do I sense the presence of God around me, especially in the good other people are doing?" We can be prone to objecting to things and missing the good that is actually there. We can be more attuned to noticing what’s wrong than what’s right. While never being blind to evil and sin, we need to be open to how the Lord is at work in our lives and in the lives of others. Jesus was sensitive to the good in others, even when they failed to see it for themselves. We need to adopt that positive way of seeing things, and not highlight the negative above all else.

Wednesday of Week 14

1st Reading: Genesis 41-42

When Joseph's brothers come to buy grain, he sends them back for for Benjamin

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do." And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world. Thus the children of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.

Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. "Where do you come from?" he said. They said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food."

And he put them all together in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die." And they agreed to do so. They said to one another, "Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us." Then Reuben answered them, "Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood." They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. He turned away from them and wept.

Responsorial: Psalm 32:2-3, 10-11, 18-19

R./: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you

Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp,
  with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs.
O sing him a song that is new,
  play loudly, with all your skill. (R./)

He frustrates the designs of the nations,
  he defeats the plans of the peoples.
His own designs shall stand for ever,
  the plans of his heart from age to age. (R./)

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
  on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
  to keep them alive in famine. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 10:1-7

Jesus sends his twelve apostles out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'


Sharing with dignity

From all parts of the famine-stricken middle east, people flocked into Egypt to avoid starvation. Joseph’s brothers joined this stream of refugees, some of whose descendants m would eventually come out of Egypt along with the Israelites. Israel had a universalist quality in its very origin, and by their poverty and need the people of the Exodus are linked with people throughout the world.

In God’s providence, if the world’s produce is fairly shared there should be plenty for all. At later times in its history, Israel would deny this right of sharing in resources, and social justice was neglected. Whenever there is rank inequality, prosperous folk tend to worship gods other than Yahweh. But when wealthy landowners selfishly let their neighbours go hungry, fearless prophets rose up to voice the anger of God, who hears the voice of the poor.

No centralised kingdom like that set up by Joseph in Egypt could stay at peace forever. Although Joseph offered to feed the hungry immigrants, eventually, through the centralised method of taxing and distributing the food supply, Pharaoh gained total control of the land of Egypt, in a despotic rule that led to the enslavement of Israel.

We need ways of sharing what we have without any loss of personal dignity. Economic measures are never enough of themselves; sharing must have moral and religious dimensions too. Even progressive taxation allows for loopholes and manipulations by the wealthy few, letting injustices grow like weeds. Modern government must go beyond even the measures taken by Joseph in Egypt, remembering that sharing with those in need is a requirement of justice. In this process, things balance out; for we are as needy as our neighbour, even if in different ways.

Spreading the message

Notice how Jesus wants his message to be widely shared. He is prepared to share a meal with Matthew the tax collector and lets him join the band of apostles. He broke bread with sinners at table, and shared God’s word with them. His motive is clear: "it is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick."

God does not withold his living word from us, even when we show ourselves unworthy of it. Sending out his twelve apostles, Jesus continues to shed his light into the darkest and most troubled places of our lives. He keeps offering us the bread of his word to satisfy our deepest hunger. As he does so, he waits for us to take and eat.

Thursday of Week 14

1st Reading: Genesis 44:18-21, 23-29; 45:1-5

After Judah's report, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers

Judah went up to [his brother Joseph] and said, "O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord's ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, 'Have you a father or a brother?' And we said to my lord, 'We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother's children, and his father loves him.' Then you said to your servants, 'Bring him down to me, so that I may set my eyes on him.'

Then you said to your servants, 'Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.' When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, 'Go again, buy us a little food,' we said, 'We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us.' Then your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons; one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.'

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve your lives."

Responsorial: Psalm 104:16-21

R./: Remember the marvels the Lord has done

The Lord called down a famine on the land;
  he broke the staff that supported them.
He had sent a man before them,
  Joseph, sold as a slave. (R./)

His feet were put in chains,
  his neck was bound with iron,
until what he said came to pass
  and the Lord's word proved him true. (R./)

Then the king sent and released him;
  the ruler of the peoples set him free,
making him master of his house
  and ruler of all he possessed. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 10:7-15

The twelve are to preach, to heal and announce the reign of God

Jesus said to the Twelve, "As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."


God meant it for a good purpose

The ministry of the Twelve is not confined to preaching, for the good news was also spread by curing the sick and other signs of God working in our world. What they have freely received, they must freely share with others. The true meaning of "the reign of God" emerges in the generous relationships we practice with the rest of the human family.

Further illustration of this sharing is seen in Genesis, which shows God's providence over every event of life, whether welcome or unwelcome. The key to the long Joseph narrative (Gen 37-50) is the simple statement, "God sent me here ahead of you." The full implications of his past life are recognized by Joseph when his brothers come to Egypt after their father's death. Fearfully they imagine him nursing a grudge and that he will now take revenge on them for the wrong they did him. But Joseph looked kindly on them. They need not fear him; God meant it all for the good of their whole family. In a magnificent act of faith, Joseph recognised the absolute providence of God over human life. It is striking how all the twists and turns of his saga are harmoniously concluded by two simple statements, "God sent me ahead of you" and "God meant it for a good purpose."

I once read about a tiny group of Jews who survived in hiding in Nazi Germany during World War II. In their hiding-place, one of them said, "We must pray to God." Another answered, "If we pray, God will find out that there are still a few Jews left in Germany." A third added, "It is absurd to pray, for how can God be present in this kind of world?" This was less a question to be answered than a cry of desperation, but the rabbi answered, "It may be foolish to pray, but it is still more foolish not to pray."

At the root of the Joseph narrative is a profound human compassion that reflects God's compassion and loving-kindness. It calls on us to be similarly forgiving and to entrust past wrongs into the hands of God.

What to expect

Jesus is the fullest revelation of God's unfailing love for mankind. He had experienced the refusal of many people to hear his message. When He sends out his disciples he warns them to expect the same. They are to proclaim the good news, the message of God's life-giving love, but many will not welcome them or listen to what they have to say.

Negative responses must not deter us from mission either. Certainly they did not deter Jesus. When he suffered the ultimate rejection of execution on cross, he still proclaimed the same good news when he said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." We are to reveal the loving presence of God, regardless of how we are received by others.

Friday of Week 14

1st Reading: Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30

Jacob joyfully meets his long-lost son Joseph. Now he can die in peace

When Israel set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph's own hand shall close your eyes."

Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the children of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and the goods that they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and they came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

Israel set Judah ahead to Joseph to lead the way before him into Goshen. When they came to the land of Goshen, Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, "I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive."

Responsorial: Psalm 36:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40

R./: The salvation of the just comes from the Lord

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
  then you will live in the land and be secure.
 If you find your delight in the Lord,
  he will grant your heart's desire. (R./)

He protects the lives of the upright,
  their heritage will last for ever.
They shall not be put to shame in evil days,
  in time of famine their food shall not fail. (R./)

Then turn away from evil and do good
  and you shall have a home for ever;
for the Lord loves justice
  and will never forsake his friends. (R./)

The salvation of the just comes from the Lord,
  their stronghold in time of distress.
The Lord helps them and delivers them
  and saves them: for their refuge is in him. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 10:16-23

Jesus foretells persecution, even from one's own family. Whoever holds out to the end will be saved

Jesus said to the Twelve, "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."


Persevere in working for God

Each Friday we remember the death of Jesus on our behalf. Today’s texts are appropriate for this. We read of tears of sorrow as well as tears of joy and relief. Joseph and Jacob weep over their long separation and final reunion. While it does not mention tears, today’s gospel implies them as brother hands brother over to death, and children turn against parents and have them put to death. In their meeting, Jacob and Joseph realized that tears of grief can be turned into tears of joy, for as soon as Joseph saw him, he flung himself on his elderly father’s neck and wept a long time in his arms.

When Jesus warns of family hostility and even of betrayal, he advises us to persevere with high hopes and grand ideals. We are not to avenge one betrayal with another, but trust completely in God’s ideals of forgiveness and fidelity, and "hold out till the end." Along the way we are promised that we will be given what we are to say, for "the Spirit will be speaking in you." When this ideal of goodness extends through our entire world, humanity’s best hopes will be realized, and the Kingdom of God will have come.

Saturday of Week 14

1st Reading: Genesis 49:29-32; 50:15-26

Then Jacob gave his sons this charge, "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors - in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah - the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites."

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph's brothers said, "What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?" So they approached Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this instruction before he died, 'Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.' Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, "We are here as your slaves." But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones." In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father's household; and Joseph lived one hundred ten years. Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were also born on Joseph's knees.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die; but God will surely come to you, and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." So Joseph made the Israelites swear, saying, "When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here." And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Responsorial: Psalm 104:1-4, 6-7

R./: Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live

Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
  make known his deeds among the peoples.
O sing to him, sing his praise;
  tell all his wonderful works. (R./)
Be proud of his holy name,
  let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
Consider the Lord and his strength;
  constantly seek his face. (R./)
O children of Abraham, his servant,
  O sons of the Jacob he chose.
He, the Lord, is our God:
  his judgements prevail in all the earth. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-33

Jesus said to the Twelve, "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven."



Not even a sparrow

Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing about it. God lovingly watches over the life and death of even his smallest and least valuable creatures. How much more, then, does God care us, who are worth more than many sparrows. Jesus goes so far as to say that every hair of our head has been counted by God. Divine Providence means that God has the smallest detail of our lives in view. But how can this be? Like Spinoza, I may wonder whether the God who made the universe really cares about me personally. I am just one of such a vast throng. How can God possibly care about my life? Yet, Jesus declares that God is indeed interested in the details of our lives.

Each of us can have a personal relationship with God. Jesus invites us to trust ourselves to God, without fear. ‘There is no need to be afraid.’ This is the kind of relationship he had with God. He knew in his heart that God cared, and so handed himself entirely to the Father, even during his passion and death. Each of us can have the same relationship with God that Jesus has. He invites us to share in this and he makes such a sharing possible by sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Through the Spirit, we are held securely in the hands of our Father.

15th Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 15

1st Reading: Exodus 1:8-14, 22

A new Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites and threatens them with extinction

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."

Responsorial: Psalm 123)

R./: Our help is in the name of the Lord

'If the Lord had not been on our side,'
  this is Israel's song,
'If the Lord had not been on our side
  when men rose against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive
  when their anger was kindled. (R./)

Then would the waters have engulfed us,
  the torrent gone over us;
over our head would have swept the raging waters.'
  Blessed be the Lord who did not give us a prey to their teeth! (R./)

Our life, like a bird, has escaped
  from the snare of the fowler.
Indeed the snare has been broken
  and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
  who made heaven and earth. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 10:34, 11:1

Jesus foresees division within families about the gospel

Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up he cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."


Peace and Conflict

Beginning today, the readings from the Book of Exodus lead up to the appearance of God on Mount Sinai (chap. 19), followed by the guidelines for keeping the covenant (chaps. 20-23), and its solemn ratification (chap. 24). Fidelity to God will be Israel’s way to stay at peace with God and with each other. The omitted verses (Ex 1:15-21) tell of the heroic refusal of Pharao’s orders by the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who spare the lives of the boys. Their bravery surely deserves a mention, since it ensured the ultimate survival of the Hebrews.

Our Gospel for today concludes a major sermon, the missionary discourse, spoken by Jesus to those who were to continue his work in the world. We are reminded, implicitly by Exodus and explicitly in the Gospel, that following the will of God can be hard, even at times disruptive of peace . Jesus paradoxically states, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

He refers to suffering and conflict that can arise in the course of our lives. We may remember Simeon’s "blessing" and words to Mary as she held the infant Jesus in her arms: "This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed" (Luke 2:34). The sword of division is raised for freedom in the Book of Exodus and by family disputes according to Jesus’ words. Exodus records how a new king who "did not know Joseph" came to power in Egypt. A native Egyptian dynasty had finally driven out the old and hated Asiatic (Hyksos) dynasty from Egypt, and in the backlash of fear and hatred towards all Asiatics, the Israelites were reduced to slave labour. God’s people were oppressed because of racial bias and nationalistic envy.

Disagreements about relition can stir trouble in families. What the Lord gives is not "peace at any price", but a special kind of peace that comes from staying close to Jesus. If there is discord within our family, let it be for the sake of personal conscience, and not from any dominating or judgmental spirit. We are called to be sincere, not authoritarian. Basically, Jesus wants us to be welcoming people, thankful for what others may offer us. Even such a simple gift as a cup of cold water will be noted to one’s credit, in the book of life.

Tuesday of Week 15

1st Reading: Exodus 2:1-15

Moses flees from the Egyptian court to the desert after killing an Egyptian

A man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, "This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water."

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known." When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses, but Moses fled from him and made for the land of Midian.

Responsorial: Psalm 68:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34

R./: Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live

I have sunk into the mud of the deep
  and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
  and the waves overwhelm me. (R./)

This is my prayer to you,
  my prayer for your favour.
In your great love, answer me, O God,
  with your help that never fails. (R./)

As for me in my poverty and pain
  let your help, O God, lift me up.
I will praise God's name with a song;
  I will glorify him with thanksgiving. (R./)

The poor when they see it will be glad
  and God-seeking hearts will revive;
for the Lord listens to the needy
  and does not spurn his servants in their chains. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 11:20-24

Even Sodom was better than Galilean cities which refused faith in Jesus

Jesus began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent.

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you."


The function of miracles

"If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon…" The threats and warnings to Chorazin and Capernaum can make us question the reality and function of miracles. The people in those twin lakeside towns in northwest Galilee witnessed many marvellous signs and healings by Jesus but were unmoved by his message. With prophetic anger he reproached their hardness of heart. His miracles were meant to lead to conversion, to a change of outlook and of lifestyle, a turning away from selfishness and showing new concern for the poor and the needy. His healings showed his love for suffering humanity. They were not intended to draw him into the limelight but to show God’s desire for us all to form a wholesome, healthy family.

Many centuries before, Moses stood before the king (Pharaoh) with words of warning, bringing down ten plagues on Egypt (Exod chaps. 7-12). It is notable that neither does Moses use this miraculous power for his own glory but had to flee for his life into the desert of Sinai. At his birth, Moses’ mother and sister had to resort to all kinds of ingenuity to save the infant’s life, for God did not miraculously intervene.

Although reared in the luxury of Pharao’s palace, as a young man Moses showed a keen sense of justice. Sensitive to any oppression or mistreatment of others, he could not stand idly by when he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew. Nor could he tolerate the sight of one slave being beaten by another, but asked the culprit, ‘Why are you striking your brother?’ A passion for justice already burned in the young Moses, preparing him for his role as liberator in later years.

Wednesday of Week 15

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12

Revelation to Moses at the burning bush, at Mount Horeb/Sinai

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

Responsorial: Psalm 102:1-4, 6-7

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
  all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
  and never forget all his blessings. (R./)

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
  who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
  who crowns you with love and compassion. (R./)

The Lord does deeds of justice,
  gives judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
  and his deeds to Israel's sons. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 11:25-27

God reveals the mystery of salvation to those who become as simple as children

Jesus exclaimed, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."


God’s friends

Exodus tells of Moses in reverential awe as he approaches the burning bush, and it is revealed to him that God intends to liberate a new people, for the world’s salvation. Today, for a moment, Jesus give us insight into his innermost thoughts. After he spent some time in prayer, hear the actual words of his prayer. He prays: "Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children."

A clear, simple knowledge of God can be grasped by children and also learned from one who is the ultimate Son of God. As Son and ultimate Messenger of God, Jesus hands on to us what his Father reveals to him. His life’s work is to share his intimate knowledge of God with all of us. We are continuously begotten by the Father, through faith. What special mystery is known above all to children? To know oneself as a child of God; to be happily confident that life is a gift. At the deepest level of our life, God dwells within us; here we are in touch with our most profound self, our secret mission, our heavenly name, written in the book of life (Luke 10:20).

A divine mission came to Moses from the burning bush. As this call reached his soul he simply said: "Here I am." With total spontaneity, he asked to know the name and nature of God, and his request was answered, "I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." Later God reveals his most sacred name as Yahweh, the One who is always there with you.

Open to intimacy

In the list of things we value, close relationships would probably feature near the top, along with health and life itself. Relationships and friendships are precious, and without them we could hardly get through life. In a priveleged moment, Jesus revealed the relationship in his life, his relationship with his heavenly Father. He speaks of this in terms of a mutual knowing, "no one knows the Son except the Father, and nobody knows the Father except the Son." There is a profound and unique intimacy to this relationship, but it is not a closed circle from which all others are excluded.

Each of us is invited into this bond of trust and love between Jesus and the Father. He reveals and shares the Father with us. They seek to draw us all into their mutual relationship. As God drew Moses into a partnership through the encounter at the burning bush, the Father and the Son draw us into their mutual love, so that we can reflect that love to others. For this to happen, Our spirit must be open with the receptivity of a child, rather than closed with the self-assurance of the learned.

Thursday of Week 15

1st Reading: Exodus 3:13-20

The name Yahweh : I am who/what I am

Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.' They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days' journey into the desert, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.' I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.

Responsorial: Psalm 104:1, 5, 8-9, 24-27

R./: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever

Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
  make known his deeds among the peoples.
Remember the wonders he has done,
  his miracles, the judgements he spoke. (R./)

He remembers his covenant for ever,
  his promise for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
  the oath he swore to Isaac. (R./)

He gave his people increase;
  he made them stronger than their foes,
whose hearts he turned to hate his people
  and to deal deceitfully with his servants. (R./)

Then he sent Moses his servant
  and Aaron the man he had chosen. Through them he showed his marvels
  and his wonders in the country of Ham. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all you who are weary. Take my yoke on you and you will find rest

Jesus exclaimed "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."


The Ever-Present One

The long slavery of Israel in Egypt is coming to an end and they are to come into a new and better existence, as a free people in their own land. Moses assures Israel about God’s concern for their plight. The people will not simply be set free, but the living God will be with them, into the future. The divine name, Yahweh, derives from the Hebrew verb "to be" and suggests that GOD will be continuously with his people. The very name "Yahweh" contains this promise "I will be always there", but when spoken by ourselves, it can become a personal prayer: "Lord, please be with us at all times!"

Today’s Gospel text ought to be fixed in our memory. "You will find rest for your souls!" By his closeness to us, he makes our yoke easy and our burden light. He knows how life can be weary and burdensome, and makes no false, easy promises. The yoke will remain on our shoulders, as will the burden, but somehow they become easier to bear. What is new is the presence of Jesus, "gentle and humble of heart." God is with us always, promising life and peace. He is a gentle and loving Lord.

Resting easy

We can be burdened for all kinds of reasons: overtired; overworked; a marriage going wrong; a struggle with ill health. Jesus spoke words of hope to people burdened by the demands of the Jewish Law; for in failing to observe them they felt themselves marginalised. He does not offer them a new law. Rather, he offers himself as their guide to life. He calls them to learn from him. "Come to me," he says, and "learn from me." We learn from his example as well as his words. His teaching is clearly visible in who he is and how he lives.

To learn from someone, we should spend time with them. In saying, "Come," he is really saying, "Come and stay." We are called into an friendship with him. It is in being with him that we learn to live as we ought to live. If we come to him and remain with him, we will find that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The way of the Gospel is demanding, but our relationship with him makes it much less demanding than it would otherwise be. St Paul assures us that God’s power at work within us is "able to accomplish immeasurably far more than all we can ask or imagine." It is by remaining in Jesus, as branches in the vine that our lives will flourish and bear much fruit.

accomplish immeasurably far more than all we can ask or imagine." It is by remaining in Jesus, as branches in the vine that our lives will flourish and bear much fruit.

Friday of Week 15

1st Reading: Exodus 11:10-12:14

Passover is a reminder of our deliverance from slavery and death

Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: "This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance."

Responsorial: Psalm 115:12-13, 15-18

R./: I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord

How can I repay the Lord
  for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
  I will call on the Lord's name. (R./)

O precious in the eyes of the Lord
  is the death of his faithful.
Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
  you have loosened my bonds. (R./)

A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
  I will call on the Lord's name.
My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
  before all his people. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus relaxes the sabbath rules; and God desires mercy more than sacrifice

Jesus went walking through the grain-fields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath." He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."


Celebrating life

There are many ways of responding to God’s will. Exodus provides a careful set of rules for the celebration of Passover, while Matthew give examples of adapting the law to meet the circumstances. In fact, Exodus chapter 12 has two sets of regulations for Passover. They point to the festive origins of the liturgy, as the people’s joyful celebration. This is the background to why Jesus did not share the Pharisees’ prohibition of him "working" on the Sabbath. Anything that sustains and affirms life is exactly in tune with the purpose of the Sabbath.

The Passover was a feast to keep alive the memory of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the protection of its first-born. After they settled in Canaan, the feast took on agricultural elements, praying for freedom from drought and famine and for an abundant barley harvest. Passover celebrated life, both as saved from oppression, and as the Lord’s gift of the fertile earth. Also in its celebration, blood had an important role; it was rubbed on the forehead of each worshipper and splashed on the doors of their homes. This blood symbolized the bond of life uniting the people with each other, and with their God.

In their argument with Jesus, the Pharisees emphasised what was forbidden on the Sabbath than its purpose, which was to be liberating and life-enhancing. When his hungry disciples walked through the fields on a sabbath day, they began to pluck heads of grain and eat them. This was not stealing, as the grain was standing unfenced, and farmers were encouraged to leave some grains on the edge for the poor (Lev 19:9); but as it seemed to violate the traditional rules for keeping the sabbath, some Pharisees blamed Jesus about it.

He himself did not reject the aabbath, and in general was careful to observe his people’s customs. But he countered the objectors on their own grounds by citing a biblical episode about king David and pointing out that priests on temple duty could do what was usually forbidden. Jesus could not endorse the strict Sabbath interpretation of the Pharisees. For if God "wants mercy, not sacrifice", then the Sabbath day is better celebrated by affirming life than by fencing people in. Indeed the function of the Sabbath is to celebrate life. Like David or the priests, the people are more important than the temple itself, so the disciples could act as they did with a clear conscience. Since Jesus interpreted the Sabbath regulations so freely, the later church concluded that he was "Lord of the Sabbath."

Greater than the Temple

His disciples were surprised when Jesus called himself "something greater than the Temple." They could not imagine anything greater than the magnificent Temple built by Herod in Jerusalem, considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It was the focal point of God’s presence to his people. But Jesus is greater than the Temple because he is the new focus of God’s presence. The Living God was present no longer in a building but through a person, his Son Jesus, whose other name is Emmanuel, God with us.

As the new Temple, Jesus is also Lord of the Sabbath. He is also Lord of the church, Lord of our lives. Willingly, we submit to his word so that his priorities become our priorities. He declares that feeding the hungry takes priority over any narrow understanding of the Sabbath Law. His hungry disciples are entitled to pick ears of corn to satisfy their hunger, even on the Sabbath. Jesus’ word, and his whole life, helps us to discern what is really important from what is less important.

Saturday of Week 15

1st Reading: Exodus 12:37-42

Israel's escapes from Egypt is a night to commemorate

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.

Responsorial: Psalm 135:1, 10-15, 23-24

R./: His love is everlasting

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, (R./)

He remembered us in our distress. (R./)

And he snatched us away from our foes. (R./)

The first-born of the Egyptians he smote. (R./)

He brought Israel out from their midst. (R./)

Arm outstretched, with power in his hand. (R./)

He divided the Red Sea in two. (R./)

He made Israel pass through the midst. (R./)

He flung Pharaoh and his force in the sea. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:14-21

While the Pharisees plot to kill him, Jesus continues to cure the sic

The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope."


Antidote to racism

Today’s text from Exodus invites us to respect people who are racially different from ourselves. Even if the chosen people were in some ways stringently separated from non-Israelites, refugees and immigrants continued to have significant rights among them. When they were leaving Egypt, it says that "a mixed crowd also went up with them," suggesting people of different racial background. The Israelites must not value their racial purity as an absolute. The presence of foreigners among them is a factor shared with other oppressed peoples. It was as "the smallest of all nations" that God chose, to show his love and fidelity (Deut 7:7). If we wish to embrace the privilege of being God’s elect people, we need in turn to embrace kindliness, compassion and a healthy humility in face of today’s multi-ethnic society.

Matthew quotes Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. The apostolate of Jesus is portrayed in advance by this passage, written during the Babylonian exile. This text was puzzling to narrow-minded Jews in later generations, as its attitude towards the gentiles seemed too mild, offering hope for their salvation. Jesus is described as "my servant whom I have chosen, my loved one in whom I delight…The bruised reed he will not crush; In his name the gentiles will find hope."

If we ignore our neighbour’s troubles, we hardly deserve the name of Christian. Like Jesus we have some power to cure and heal, quietly, without ostentation. We cannot disregard the outsider without being called to account by God. As we open our hearts to people of mixed ancestry, according to the example of Jesus, we will be apostles of hope, not just for others but also for ourselves. In many ways, others can teach us how to be God’s chosen people.

Crushed and smouldering

What a contrast between the Pharisees plotting against Jesus, planning to destroy him, and the saint described by Isaiah, a servant of God who will not brawl or shout, who will not break the crushed reed nor quench the smouldering wick. There is one use of power that damages the innocent and a very different use of power that protects and nurtures what is vulnerable.

The latter is the power which filled the life of Jesus and which is meant to guide our lives. In daily life we encounter all sorts of "crushed reeds" and "smouldering wicks". At times indeed we ourselves can be the crushed reed or the smouldering wick. When we are at our most vulnerable, we need a power that can nurture, sustain and encourage us. Such is the power of the risen Lord, the power of the Spirit, and our calling is to be the channels of that life-giving power and encouragement to each other.

16th Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 16

1st Reading: Exodus 14:5-18

Is it better to be slaves in Egypt than risk death in the desert?

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, "What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?" So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pihahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert." But Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers."

Responsorial: Exodus 15:1-6

R./: Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory

I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!
  Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!
The Lord is my strength, my song, my salvation.
This is my God and I extol him,
  my father's God and I give him praise. (R./)

The Lord is a warrior! The Lord is his name.
  The chariots of Pharaoh he hurled into the sea,
  the flower of his army is drowned in the sea. (R./)

The deeps hide them; they sank like a stone.
  Your right hand, Lord, glorious in its power,
  your right hand, Lord, has shattered the enemy. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:38-42

Foreigners received God's message more than Jesus' own audience

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!


Daring to trust

How hard it is to really trust in God, when the chips are down and the risk is real. We might feel like the haggard Israelites, who after escaping Egypt were still fearful that God would abandon them in the desert. Unless immediate solutions are available to put them beyond all risk, the refugees put this bitter question to Moses: "Were there no graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert?" Unless we are determined to reject slavery at all costs, we will not take the risks of faith.

Instinctively we know that some risks unavoidable; they are an ingredient of life. Unless spouses take the risk of commitment "for better or for worse" sooner or later they abandon fidelity to one another. At crucial times, we must summon our faith that God does care when his people are in trouble. The Bible challenges us to sustain that spirit of hopeful faith, even if the fulfillment of our hope is long delayed.

How disappointed Jesus must have felt when people showed interest only in miracles, instead wanting a deeper relationship with God. Already he had shown great kindness and concern for people's needs, but they wanted more than a series of cures or words of wisdom about being poor in spirit or pure of heart. He mentions the Ninevites' response to Jonah and how many of them were converted by his preaching; and the Queen of the Sheba's admiration for the wisdom of Solomon. These foreigners, even the worst of them, repented and were converted. . .and yet "you have a greater than Solomon here."

Unless we take the risk of faith, miracles will prove nothing to us. Then too, Jesus points to the sign of Jonah, "three days and three nights in the belly of the whale." We too must risk going the depths and letting ourselves be as it were "swallowed up" by the will of God and taken wherever God brings us, as happened to Jonah. Then we will experience the sweet reward of long fidelity.

Standing on holy ground

Jesus names two famous figures from the Jewish past, wise king Solomon and the reluctant prophet Jonah. He then calls himself greater than both of them. Jesus not only speaks God's word, he IS the Word of God; Jesus not only has wisdom, he IS the Wisdom of God. In spite of this, many of his contemporaries did not appreciate him. Scribes and Pharisees come to him looking for a sign; they want some spectacular sign before they will take him seriously. What Jesus says to them he says to all of us, "There is something greater than Jonah here; something greater than Solomon here."

Someone greater than all the prophets and wise men of Israel put together is among us, is present to us, present within us. Not only is Jesus greater than Jonah and Solomon; he is greater than anything that might come between us and him. Saint Paul says, "Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." If someone so great is among us, our calling is to become attentive to him, to appreciate that because of his presence we are standing on holy ground..

Tuesday of Week 16

First Reading Exodus 14:21, 15:1

The Egyptians hunt Israel into the sea, and are drowned

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt."

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
  "I will sing to the Lord,
  for he has triumphed gloriously;
  horse and rider he has thrown into the sea."
It was then that Moses and the children of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord:

Responsorial: Exodus 15:8-10, 12, 17

Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory

At the breath of your anger the waters piled high;
  the moving waters stood up like a dam;
   the deeps turned solid in the midst of the sea.

The enemy said: 'I will pursue and overtake them,
  I will divide the plunder, I shall have my will.
  I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.' (R./)

You blew with your breath, the sea closed over them.
  They went down like lead into the mighty waters.
  You stretched forth your hand, the earth engulfed them. (R./)

You will lead your people and plant them on your mountain,
  the place, O Lord, where you have made your home,
  the sanctuary, Lord, which your hands have made. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 12:46-50

Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."


Embrace the wider family

Exodus tells of Israel's liberation and journey towards the promised land and of their uniqueness among the nations. Matthew, on the contrary, sees Jesus forming a new family of outsiders, based on "whoever does the will of my Father." Christianity is to form a chosen people from among all nations, gathered around Jesus. This notion "chosen people" can seem restrictive unless we remember that unless we first rally together in a strong family bond, we will have little to share with others.

Only a loving family can open its doors freely to neighbours and outsiders. The Hebrew Scriptures insist that God's chosen people should resist all oppression. All symbols of pride and greed and dominance must be cast to the bottom of the sea, as they sang to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously. "Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea." This symbol was remembered in Israel. God will "cast our sins into the depths of the sea" and be ever faithful to his people. After they returned from the Babylonian exile, still reeling from this traumatic event, the people prayed for a renewal of faith as in the days of Moses, and for the favour God showed to their ancestors. However, in this period of regrouping they felt it necessary to exclude all outsiders. Restored Israel first had to recover its identity in order to later open its doors and have something worthwhile to share.

Jesus threw open the doors, even at great cost even to his natural family. When his mother and brothers wanted to speak with him, Jesus seemed to set their wishes aside. Gesturing to the circle of his disciples, he said, "These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me." He makes it quite clear how to belong to his spiritual family.

Ties that bind

We love and cherish our family members, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, all our relatives. But Jesus names a group who are even more important to him than the members of his earthly family. Pointing to his disciples, he says, "Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters." He defines disciples as those who do the will of his Father in heaven, as he has shown it by his teaching and by his life, death and resurrection. We can be, and should become, members of his family.

Earlier, in the beatitudes, said "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," in other words, "Blessed are those whose deepest desire is to do God's will." We may not succeed in doing God's will all the time, but if our deepest desire is to do what God wants, we are truly the Lord's disciples, and, in virtue of that, his brothers and sisters. What Jesus wants is for us to be members of his new family, held together not by ties of blood but by the Holy Spirit. Hungering to do God's will, we open ourselves to the Spirit makes us brothers and sisters in the family of Jesus, and sons and daughters of God.

Wednesday of Week 16

1st Reading: Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days."

Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.'" And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.'

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."

Responsorial: Psalm 77:18-19, 23-28

R./: The Lord gave them bread from heaven

In their heart they put God to the test
  by demanding the food they craved.
They even spoke against God. They said:
  'Is it possible for God to prepare a table in the desert?' (R./)

Yet he commanded the clouds above
  and opened the gates of heaven.
He rained down manna for their food,
  and gave them bread from heaven. (R./)

Mere men ate the bread of angels.
  He sent them abundance of food.
He made the east wind blow from heaven
  and roused the south wind by his might. (R./)

He rained food on them like dust,
  winged fowl like the sands of the sea.
He let it fall in the midst of their camp
  and all around their tents. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9

Jesus left the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"


Wait until the harvest

We have just read the first of a series of parables from Matthew’s gospel. The parables of Jesus often end with a clear punch-line that invites us to reflect on the quality of our living. As we compare the same parable in different gospels, we see how each evangelist felt free to adapt these enigmatic stories told by Jesus.

Comparing the text from Exodus with today’s parable, they describe two different views of how God deals with his people: in the Exodus saga, God intervenes by signs and wonders; in the parable, God works quietly, making the farmer’s hard work fruitful.  After leaving Egypt the Israelites started to complain, first about the bitter water (15:24) and then about the scarcity of meat and bread. Clearly they preferred a return to slavery in a land where they had plenty to eat, rather risk the journey to freedom and human dignity through the desert. God responded with a miracle that was not just for the benefit of the grumblers but for all future generations of his people, including ourselves.

Jesus describes the normal growth of wheat or barley. The system of fanning is quite different from ours but it would have been familiar to his listeners. Jesus draws attention to the certainty of the harvest, yielding "grain a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold." This harvest excludes nobody from the kingdom: whether with few or with many talents, all have a part. Not only does the natural process of sowing, growth and harvesting contrast with the sudden appearance of the quail and manna, but the parable insists on the virtue of waiting.

The people in the desert wanted instant gratification and rejected the slow trek through the desert with its austerities and deprivations. What a contrast to Moses, a man of strong and humble faith, tested in all sorts of ways and still persevering in his mission to lead the people under God’s providential care.

Choices to be made

Toward the end of his life the physicist Stephen Hawking contemplated the future of the human race with concern. He feared that with humankind’s instinctive leaning towards greed and oppression, any hope of conflict lessening was misplaced and that new technologies would only make things worse. The only hope for human survival, he felt, would be in independent colonies living in space. This was not the first time this brilliant man gave us food for thought. His recognition of flawed humanity echoes the old Christian doctrine of original sin but his suggestion of a promised land in outer space overlooks one simple fact. If human nature is flawed, as Hawking suggests and Christians believe, then our imperfections will remain wherever we are, on planet Earth or in space. We will always need the help of God’s grace.

Jesus had no illusions about the frailty of humankind; he met it throughout his ministry but he also recognised potential in many ordinary people that he met. While he acknowledged the reality of human greed and aggression that troubled professor Hawking, he also pointed to our God-given capacity to love and proved its transforming power by his own actions, many times. Christians believe that God is love and wherever love is experienced God is present and active. This enables us to speak of hope not only in the here and now but also into the future.

There are choices to be made and the parable of the Sower explains some of the choices people make. Some are simply not interested; some engage for a while but give up; some are preoccupied with what is going on in their lives: , the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (that) enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But what a harvest is there, for those who welcome the word with good and generous hearts.


Thursday of Week 16

1st Reading: Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after."

When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses: "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Responsorial: Daniel 3:52-56

R./: Glory and praise for ever!

You are blest, Lord God of our fathers. (R./)

Blest your glorious holy name. (R./)

You are blest in the temple of your glory. (R./)

You are blest on the throne of your kingdom. (R./)

You are blest who gaze into the depths. (R./)

You are blest in the firmament of heaven. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:10-17

The disciples came to Jesus and asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

'You will indeed listen, but never understand,
  and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
  and their ears are hard of hearing,
  and they have shut their eyes;
  so that they might not look with their eyes,
  and listen with their ears,
  and understand with their heart and turn
  - and I would heal them.'

"But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."


Spiritual vision and blindness

We all have our moments of spiritual insight but perhaps also we drift off into spiritual apathy or blindness. Like our biblical forebears we need to consciously return to seek grace and meaning. The words of Jesus call us to open our eyes, to appreciate what he has brought us. "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear."

We turn to Jesus to revive our finest ideals from the days of our fervour. If we remember our original call, its inspiration and our first enthusiasm for life, God’s grace can grasp us again, as it has in times past. In such a context we might gain newunderstanding of those puzzling words of Jesus: "To the one who has, more will be given until that one grows rich; the one who has not, will lose what little he or she has."

Listening without hearing

When Jesus speaks of looking without seeing and of listening without hearing, we can relate to what he means. We know from experience that sometimes we listen without hearing and look without seeing. If what is being said is not worth hearing we listen without paying attention. If what is in front of us is not really worth our attention we ignore it. But Jesus blamed those who saw and ignored him and who equally ignored what he had to say.

The Gospel is worth more than a cursory glance and a half-engaged listen. The more carefully we look at Jesus the more we will see, and the more attentively we listen to him, the more we will hear. That is what Jesus means in the gospel when he says, "for anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough." The more we attend to his word, the more we will receive and the more blessed we will be, as he says at the end, "Happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear."

Jesus is alive among us as risen Lord; he is there to be seen and to be heard by us all. We hear and see him in a special way when we gather to celebrate Eucharist with him. But he is to be seen and heard in other ways as well. He is visible and audible to us in and through each other, especially in and through those who are most vulnerable. We pray for eyes to see and ears to hear his presence among us.


Friday of Week 16

1st Reading: Exodus 20:1-17

On Mount Sinai God gives the Commandments to Moses

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work, you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Responsorial: Psalm 18:8-11

R./: Lord, you have the words of everlasting life

The law of the Lord is perfect,
  it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
  it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
  they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
  it gives light to the eyes. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
  abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
  and all of them just. (R./)

They are more to be desired than gold,
  than the purest of gold.
Sweeter are they than honey,
  than honey from the comb. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus explains the parable of the sower

Jesus said to his disciples, "Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."


Fundamentals of Faith

No moral code is more basic than the Ten Commandments. Almost every legal system in the world condemns stealing, killing, adultery and blasphemy. But we need to set the Decalogue alongside the parable of the sower and the seed. Our morality is more than just a fence or perimeter against wrongdoing, or merely a set of "Thou shalt nots". Morality is essentially linked to growth and development, to bear fruits of positive goodness, as God wants of us.

No world religion stresses the mercy of God as much as the Bible does; nor propose so much care for strangers and aliens. The appeal of the Decalogue also reaches out to include other nations. The parables challenge us to be generous in sharing our possessions. There is an overall generosity about the Bible which makes it central to the future of our race.


Hearing God's Word fruitfully

Jesus suggests some of the obstacles that can hinder us from hearing his word fruitfully.

The first obstacle is lack of knowledge. We need some understanding of what we hear. We don't need to do all kinds of courses, but we require some sense of who Jesus is, to hear his word with appreciation.

The second obstacle is lack of roots. We may not allow the word enter into us deeply enough. We have a superficial acquaintance with the word, but we don't pray enough for it to take real root in us. What isn't rooted in us can easily be abandoned when it begins to cost us something.

The third obstacle is described as both "the cares of the world" and "the lure of riches"; they warn against excessive concern for money and worldly success. We cannot serve God and Mammon; if we try to serve Mammon, we block ourselves from hearing the Lord's Word.

Hearing God's Word fruitfully won't happen without effort on our part. There are obstacles to be faced if we really want to tune in. That's why we pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The Lord is stronger than any obstacles we face, and if we let ourselves be guided by his Spirit, we will bear the fruits that God desires for us..

Saturday of Week 16

1st Reading: Exodus 24:3-8

Moses offers sacrifice, and the people accept the book of the covenant

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, "See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."

Responsorial: Psalm 49:1-2, 5-6, 14-15

R./: Offer to God a sacrifice of praise

The God of gods, the Lord,
  has spoken and summoned the earth.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
  out of Zion's perfect beauty he shines. (R./)

'Summon before me my people
  who made covenant with me by sacrifice.'
The heavens proclaim his justice,
  for he, God, is the judge. (R./)

Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God
  and render him your votive offerings.
'Call on me in the day of distress.
  I will free you and you shall honour me.' (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30

Parable of the weeds sown among the wheat

Jesus put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"


A Covenant of Justice

Exodus ends with the "Book of the Covenant," which is the very heart of the Mosaic Torah. In a solemn ceremony presided over by Moses, the the covenant union between God and the people is celebrated. A little later in the chapter, a sacred meal is added to signify the same result, a lasting bond between God and the people. This symbolism is repeated, with some modification, in our Eucharistic service. Over the chalice the priest repeats Jesus’ words: "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant."

Today’s gospel advises patience and hope in face of wrongdoing by others. If weeds are detected in a wheat field and the prophet-servants want to go out and pull them up, the master says, "No! If you pull up the weeds and you might take the wheat along with them." It is not that God tolerates evil forever, but allows plenty of time for the harvest to be properly brought home.

The tolerant farmer

The farmer (who sowed wheat seed in a field) had a different outlook from that of his servants. When weeds appeared among the wheat the servants wanted to dig up the weeds so as leave only pure wheat. The farmer’s instinct was different. In a sense, he was more tolerant of the weeds. He suggested letting both wheat and weeds grow until the harvest time, and then they can be separated. A patient man; he knew he would get his wheat without the weeds eventually. Meantime, he could let them be.

Jesus seems to be saying something here about ours attitudes too – and about our church and all the individual disciples in it. He seems to be acknowledging that the church will be a mixture of the good and the not-so-good up until the end of time, when all that is not of God will disappear.

As individuals, we too are a mixture of light and shade until we are fully conformed to the image of God’s Son in the next life. Yes, we are all the time trying to grow more fully into God’s Son. Yet, we have to accept that sin will always be part of our lives, this side of eternity. Like the farmer in the parable, the Lord is patient with us. We need to be patient with ourselves and with each other. This is not complacency; it is simply the realistic recognition that we are all a work in progress. God has begun a good work in our lives, and even if it is not perfect in this life, God will bring his good work to completion in eternity.

17th Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 17

1st Reading: Exodus 32:15-24 etc

Despite the scandal of the golden calf, Moses leads his people on toward the Promised Land

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, "There is a noise of war in the camp." But he said, "It is not the sound made by victors, or the sound made by losers; it is the sound of revelers that I hear." As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?" And Aaron said, "Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. They said to me, 'Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' So I said to them, 'Whoever has gold, take it off' so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf !"

On the next day Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses returned to the Lord and said, "Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will only forgive their sin, but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written." But the Lord said to Moses, "Whoever ha sinned against me I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin."

Responsorial: Psalm 105:19-23

R./: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good

They fashioned a calf at Horeb
  and worshipped an image of metal,
exchanging the God who was their glory
  for the image of a bull that eats grass. (R./)

They forgot the God who was their saviour,
  who had done such great things in Egypt,
such portents in the land of Ham,
  such marvels at the Red Sea. (R./)

For this he said he would destroy them,
  but Moses, the man he had chosen,
stood there in the breach before him,
  to turn back his anger from destruction. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-35

By parables Jesus reveals things hidden since the creation of the world

He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world."


Healed and purified

As life moves along, earlier sins seem to meet with their nemesis. Even though God did not immediately punish the people for worshipping the golden calf with lustful revelry, he says that in due time they will be punished. Yet, the story does not end here, for there is another aspect of the mystery of salvation, "hidden since the creation of the world," to be revealed in the parables of Jesus.

Jesus spoke about matters "hidden since the foundation of the world," quoting from the opening lines of Psalm 78, "Listen, my people, to my teaching... I will utter mysteries from of old." This long psalm recounts the history of Israel, from the Exodus to the choice of David as king and of Mount Zion as the sacred site of the temple. The story about Moses and the golden calf becomes a part of God's eternal mystery of mercy and salvation, hidden since the creation of the world.

Exodus reminds us more than once that God is faithful even to the thousandth generation. Yet in today's reading God says, "I will punish them for their sins." If we link Jesus' parables with this statement, it seems to speak of purification. Because "Israel," each of us as God's chosen people, contains the high potential of the mustard seed, the mystery of good life is also developing within us. Goodness will triumph. The healthy body (God's mystery of yeast and mustard seed,) will eject the poison (sin and the memory of evil deeds). At the end we shall be found cleansed, healed and purified.

Planting a mustard-seed

The two parables today reflect the effect of Jesus' ministry. His work in Galilee is like the mustard seed and the leaven. It is on a small scale and seemed unpromising. Jesus has not been sweeping all before him. He has been going about his work quietly without fanfare. Yet, these small beginnings are the promise of something wonderful to come, just as the mustard seed becomes a tree where the birds of the air build their nests and the tiny leaven has a huge impact on three measures of flower.

Humble beginnings can have a great outcome if what is attempted a work for God. The Lord encourage us to keep doing the little bit of good we are able to do. It may not seem much in our own eyes or in the eyes of others, yet God can work powerfully through whatever little good we do, in ways that will surprise us. We can plant the equivalent of the mustard seed; we can all be like the leaven. The little initiative, the small gesture, the offer of help, can bear fruit in ways we might not imagine. Our smallest efforts are worthwhile if done for love of him. Our calling is to plant some good seed and to trust that the Lord will do the rest..

Tuesday of Week 17

1st Reading: Exodus 33:7-11; etc

Moses face to face with God, fasts 40 days and receives the Ten Commandments

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, "The Lord." The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. He said, "If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance." He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Responsorial: Psalm 102:6-13

R./: The Lord is kind and merciful

The Lord does deeds of justice,
  gives judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses
  and his deeds to Israel's sons. (R./)

The Lord is compassion and love,
  slow to anger and rich in mercy.
His wrath will come to an end:
  he will not be angry for ever. (R./)

He does not treat us according to our sins
  nor repay us according to our faults.
For as the heavens are high above the earth
  so strong is his love for those who fear him. (R./)

As far as the east is from the west
  so far does he remove our sins.
As a father has compassion on his sons,
  the Lord has pity on those who fear him. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:36-43

The parable of the weeds refers to the end of the world

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"


Meeting God face to face

While the giving of the Law is detailed in Exodus 19 to 24, chapters 32 to 34 are vital to the message of Exodus. Because the Way of the Covenant is a total way of life under God, it will touch all aspects of our existence. Moses understood that life in all its complexity is a gift from the living God, who sustains us day by day. This is exemplified in Moses’ own direct experience of God.

He had a special tabernacle, or meeting tent, for his encounters with God. As Moses entered this tent, the column of cloud came down to its entrance, and there the Lord of glory spoke with Moses "face to face". While this is a figure of speech, since the eternal God has no "face" or "voice" like a human being, still is highlights the unique privilege and holiness of Moses . Later in Deuteronomy it says: "No prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses whom the Lord knew face to face. He had no equal at all" (Deut 34:10-11). It says that Moses stayed in God’s presence for forty days and forty nights, without food or water. His fasting may have been a penance for the sins of his people, but might equally be from deep contemplative joy. We too are summoned to some kind of personal encounter with the living God.

The way of Moses can be our guide. We should progress in purity of heart and purpose, towards a higher spiritual state. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). As we reach out to God we too can get some glimpse of the divine presence, and pray, like Moses, to "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."

The weeds and the wheat

At the request of his disciples, Jesus explained his parable of the wheat and the weeds. Its focus is the final separation of the good and the wicked at the end of time. He suggests that until that final separation, good and evil will co-exist in the world and in the church, and also, perhaps, within our own hearts. The weeds and the wheat grow together, and the final separation will be made by God in judgment. It is not our place to judge each other’s moral quality in the present time, since judgment about people’s motives belongs to God alone.

A favourite theme of Pope Francis has been that we should we slow to judge. It’s all too easy to see ourselves as the wheat and identity various other groups as the weeds. We need to remember what Saint Paul said to those who were judging him, "Do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes." Remember that he is a "God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness."

Wednesday of Week 17

1st Reading: Exodus 34:29-35

Moses veils his face when speaking to the people

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 98:5-7, 9

R./: Holy is the Lord our God

Exalt the Lord our God;
  bow down before Zion, his footstool.
  He the Lord is holy. (R./)

Among his priests were Aaron and Moses,
  among those who invoked his name were Samuel.
  They invoked the Lord and he answered. (R./)

To them he spoke in the pillar of cloud.
  They did his will; they kept the law,
  which he, the Lord, had given. (R./)

Exalt the Lord our God;
  bow down before his holy mountain
  for the Lord our God is holy.

Gospel: Matthew 13:44-46

Making radical choices , ready to sell all for the sake of the buried treasure and for the priceless pearl

Jesus said to his disciples,"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it."


The pearl of great price

At some turning points in our lives, and certainly at the hour of death, we are faced with the prospect of leaving all behind to embrace something radically new. While in the gospel Jesus asks his disciples for radical dedication to the Kingdom of God, the Exodus reading also illustrates how, in his loyal service of God, Moses was transformed. This mighty warrior had led his people out of Egypt towards the Promised Land. Now, after being in intimate conversation with God, Moses had such a foretaste of heaven that "the skin of his face became radiant." The peace, strength and compassion of God shone from the eyes and face of this man of God.

The radiance on the face of Moses was too much for the Israelites. They backed away so that Moses had to shout to them from a distance and from then on began to wear a veil to hide his face. Like people who prefer to worship from the very back of the church, the Jews did not want God to be too close to them. They were happy to let Moses be their spokesman and intercessor. Yet, when important decisions had to be made, the people were anxious for God’s guidance. We too are grateful for the saints who have shown us the way to live a life pleasing to God. They help us to know right from wrong and to live generously, until in the end we gain the pearl of great price, eternal life with God.

There may be times in life when our struggle is not against what is evil or immoral, but will be coping with misfortune, or even feeling abandoned even by God. In those times we need faith to believe that, like the merchant in search of that priceless pearl, it really is there to be found.

What to treasure

In both of today’s pithy parables, people find something of high value, one a box of treasure and the other a priceless pearl. How they make these discoveries is quite different. One finds treasure by accident, while not looking for anything in particular. He was working for wages, digging in someone else’s field, and the last thing he expected to find was a trunk of buried treasure. In the other case, the merchant was actively searching for fine pearls and, eventually, as a result of persistent searching, found one pearl of great value which stood out from all the rest.

Both are images of the kingdom of God. Both suggest that our relationship with God is greater than any earthly treasure. The first parable suggests that this treasure comes to us as a grace. We can be surprised by God’s gracious initiative, hidden beneath the surface of our lives. Grace can break through to us when we are least expecting it. The second parable highlights the importance of searching in coming to know God. The person who seeks will find If we knock we will have the door opened. We can be, and will be, surprised by grace, but also we are called to seek him with all our heart and soul.##

Thursday of Week 17

1st Reading: Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38

The tabernacle and its contents are consecrated and God's glory settles there

Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the Lord had commanded Moses. He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above the ark; and he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the curtain for screening, and screened the ark of the covenant; as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.

Responsorial: Psalm 83:3-6, 8, 11

R./: How lovely is your dwelling-place, Lord, mighty God!

My soul is longing and yearning,
  is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
  to God, the living God. (R./)

The sparrow herself finds a home
  and the swallow a nest for her brood;
she lays her young by your altars,
  Lord of hosts, my king and my God. (R./)

They are happy, who dwell in your house,
  for ever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you,
  they walk with ever growing strength. (R./)

One day within your courts
  is better than a thousand elsewhere.
The threshold of the house of God
  I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:47-53

The reign of God is like a net that hauls in all kinds of fish; and like a storeroom full of objects old and new

Jesus said to his disciples,
  "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.


Things New and Old

Today we have the end of Exodus, as important in the Old Testament as are the gospels in the New. We conclude a major section in Matthew’s gospel, on the mystery of the kingdom of God. Both readings speak of being drawn under God’s gracious influence.

Biblical religion always had a forward vision looking to the messianic age. Along the way some major changes were required at times by cultural or national crises, like the Philistine threat which was overcome by uniting the people into a kingdom under David and Solomon. All changes and transitions can be difficult. But in Jesus’ vision there is always hope for renewal, for the head of the household can bring from his treasures things new and old.

At transitional moments in our personal life as in church, we need the courage to endure through the change, in hope, and the vision to recognize the will of God drawing us into a future more precious even than the past.

Our own Tent of Meeting

Moses did not dare enter the Tent of Meeting because of the brightness of the Lord that filled the tabernacle inside the tent. In John’s gospel in particular, the glory of the Lord fills the person of Jesus. Yet, whereas Moses could not approach the Tent of Meeting, Jesus invited all people to approach him. The fundamental calling of Jesus in John’s gospel is "Come and see." Jesus speaks of the disciple of the kingdom of heaven as like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.

We can regard Moses as the major character in the Old Testament. Jesus is the core of the New Testament or New Covenant. We value the Old Testament highly It is the context within which we read the Gospels. But we value our New Testament even more, and see it as the key to interpreting the Old Testament. As Christians we have a rich storeroom, containing things both new and old. But we treasure above all the "new wine" that Jesus brought. He came to make all things new, and as risen Lord he continues to work in our lives renewing us in mind, heart and spirit so that we become more fully like himself..

Friday of Week 17

1st Reading: Leviticus 23:1, 4-11 etc

Sacred festivals of Pasch, Pentecost, Atonement and Tabernacles

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. For seven days you shall present the Lord's offerings by fire; on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall not work at your occupations.

The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it.

And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.

Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths to the Lord. The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall present the Lord's offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord's offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.

These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord offerings by fire, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day.

Responsorial: Psalm 80:3-6, 10-11

R./: Sing with joy to God our help

Raise a song and sound the timbrel,
  the sweet-sounding harp and the lute.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
  when the moon is full, on our feast. (R./)

For this is Israel's law,
  a command of the God of Jacob.
He imposed it as a rule on Joseph,
  when he went out against the land of Egypt. (R./)

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. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 13:54-58

The people of Nazareth reject Jesus; and he could work few miracles there

Jesus came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house." And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.


Liturgy and life

We have read from Leviticus, perhaps the most boring book in the whole Bible. Most of it seems hardly relevant to Church life and worship today. Perhaps that’s why it is so seldom used in our liturgy. But when first written, the book of Leviticus was a synthesis of cultural practices, secular traditions and religious ritual. It evolved gradually so that Mosaic religion could move with changing times. Only hundreds of years after Moses, around 400 B.C., did Leviticus reach its present form. Its final achievement was to adapt to the postexilic age, quite different from any previous age in their history.

Today’s text alludes to their most sacred of all days, later called simply YOMA, the Day of Atonement. That day combined a formal liturgy in the temple (Lev 16:1-19) with the colourful, outdoor ceremony of driving a goat (scapegoat) into the desert, loaded with all the people’s sins, to be hurled over a precipice (16:20-28). However odd this seems to us, it pleased the popular religiosity of those days. What bothered the prophets far more than this consigning of sins to Azazel was the discordance between liturgical and daily life.

Jesus blended liturgy and life into authentic harmony. He began his word at Nazareth by quoting from Isaiah, about "glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind and release for prisoners." This was his response to the Year of Jubilee, discussed later in Leviticus. He encountered stiff, envious resistance in his home town. Seeing that they lacked an open heart to welcome a generous God, he could work very few miracles there. We might reflect on our own blend of liturgy and prayer. How does liturgy affect my daily life? Can I accept challenge and change, to help the poor and work for the good of the environment? Am I envious of, or delighted with, God’s concern for others?

Ordinary and extraordinary

When Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth, the townspeople recognized him as the son of the carpenter, whose mother, Mary, and whose brothers and sisters were known to them. He is one of their own, a working man just like themselves. Yet, in ways he is not like them. The people of Nazareth are astonished at his wisdom and his miraculous powers. Where could he have got all that from? They were mystified by him.

Jesus was both ordinary and extraordinary. He was like us in every way, except sin. He was fully human yet there was the wisdom and power of God at work within him. St John expressed it succinctly when he said at the beginning of his gospel that the Word became flesh. He was "flesh" like all of us, fully human, the son of a carpenter, from a particular place in Galilee who lived at a particular time in history. Yet, his man revealed God in a unique way. This is the scandal of the incarnation that so disturbed the people of Nazareth.

The son of the carpenter, the son of Mary, is with us today as risen Lord in and through the familiar and the ordinary. He said to his disciples, "whoever welcomes you, welcomes me," "whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me" and "as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." The sacred and the secular are not so far apart; we meet the sacred in the secular, the divine in the human. We are always on holy ground..

Saturday of Week 17

1st Reading: Leviticus (25:1, 8-17

Land can never be sold or mortgaged beyond the next Jubilee year

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: "You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. The you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the day of atonement, you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

"In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God."

Responsorial: Psalm 66:2-3, 5, 7-8

R./: O God, let all the nations praise you!

O God, be gracious and bless us
  and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
  and all nations learn your saving help. (R./)

Let the nations be glad and exult
  for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
  you guide the nations on earth. (R./)

The earth has yielded its fruit for God,
  our God, has blessed us.
May God still give us his blessing
  till the ends of the earth revere him. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 14:1-12

John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, and then beheaded at the dancer's request

At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him." For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been telling him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.

But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter." The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.


Be wary of Dancing Girls

Laughing and boasting, king Herod was on top of the world, surrounded by wealthy friends and celebrities, who praised him on his birthday and toasted his success as King of Galilee. The highlight of the party was when Salome, Herod’s pretty step-daughter, came in to do a special dance. Her erotic ballet so pleased Herod that he extravagantly promised her, ‘Ask for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.’ It was a foolish promise that would afterwards haunt him: "I will give you up to half my kingdom." Herod is just another in a series of Bible characters who went astray. How great might Samson have been, without his lust for Delilah? Would David not have left a finer legacy had he not taken another man’s wife? Might Solomon’s wisdom have laster longer if he did not listen to many foreign wives, who turned his heart astray? There is an important lesson to ponder: There go I but for the grace of God!

Herod comes across as superficial, weak-willed and easily led. While his mistress, Herodias, wanted John the Baptist killed for speaking against their affair, Herod hesitated. He revered John as a just and holy man, so he kept him alive in prison, and even came at times to listen to his message. Only when Herid’s defenses were down because of the girl’s exotic dance did Herodias get her way, and John was executed. Herod’s impulsive promise warns against making foolish decisions when defences are down and prudence is silenced. It shows how the effects of sin can long outlive the pleasure of the moment. John’s hasty execution so haunted Herod that when he heard about Jesus preaching, his first thought was "This is John, whom I beheaded." He was still feeling guilty about John! Herod’s birthday is long in the past, but his promise speaks a quiet warning to us to this very day.

Abuse of power

The execution of John the Baptist is a dramatic example of the abuse of power with which human history is peppered. In the time of Jesus, Herod Antipas was ruler in Galilee. Although ultimately subject to the emperor in Rome he could use his local power as he wished, subject to the laws of Rome. In today’s episode, Herod abused his power to execute an innocent man. People who abuse power in this way lose their authority. The Baptist has no power in this scene; he was Herod’s prisoner. But he has greater moral authority, rooted in his relationship with God. That gave John the freedom to speak the truth to power and confront king Herod for breaking the Jewish law. For speaking out, John was imprisoned and executed.

John’s martyrdom foreshadows that of Jesus. As Jesus hung from the cross he too had no power. As Paul says, "he was crucified in weakness." Yet at that moment he had great authority, the authority of a life of integrity and goodness, the authority of God’s faithful Son. This, remarkably, was recognized by the centurion in charge of the crucifixion. Even if we have little or no power, we can have authority in the gospel sense. Like John the Baptist we are called to be people of the word, who let God shape our values, our attitudes, our whole lives.

John the Baptist foreshadows Jesus. As Jesus hung from the cross he too had no power. As Paul says, "he was crucified in weakness." Yet at that moment he had great authority, the authority of a life of integrity and goodness, the authority, ultimately, of the faithful Son of God. This, remarkably, was recognized by the centurion in charge of the crucifixion. Even if we have little or no power, we can have authority in the gospel sense. Like John the Baptist we are called to be people of the word, who let God shape our values, our attitudes, our whole lives.

18th Week, Ordinary Time

Monday of Week 18

1st Reading: Numbers 11:4-15

A rebellion during the Exodus from Egypt

The rabble among the Israelites had a strong craving; and they also wept again, and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!' I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once - if I have found favor in your sight - and do not let me see such misery as this."

Responsorial: Psalm 80:12-17

R./: Sing with joy to God our help

My people did not heed my voice
  and Israel would not obey,
so I left them in their stubbornness of heart
  to follow their own designs. (R./)

O that my people would heed me,
  that Israel would walk in my ways!
At once I would subdue their foes,
  turn my hand against their enemies. (R./)

The Lord's enemies would cringe at their feet
  and their subjection would last for ever.
But Israel I would feed with finest wheat
  and fill them with honey from the rock. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21

Out of compassion, Jesus cures the sick and multiplies food in a deserted place

When Jesus heard the news of John the Baptis's death, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


Responding to crisis

The Book of Numbers reports a blazing row between Moses and some rebels among the people he was supposed to lead. The refugees he led out of Egypt were "a crowd of mixed ancestry" (Exod 12:38) and we hear about an alien, foreign element among them (Num 11:4). The Hebrew word might well be translated "riffraff." If such people are to be moulded into a "kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6), it will take years of purification and training. Moses wanted the people to risk going immediately to the promised land; but they rebelled and threatened to stone him unless he changed his mind. His impatience at their rejection of his leadership is not surprising; but he prayed God to forgive them and to show mercy.

Jesus’ disciples were tempted to follow the easy way out of trouble. We read how they came up with the suggestion, "Dismiss the crowds so that they may go to the villages and buy some food for themselves." Whenever we are faced with a difficult challenge, let’s not only consider our limited resources, but be guided by compassion and respect for others. In our heart we will hear God’s genuine word. At such times we can also imitate Peter and cry out, "Lord, save me."

People in need

Different people react in different ways to the same crisis. At the sight of a hungry mass of people, Jesus responds in a very different way to his followers. They wanted him to send the crowd away. He wanted them to try to feed the crowd. Even though they protested that there was nothing like enough food, Jesus persisted, and they brought him the little food they could find. With that little, with such few resources, the whole crowd were fed.

He will always encourage us to offer some service to others, even when our resources are scarce. If we are generous with what we have, the Lord will manage to surprise us. He can work wonders through the ordinary resources and gifts we’ve got. We need to do our bit, like the disciples in the gospel, but God does more. If we are unwilling to do the little we can with what we have, the Lord’s outreach to others is curtailed. Our strength and resources, however small, help to continue his good work among us.

Tuesday of Week 18

1st Reading: Numbers 12:1-13

Despite the envy of Aaron and Miriam God appoints Moses as supreme leader of his people

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had indeed married a Cushite woman); and they said, "Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?" And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth. Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, "Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting." So the three of them came out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. And he said, "Hear my words:

When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams. Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly, not in riddles; and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, "Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother's womb." And Moses cried to the Lord, "O God, please heal her."

Responsorial: Psalm 50:3-7, 12-13

R./: Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
  In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
  and cleanse me from my sin. (R./)

My offences truly I know them;
  my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
  what is evil in your sight I have done. (R./)

That you may be justified when you give sentence
  and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
  a sinner was I conceived. (R./)

A pure heart create for me, O God,
  put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
  nor deprive me of your holy spirit. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-36

Jesus retires to pray, walks on water, saves Peter from sinking

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.


Frictions in the family

Again God rescues his servant in a moment of crisis, defending Moses against the envy of Miriam and Aaron. The disciples of Jesus have their own crisis when they are tossed in a violent storm on the lake of Galilee, but they too are saved. The friction among siblings was caused by Miriam and Aaron taking scandal at Moses' marriage with a foreign woman. The second crisis was metereological, from a sudden windstorm sweeping down the Lake of Galilee. No circumstance is beyond the care of the Lord to help us.

It is consoling that such common frictions as sibling envy and resistance to a marriage could affect someone of the stature of Moses. In light of his exceptional intimacy with God, and his leadership of the nation, one might think him exempt from everyday problems. Note how throughout the episode we never hear from Moses himself, who remains silent under the criticism. Like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, there is "no crying out, no shouting, no making his voice heard in the street" etc (Isa 42:2-3). He was "the humblest man on the face of the earth." Strange, that Moses who accomplished so much knew how to keep silent. As the sage Ecclesiastes remarked, "There is an time for everything, a time for every affair under the heavens. . .a time to be silent, and a time to speak (Eccles 3:1,7).

"Lord, teach me to hold my tongue." During family disputes there is a time for silence. This reconciling spirit continues into the gospels: Jesus saves the disciples, adrift on stormy waters on the Lake of Galilee. Silence and prayer, whether it be like Moses silent before his detractors, or like Jesus who "went up on the mountain by himself to pray" makes space for God to come to our help.

Moments of prayer

There are three moments of prayer in today's gospel. First, Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray. This is the prayer of contemplation, communion with his heavenly Father. The second is the desperate plea of Peter, "Lord, save me." This is the prayer of all those who feel threatened or overwhelmed by some situation or other. We can probably all identify with this second moment of prayer, when we have a sense of ourselves as sinking. In response to Peter's prayer, Jesus held him up.

The third is the prayer of the disciples in the boat after the wind dropped, "Truly, you are the Son of God." This is the prayer of praise, acknowledging Jesus for all that he is. Peter's plea is bracketed by Jesus' prayer of communion and the disciples' prayer of praise. Even though the prayer of petition comes most easily to us, we are also called to contemplation and to praise.

Wednesday of Week 18

1st Reading: Numbers 13:1-2, 25, 14:1, 26-29, 34-35

God's anger at the complaints of the Israelites

The Lord said to Moses [in the wilderness of Paran], "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them." At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.

They told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea, and along the Jordan."

;But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we." So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. Say to them, "As I live," says the Lord, "I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very desert; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure." I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this desert they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.

Responsorial: Psalm 105:6-7, 13-14, 21-23

Lord, remember us, for the love you bear your people

Our sin is the sin of our fathers;
  we have done wrong, our deeds have been evil.
Our fathers when they were in Egypt
  paid no heed to your wonderful deeds. (R./)

But they soon forgot his deeds
  and would not wait upon his will.
They yielded to their cravings in the desert
  and put God to the test in the wilderness. (R./)

They forgot the God who was their saviour,
  who had done such great things in Egypt,
such portents in the land of Ham,
  such marvels at the Red Sea. (R./)

For this he said he would destroy them.
  But Moses, the man he had chosen,
stood there in the breach before him,
  to turn back his anger from destruction. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus heals the Canaanite woman's daughter

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.


Only apparent refusal

The readings encourage hope and perseverance in spite of rejection and delay, for God is merciful. The Israelites gave up too quickly, in face of giants and a heavily walled city guarded by a fierce and strong people. But the Canaanite woman who met Jesus would not take no for an answer.

When people came to Jesus for a favour, often he waited until they were fully ready. At first he would not even answer the Canaanite woman, and his disciples begged him to send her away. Then his first words to her sound discouraging, "My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." His world mission was not yet envisioned, though elsewhere he hints that there will be no barriers. Jesus’ silence only seemed to signal unwillingness to grant her request. Still, he could not simply walk away from the woman but talked with her till she wore down his defenses. Finally, by granting her plea, he goes beyond his verbal refusal towards the future outreach of the church, so gloriously expressed in the theology of Paul.

Not taking no for an answer

We must admire the tenacious faith of that pagan Canaanite woman. At her first cry for help, Jesus seemed indifferent to her desperation. When the woman persisted and Jesus addresses her directly, he seems to dismiss her rather harshly. But just as the woman was not put off by Jesus’ initial silence, she is not put off by his apparent refusal. She counters Jesus’ image of feeding the children rather than the house-dogs, the people of Israel rather than the pagans, and turns it to her own advantage. Then he praises her persistent and humble faith and grants her request.

Within this story there is the implication that during his lifetime Jesus did not make much effort to bring his message to pagans. This time would come later, after his death and resurrection. But this woman succeeded in bringing forward that timetable by repeating her request in the face of all resistance. Elsewhere Jesus says that faith can move mountains. This woman’s faith certainly moved him. This pagan woman encourages all of us to persevere, even when our prospects seem bleak. She inspires us to keep trying, even when the Lord seems silent and distant.

Thursday of Week 18

1st Reading: Numbers 20:1-13

Grumbling at the lack of food, the people wished to return to Egypt. Moses will not see the Promised Land

The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.

So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and by which he showed his holiness.

Responsorial: Psalm 94:1-2, 6-9

R./: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord:
  hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
  with songs let us hail the Lord. (R./)

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
  let us kneel before the God who made us
for he is our God and we the people of his pasture,
  the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)

O that today you would listen to his voice!
  'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
  as on that day at Massah in the desert
  when your fathers put me to the test;
  when they tried me, though they saw my work.' (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-23

Peter's profession of faith, his pastoral leadership, and his limited understanding

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."


The rock and the flesh

Two words stand out in these readings: "rock" and "flesh." In the Book of Numbers a rock in the mountains becomes a water source that was vital for survival. In Matthew, a "human rock" becomes the foundation of the church. Yet in the gospel "flesh" indicates the limitations of human nature, unable to fully understand Jesus. The weakness of the flesh shows up also in the people’s complaint about where Moses has led them.

It seems that even Moses had his doubts, for he struck the rock not once but twice. Yet God patiently bore the people’s murmuring and the doubts of Moses. When the majority would abandon their freedom, opting to return to Egypt, with its grains, figs, vines and pomegranates, God provided sweet water for them from a rock in the desert. Centuries later, when Israel was enjoying "the land flowing with milk and honey," they proved that they could not manage prosperity nearly as well as adversity.

God’s covenants are not with single individuals, unless the person, like a king, is representative of the whole people. Such a one was Simon, son of John, who represented the faith of all the disciples, that Jesus was "the Christ". Therefore Jesus changed his name to "Rock", in Aramaic, Cephas; in Latin, Petrus; in English, Peter.

Peter’s role was to be both inspirational and faithful, a guide to lead and unite all Jesus’ disciples. He was the rock on which the wise can build the rock of unity and faith. This, at least, was Matthew’s concept of Peter, developed over many years, when Peter’s ministry in Antioch and elsewhere had been so splendid.

To see the "fleshly" side, the human weakness of Peter, we must read the gospel of Mark, who was Peter’s own helper and secretary in Rome. It is a portrayal much less triumphalist, but movingly real, of a hesitant man, devoted to following Jesus.

Called by two names

Jesus calls Peter by two contrasting names. First he calls him the Rock, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.’ But a few verses later, he calls Peter "Satan".. "Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me."‘ Having called Peter the rock, Jesus then calls him a stumbling stone, an obstacle, for not thinking in God’s way.

The fact that Peter could be a stumbling stone does not mean that he ceased to be the rock that holds the church’s faith in unity. Like every human being, Peter was complex, in whom the wheat and weeds were mixed. In spite of his failings, Jesus appointed Peter as the rock, the focal point of the new community he came to form. The Lord keeps faith in us even after we have failed him. He works powerfully in and through flawed human beings. What he asks of us is that we keep trying to find and follow God’s way.

Friday of Week 18

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Moses calls the people to appreciate God's works and keep God's commands

Moses said to the people: "Ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time."

Responsorial: Psalm 76:12-16, 21

R./: I remember the deeds of the Lord

I remember the deeds of the Lord,
  I remember your wonders of old,
I muse on all your works
  and ponder your mighty deeds. (R./)

Your ways, O God, are holy.
  What god is great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders.
  You showed your power among the peoples. (R./)

Your strong arm redeemed your people,
  the sons of Jacob and Joseph.
You guided your people like a flock
  by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 16:24-28

Take up the cros and follow me

Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."


The Fidelity Book

Today we start a series of readings from Deuteronomy, a book to be treasured, a series of sermons about fidelity to God. It seems to have been a favourite book for Jesus, who quoted it during his temptations (Matthew 4:4, citing Deut 8:3) and later, when teaching the most important commandment of the law (Matthew 27:37 / Deut 6:5). Deuteronomy stands in a set of writings that go from Moses through the earliest settlement in the land and on to the religious renewal called the "Deuteronomic reform" (2 Kings 22-23). In a persuasive, homiletic style, it does much more than repeat the law of Moses; it exhorts and reasons from a spirit of compassion and love. Some of its memorable lines form the daily prayer of Judaism and are cited in the following paragraph: Hear, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart (Deut 6:4-5).

God calls on Israel to remember its past history and realise that nothing so great ever happened before. Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire? Deuteronomy then asks for a special kind of obedience: fidelity to Yahweh alone. In a homiletic style Deuteronomy often mentions the word "today." Each day is a new today, a new opportunity to profess our grateful obedience to the Lord. Then you will "have long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you forever."

This is reinforced by the promise of Jesus. In spite of our sins, death will not mean for us utter destruction. By faithfully him through life, we will inherit the new, abundant life foretold in Deuteronomy. If our lives are based on loyalty, generously responding to the will of God, we too will reach the promised land.

The language of paradox

Jesus often uses paradox to shock his hearers to a new view of things. One of the most striking instances is in today's gospel, when Jesus says, "anyone who wants to save his life will loose it; but anyone who looses his life for my sake will find it." Another way of expressing that is to say, "if we seek ourselves only, we will lose ourselves, whereas if we reach beyond ourselves towards God and towards his Son Jesus we will find our true selves."

If we care only for our own preferences, we risk losing ourselves, whereas if we look for God's will, which always involves looking out for others, we will find life in this world and eternal life in the next. Jesus expressed this fundamental paradox of his teaching in another way when he said, "give and it will be given to you." In other words, it is in giving that we receive. Our experience of life teaches us the truth contained in this paradox. It is when we look beyond ourselves to serve the good of others, that we experience the Lord's own joy, which is a foretaste of the fulfilment of life in the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday of Week 18

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 6:4-13

The central commandment of Torah: Be faithful to God

Moses said to the people: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant, and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.

Responsorial: Psalm 17:2-4, 47, 51

R./: I love you, Lord, my strength

I love you, Lord, my strength,
  my rock, my fortress, my saviour. (R./)

My God is the rock where I take refuge;
  my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold.
The Lord is worthy of all praise.
  When I call I am saved from my foes. (R./)

Long life to the Lord, my rock!
  Praised be the God who saves me.
He has given great victories to his king
  and shown his love for his anointed. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 17:14-20

Jesus casts out demons by the power of prayer

A man came up to Jesus, knelt before him, and said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me." And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."


Faith and Routine

Today's texts balance faith with love, miracles with normal routine. A healthy spirituality needs to take account of all aspects of life. It cannot focus exclusively on any single side. Truth and fidelity must be enriched with love, human limitations with hope in divine intervention. Although we survive by living within our human resources, our life is meant to lead into the future life with God. We continue our reading from Deuteronomy with the Shema prayer, named from the initial Hebrew word, shema, "listen." This prayer is recited each day by every devout Jew and is the clarion call of Judaism: Listen, O Israel. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Shema' yisra'el Yahweh 'elohenu Yahweh 'ehad.

Not only was a credo of absolute monotheism, but it demanded absolute, total devotion. Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. This devotion reaches into the home and into the market place: "Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad. Bind them at your wrist. Let them be a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your home." As with ourselves, the Jews could deal better with hopes than with fulfillment. Moses must warn them, "When you eat your fill, take care not to forget the Lord." They must never forget their role as servants of the living God.

The full power of faith is seen in the Gospel. Faith cures the sick, drives out demons and moves mountains. This is a metaphor to emphasise Jesus' final words, "Nothing will be impossible for you," if you have faith. He reminds us that our life is involved in a struggle between superhuman forces of good and evil. We are called to daily expressions of faith, faith that prompts us even to question God like Habakkuk, yet faith that nonetheless reaches beyond human expectations, into the world to come.

Little faith

When Jesus rebukes his disciples it's not for having no faith but for having little faith. They had failed in their efforts to heal a sick child, and Jesus blames it on their little faith. We find it easy to identify with the disciples. We have faith but our faith is not as strong as it could be. We don't trust the Lord enough.

In response comes this encouraging that if our faith was even as small as a mustard seed we could move mountains. He wanted his disciples to grow in faith; it is what he wants for all of us. In response we could make our own the prayer of the father of the sick child (as in Mark's version of this story): "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."

19th Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 19

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 10:12-22

God's chosen people must show mercy to foreigners, the orphan and the widow

And Moses said to th people, "So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.

"Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven."

Responsorial: Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20

R./: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem

O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
  Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
  he has blessed the children within you. (R./)

He established peace on your borders,
  he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
  and swiftly runs his command. (R./)

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. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 17:22-27

Why and how Jesus pays the temple tax

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised." And they were greatly distressed.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes, he does." And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?" When Peter said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the children are free. But so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me."


Beyond ritual and law

The more aware we become of God’s majesty, the more amazing is the divine care for all creatures. Today’s texts catch this paradox, first focussing on God’s majesty.. "The highest heavens belong to Him, with the earth and everything on it." How can Yahweh care for Israel above all other peoples? Yet, paradox though it be, they deeply felt it as a living truth. The all-powerful God chooses the smallest for his special care, for such is his gracious love.

On the other hand, Israel must not scorn the other, non-chosen peoples, but reach out to embrace immigrants, to befriend, feed and clothe them. We sense a prophetic influence when Deuteronomy says that God "has no favourites, and does justice for the orphan and the widow." This is much more than a restatements of Israel’s law, for like the apostle Paul, it calls for a warm, personal response to the law.

Jesus accepts the temple tradition and asks Peter to pay the temple tax for both of them; but he also hints that what the Father wants us to do reaches deeper than temple and law observance. The Passion prediction suggests that achieving justice in our world and bringing all nations into a worldwide family is not achieved easily. The Son of Man must first give his life for the many before we learn to worship as we should.

Renouncing some freedom, for others’ sake

There are two acts in today’s gospel. In the first part Jesus announces his coming suffering and death. As a result, a great sadness came over the disciples. Sadness is the normal response when we are faced with the departure or the death of someone we love. We have all known that kind of sadness, the sadness that engulfs the disciples in today’s gospel. To some extent, we live with it all the time. Yet, we cannot allow such sadness to dominate us. We have to keep going in the strength the Lord gives us. Jesus and the disciples keep travelling on, even after this sombre prediction of the Passion.

The second act has a happier, more up-beat message. When they reach the home of Simon Peter in Capernaum, they discuss the Temple tax. This half-shekel tax towards the upkeep of the temple was due from annually from every adult Jew. Jesus says that in principle he and his followers are exempt from this tax, because he embodies the new temple. Still, he tells Peter to pay the tax so as not to give offence. In other words, he claims freedom in this regard but chooses not to avail of this freedom, for the sake of charity. This reminds us that though our conscience feels free in regard to certain matters, it can be better to refrain when the good of others is at stake.

Tuesday of Week 19

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 31:1-8

Moses promises that God will lead his people into the promised land

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: "I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, 'You shall not cross over this Jordan.' The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised. The Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you."

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: "Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."

Responsorial: from Deuteronomy 32:3-4, 7-9

R./: The portion of the Lord is his people

I proclaim the name of the Lord.
  Oh, tell the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his work is perfect,
  for all his ways are Equity. (R./)

Think back on the days of old,
  think over the years down the ages.
Ask of your father, let him teach you;
  of your elders, let them enlighten you. (R./)

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
  when he divided the children of men,
he fixed their bounds according to their number;
  but the Lord's portion was his people,
  Jacob his share of inheritance. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

One lost soul found causes more joy than ninety-nine who never strayed

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

"Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.


Inspirational authority

Two different forms of authority are important, one formal, held by leaders like Joshua, the apostles and bishops; the other more personal kind of authority is given by the promptings of the Holy Spirit, inspiring courageous initiatives. These kinds of leadership are not mutually exclusive, and both serve God’s people in different ways. The ordained leaders are concerned with continuity and uniformity, and is devoted caring for the ninety-nine sheep who seem to thrive in the status quo. The more charismatic kind of leadership helps the Church to locate the lost sheep, the ones that stray from the conservative path. There can be more joy from one new insight than from repeated prosaic formulae.

The stirring homilies in Deuteronomy were meant for a time of change and crisis, calling for renewal. Their theology combines the enthusiasm of love with the routines of daily life, promoting a spirit-guided life, open to inspiration. Today’s text looks forward to the time following Moses’ death. With his passing, Israel must look elsewhere for God’s guidance. Crossing the Jordan is a symbol for any major change. It calls for trust in God’s presence and his abiding help: "It is the Lord who marches before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you."

Today’s gospel takes another slant. The challenge to become like a little child requires as much steadfast courage as the fidelity that Moses calls for. Adults find it hard to step down from their sense of dignity, power and influence, to "become like little children." Jesus is not commending childish irresponsibility but a trustful simplicity of outlook. If we are alert to this, then this one percent of ourselves, this seemingly lost sheep, this child within us, will be found and spread joy to the rest of our adult personality. This recovery of the "little one" is true of each individual and of society and the church as a whole.

What are our priorities?

The questions people ask reveal their values, their priorities, what they think important. When the disciples put to Jesus the question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" it shows their interest in personal status and reputation. In his reply, Jesus both did something and said something. He first placed the child in front of them and said they needed to become like that child just to enter the kingdom of heaven, never mind become the greatest in the kingdom.

Disciples are to become child-like not childish. There’s an important difference. They will be child-like in the sense of totally trusting in a loving Father, and demanding nothing else, including status and standing. Greatness comes to those who make themselves as dependent on God as children are dependent on adults for their care and well-being. Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ question is like a commentary on the first beatitude…"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Wednesday of Week 19

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The great Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants;' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there." Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord's command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of morning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Responsorial: Psalm 65:1-3, 5, 16-17

R./: Blessed be God who filled my soul with life!

Cry out with joy to God all the earth,
  O sing to the glory of his name.
  O render him glorious praise.
Say to God: 'How tremendous your deeds!' (R./)

Come and see the works of God,
  tremendous his deeds among men.
Come and hear, all who fear God.
  I will tell what he did for my soul: to him
  I cried aloud, with high praise ready on my tongue. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Fraternal accountability within the Christian family

Jesus said to his disciples: "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"


Responsible for others

Moses died on the far side of the Jordan but God remains with his people for the whole of their journey. Similarly Jesus is always with his followers, even if only two or three are gathered in his name. The passing of Moses is among the most moving scenes in the Bible It has pathos, because the great Liberator glimpses the beautiful Promised Land, but would never reach it himself. He would not even set foot on its border at the River Jordan. It is magnificent too, because Moses cares for his people to the end. Even though his burial place is unknown, Moses died as he lived, in a face to face contact with God. Therefore, no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses.

Deuteronomy portrays God’s people as a community where evil and virtue, death and life, loss and hope exist side by side. A proud perfectionist cannot be fully at home within this people of God, but neither can a person without ideals and hopes. A community thrives when the goodness and virtue of the idealists challenges the selfishness of te others. Individually and collectively we combine the good and the bad. We need each other, so that each of us is motavated to accept our responsibility to promote the common good.

None of us can belong to Jesus independently of other believers. Some problems can be settled quickly between the individuals concerned; others are more difficult and require someone outside the immediate circle to intervene in the cause of peace. Judgment in the church is given in a community way, not on the word of a single person but on that of "two or three witnesses." Jesus also wants us to pray within the communion of the church. Otherwise even our best moments can degenerate into mere individualism. In contrast, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

American President Harry Truman had a card on his desk in the White House declaring in bold capitals THE BUCK STOPS HERE!, "The buck stops here." This message would fit in any office where people are "their brother’s keepers." But nowhere would it fit better nowadays than on the kitchen mantlepiece, with its simple words to rouse our conscience. For people with others in their care, the main task is not be to be popular but to be of help. And we help most by accepting our responsibility.

He is always with us

There is a pious tradition that when two Jews sit together to discuss the words of the Torah, the divine presence is with them. Jesus makes a related but different claim. He declares that where two or three are gathered in his name, he himself is there among them. Matthew has already presented Jesus as Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is the divine presence among us. When his followers gather in his name, reverently aware of him, he is there as Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Only two followers are needed to ensure the presence of Emmanuel. When we gather in the Lord’s name to prayer, whether it is the prayer of the Eucharist or some other form of prayer, the Lord is there. We don’t just enter into the Lord’s presence on such occasions, we are already in it. We only have to become aware of the one who is present among us. That is why attentiveness, awareness, is always at the heart of prayer, even communal prayer.

Thursday of Week 19

1st Reading: Joshua 3:7-10, 11, 13-17

Carrying the Ark into the Jordan allowed the people cross safely

The Lord said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'" Joshua then said to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God." Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap."

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Responsorial: Psalm 113A:1-6

R./: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

When Israel came forth from Egypt,
  Jacob's sons from an alien people,
Judah became the Lord's temple,
  Israel became his kingdom. (R./)

The sea fled at the sight:
  the Jordan turned back on its course,
the mountains leapt like rams
  and the hills like yearling sheep. (R./)

Why was it, sea, that you fled,
  that you turned back, Jordan, on your course?
Mountains, that you leapt like rams,
  hills, like yearling sheep? (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-19:1

The pardoned official who dealt harshly with his own debtors

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, 'Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.


Moving on

In the first six chapters, Joshua's story is modelled on episodes in the career of Moses. Parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea and the sanctification of the people before Mount Sinai (Josh 3:5; Exod 15; 19:10-14), the celebration of Passover (Josh 5:10; Exod 12), the manna (Josh 5:12; Exod 16:4) and the appearance of the Lord (Josh 5:13-15; Exod 3:13) all emphasise continuity of leadership. Still, the modeling of Joshua on Moses is not slavish or total, but adaptive to the new situation. The manna ceases; and circumcision which was neglected in Moses' day is reinstituted.

The crossing of both the Red Sea and the River Jordan can apply to our own lives, and in this we are helped by various parables on how to handle difficult moments in our life. Perhaps the most difficult "crossing" of all is the need to forgive our neighbour. How often must we do so? we ask. We do not like the answer, "seventy times seven times." So Jesus tells the story of the One who forgave us a very serious debt, so how are we unable to forgive the debts of our neighbour who owes us so much less? The underlying dynamic is not "justice" but as in the parable, being moved with pity. We are questioned by this parable: How far can others appeal to our patience? Here is a major "River Jordan" to cross, the need for patience with debtors who have not cooperated up to now or have delayed payment. This parable is not about some optional higher sanctity, for our eternal salvation depends on it: My heavenly Father will treat you in the same way, unless you forgive each other from your heart.

Matthew tells how Jesus "left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan". For Jesus to move to another location is Matthew's typical way of ending a major section of his gospel. This parable on heroic forgiveness ends the Lord's sermon on community, or the "Church Discourse".

Learning to forgive

Learning to forgive those who cause us grief is one of life's great challenges. Peter's question comes from that sense of how difficult it is to forgive someone, "How often must I forgive my brother?" The implication is that there has to be a limit to forgiveness. Deciding to err on the generous side, Peter suggests seven times as often enough. In the biblical culture of that time, seven was a generous and complete number. To forgive seven times is great forgiveness; surely, no more could be asked of one. Yet, Jesus does ask more, not seven times, but seventy seven times. Let there be no limit to our forgiveness.

He underpins this challenging call with the parable about the servant who owes his master ten thousand talents. This was a massive amount, equivalent to billions of euro today. Like some nations' debts to the banks, it simply could never be paid back. In the parable the master felt so sorry for his servant that he simply cancelled the debt. This is a triumph of grace over strict justice. It is an image of the generous ways of God. Jesus reveals a God whose mercy triumphs over justice. The most memorable image of such a God is the father of the prodigal son. The end of the parable requires that the mercy that God freely gives us should flow through us to touch others. In other words, "Be merciful as your Father is merciful."

Friday of Week 19

1st Reading: Joshua 24:1-13

Joshua narrates God's help to Israel, from the patriarchs to entering the Promised Land

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people,

"Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors, Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the desert a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand.

"When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not laboured, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.

Responsorial: Psalm 135:1-3, 16-18, 21-22, 24

R./: His love is everlasting

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. (R./)

Give thanks to the God of gods. (R./)

Give thanks to the Lord of lords. (R./)

Through the desert his people he led. (R./)

Nations in their greatness he struck. (R./)

Kings in their splendour he slew. (R./)

He let Israel inherit their land. (R./)

On his servant their land he bestowed. (R./)

And he snatched us away from our foes. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 19:3-12

Among the Kingdom signs are marital fidelity and celibacy

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."

His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."


Faithful to each other

If Moses calld his people, Israel, to heroic fidelity, he first of all declared God’s sublime goodness to them, as his chosen people. Joshua 24 represents a typical covenant ceremony at Shechem, a major sanctuary in central Israel. The people gathered before the tabernacle and recited a well known "credo" (like other formulas in Deut 6:20-25 and 26:3-11). The Israelites had pagan origins for their ancestors had "served other gods," yet God led the patriarchs to the promised land and made a covenant with them. After the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert, God led the people over the Jordan to a fertile land with "vineyards and olive groves you did not plant." Israel’s sacred history tells of God’s continual kindness, exceeding anything they deserved.

In a debate about divorce, Jesus restates God’s original design for marriage: "a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one." Recognising the heroic conditions for marriage that this implies, his disciples reckon that it is "better not to marry." Jesus replies that lifelong fidelity is possible only for those who have that special gift. Fidelity is a promise undertaken (with God’s help) by husband and wife, heroic in one sense, yet normal in another. The sacramental grace of marriage, helping and motivating the spouses, translates their vocation into routine daily affection and respect toward each other. Not only does Jesus go back before the law of Moses to re-state our Creator’s original ideal for marriage, but he adds that, for love of God’s kingdom, people can be called to celibacy. Some are bound to the single life by birth defects or by other causes; others are drawn to it by a free decision. Gospel celibacy can be received and lived as a special grace, freeing us for fuller service to God and others, on the example of Jesus himself.

Marriage is meant for life

The religious leaders were suspicious of Jesus, because his teaching on marriage went deeper than what their Jewish law required. They knew he would oppose what their law allowed regarding marriage, that is, divorce in certain circumstances. Indeed his ideal of marriage was more radical than what was required by the Mosaic law. He called on men and women to marry for life, appealing to the book of Genesis in support of this teaching.

In practice, many marriages do not last a lifetime. Many relationships break down, and couples go their separate ways. That is the observable reality. But Jesus knew the reality of people’s lives. He was a keen observer of life around him and engaged with people just as they were, "warts and all". He knows all of us in the concrete situation of our lives. Yet, he also had a vision, God’s vision, of how human life should be, including married life. He proclaimed his ideal vision while continuing to relate in a loving way to people who could not reach it, for whatever reason. That includes us all, for none of us lives up fully to the values Jesus proclaimed and lived. There will always be that two-fold aspect to his relationship with us; he loves us where we are, but keeps calling us beyond where we are.

Saturday of Week 19

1st Reading: Joshua 24:14-29

At the covenant ceremony at Shechem, the whole people promise loyalty to God

Joshua said to all the people: "Revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God."

But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the Lord!" Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel." The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey."

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of Go; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, "See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God." So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old.

Responsorial: Psalm 15:1-2, 5, 7-8, 11

R./: You are my inheritance, O Lord

Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
  I say to the Lord: 'You are my God.'
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
  it is you yourself who are my prize. (R./)

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel,
  who even at night directs my heart.
I keep the Lord ever in my sight:
  since he is at my right hand, I shall stand firm. (R./)

You will show me the path of life,
  the fullness of joy in your presence,
  at your right hand happiness for ever. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 19:13-15

The kingdom of God belongs to hearts that are as pure as little children

Little children were being brought to Jesus so that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

Jesus and children

Some Jewish parents brought their children to Jesus for him to bless them. It’s just what people think and feel today, when they bring a child to be baptised. Parents instinctively want what is good for their children. Those villagers saw Jesus as one who had a life-giving effect, and so they brought their children to him. In our own time, parents who appreciate our Lord feel the same desire to bring their children to him. They recognize him as God’s personal gift to us and they want that gift for their own family. But when parents try to bring their children for baptism sometimes they meet with obstacles from the parish priest.

There was tension between those who wanted Jesus to bless their children and those who felt that children were a noisy distraction, who should be seen and not heard. When they blocked the parents from bringing their children to him, Jesus was not a merely impartial spectator. He insists that children MUST come to him. In our own efforts to bring our loved ones near to the Lord, or bring ourselves to him, he is on our side. His desire for us meet him and find life will overcome the various obstacles that may stand in our way. God will find a way of bringing us to him, in spite of any resistances of whatever kind.

20th Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 20

1st Reading: Judges 2:11-19

The era of the Judges alternates between falling away and being restored

Then Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshipped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshipping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of heir practices or their stubborn ways.

Responsorial: Psalm 105:34-37, 39-40, 43-44

R./: Lord, remember us, for the love you bear your people

They failed to destroy the peoples
as the Lord had given command,
but instead they mingled with the nations
and learned to act like them. (R./)

They worshipped the idols of the nations
and these became a snare to entrap them.
They even offered their own sons and daughters
in sacrifice to demons. (R./)

So they defiled themselves by their deeds
and broke their marriage bond with the Lord
till his anger blazed against his people;
he was filled with horror at his chosen ones. (R./)

Time after time he rescued them,
but in their malice they dared to defy him.
In spite of this he paid heed to their distress,
so often as he heard their cry. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 19:16-22

To follow Jesus, we must share what we have with the poor

Someone came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself."

The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.


Renewing commitment

The era of the judges covers two centuries, roughly 1200 to 1000 b.c., from the first Israelite invasion of Canaan under Joshua until the start of the monarchy under king Saul. In that era Israel faced successive crises, that feature in the colourful, often violent, stories of the Book of Judges. The book gathers prayers used in celebration, like Deborah’s poetic masterpiece in ch. 5, or tales told in the light of campfires at night, like the bawdy exploits of Ehud in 3:12-30 or of Samson in chaps. 13-16. Together they weave a theological thread, whose pattern marks today’s text: 1) sin leads to sorrow and oppression; 2) grief leads the people to beg God for mercy; 3) God sends them a judge or national hero; 4) peace and prosperity are restored for a time, only to degenerate again into sinful ways. And so the cycle starts all over again.

The stories in Judges often mirror our own lives. We too tend to ignore God more in time of success than of failure. The Bible sees Canaan as the land of promise, the goal of the exodus, the reward of the patriarchs who were buried in its earth. But the very prosperity of the land poses risks and temptations, inducements to selfishness and class-distinctions. Whenever misuse of talents and property leads to humiliation and loss, the theology of this book sees the chastening hand of God. The Bible sees the punishment of sin as disciplinary, to purify us anew and help us start over again.

Jesus teaches that the best use of gifts, talents and assets is to share them. All are called to generous sharing; and some may be called to give up everything and to own literally nothing for the sake of the kingdom. Radically, all are asked to share as God’s worldwide family. This links into the mystery of the kingdom, where the only worthwhile actions are motivated by love.

What must I do, Lord?

There is something appealing about the young man’s urgent question, that of a person seeking ideals to live by. This young man was earnest about finding spiritual meaning and purpose. It is a vital question, "What must I do to gain eternal life?" In reply Jesus named several commandments, about how to be just to others. The way to life is to be life-giving and law-abiding. This young man was not satisfied with this answer because he was already doing all of this, and felt there was more he could be giving of himself. When Jesus revealed what this "more" might be, it seemed too big an ask, He invited the rich young man to sell his property and give his money to the poor. It was too big a sacrifice, so the lad declined and went his way "grieving", perhaps wondering what might have been..

Such a challenging, austere lifestyle is not for all. Yet, for each of us, the path to life, the path God wants us to follow, will always include some self-denial and an unselfish relationship to others. By his teaching and example, Jesus shows us all what we must do to gain eternal life.

Tuesday of Week 20

1st Reading: Judges 6:11-24

When Gideon doubts, his faith is confirmed by a sign from God

The angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, "The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior." Gideon answered him, "But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?' But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian." Then the Lord turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you." He responded, "But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." The Lord said to him, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them." Then he said to him, "If now I have found favour with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you." And he said, "I will stay until you return."

So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth." And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, "Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face." But the Lord said to him, "Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die." Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace.

Responsorial: Psalm 84:9, 11-14

R./: The Lord speaks of peace to his people

I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
  a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people and his friends
  and those who turn to him in their hearts. (R./)

Mercy and faithfulness have met;
  justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
  and justice look down from heaven. (R./)

The Lord will make us prosper
  and our earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before him
  and peace shall follow his steps. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 19:23-30

All is in God's hands; selfish wealth is destructive. The last shall come first

Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

Peter said in reply, "Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."


First and last

The last phrase in today’s Gospel is one of those puzzling paradoxes beloved of Jesus. In what possible way will the first be last, and the last first? Surely it is not an invitation to complete fatalism or passivity? The true believer is expected to be a seeker and a doer, and to only expect miracles when all else fails. He or she is also capable of giving up everything in life, for the sake of the kingdom.

Although Gideon was a judge over Israel, his faith was wavering. Maybe the God who had done marvellous deeds in the past would act again; but maybe not. Could Gideo possibly be the man to lead the fight against the Midianites? A wavering faith can be a shield against disappointment. If one does not really turst one’s spouse or in one’s church or government, one will not be surprised by betrayal or infidelity. Weak faith is a sort of fatalism; strong faith works on hoping for the best. Gideon learns that God is about to renew such marvellous deeds as in the days of his ancestors.

Against such a this background Jesus’ enigmatic statements about wealth, about who is first and who is last, about overcoming obstacles make more sense. To a person of faith, with the memoriy of stories like that of Gideon, with experiences of prayer and fidelity, We are summoned to the active response of faith. In God’s good time, the last will indeed be first.

Nothing is impossible

Some Gospel sayings have a special inspirational power. It greatly helps us to know that "for God everything is possible." Something similar is said in answer to Mary’s question, "How can this be?" The angel Gabriel answered, "Nothing is impossible with God." The context in today’s gospel is when the rich young man who was ooking for the path to eternal life went away sad because Jesus set the bar too high. How can a rich person find the way to eternal life? It is possible, sys Jesus, but only with a special grace of God.

We may sometimes seem to face impossible odds. We wonder how we will get through some health crisis, or a family loss or a marriage breakdown, or a severe bout of depression. In such circumstances, it’s good to know that, "for God everything is possible." Saint Paul knew all bbout that, and he expressed it in his inimitable way. To his friends in Philippi he wrote, "I can do all things through him who gives me strength." How good it would be to share in that deep conviction!

Wednesday of Week 20

1st Reading: Judges 9:6-15

In a riddle Jotham curses Abimelech and the people of Shechem

All the lords of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, "Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.

The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' The olive tree answered them, 'Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honoured, and go to sway over the trees?' Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come and reign over us.' But the fig tree answered them, 'Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?' Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come and reign over us.' But the vine said to them, 'Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?' So all the trees said to the bramble, 'You come and reign over us.' And the bramble said to the trees, 'If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'"

Responsorial: Psalm 20:2-7

R./: Lord, your strength gives joy to the king

O Lord, your strength gives joy to the king;
  how your saving help makes him glad!
You have granted him his heart's desire;
  you have not refused the prayer of his lips. (R./)

You came to meet him with the blessings of success,
  you have set on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked you for life and this you have given,
  days that will last from age to age. (R./)

Your saving help has given him glory.
  You have laid upon him majesty and splendour,
you have granted your blessings to him for ever.
  You have made him rejoice with the joy of your presence. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

The landowner who pays the same agreed wage to the first as to the last

Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.'

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.' When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last."


A strange kind of justice

Today’s story from Judges is a strange riddle. Riddles may use details from everyday life, but don’t pretend to report actual events. Like parables, their purpose is to prod us to think. Jotham’s riddle is a cry to heaven for revenge. The tyrant Abimelech had connived with the people of Shechem to kill all of his rivals, and young Jotham barely escaped alive. Then from the heights of Mount Gerizim, Jotham shouted his dramatic riddle, as a curse on his enemies. Those who violently seized power will themselves be destroyed by violence. The last plant he lists, the buckthorn, when chosen as king, provides no shade but will destroy both itself and all that is nearby.

When speaking in parables, Jesus used the language and imagery of his own time and place. Therefore, when he uses the parable of the vineyard workers it is irrelevant to discuss the social justice (or injustice) of the estate-owner, who was paying only a denarius a day, a minimum wage for those who worked all day but more than was due to anyone who worked only an hour in the cool of the evening.

The punch-line says that new arrivals are equal to those who have been there first. Jesus may have been defending his disciples, newly arrived on the religious scene, against the Pharisees and Scribes whose leadership was well established. The early church reinterpreted the parable, to mean that gentiles are equal to Jews in the kingdom of God. Today the parable may challenge us to recognize new leadership arising from the laity, including women, or to give proper credit to the young generation, to transfer the mantle of authority, to accept changed forms of civil or religious authority.

Why isn’t life fair?

We instinctively protest against behaviour that we consider unfair or unjust. If we ourselves are being treated unfairly, we can feel especially irate. That can make us uneasy about the story Jesus tells in today’s gospel. We sympathize with the complaint of the workers when people who only worked an hour got the same wages as others who had worked all day. But the employer was operating out of the category of generosity rather than the minimum required by justice. He wasn’t unjust to those who worked all day; he gave them the agreed wage for a day’s work. But he was extremely kind to those who only had worked for an hour, giving them a full day’s wages too.

God’s generosity does not fit into the neat categories of human justice. Heod does not deal with us according to our merits, giving us only what we deserve. Divine mercy is freely given to those who have no claim on it. In a sense, we can identify with those who worked only an hour; for we are all, in a sense, latecomers. God’s generous grace will surprise us and leave us humbled.

Thursday of Week 20

1st Reading: Judges 11:29-39

After Jephthah's rash vow, he sacrifices his only daughter

The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering." So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow."

She said to him, "My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites." And she said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I." "Go," he said and sent her away for two months.

So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father,who did with her according to the vow he had made.

Responsorial: Psalm 39:5, 7-10

R./: Here am I, Lord: I come to do your will

Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord
  and has not gone over to the rebels
  who follow false gods. (R./)

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
  but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
  Instead, here am I. (R./)

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. (R./)

Your justice I have proclaimed
  in the great assembly.
My lips I have not sealed;
  you know it, O Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

At the royal wedding, the invited guests decline to attend

Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.' But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.

Enraged, the king sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen."


A rash conscience

It is futile to defend Jephthah's rash and violent action, even when its background is explained in the text. This gruesome story is a classic instance of violence towards women. Caught in a military crisis, he vows that if successful, he will offer in sacrifice whoever first comes out of his house to meet him. "When I return in triumph; I shall offer it up as a holocaust." This was a shocking vow; for the first to meet him was his only daughter, who came out dancing for joy at her father's success. Jephthah allowed her two months to mourn her virginity, since now she cannot marry and have children. Then she returned to her father, who carried out his terrible vow.

Not everything done in God's name, even in the Bible, is positive guidance for us. Fortunately we have the story of Abraham and Isaac to offset the horrible error of Jephthah. The final verse in Judges is another useful warning, "In those days there was no king in Israel; they all did what they thought best." The entire Book of Judges prepares us for the Davidic royalty, a radical change from the earlier Mosaic traditions.

This episode makes us question our own motives and promises. Do we act impulsively to the harm of others? Do we try to justify everything we do? Do we abuse authority as if everything we want to do is right? Are we open to correction by common sense advice from others?

While Jephthah acted rashly based on a false conscience, the gospel calls us to act firmly on a good conscience, guided not just by tradition but by humbly seeking the will of God. The punch-line of the parable shows that gentiles from the byroads will enter the wedding feast, once reserved for Jews alone. Eventually God will be judge of all, and will decide who can enter the banquet of eternal life. Till then we must wait and believe, and trust that we too are called in from the byroads.

An invitation not to be refused

Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast to which many are invited. The feast is a frequent image of the kingdom of God, and suggests God's gracious hospitality. The Eucharist can be understood as anticipating the banquet in the kingdom of heaven. At the Eucharist we not only remember the Last Supper but also look forward to the banquet of eternal life. At the Last Supper Jesus said "I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

In the parable of the wedding banquet, many of those who had been invited turned down the invitation at the last minute, just when everything was ready. Even some of those who turned up did not take the event seriously and were dressed inappropriately. God invites persistently, even after many refusals. We are expected to respond, sincerely and gratefully. Our sharing in the Eucharist is itself a response to the Lord's invitation. Yet, we have to prepare in the right way, clothing ourselves with Christ, as Paul says. We go out from the Eucharist as ambassadors for Christ, the one we have received and who gives us life.

Friday of Week 20

1st Reading: Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14-16, 22

Ruth migrates to Bethlehem, with her widowed mother-in-law

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Responsorial: Psalm 145:5-10

R./: Praise the Lord, my soul!

He is happy who is helped by Jacob's God,
  whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who alone made heaven and earth,
  the seas and all they contain. (R./)

It is he who keeps faith for ever,
  who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
  the Lord, who sets prisoners free. (R./)

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
  who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
  and upholds the widow and orphan. (R./)

It is the Lord who loves the just
  but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
  Zion's God, from age to age. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus declares as central the love of God and neighbour

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."


Love's reward

In Ruth’s story, a foreign woman was welcomed into the family of Israel. Her spiritual journey blends nicely with Our Lord’s teaching, identifying the core of God’s will as the supreme law of love. The Book of Ruth has served many purposes. Its earliest form may come from David’s time, as a text to support his legitimacy as king, despite his partly foreign ancestry. In postexilic times Ruth served as an example of harmony between Jews and foreigners. In time, her story was linked with the feast of Pentecost and wheat harvest. The book tells a lovely story, interweaving personal loss with a rebirth of hope, and highlights the mutual love of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Ruth is drawn by affection for Naomi to join her faith, "Wherever you go I will go.. your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God too."

Jesus starts with the love of God and links it to love of neighbour; in Ruth we see the reverse. Starting from loyalty to Naomi she learns to love the God of Israel. Elsewhere, the Bible links natural neighbourly love with divine love. We are able to love, because God first loved us. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem as widows, virtual paupers. Often in salvation history God revives people on the verge of death: from slavery in Egypt, from near conquest by the Philistines, from Babylonian exile. We trust in God’s power to create hope where all hope seemed lost.

Let’s look at Jesus’ reply to the lawyer’s question. First the lawyer intends to trip him up, but in simple, moving words Jesus declares the greatest commandment of the law, "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind." And the second is like it, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." These two ideals already existed in the Torah of Moses, but Jesus puts them at the very centre of his vision for life.

A testing question

The scribe’s question was confrontational, for it was asked to test Jesus.  "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" was meant to trip him up. The scribe hoped that whatever Jesus answered would show him up in a bad light. But the Lord’s answer went beyone what was asked. Jesus not only stated the greatest commandment but the second greatest as well. The first is a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy, that God is to be loved with all one’s being, heart, mind and soul. No creature, not matter how noble, is to be loved in this way. The second commandment, to love our neighbour as ourselves, is a quotation from the book of Leviticus.

God must come first, but there is no true love of God without love of neighbour. We cannot really honour God if we dishonour another human being, no matter how different they are from us. Jesus powerfully brings together these two commandments from different parts of the Bible, and declares that the way to show our love for God  passes through other people. Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel Jesus identifies with our neighbour, especially the vulnerable and broken neighbour. To that extent the way to God always passes through Jesus himself.

Saturday of Week 20

1st Reading: Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17

How Ruth the foreigner came to become king David's great grandmother

Naomi had a kinsman on her husband's side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, "Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour." She said to her, "Go, my daughter." So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

Then Boaz said to Ruth, "Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn." Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?" But Boaz answered her, "All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him." Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, "A son has been born to Naomi." They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Responsorial: Psalm 127:1-5

R./: See how the Lord blesses those who fear him

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
  and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
  You will be happy and prosper. (R./)

Your wife like a fruitful vine
  in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
  around your table. (R./)

Indeed thus shall be blessed
  the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
  all the days of your life.' (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus teaches about authority and true greatness

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father - the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."


Love Conquers All

The story of Ruth shows how foreigners are absorbed into the family of Israel. We can feel great empathy with lovely story, which combines agony and loss, peace and hope, but most of all the loving, mutual concern of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The younger woman, Ruth, is drawn by affection for Naomi to opt for faith in Yahweh, "Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God." It was rather fanciful of John Keats to imagine her as sad of heart and sick for home, when standing amid "alien corn" and hearing the nightingale's song.

Ruth learns from her experience of life: starting from her loyal love for her mother-in-law Naomi she arrives at the love of God. We too need the help of others to appreciate the love of God for us.

Only one teacher

Jesus says that we have only one Father, and he is in heaven, and we have only one Teacher, namely, the Christ. Some disciples probably thought of themselves as teachers; indeed, at the very end of Matthew's gospel, Jesus does send them out as teachers, to make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you. Yet here he tells them, to us, 'you have only one teacher.'

But at a deep level, Jesus is the ultimate teacher. He is the teacher in a way that none of his disciples, none of us, could ever be. Because he is our teacher, we are always learners. We have nothing to teach him, but everything to learn from him. He invites us to "'Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart." Our calling is to be open to all he wants to teach us, in and through the circumstances of our lives. We learn by reflecting on his words and actions, by reflecting on our experience, and by inviting the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and lead us to the complete truth.

21st Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8-10

Paul recalls the dramatic conversion of the people of Thessalonica

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Responsorial: Psalm 149:1-6, 9

R./: The Lord takes delight in his people

Sing a new song to the Lord,
  his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
  let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)

Let them praise his name with dancing
  and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
  He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)

Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
  shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips:
  this honour is for all his faithful. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22

The woes pronounced on the scribes and pharisees

Jesus said: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.' How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it."


A living Church

The God od life cares less about our rituals than whether we are truly alive. If our religion makes us more fully alive, more courageous, more caring and generous, then we are pleasing to God. But if our kind of religion stunts our capacity for life or makes us shy away from life's challenges,  it is not true to Jesus. The basic question asked by Deuteronomy and by Jesus is simple: Are you alive or dead?

Is our local faith-community alive or dead? What is the evidence? Do we choose to live life to the full? Why are so many people uncommitted? Why do little children seem more vividly alive than their parents? Taylor insists that the ailment of our society is a spiritual sleeping sickness, a  pervasive apathy, the "Why bother?" syndrome that tends to think, "It is nothing to do with me." We need to renew our commitment, as in today's text that shows that the Thessalonians as a communnity that was fully alive!

Why we give thanks

The first letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest known Christian document. It was written by St Paul about the year 50, twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and twenty years before Mark wrote his text, the first of our four gospels. The letter opens with joy and thanksgiving. Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica, in particular for their hope and love and above all, their steadfastness in the faith.

The main topic in our earliest Christian document is thanksgiving,  the basic response of people who trust in God. Towards the end of the letter, he urges, "Give thanks in all circumstances." Whatever our condition at and given time, we always have reason to be thankful, because of how God has blessed us in Christ. Paul admires the vibrant church in Thessalonica, as God's own work more than that of the apostle. We all have reasons to be grateful, and to give thanks to God at all times and in all circumstances.

Tuesday of Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

How gently Paul treated the Thessalonians

You yourselves know, my brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Responsorial: Psalm 138:1-3, 4-6

R./: You have searched me and you know me, Lord

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
  you know my resting and my rising,
 you discern my purpose from afar. (R./)

You mark when I walk or lie down,
  all my ways lie open to you.
Before ever a word is on my tongue you know it,
  O Lord, through and through. (R./)

Behind and before you besiege me,
  your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
  too high, beyond my reach. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 23:23-26

Our priorities must be justice, mercy and good faith

Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.


Gentleness and Strength

Saint Paul’s character combines very contrasting qualities. Though a ruggedly independent type, he claims to be as gentle as any nursing mother towards the Christians he serves. He denies any intention of merely pleasing others, and yet was anxious to share in the lives of his people. He values common sense and practical devotion to duty in everyday life even while he hopes eagerly for the second coming of the Lord in glory.

Another stark contrast is when Jesus reverses what the religious conservatives consider essential and gives priority to what they think trivial. For him, the value of keeping the Law depends on the spirit with which it is kept. Of course, such freedom could become very subjective, so that people could be led by their feelings rather than by their principles. But unless there is trust in God and in each other, laws alone will not keep us on the right track.

Paul offers guidance to protect Christian freedom from anarchy, while seeking the highest spiritual ideals. They were to show courage in the face of opposition; and always seek to please God who tests our hearts, and avoid flattery and greed. They can learn from his own example; he had been as gentle among them as any nurse or mother. What an interesting image for Paul to use of himself, which surely gives the lie to any notion that he was a total misogynist. He used the tenderness of mothers and nurses with young children as the perfect example of how we should treat each other.

Back to essentials

Jesus blames the Pharisees for insisting on trivia, such as the exact tithing of herbs while neglecting the core values of the Torah, such as justice, mercy and faith. He stands in the line of the prophets who showed their people to value and to practice what really matters to God.

We need to keep returning to the essentials, to the heart of the Gospel, in order to know and do what God really wants of us. It would be hard to find a better statement of the basics than the three values stated by the prophet Micah and endorsed by Jesus. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic 6:8). These were the values Jesus embodied in his life and in his death. To live by them is to "put on Christ", which is our essential vocation as Christians.


Wednesday of Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

The gospel is no mere opinion but is God's own word

You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.

Responsorial: Psalm 138:7-12

R./: You have searched me and you know me, Lord

O where can I go from your spirit,
  or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
  If I lie in the grave, you are there. (R./)

If I take the wings of the dawn
  and dwell at the sea's furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
  your right hand would hold me fast. (R./)

If I say: 'let the darkness hide me
  and the light around me be night,'
 even darkness is not dark for you
  and the night is as clear as the day. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 23:27-32

Woe to hypocrites who are not what they seem

Jesus said to his disciples, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors."


Faith and good works

The readings offer two appraisals of the value of our human activity. Paul praises dutiful work while the gospel condemns empty "works." Paul’s church-work was voluntary and unpaid, so he needed to support himself by manual work as a tentmaker. Clearly he spent most of what he earned, and only a little could have been left over, to spend as he wished or to share with the poor. Yet Paul knows the value of his unpaid work. He is convinced that the Gospel message was more than just one man’s opinion, for it is "the word of God, at work within you who believe." The Spirit must be at work upon hearts before one can believe. Paul’s missionary work was to help enable people recognize God at work in their lives.

People who are willing to be thoroughly honest have a better chance of being used by God than others who stress hierarchy and superiority, affecting to be sacred and remote. Conscious sanctity or other-worldliness carries the threat of pride, so destructive of healthy human relations.

Image and appearance

Image and appearance are important in our digital culture. There is an emphasis on looking well, and people go to great lengths to cultivate their digital imageon social media platforms. Jesus highlights our inner reality rather than our social image. What matters is how people are, within themselves. He himself must have looked very bedraggled as he hung dying on the cross; but that was when the love within him was at most intensely and powerfully effective. The widow who put two copper coins into the Temple treasury looked insignificant and her contribution paltry. Yet Jesus saw her generous heart, prepared like him to give everything, so he called his disciples to learn from her.

Appearances can be deceptive. The scribes and Pharisees had less substance than image. In the case of the widow and Christ crucified there was more than met the eye. Christ tells us not to care so much how we appear to others as for the quality of love in our heart. We need more often to invite the Holy Spirit to kindle the fire of God’s love within us.

Thursday of Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:7-13

Paul recalls the faith of the Thessalonians and prays for their spritual growth

Brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Responsorial: Psalm 89:3-4, 12-14, 17

R./: Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

You turn men back into dust and say:
  'Go back, sons of men.'
To your eyes a thousand years
  are like yesterday, come and gone,
  no more than a watch in the night. (R./)

Make us know the shortness of our life
  that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
  Show pity to your servants. (R./)

In the morning, fill us with your love;
  we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
  give success to the work of our hands. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 24:42-51

The faithful steward is ready even if the master comes by surprise

Jesus said to his disciples, "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

"Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possession. But if that wicked slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."


The faithful steward

The local churches founded by Paul were eager for the glorious second coming of Jesus. The apostle prays, "may he strengthen your hearts; at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." At the start of the first letter to the Corinthians he prays they will be found blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus. The gospel urges a similar spirit, "Stay awake, for you cannot know the day your Lord is coming."

They were to be alert and prepared, but not to the neglect of normal family duties. When some enthusiasts in the Thessalonian church gave up work altogether, so as to give all their time to prayer and mystical waiting for the Lord, Paul responded briskly, "Anyone who will not work should not eat." And in today's reading he does not ignore current issues just because the Lord's second coming may be imminent. Instead, He prays to see them again and to remedy any shortcomings in their community.

Jesus needs good stewards who will always treat others in the household with love and respect, leaders who eat and drink temperately, and are diligently working for God. Such is "the faithful, far-sighted servant." But neither are they to be activists with no time for contemplation, strategists with no moral principles, manipulators without mercy or concern.

We are asked to judge everything in light of the Lord's return like a thief in the night. Today's texts ask us to be practical and diligent; to be men and women of vision and moral perspective; most of all to be prayerful and personally aware of the presence of our Lord Jesus.

Caught napping

We have become very security conscious. The house alarm is an essential and we must keep doors locked more than in the past. This need for security is a sign of the times, when respect for property is less than it once was. But burglary is not new, as Jesus was very aware. In the first of today's gospel parables he uses the image of the burglar breaking into a house. This was common enough experience then as it is now. He notes the element of surprise used by burglars. The only way for the householder not to be caught napping is for him to stay awake, on the watch. The wide awake householder becomes an image for us, to keep alert to the presence and coming of the Lord.

Jesus is constantly aware of us; we are called to be constantly aware of him. It's hard to be aware of the Lord all the time, because so many other things fill our minds. Yet, that is what he asks of us. We are to constantly reach out to him, in a conscious union. In that sense we are all called to become contemplatives, with a small "c."

Friday of Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Being ready for the Lord's coming

Brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honour, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Responsorial: Psalm 96:1-2, 5-6, 10-12

R./: Let the just rejoice in the Lord

The Lord is king, let earth rejoice,
  the many coastlands be glad.
Cloud and darkness are his raiment;
  his throne, justice and right. (R./)

The mountains melt like wax
  before the Lord of all the earth.
The skies proclaim his justice;
  all peoples see his glory. (R./)

The Lord loves those who hate evil:
  he guards the souls of his saints;
  he sets them free from the wicked. (R./)

Light shines forth for the just
  and joy for the upright of heart.
Rejoice, you just, in the Lord;
  give glory to his holy name. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13

Being ready, as seen in the wise and foolish bridesmaids

Jesus said to his disciples, "The kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'

Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do no know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."


Reminder of the last things

From St Paul declared that if anyone was unwilling to work, he should not be fed. He also warns against sexual aberrations and rejects the excuse that for a spiritual person bodily actions of no consequence.

Can we be assured of salvation? Only five bridesmaids were there to welcome the bridal party. Tthe others were told, "I do not know you." The interpretation of this parable developed with time. Jesus warns that salvation is not guaranteed by observance of law and tradition. This was in continuity with Old Testament prophets up to John the Baptist, who bluntly corrected those who thought salvation was assured because Abraham was their father, "God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones." This was not saying anything new, but giving greater urgency to an old message.

St Matthew’s Christian community faced the question of when to expect the second coming of Jesus. The moral he quoted from Jesus was, "Keep awake, for the time is short." Being baptised did not in itself guarantee our being ready to welcome the Lord. As we read this, we sense the pathos and tragedy of the sleeping bridesmaids. They did nothing seriously wrong, but simply nodded off in the weariness of waiting. Do not to forget the essential, but keep watch, for we know not the day nor the hour.

Alert to the grace of God

The bridegroom who came late to his own wedding banquet found only half of the bridesmaids still there, with torches lit, to escort him indoors. Through the long hours of waiting, when nothing was happening and who knew when he would arrive, they kept at their post. After this parable, Jesus turned to his disciples and said to them, ‘Stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’ We need to be with torches lit, especially during those times when he seems most absent and the time hangs heavy.

When called to be his followers, it is for the long haul. Our lamps must burn right to the very end, through good times and bad times. Earlier, he had called his followers the light of the world and urged them to let their light shine so that others might give glory to God for them. Keeping our lamps burning, letting our light shine, involves doing what the Lord wants us to do, for as long as we are able. Then that when he comes he will find us at our post, ready to welcome him.

Saturday of Week 21

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

To live lovingly and responsibly

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you.

Responsorial: Psalm 97:1, 7-9

R./: The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice

Sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders. His right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation. (R./)

Let the sea and all within it, thunder; the world, and all its peoples. Let the rivers clap their hands and the hills ring out their joy at the presence of the Lord. (R./)

For the Lord comes, he comes to rule the earth. He will rule the world with justice and the peoples with fairness. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus told his disciples this parable: "A man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"


Use them or lose them

"From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." This painful paradox states the blunt fact that in our competitive world the Haves grow their wealth, while the Have-nots may face penury. It does not express what Jesus regards as right, that is,. a community of love and sharing. But the paradox still has practical application. Like a machine with moving parts, God’s gifts must be in active use in order to stay in good condition. Non-use leads to rusted parts and clogged-up valves. Life, whether physical or spiritual, degenerates if left dormant.

The inspired Scriptures are a major help in discerning the will and purpose of God. They can iluminate our personal, family, society and church aims and expectations. We pray for the enlightenment of God’s Spirit while also reflecting on our experience. Those who have engaged in this dialogue will get more, while those who just sit tight are in danger of losing the little they have.

Paul offers a personal guideline for keeping up the quality of our life: Jesus is our sanctification, for he enables our best self to emerge; and he is our redemption, so that we form one living person with him as our elder brother, whose spirit and example we try to follow in everything.

Not held back by fear

When Jesus includes three characters in a parable, the outlook of the third character will be key. The best example of this is the good Samaritan, mentioned after the priest and Levite who pass the wounded man on the roadside, but whose response is the focus of that story. In the parable of the Talents, the third servant saw his master in a a very negative light, as "a hard man, reaping where he had not sown." Because this servant was scared of his master, he just buried what he had been given. By contrast, the other two servants had a much more generous view of their master. This made them free to take initiatives and well-judged risks with what they had been given.

Jesus reveals a God of infinite generosity, whose goodness has no limits, who remains faithful even when we are not faithful. God does not want us to fail, but rather that we launch into the deep. God will continue to befriend us whether or not we catch anything. Perfect love drives out fear, according to the first letter of Saint John. The assurance of God’s love should drive out the kind of fear that left the third servant in the parable crippled. If we are generous with what we have received, we can entrust the result entirely to God.

22nd Week, (Cycle 1)

Monday of Week 22

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We will be reunited with our deceased when Christ returns

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may no grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Responsorial: Psalm 95:1, 3, 5, 11-13

R./: The Lord comes to judge the earth

O sing a new song to the Lord,
  sing to the Lord all the earth.
Tell among the nations his glory
  and his wonders among all the peoples. (R./)

The Lord is great and worthy of praise,
  to be feared above all gods.
The gods of the heathens are naught;
  it was the Lord who made the heavens. (R./)

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,
  let the sea and all within it thunder praise,
  let the land and all it bears rejoice,
 all the trees of the wood shout for joy
  at the presence of the Lord for he comes,
  he comes to rule the earth. (R./)

With justice he will rule the world,
  he will judge the peoples with his truth. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 4:16-30

Jesus' opening sermon in Nazareth cites Isaiah's vision

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to procaim the year of the Lord's favour." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.


Prophecy fulfilled here and now

Two kinds of fulfillment are mentioned today, the first is the fulfillment of Scripture during Jesus’ ministry, the second the fulfillment of a promise, at his second coming. St Paul sees the resurrection as a promise of our own resurrection: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, God will bring raise from the dead those also who have fallen asleep believing in him."

A series of readings from St Luke’s gospel begins today and continues until the beginning of Advent. In an opening address in the Nazareth synagogue, Luke has Jesus proclaim, "This Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing." This inaugural sermon at Nazareth combines major themes of Luke’s gospel: concern for the poor; people’s amazement at Jesus; his outreach to Gentiles; the dynamic role of the Spirit; Jesus as prophet; and his final rejection and execution.

This Scripture is being fulfilled. The power of God is already present in our world. The jubilee year of God’s favour foretold in Isaiah chapter 61, has now begun with Jesus. While we can feel the wonder and joy of it, such happiness cannot be possessed selfishly. It will be lost if it is not shared. We must share our religious joy with others. Jesus cannot work through us unless like him we take the side of the poor.

Jesus in the synagogue

Passages of Holy Scripture were read every sabbath in the synagogue in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. One sabbath, he stood up to read from Isaiah and then sat down to interpret what the prophetic reading meant, right there and then. He indentified with the prophet as one "sent to bring good news to the poor" and went on to identify with two other prophets, Elijah and Elisha, both of whom ministered to people from outside Israel. Elijah helped a starving widow and her son; and Elisha healed a leper from Syria.

Jesus’ sense of service was focussed on people in greatest need, regardless of their background or social standing. His universal mission-statement angered the people of Nazareth. Because he was one of their own they expected special treatment. But the good news is that Jesus has come for us all. If he has favourites it is people in need, whether of body, mind or spirit. The Lord hears the cry of the poor. All he asks is that we receive him on his own terms, which the people of Nazareth refused to do. He is always close at hand and even our our sufferings, whatever form they take, can bring us close to him.

Tuesday of Week 22

1st Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11

The day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. Be ready

Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Responsorial: Psalm 26:1, 4, 13-14

R./: I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living

The Lord is my light and my help;
  whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
  before whom shall I shrink? (R./)

There is one thing I ask of the Lord,
  for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
  all the days of my life,
to savour the sweetness of the Lord,
  to behold his temple. (R./)

I am sure I shall see the Lord's goodness
  in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
  Hope in the Lord! (R./)

Gospel: Luke 4:31-37

On the sabbath Jesus teaches with authority and drives out demons

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, "Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, "What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!" And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.



A frequent theme of both Jesus and St. Paul is the need for keeping alert, in order to stay close to God and live our life according to God’s will. Ironically, in today’s Gospel the one most aware of Jesus’ presence is the demon. As it was being driven out of a possessed man, it cried aloud, "I know who you are, the Holy One of God!"

In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s character named Christian sings this verse:

"When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither
And hear how these two pilgrims talk together;
Yea, let them learn of them, and in what wise
They may keep open slumbering eyes.
Saints’ fellowship, if it be managed well,
Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell."

If we isolate ourselves we are likely to grow drowsy. Interacting with others encourages our progress on the road to to God. In this fellowship of prayer with others, the Lord Jesus is the invisible centre.

True authority

Authority figures in all walks of life come under suspicion, often rightly. The known misuses of authority can make all forms of authority suspect. Yet if properly used, authority can be a force for good. In the gospel the authority of Jesus is a force for good. The people are delighted to recognise true, divine authority in him. His teaching made a deep impression on them because he spoke with authority. It was experienced as good because it brought life to others. His was an authority that was life-giving, life-renewing and creative.

Jesus’ authority was rooted in his relationship with God. It was inspired by the same Spirit of God that he passed on to us. If we wtay close to him, we too will bring healing and peace where it is needed.

Wednesday of Week 22

1st Reading: Colossians 1:1-8

Paul commends "love to the saints" and Christian growth

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Responsorial: Psalm 51:10-11

R./: I trust in the kindness of God for ever

I am like a growing olive tree
  in the house of God.
I trust in the goodness of God
  for ever and ever. (R./)

I will thank you for evermore;
  for this is your doing.
I will proclaim that your name is good,
  in the presence of your friends. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 4:38-44

Jesus heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law, and preaches the reign of God

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities als; for I was sent for this purpose." So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.


The spirit of service

Today’s texts suggest life’s ups and downs, on the route to our final destination. Arriving at Simon Peter’s home, Jesus learns that the apostle’s mother-in-law is "in the grip of a severe fever." Notice the sequence of events. The story has been reduced to its bare bones, those details helpful for catechetical instruction: 1) the mother-in-law is found critically sick; 2) friends intercede with Jesus and pray for her; 3) Jesus stands over her and addresses the fever; 4) she gets up immediately and waits on them.

After the woman’s miraculous cure, one might expect her to give her total attention to Jesus. That was not what actually happened. "She got up immediately and waited on them." The atmosphere of caring for each other is enhanced by the fact that they had interceded with him for her. This endorses the practice of praying for one another and of asking the saints to intercede for us. The family reaches outward to all God’s friends.

But this does not happen easily, or for all. St Paul’s converts did not follow his teaching consistently but often lost their way. He reminds the Colossians of "the hope held in store for you in heaven," a hope that "has borne fruit and has continued to grow in your mind as it has everywhere." When Christians are strong in charity towards each other, they become people of expansive hopes. This hope, born of love, is the resource out of which miracles are worked and heaven is dreamed.

Work and prayer

When Jesus was busily caring for sick people in Capernaum, he continued until sunset, laying his hands on them and curing them. But after this intense activity he took some off for prayer. Soon after daybreak he made his way to a lonely place. There was still much to be done, but he needed time to pray quietly. His public could not see the value of this, so when Jesus went aside to pray, the crowds kept after him, and wanted to stop him from leaving them.

Perhaps we are not very different. We often value work more than prayer. Yet, prayer was essential to Jesus. it was because of it that he could keep following the path God wanted him to take, rather than the route of public opinion. Prayer helped Jesus to keep doing God’s work, no matter what others wanted from him. For us too, prayer can help us focus on God’s will, and make the best use of our lives.

Thursday of Week 22

1st Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

We can endure whatever comes, being rescued from the power of darkness

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Responsorial: Psalm 97:2-6

R./: The Lord has made known his salvation

The Lord has made known his salvation;
  has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
  for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth have seen
  the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
  ring out your joy. (R./)

Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
  with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
  acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

After a miraculous catch of fish Jesus calls the fishermen to follow him

Once, while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus" knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.


The universal call to holiness

Paul teaches that holiness is gained by the normal activities of daily life, if done in a spirit of faith and trusting the grace of God. The natural activities of life (employment, study, health-care, eating and drinking, family life) can be dedicated to God and be performed with gratitude. Paul’s ideal for us, as for his original readers, is to "lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him." This the universal call to holiness, shared by all the baptised. It’s a blessing to know that the Lord has useful work for each of us to do. What we need is the courage and insight to know where to cast our nets.

Not entirely fruitless

Most of us will have tasted failure in one shape or form. We may have failed to live up to the goals we had set ourselves. Some enterprise or some initiative that we had invested in may have come to nothing. All such experiences can leave us feeling disheartened. There is a response to the feeling of failure in today’s gospel. We can hear the note of failure in Peter’s complaint, "we worked hard all night long and caught nothing," and in his later appeal, "Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."

Failure does not need to have the last word, because the Lord is near and can help us through them. He transformed their fruitless night’s labour by giving them an abundant catch of fish. He also insisted that the sinful Peter would work with him, drawing people into the nets of God’s kingdom. The Lord is constantly at work in all kinds of unpromising situations, bringing life out of loss and failure. For this to happen, we need to not give in to discouragement. We need to keep putting out into deep water in response to his faithful word.

Friday of Week 22

1st Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

Through Christ everything was created and reconciled to God

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Responsorial: Psalm 99:2-5

R./: Come with joy into the presence of the Lord

Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
  Serve the Lord with gladness.
  Come before him, singing for joy. (R./)

Know that he, the Lord, is God.
  He made us, we belong to him,
  we are his people, the sheep of his flock. (R./)

Go within his gates, giving thanks.
  Enter his courts with songs of praise.
  Give thanks to him and bless his name. (R./)

Indeed, how good is the Lord,
  eternal his merciful love.
  He is faithful from age to age. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 5:33-39

The disciples don't fast in Jesus' time; but will, when he is gone

The Pharisees and their scribes said to Jesus, "John's disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink." Jesus said to them, "You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days."

He also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good.'"


Surprised by Grace

Paul’s text today, which may have originally been a Christ-hymn used in very early liturgy, attributes a key role in creation to Christ, the firstborn of all creatures, who is the head of the body, the church. This is a powerful guarantee, that we belong to his body, and that he is our link with the invisible God, the Father of all.

But we live in the "here and now," when things can often go awry. While some rejoice in God’s freely-bestowed grace, others complain that they ought to be fasting and praying more fervently. The lifestyle of Jesus himself was not good enough for his critics. Even in our world today he is still criticized. He responds by ironically comparing them with children who complained, "We piped you a tune but you did not dance, we sang you a dirge but you did not wail" (Luke 7:32). Some people can never recognise grace at work, all around them.

People of a rigid mindset want to put the grace of God under human control, rigidly maintained. They want to patch a new garment with old material, pour new wine into old wine-skins. But the old skins will burst under the pressure of the fermenting new wine. The old fabric will never match the texture and colour of the new.

Allowing for difference

People can get into a rut, eigidly fixed in our own routines. If someone comes and does things differently we object; why things can’t simply be left alone? We find that scenario in today’s gospel. The Pharisees ask irritably, "Why don’t you and your disciples fast and pray like the rest of us?" In reply, Jesus talks of "new wine" which requires "new wine skins."

We need to work with the new wine of his presence in new ways. These will be in some continuity with the old ways, but will go beyond them. Jesus who is in our midst brings us God’s energy and that energy cries out for new outlets. He prompts us to take some new step in our relationship with him. We pray today for a greater openness to this new wine.

Saturday of Week 22

1st Reading: Colossians 1:21-23

Hold the faith firmly, to come before God free of all blame

You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Responsorial: Psalm 53:3-4, 6, 8

R./: God himself is my help

O God, save me by your name;
  by your power, uphold my cause.
O God, hear my prayer;
  listen to the words of my mouth. (R./)

But I have God for my help.
  The Lord upholds my life.
I will sacrifice to you with willing heart
  and praise your name for it is good. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 6:1-5

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, defends eating grain on the Sabbath

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?" Then he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."


Keeping the sabbath

Jesus  was challenged about why his hungry disciples were "harvesting" on the sabbath He gave a simple common-sense answer. They were just plucking ears of grain and eating them to satisfy their hunger, a anyone might do while walking through a cornfield. He bolsters his reply by appealing to another time when David and his men were allowed eat what normally was reserved for priests. Proper observance of the Law allowed for exceptions, in order to serve the poor and the needy.

Jesus is Lord of the sabbath in a deeper sense. Colossians speaks of his winning reconciliation for us by dying in his mortal body. If it is to be real, peace is no cheap grace; it is not "easy come, easy go." Jesus died to obtain it for us. Someone must patiently suffer the effects of hostility and envy, so that others can see the evil of their deeds and be truly sorry for them. In Jesus, humble and patient on the cross, we find ourselves drawn to repudiate sin (2 Cor 5:21) so that he can present us to God "holy, free of reproach and blame."

Two views about Sabbath

What people should do or not do on the Sabbath was disputed between Jesus and the Pharisees. Accoeding to the Pharisees, simply plucking ears of corn and eating them while walking in the fields constituted "manual labour" and so was forbidden on the Sabbath. For Jesus, it was perfectly right to satisfy one’s hunger on the Sabbath, especially for people like his disciples who were never sure where their next meal would come from. The Sabbath law as as interpreted by the Pharisees could be safely ignored.

Jesus calls himself Lord of the Sabbath. Sunday is now the Christian Sabbath. In Jesus’ view of the Sabbath, anything that serves the basic needs of others may be done, and is part of keeping holy the sabbath day.