Archive for March, 2010

Lk 15:1-3, 11-32:The Parable of the Lost Son

Human experiences teach us:

  • That the people who hurt us often and hurt us the most are people who are so close to us. That is why there is a song entitled, “Why do we always hurt the one we love?”
  • That the people we find the hardest to forgive are also people who are so close to us. People as such we call them traitors and ungrateful. It has been said that one’s best friends is  one’s worst enemies.
  • That the people who are deeply hurt or aggrieved have the tendency to self-pity, anger, hatred, resentment and revenge. Given all these, it is hard to forgive, much harder, to forgive constantly. Indeed Alexander Pope is correct when he said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

If your heart is filled with anger, hatred and revenge and you  find it hard to forgive those who hurt or offended you, then, the message of today’s Gospel is for you:  love the repentant sinner by forgiving him while hate the sin;  hope for repentance of sinner and celebrate the redemption of even one sinner.

Going back to the parable we just heard, the younger son’s request was impudent and disrespectful.  Typically, sons received their inheritance on the death of their father.  Sometimes a father might decide to distribute part or all of the inheritance early so that he might retire, but the initiative is the father’s—not the son’s.  In the event that a son received his inheritance prior to the father’s death, the son was expected to stay at home to provide for his parents in their old age.  That was part of what it meant to “honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exod 20:12).

This younger son was guilty of:  (1) assuming the initiative that belonged to his father  (2) treating his father as if he were dead  (3) ignoring his obligation to his parents in their old age and (4) breaking the family relationship by leaving.  Such conduct was shameful in that culture.  A father would feel ashamed to have raised such a son.  Neighbors would raise their eyebrows and thank God not to have such sons themselves.

Despite of what had happened the father has forgiven his repentant impudent and disrespectful son who deeply offended and hurt him. The father in the parable represents God the Father who  is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13) while the prodigal son represents the worst sinner who returns to the Father with contrite and humble spirit.  Just as God the Father has forgiven us in Christ when were sinners and when we were still His enemies let us also forgive those who has hurt and offended us.

Why do we need to forgive?

  • “The only way to peace is forgiveness. To accept and give forgiveness makes possible a new quality of rapport between men, interrupts the spiral of hatred and revenge and breaks the chains of evil which bind the heart of rivals” (Pope John Paul II,  Homily at Mass for First Sunday of Lent, “Day of Pardon”, March 12, 2000 and Angelus Message, March 12, 2000).
  • “Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the high cost of hatred, and the waste of energy” (E. C. McKenzie).
  • Forgiveness of one another is a condition for authentic worship of the Father. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24; cf. 6:14-15; Mk 11:25; CCC 2841; cf. CFC 2187).
  • Man must forgive in order to be forgiven by God. The parable is a comment upon the fifth petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” (Mt 6:12).  Those, and those only, may expect to be forgiven of God, who forgive their brethren “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will you Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:14, 15). As James had it, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).

“Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Col 3:12f). Forgive and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect ” (Mt 5: 44-48).

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Word Alive

Story of Walter

By FR. BEL R. SAN LUIS, SVD

March 14, 2010, 11:58am

Once there was a man named Walter. He owned a littele variety store and, for some years in his own small way, he extended credit to poor people, helping them to get started in life. His town mates had all praises for the benevolent man.

Because of his generosity, the good Lord rewarded him. One day, Walter struck it rich when he won the lotto.

* * *

With all his overflowing wealth, he gave up his little business and bought a palatial house in an upscale subdivision. He enjoyed all the material comforts and amenities in life. Catapulted to the top of the social ladder, his lifestyle changed and sadly forgot all about his simple spirit and, charitable works of helping the poor. He had himself revitalized and rejuvenated. (Dunno if he went to Dr. Belo or Dr. Calayan).

* * *

The new Walter went on good times, spending money freely. He met a beautiful young woman and asked her for a date. But that evening before they could go out, a thunderstorm came up.

While crossing the street to meet his date, Walter was struck by a lightning bolt and he died instantly.

* * *

In the next life, Walter lamented, “After all those years of hard work, I was just trying to enjoy myself a little, Lord. Why did you do that to me?” And God said to him, “Oh, was that you Walter? I didn’t recognize you!”

Walter was so rejuvenated, so changed not only in looks but also his lifestyle and values that God could not recognize him.

* * *

LESSON. The Lord is surely not against getting rich or rejuvenating oneself. Nor is God against enjoying life now and then. Rather it’s a reminder about the danger of wealth. In the case of Walter, he forgot his original goodness of helping people.

* * *

Ask yourself: What’s my attitude towards money? Am I so preoccupied with it that I have no more time for God, say, in prayer? Am I so obsessed that I have to cheat or do immoral ways, like operating illegal gambling, trafficking in dangerous drugs or stealing?

Am I so attached to my possessions that I have become selfish and insensitive to the plight of the poor around me?

* * *

ACTION: In this Lenten season, I’ll show that money is not my God by allotting time for spiritual matters and doing more acts of charity.

* * *

THE LIGHTER SIDE. St. Peter to new arrival at Heaven’s gate: And what good deeds did you do during your lifetime?

New applicant: Well, I once gave an old beggar a R10. St. Peter: Anything else? New applicant: I’m afraid no more St. Peter: Well, here’s your R10 back – you can go to Hell!

* * *

Young boy praying in church: Give us this day our Daily Bread… with ham, egg and cheese, French fries, salad on the side. Priest passing by: Iho, are you praying or ordering?

* * *

7 LAST WORDS. The SVD Social Communications will present the “7 Last Words” on Good Friday, April 2, 2010 from 12-3 p.m. over ABS-CBN.

We sent out letters soliciting donations and advertisements to help us defray the costs of TV airtime and production. May we have your generous response?

* * *

Please send your help payable to Mission Communications Foundation, Inc. at: Christ the King Seminary, 1101 E. Rodriguez Blvd., 1099 Quezon City. For inquiries, call MCFI at Christ the King Seminary (cf. tel. directory) or e-mail: belsvd@yahoo.com.

* * *

GOD BLESS – the latest donors: Dr. Montano Ramos Family; Lilian Villanueva; Dr. Thelma Clemente; Dr. Buena Alegre; Gene Liangco; Nely Uy; Liwanag Deveza; Dr. Aurelia Leus; Joey Uy; Amy Ty; Warren Family; Susie Lañada-Papa; Janet Chua; Anonymous.

http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/247644/story-walter

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MANILA, Philippines—Do you know why the government recently granted discounts to senior citizens? Because someone pointed out that, when it comes to food purchases, senior citizens are prohibited from eating many kinds of food anyway; on transportation, they can’t use it much anyway; on groceries, they can’t carry much of those anyway; on movies, they have bad eyes anyway; and on hospitals, they don’t have much time left anyway.

* * *

In contrast, in today’s Gospel about the prodigal son (Lk. 15, 1-3; 11-32), the Father’s love and forgiveness are without conditions and “anyways.” The loving Father’s generosity is gracious, total and unconditional. Many of us claim to give and forgive, but much of our giving and forgiving is often so conditional and self-serving.

* * *

Did you notice how all of a sudden, politicians seeking elective positions have become so giving and accommodating in terms of time, money and truckloads of promises? But this is only for a while, because once they are elected, they will be so busy in getting the return of their investment. They are giving now in order that they will get more later.

* * *

God’s love for us is beyond transactional. God gives us more than we deserve, and He gets from us much less than He deserves. God is generous and merciful, while we are wanting yet exacting. In so far as we strive to be generous, and go beyond justice toward mercy, we too become like God.

* * *

In the end, it is God’s mercy that will save us. Our so-called merits will not be enough to transact for our salvation. That is why, in humility, every day we earnestly and sincerely pray: “Lord, I am a sinner, have mercy, have pity on me.”

* * *

Humanly speaking, we give and love “if . . .” But God loves us “even if . . .” Our loving, giving and forgiving are very conditional. As we continue to receive so much unconditional love from God, may we too learn to become less transactional and more unconditional in our loving, giving and forgiving.

* * *

I am a grateful recipient of God’s unconditional love. I know and believe that I am loved not so much because of, but in spite of me. How many times have I disobeyed God, yet He continues to manifest His constant love! Presumptuous? I say it again: It is better to be presumptuous of God’s love than to doubt God’s love. If you have not experienced what it is like to sin and be forgiven, to be broken and be made whole again, then, you have not really experienced God’s tremendous love.

* * *

We insult God when we sin. We insult Him more if we doubt that He loves us and forgives us again and again. God’s love and forgiveness are greater and broader than we can imagine. Let us not limit God’s love. Instead, let us celebrate His goodness and love.

* * *

Remember me writing some Sundays ago about exit from this world and entrance into eternity? My very good friends lawyer Manuel and Norma Pastrana had a sudden exit from this world, when their house in Cebu City was gutted by fire at dawn last Thursday, March 11. It was such a shock to me. Indeed, we don’t know the time nor the hour. The Season of Lent reminds us again and again that we are dust and to dust we will return.

* * *

When tragedy strikes, there are many things we cannot explain or understand. At such moments, all we need to do is to accept, surrender, trust and hold on to God’s master plan, and believe in His unconditional love. “Lord, I don’t understand but I believe you have a plan.”

* * *

I was in Roxas City recently to celebrate the annual Memorial Mass for my classmate Fr. Antonio Barriatos, SVD who died as a missionary in Paraguay in 1994. I do this in gratitude to his family who offered Father Tony for the missions with no ifs and no buts. I salute the many countless and faceless generous people around us who live out their faith in very simple but concrete ways.

* * *

We will be in Alaminos City, Pangasinan for a Healing Mass at the St. Joseph Cathedral on Wednesday, March 17, 2010. Together with the people and with Bishop Marlo Peralta, DD, Bishop of Alaminos, we will pray for the healing of Pangasinan and our motherland especially for the coming May elections. And, we will also pray for rain, much needed rain to come upon us, soon.

* * *

Please remember one often unnoticed but significant character in the Parable of the Prodigal Son—the fattened calf! Why, what did it do? What was its fault that it had to be slaughtered? It just happened to be there when the prodigal son came home. Oh well, if you experience being feasted upon, or being blamed, or misjudged, console yourself with the thought it all happened once to an innocent fattened calf.

* * *

A moment with the Lord:

Lord, help me to love like you, with no “ifs” and no “buts.” Amen.

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20100313-258495/No-ifs-no-buts

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Lk 18:9-14: The Parable of the Pharisees and the Tax Collector

Today’s Gospel parable has deep meaning and no word wasted. It has a message that challenges and hits the bull’s eye. Exalt yourself and you will be humbled. Humble yourself and you will be exalted.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is terribly contemporary, for it raises the shadow of two constant temptations.

The first temptation is thinking that we alone save our souls. Jesus’ parable is addressed to all who attribute to themselves as pleasing to God, all who lift themselves to heaven by their own bootstraps. It’s true we cannot be saved unless we want to, but even that wanting, that very desire, is God’s grace to us. It is Jesus who saves.

Now don’t misunderstand the parable. God will not mind if your prayer of thanksgiving sounds in part like the Pharisee’s: “O God, I thank you for all I am. I have such a high IQ. In looks I score 10. I never miss Mass on Sundays (despite your boring preachers), haven’t broken any commandment this year. I work for the victims of wars, and earthquakes, of typhoons and floods. I helped the poor and the lonely, the sick, the “sungit” and “pangit.” I even support the parish priest with all kinds of gifts.”

Not a bad prayer, but useless unless you add, day in and day out, “O God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am.” In your prayer of thanksgiving thank God for His mercy, from the birth of His Son in a stable, through his death on a cross, to his birth in your heart. Without that mercy, without God’s constant forgiveness, all your work would be worthless.

The second temptation is less subtle, a danger to everyday living — comparing oneself with others. Throughout history men and women have fallen prey in some measure to the Pharisee’s fault: “I am not like the rest of mankind.” Early Christians looked down on the Jews “rejected by God,” Crusaders on infidels they would massacre. Protestants and Catholics despised one another. The upper educated class looks down on the bakya crowd. And so on across the spectrum of human living.

Perhaps we can raise our prayer of thanksgiving to a high Christian level: “O God, I thank you that I am like the rest of humankind. I thank you that like everyone else, I too have been shaped in your image, with a mind to know and a heart to love. I thank you that, like everyone else, I too was embraced by the crucified arms of your Son. I too have him for a brother. I thank you that you judge me, like everyone else, not by my brains or looks, my clothes, the figures of my bank account, the size of my house and the model of my car, but by the love that is your gift to me, by the way I share the passion of your Christ. I thank you that, for all our thousand differences, I am remarkably like the people all around me.”

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Luke 18:12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess

“This parable is not about hypocrisy; it’s about pride. By objective human standards, in terms of the number and frequency of rules kept, the Pharisee really was the more righteous of the two individuals! Yet according to the Savior: ‘I tell you, this man [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ (V. 14.)

“I fear that, like the Pharisee in the parable, some of us who are relatively good at keeping the rules also trust in ourselves that we are righteous. Such are inordinately proud of their own goodness; they exalt themselves. But whenever we are proud of how good we are instead of being humbled by how imperfect we are (cf. “2 Ne. 4:17″2 Ne. 4:18″2 Ne. 4:192 Ne. 4:17-19), our hearts are not broken, nor are our spirits contrite.

Robert E. Wells

“If we are to increase in favor with God, we must resolve to overcome as much as possible the sin of pride. President Benson maintained that pride is the universal sin (Ensign, May 1989, p. 6). That means that every one of us, to one degree or another, suffers from the problem and must do all in our power to overcome its influence. As human beings, we have a remarkable capacity to fall under the influence of pride—even when we think we are in the safest of religious settings.

“I remember reading about the Sunday School teacher who taught her class that great scriptural lesson on the proud Pharisee who thanked the Lord that he was not a sinner like the publican, a penitent sinner who prayed for forgiveness. Jesus said the publican was more justified than the Pharisee (see Luke 18:9–14). The Sunday School teacher then suggested to her class that they should all thank God that they were not like that Pharisee! (See Robert J. McCracken, What Is Sin? What Is Virtue? New York: Harper and Row, 1966, p. 14.)

“Another story relates that a Carthusian monk, explaining to an inquirer about the distinctive features of his monastic order, said: ‘When it comes to good works, we don’t match the Benedictines; as to preaching, we are not in a class with the Dominicans; the Jesuits are away ahead of us in learning; but in the matter of humility, we’re tops’ (ibid., p. 14).” (“Resolutions,” Ensign, Dec. 1994, 65)

Joe J. Christensen

Luke 18:13 the publican…smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner

“How do you pray? Like publicans or arrogant officials? The Pharisee recounted to the Lord his many virtues. He was not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer like the publican or other men. He fasted twice a week and tithed possessions. But the publican standing humbly in the background ‘would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13Luke 18:13.)

“In your secret prayers do you beat your breast and present yourself with your soul bared, or do you dress yourself in fancy coverings and pressure God to see your virtues? Do you emphasize your goodness and cover your sins with a blanket of pretense? Or do you plead for mercy at the hands of Kind Providence?

“Do you get answers to your prayers? If not, perhaps you did not pay the price. Do you offer a few trite words and worn-out phrases, or do you talk intimately to the Lord? Do you pray occasionally when you should be praying regularly, often, constantly? Do you offer pennies to pay heavy debts when, you should give dollars to erase that obligation?

“When you pray, do you just speak, or do you also listen? your Savior said, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ (Rev. 3:20Rev. 3:20.)

“The promise is made to everyone. There is no discrimination, no favored few. But the Lord has not promised to crash the door. He stands and knocks. If we do not listen, He will not sup with us nor give answer to our prayers. Do you know how to listen, grasp, interpret, understand? The Lord stands knocking. He never retreats. But He will never force himself upon us.” (October 11, 1961, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1961, p. 6.)

Spencer W. Kimball

TWO KINDS OF PRAYER: Prayer states one’s relationship with God. The way we pray reveals that relationship. The Pharisee prays as a character who “prays to himself” or “with reference to himself.” What he spells out is quite true: his observance of the Law goes beyond the legal requirements. But his prayer has been transformed into boasting. He has become full of himself that he seems not to need God anymore. Moreover, he assumes the role of judge and despises others. He reminds God of the deficiency of the tax collector, in case God has not noticed.
In contrast to the prayer of the puffed-up Pharisee, that of the tax collector is of utter simplicity and truth. Indeed he is a sinner. Indeed he needs God’s gift of righteousness because he has none of his own. In praying to God to have mercy on him, he asks God to give him what God “owes” him: mercy and forgiveness.
At the end of the story, the tax collector is the one justified by God, that is, God has placed him in right relationship with God. The Pharisee needed nothing and asked for nothing; he received nothing. The tax collector, by contrast, recognized he needed God’s gift of righteousness, and so he received it.

Source: 365 Days with the Lord

http://graceandspace.org/welcome/home/365-days-with-the-lord/543-the-parable-of-the-pharisee-and-the-tax-collector.html

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Mk 12:28-34: The Greatest Commandment

Stephen E. Robinson once said, “The heart and soul of the gospel is love, and all the rest is commentary. Whatever else we may perceive religion to be, we are wrong—for true religion is love in action—God’s love for us and our love for God and for our neighbors.” (Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News, 125.)

This is the same message Jesus wishes to tell us in the Gospel reading for the day: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Mk 12:30). “And your neighbor as yourself”  (Lk 10:27) is the first and most important. The two-fold commandment of love is the resume, condensation and fulfillment of all the laws of Moses and all the teachings of the prophets. In it all the other commandments are included and made one. Indeed, charity expresses all, contains all, and crowns all.

St Jerome hands down a tradition concerning the last years of St John’s life: when he was already a very old man, he used always say the same thing to the faithful: “My children, love one another!” On one occasion, he was asked why he insisted on this: “to which he replied with these words worthy of John: ‘Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if you keep just this commandment, it will suffice”‘ (“Comm. in Gal.”, III, 6, 10).

What are some of the implications of the two-fold commandment of love in our Christian faith and life?

First, it teaches us that the best distinguishing mark of what a Christian should be is charity. Every Christian must be convinced that God has first loved him or her and in return should also love God and His people. “The man without love has known nothing of God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:12).

Charity, therefore, is the sure mark of Christian, the way to recognize the genuine disciple of Jesus. “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).

Second, it teaches us that “Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it “governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification” (LG 42)” and the perfection of Christian life consists fundamentally in charity and that the soul of holiness is charity. Why? Because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14, Rom. 13:10), governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification. As St. Paul said: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love you neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rm 13:8-10).

Apart from love no sacrifice, no offering, no worship, no conduct are holy, pleasing and acceptable to the Lord  because the perfection of the Christian life consists principally and essentially in charity. It is the foundation, center and the summit of Christian life.

Third, it teaches us that charity is the sure route to salvation.  “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64). We will be judged on the degree and quality of our love (cf. St. John of the Cross, “Spiritual Sentences and Maxims”, 57).

In the end, what really matters or decisive is how do we answer to the question of Christ: “What did you do to the least brethren of mine? Blessed are you when you “fed the hungry Christ, gave drink to the thirsty Christ, received the homeless Christ, clothed the naked Christ and visited the sick and the imprisoned Christ” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta) for Jesus will say:  “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brethren of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

In sum, “Charity is the greatest of all gifts, a sure route to holiness and salvation, and the identifying mark of the Christian: “the first and most necessary gift is charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbor because of him. […] This is because love, as the bond of perfection and fullness of the law (cf. Col 3:14, Rom. 13:10), governs, gives meaning to, and perfects all the means of sanctification. Hence the true disciple of Christ is marked by love both of God and of his neighbor” (Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium”, 42).

The man without love is like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1) and has known nothing of God for God is love (see cf. 1 Jn 4:7f). The one who has no love for his brother or sister he has seen cannot love God he has not seen. He is a liar because whoever loves God must also love his brother” (see 1 Jn 4:19-21). As Christ has loved us let us, therefore, love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God.

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Lk 11:14-23: Jesus and Beelzebul

Jesus has just driven out the demon from a mute person. While the crowds are awed, some people attribute the miracle to the power of Beelzebul. Jesus points to the absurdity of Satan fighting against himself and says that he drives out demons “by the finger of God.”

Jesus also implies that his adversaries have less faith in God’s finger at work in him and in the world than the magicians at Pharaoh’s court. For the third plague sent to persuade the Pharaoh to let the Israelites depart from Egypt (Ex 8:12-15), Aaron struck the ground with his staff, and gnats arose from the dust, infesting people and beasts. The Pharaoh’s magicians used their magic arts to duplicate the feat but were unable to do so. Admitting their failure, the magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”

Besides representing divine power working mighty signs and wonders for his people, God’s finger (or “hand”) is seen in the created world—the heavens, the moon, the stars, humans, and animals (Ps 8). When the Pharaoh refuses to let Israel go, God tells Moses that he will lay his hand on Egypt, and by great acts of judgment, God will bring Israel out of bondage. It is God’s own finger that inscribes the Ten Commandments on the two stone tablets given to Moses (Ex 31:18; Dt 9:10).

God’s Spirit is in Jesus who is God’s finger at work to free men and women from Satan and the forces of evil. Those who follow Jesus share in his victory over evil and continue his liberating mission.

http://graceandspace.org/welcome/home/365-days-with-the-lord/541-jesus-and-beelzebul.html

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Mt 5:17-19: Teaching About The Law

“Do no deny, seldom affirm and always distinguish” is a normative attitude any would-be-philosopher or rational human being should have. In today’s Gospel, we see its relevance in understanding the life and teaching of Jesus about the law.

Knowing Jesus as someone who broke what the Jews called Law, it is astonishing and puzzling to hear Jesus warning his disciples: “Whoever will break one of the least of these commandments, and will teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven; but whoever will do them and will teach others to do them, he will be called great in the Kingdom of the Heavens” (v. 19) Several passages of the Gospel attests to the very fact and truth that sometimes Jesus did not observe the handwashings that the Law laid down; he healed sick people on the Sabbath, although forbade such healing; he was in fact condemned and crucified as a law-breaker; and yet he seems to speak of the Law with a veneration and a reverence that no Rabbi or Pharisee could exceed.

At first, Jesus appears to be inconsistent and tempts us to judge him by saying: “Look who’s talking? Here we need to distinguish the kind of Law Jesus is referring to? The kind of law we need to follow with reverence and veneration and which is not.

The Jews used the expression The Law in four different ways. (i) They used it to mean the Ten Commandments. (ii) They used it to mean the first five books of the Bible. The part of the Bible which is known as the Pentateuch-which literally means The Five Rolls-was to the Jew the Law par excellence and was to them by far the most important part of the Bible. (iii)They used the phrase The Law and the prophets to mean the whole of Scriptures; they used it as a comprehensive description of what we would call the whole Old Testament. (iv) They used it to mean the Oral or the Scribal Law.

In the time of Jesus it was the last meaning which was the commonest; and it was in fact this Scribal law which both Jesus and Paul so utterly condemned. What, then, was this Scribal law? It refers to a compilation of rules and regulations possibly deducted and expanded out of the great principles of Law. It was believed that the Moses received 613 precepts on Mount Sinai and these were expanded by the Scribes into thousands of rules and regulations.

The Scribes were the men who worked out these rules and regulations. The Pharisees, whose name means The Separated Ones, were the men who had separated themselves from all the ordinary activities of life to keep all these rules and regulation.

For many generations this Scribal Law was never written down; it was the oral law, and it was handed down in the memory of generations of Scribes. In the middle of the third century A.D. a summary of it was made and codified. That summary is known as the Misnah; It contains sixty-three tractates on various subjects of the Law, and in English makes a book of almost eight hundred pages. Later Jewish scholarship busied itself with making commentaries to explain the Misnah. These commentaries are known as the Talmuds. Of the Jerusalem Talmud there are twelve printed volumes; and of the Babylonian Talmud there are sixty printed volumes.

Righteousness, according to the pious Jews, in the time of Jesus, is keeping religiously thousands of legalistic rules and regulations. For them, it is a matter of holiness, it is a matter of salvation. Clearly Jesus did not mean that not one of these rules and regulation was to pass away; repeatedly he broke them himself; repeatedly he condemned them; that is certainly not what Jesus meant by Law, for that is the kind of law that both Jesus and Paul condemned.

“The Old Law is the first stage of revealed Law. Its moral prescription are summed up in the Ten Commandments. The precepts of the Decalogue lay the foundations for the vocation of man fashioned in the image of God; they prohibit what is contrary to the love of God and neighbor, and prescribe what is essential to it. The Decalogue is a light offered to the conscience of every man to make God’s call and ways known to him, and protect him against evil: ‘God wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts’” (CCC 1962; St Augustine, En. In Ps. 57, 1: PL 36, 673).

The Law is the first stage on the way to the Kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides teaching which endures forever, like the Word of God. The Old Law is a preparation of  the Gospel. It is completed by the teaching of the sapiental books and the prophets which set its course towards the New Covenant and the kingdom of heaven (see CCC 1963-64).

The Law is “holy, spiritual and good (cf. Rom 7:12, 14, 16),” yet still imperfect. Like a “tutor (cf. Gal 3:24)” it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it.

The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: “I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel….I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Heb 8:8,10; cf. 31:31-34; CCC 1965).

The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Gospel, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for the persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity. And the entire law of the gospel is contained in the “new commandment” of Jesus, to love one another as he has loved us (cf Mt 5:44-48; see CCC 1968-69, cf. Jn 15:12; 13:34).

To fulfill the law to its perfection is to love. Hence, the perfection of the Christian life consists principally and essentially in charity. Do we not also find in the First Commandment: Thou shall love, thy God, with all thy whole mind, with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy strength,” a resume and condensation of the fullness of the Law (Rom 13:8, 10). That suffices. So it is that charity expresses all, contains all and crowns all. Charity as the bond of perfection and the fulfillment of the Law (Col 3:14; Rom 13:10) rules over all the means of attaining holiness, gives life to them, and makes them work. Hence, it is the love of God and of neighbor which points out the true disciple of Christ.

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Mt 18:21-35: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Human experiences teach us:

  • That the people who hurt us often and hurt us the most are people who are so close to us. That is why there is a song entitled, “Why do we always hurt the one we love?”
  • That the people we find the hardest to forgive are also people who are so close to us. People as such we call them traitors and ungrateful. It has been said that one’s best friends is  one’s worst enemies.
  • That the people who are deeply hurt or aggrieved have the tendency to self-pity, anger, hatred, resentment and revenge. Given all these, it is hard to forgive, much harder, to forgive constantly. Indeed Alexander Pope is correct when he once said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

If your heart is filled with anger, hatred and revenge and you  find it hard to forgive, then the message of today’s Gospel is for you: forgive without limits!

Christian must forgive seventy times seven. In other words the limit of forgiveness must be limitless. “When He says, “Until seventy times seven,” He does not limit a definite number within which forgiveness must be kept; but He signifies thereby something endless and ever enduring” (St. John Chrysostom).

Why do we need to forgive?

  • “The only way to peace is forgiveness. To accept and give forgiveness makes possible a new quality of rapport between men, interrupts the spiral of hatred and revenge and breaks the chains of evil which bind the heart of rivals” (Pope John Paul II,  Homily at Mass for First Sunday of Lent, “Day of Pardon”, March 12, 2000 and Angelus Message, March 12, 2000).
  • “Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the high cost of hatred, and the waste of energy” (E. C. McKenzie).
  • Forgiveness of one another is a condition for authentic worship of the Father. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24; cf. 6:14-15; Mk 11:25; CCC 2841; cf. CFC 2187).
  • Man must forgive in order to be forgiven by God. The parable is a comment upon the fifth petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” (Mt 6:12).  Those, and those only, may expect to be forgiven of God, who forgive their brethren “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will you Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:14, 15). As James had it, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).

“Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Col 3:12f). Forgive and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect ” (Mt 5: 44-48).

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Lk 4:24-30 The Rejection At Nazareth

As a priest of eleven years in the ministry, one of the most challenging moments in my priesthood is to deliver a homily, facilitate a retreat or recollection, conduct seminar, and correct gently in charity people such as my relatives, neighbors, friends and classmates and teachers who have known me and my background since childhood.

Usually in moments like this, I feel I am unworthy and apprehensive of what will be their attitudes and reactions of what I ought to say and do knowing that they knew me very well and I know them too. Behind all these, deep within me, I am fully convinced, that familiarity breeds contempt. And no critics are more severe than kin and neighbors who have known me since my childhood.

This is what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus suffers the bias, prejudices and antagonism instead of warm welcome, hospitality and generosity of his town mates when he returned to his home town, not simply as the carpenter’s son, but now as a rabbi with disciples.  This led him to exclaim, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house” (Mt 13:57).

Jesus “native place” is Nazareth, which he has already left to make Capernaum, by the sea of Tiberias, his homebase for his Galilean ministry. “Native place may also apply to the whole country – Israel – for the rejection at Nazareth mirrors the rejection of the wider territory of the Jews. The “house” refers to his immediate and extended families. It can also apply to the household of God – Israel – the chosen people.

It was customary for Jesus to go weekly to the synagogue to worship and on occasion to read the scriptures and comment on them to the people.  His hometown folks listened with rapt attention on this occasion because they had heard about the miracles he had performed in other towns.  As they listened, his town mates were surprised to what they see and hear saying, “”Where did he get this wisdom and these special powers? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:54). The Jews were really surprised to hear him speak so well in the synagogue. Surprised because for them Jesus was just a son of Joseph, and had practiced the trade of carpenter himself for some years since Joseph’s death. Not as prophet or teacher as they now see and hear.

Their amazement instead of leading them to repentance, conversion and discipleship, they took took offense at him and refused to listen to what he had to say.  They despised his preaching because he was a workingman, a carpenter, a mere layman and they despised him because of his family.

Worst of all,  according to some versions of the Gospel, Jesus was promptly expelled from the synagogue and almost killed at the outskirts of Nazareth, causing him to remark, “Indeed no prophet is accepted and honored by his townsmen, relatives and friends”. What he really wanted to convey was: Prophet is only accepted and honored by a person who believes. Because of their lack of faith, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands of them. Indeed familiarity breeds contempt.  Jesus could do no mighty works in their midst because of their stubbornness of heart, ignorance and unbelief.

The Nazarenes’ surprise is partly due to people’s difficulty in recognizing anything exceptional and supernatural in those with whom they have bee on familiar terms.  Hence the saying, ” No one is a prophet in his own country.” These old neighbors were also jealous of Jesus. Where did he acquire his wisdom? Why him rather than us? They were unaware of Jesus’ conception; surprise and jealousy cause them to be shocked to look down on Jesus and not to believe in Him: “He came to his own home, and His own people received Him not” (John 1:11).

At the annunciation the angel already identified the Jesus the son of Mary as the ‘Son of the Most High’ and the ‘Son of God’ (Lk 1:32, 35). The demons called Jesus ‘Holy One of God (Mk 1:24)0, ‘Son of God’ (Mk 3:11), ‘Son of the Most High’ (Mk 5:7). At the foot of the cross the Centurion acknowledged, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” The doubting Thomas acclaimed Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20: 28). And the Father himself at the baptism (Mk 1:11) and at the transfiguration (Mk 9:7) claimed Jesus, “This is my beloved Son.” Can you still remain skeptical like the doubting Thomas and the people of Nazareth? Will you still hesitate to put your faith in Jesus? “Do not be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn 20:27).

As we continue the celebration of the Mass, let us pray for the gift of faith. Let us always entrust ourselves wholly to God and believe absolutely all that He says for He is God who neither deceives nor can be deceived. Jesus has done so much for us that we may repent, believe and be saved. Let us, therefore, live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end by nourishing it with the word of God and the sacraments; begging the Lord to increase our faith (see Mk 9:24; Lk 17:5; 22:32); and lastly by making our faith working through charity, abounding in hope and rooted in the faith of the Church (see Gal 5:6; Rom 15:13; cf. Jas 2:14-26).

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