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Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (465)

"Lectio divina is an authentic source of Christian spirituality recommended by our Rule. We therefore practice it every day, so that we may develop a deep and genuine love for it, and so that we may grow in the surpassing knowledge of Christ. In this way we shall put into practice the Apostle Paul’s commandment, which is mentioned in our Rule: “Let the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, live abundantly in your mouth and in your hearts; and whatever you must do, do it in the name of the Lord.”

 Carmelite Constitutions (No. 82)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 07:08

Lectio Divina: 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Written by

Come and you will see
The call of the first Disciples
John 1:35-42

1. Opening prayer

Good Shepherd, my Father, today You also come down from the eternal mountains and bring with You Your flock and lead it towards green pastures, of fresh grass, of good water. Today You send ahead of You Your dearest or favorite lamb, the Lamb whom You love with an incommensurable love; You give us Your Son Jesus, the Messiah. Behold, He is here! I beg You, help me to recognize Him, to fix my gaze on Him, my desire, my expectation. Make me follow Him, that I do not separate myself from Him, that I enter His house and remain there always. His house, oh Father, are You, yourself. I want to enter in You, I want to live. May the breath of Your Holy Spirit attract me, support me and unite me in love to You and to Your Son, my Lord, today and forever and ever. Amen.

2. Reading

a) To place this passage in its context:

This passage introduces us to the beginning of the evangelical account of John, clearly showing the succession of one day after another in of a whole week. Here we are already on the third day since John the Baptist began to give his witness of Jesus with the invitation to the disciples to follow the Lord, the Lamb of God. The ministry of Jesus begins during these days, with the Word of the Father who descends in the midst of men to meet them and to speak with them and dwell among them.
This place is Bethany, beyond the Jordan, where John baptized. Here the encounter with the Word of God takes place and the new life begins.

b) To help in the reading of the passage:

vv. 35-36: John the Baptist lives a very strong experience of encounter with Jesus, in fact it is precisely here, on the third day, that he recognizes Him fully, that he proclaims Him with his whole strength and shows Him as the true way to follow, as the life to be lived. Here John diminishes himself to the point of disappearing and grows as witness to the light.

vv. 37-39: Having accepted the witness of their master, the disciples of John begin to follow Jesus. After having listened to His voice, they meet the Word and allow themselves to be challenged by it. Jesus looks at them, He knows them and begins His dialogue with them. He takes them with Him, introduces them to the place of His dwelling, and makes them remain with Him. The Evangelist indicates the exact hour of this face to face encounter between Jesus and the first disciples.

vv. 40-42: Immediately, the witness flares up and spreads; Andrew cannot keep silent about what he has seen and heard, what he has experienced and lived, and immediately becomes a missionary, calling his brother Peter to come to encounter Jesus. He, fixing His look on that man, calls him and transforms his life: he was Simon, now he becomes Peter.

c) Text:

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" — which translated means Teacher —, "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas" — which is translated Peter.

3. A moment of prayerful silence

I remain in silence and allow that these simple, but powerful words, envelope me, take possession of my life. I allow Jesus, who is coming, to fix His look on me, I allow Him to ask me, like He asked them: “What are you looking for?” and I allow Him to take me with Him, to His house. Because, yes, I want to dwell near Him...

4. Some questions

Now, I try to listen more attentively to this passage, by taking every word, every verb, being attentive to the movements, and to the looks. I really try to encounter the Lord in this page, allowing myself to be searched and known by Him.

a) “The next day John stood there again”.
In these words I feel the insistence of the search. I feel the faith of John the Baptist which grows. The days are going by. The experience of the encounter with Jesus is intensified. John does not give up, does not get tired, but rather, he always becomes more sure, more convinced, and enlightened. I place myself in contrast to John the Baptist: Am I one who is there, who remains, or rather, do I withdraw, get tired, or become weak and allow my faith to die out? Do I stand there, or do I sit down, do I wait or I do not wait anymore?

b) “Fixing his look on Jesus”.
Here is a beautiful verb which signifies “to look intensely”, to penetrate with the look” and this is repeated in verse 42, referring to Jesus, who looks at Peter to change his life. Many times in the Gospels it is said that Jesus fixes His look on His disciples (Mt 19:26), or on a particular person (Mk 10:21). He fixes His look to love, to call, to enlighten. His look never leaves us. I know that I can find peace by exchanging this look. How can I pretend not to see? Why continue to turn my look from here to there, fleeing from the Lord’s love which has been given to me and has chosen me?

c) “They followed Jesus”
This expression referred to the disciples. It does not only mean that they began to walk in the same direction with Christ, but much more: that they consecrated themselves to Him, that they committed their life with Him and for Him. He is the one who takes the initiative. He tells me: “You, follow Me”, like with the rich young man (Mt 19:21) and with Peter (Jn 21:22). How do I respond? Do I have the courage, the love, the ardor, to tell Him: “Master, I will follow You wherever You go!” (Mt 8:19), confirming these words with the facts? Or do I also say, like the one in the Gospel: “I will follow You, but first allow me to....” (Lk 9:61)?

d) “What do you search?”
he Lord Jesus pronounces the first words in John’s Gospel and they are a very concrete question, addressed to the disciples who are following Him and to me personally. The Lord fixes His look on me and asks me: “What are you searching for?” It is not easy to respond to this question. I must go deep into my heart and listen to myself. What am I really searching for? My energy, my desires, my dreams, my investments, to what purpose are they aimed?

e) “They remained with Him”
The disciples remain with Jesus, they begin to live with Him, and to have the house in common with Him. Perhaps, they began to feel and experience that the Lord himself is their new house. The verb which John uses here can simply mean to dwell, to stay, but also to dwell in the intense sense of indwelling one in the other. Jesus indwells in the womb of the Father and also offers to us the possibility of indwelling in Him and in all the Trinity. Today, He offers himself here, to me, to live together this indescribable, splendid experience of love. Therefore, what do I decide? Do I also stop like the disciples and remain with Him and in Him? Or do I leave or withdraw from the love and run to seek something else?

f) “And leads them to Jesus”.
Andrew runs to call his brother Simon, because He wants to share with him the infinite gift which He has received. He announces and proclaims the Messiah, the savior, and has the strength to take his brother with him. He becomes a guide. This is a very important passage. I do not know if I am sufficiently open and enlightened to witness to Him, who reveals Himself to me so clearly. Perhaps I am afraid, I am embarrassed, I do not have the strength, I am lazy, or I am indifferent?

5. A key for the reading

a) The Lamb of God:

In v. 36 John announces Jesus as the Lamb of God, repeating the cry which he had already given the day before: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

The identification of Jesus with the Lamb is overflowing with Biblical references, both from the Old and the New Testament.

The Lamb already is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, in chapter 22, at the moment of the sacrifice of Isaac; God provides a lamb, to be offered as holocaust instead of the son. The lamb descends from heaven and takes upon himself the death of man; the lamb is sacrificed so that the son may live.

In the Book of Exodus, in chapter 12, the Pascal Lamb is offered, a lamb without blemish, perfect; His blood, which will be poured, will save the sons from the exterminator, who goes from house to house, during the night. From that moment, every son of God will remain signed and sealed by that blood of salvation. The way is opened to freedom, the way of exodus, to go to God and to enter into the land promised by Him.

The element of sacrifice, of the slaughter, of the total gift, constantly accompanies the figure of the lamb. The books of Leviticus and Numbers continually place before us this holy presence of the lamb. He is offered every day in the daily holocaust. He is sacrificed in all the sacrifices of expiation, of reparation, of sanctification.

The Prophets also speak about a lamb prepared for the sacrifice: a mute sheep, sheared without opening its mouth, like a tame and meek lamb led to the slaughter (Is 53:7; Jer 11:19). The Lamb sacrificed on the altar every day.

In the Gospel, it is John the Baptist who announces and identifies Jesus as the true Lamb of God, who takes upon himself the sin of man and cancels it by the shedding of His precious and pure blood. In fact, He is the Lamb sacrificed in the place of Isaac. He is the Lamb roasted in the fire on the Pascal night. He is the perennial sacrifice to the Father, offered for us. He is the suffering servant, who does not rebel himself, does not recriminate, but surrenders himself silently out of love for us.

Saint Peter says this openly: “You have been liberated from the futile way of your life thanks to the precious blood of Christ, like the lamb, without blemish and spotless”. (I Pt 1:19).

The Apocalypse reveals openly all things concerning the Lamb. He is the one who can open the seals of history, of the life of every man, of the hidden heart, of truth (Ap 7:1-12; 8:1); He is the one who obtained victory, the one sitting on the throne (Rev 5, 6). He is the king, worthy of honor, praise, glory, adoration (Rev 5:12). He is the spouse who invites us to His wedding banquet (Rev 19:7). He is the lamp (Rev 23), the temple (Rev 21-22), the place of our eternal dwelling. He is the Shepherd (Rev  7:17) whom we shall follow wherever He goes (Rev 14:4).

b) To see:

Expressions concerning seeing are repeated five times. The first one is John, who already has the eye accustomed to see at a depth and recognize the Lord who passes by. He had to render witness to the light and for this reason has the eyes enlightened from within. In fact, near the Jordan River, he sees the Spirit coming down on Jesus (Mt 3:16); he recognizes Him as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29) and continued to fix His look (v. 36) on Him to indicate Him to His disciples. If John sees in this way, if he is capable of penetrating beyond appearances, it means that he had already been joined by the loving look of Jesus. He had been enlightened before in the same way we are.  In v. 38 it is said that Jesus sees the disciples who follow Him and the Evangelist uses a very beautiful verb, which means “to fix the look on someone, to look penetratingly and intensely”. The Lord truly does this with us. He turns towards us, gets close to us, takes to heart our presence, our life, our path following Him, and looks at us, for a long time, above all, with love, intensely involving himself. His look never leaves us alone. His eyes are fixed within us. They are designed within us as Saint John of the Cross sings in his Spiritual Canticle.

And then the Lord invites us, in turn, to open the eyes, to begin to see in a true way. He says: “Come and see”. Every day He repeats this to us without getting tired of addressing this tender and strong invitation, overflowing with promises and with gifts. “They saw where He was dwelling” John points out, using a different verb which indicates seeing profoundly, which goes beyond superficiality. It enters in understanding, knowledge, and in the faith of what one sees. The disciples – and we with them – saw that afternoon where Jesus dwelt. They understood and knew that His true dwelling place is not a place or a space.

Lastly, we have the same verb as in the beginning. Jesus fixes His look on Simon (v. 42) and with that light, with that encounter of eyes, of souls, He calls him by name and changes his life and makes him a new man. The eyes of the Lord are also open in this same way on us and they wash us from the ugliness of our darkness, enlightening us with love. With those eyes He is calling us, making a new creation of us. He is saying: “May there be light”, and there was light.

c) To remain – to dwell

This is another very important verb, very strong, and another precious pearl of the Gospel of John. It is repeated three times, with two different meanings: to dwell and to remain. The disciples immediately ask Jesus where He dwells, where is His house, and He invites them to go, to enter, and to remain: “They remained with Him that day” (v. 39). It is not a physical, temporary remaining. The disciples are not only guests passing by who will leave soon. No, the Lord makes space for us in His interior place, in His relationship with the Father, and there He accepts us for always. He says: “Like You Father, are in Me and I in You, may these also be in us... I in them and You in Me...” (Jn 17:21-23). He allows us to enter and He also enters. He allows us to knock and He himself knocks. He makes us dwell in Him and puts His dwelling place in us together with the Father (Jn 14:23). Our call to be disciples of Christ and to announce Him to our brothers and sisters has its origin, its foundation, its vitality, in this reality of the reciprocal dwelling of the Lord in us and we in Him. Our true and lasting happiness springs from the realization of our remaining in Him. We have seen where He dwells, we have known the place of His presence and we have decided to remain with Him, today and always.

“Remain in Me and I in You... The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit... If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for anything that you want and it will be given to you... Remain in My love” (Jn 15).

No, I will not go with anybody else, I will not go anywhere else but only with You, Oh Lord, my dwelling, my place of salvation! Allow Me, I pray, that I may remain here, near You, always, Amen.

6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 34

Refrain: Your face, Lord, I seek, do not hide Your face from me.

I seek Yahweh and He answers me,
frees me from all my fears.
Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright,
you will never hang your head in shame.
A pauper calls out and Yahweh hears,
saves him from all his troubles.
The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear Him,
and rescues them.

Taste and see that Yahweh is good.
How blessed are those who take refuge in Him.
Fear Yahweh, you his holy ones;
those who fear Him lack for nothing.
Young lions may go needy and hungry,
but those who seek Yahweh lack nothing good.
Come, my children, listen to me,
I will teach you the fear of Yahweh.

The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright,
his ear turned to their cry.
They cry in anguish and Yahweh hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted,
he helps those whose spirit is crushed.
Though hardships without number beset the upright,
Yahweh brings rescue from them all.

7. Final Prayer

Father, I thank You for having given me the presence of Your Son Jesus in the luminous words of this Gospel; thank You for having made me listen to His voice, for having opened my eyes to recognize Him; thank You for having placed me on the way to follow Him and to enter into His house, Thank You because I can dwell with Him, in Him and because He dwells in You, You are in me. Thank You for having, once more, called me, making my life new. Make of me, I beg You, an instrument of Your love; that I may never stop announcing Christ who comes; that I may not be embarrassed, that I do not close myself, do not give up, but always become happier, to lead to Him, to You, the brothers and sisters whom You, every day, make me encounter. Amen.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 07:06

Lectio Divina: The Baptism of the Lord (B)

Written by

Immersed in Christ, aware of the gift received,
sent into the world
Mark 1:7-11

1. Opening prayer

Holy Spirit, You who breathed on the waters of creation and guided the steps of Moses in the desert, come today upon us and immerse us in You, so that our every step and thought may be directed towards Christ as we listen to His Word.
Dwell within us, Spirit of the Father, and guide us to the truth of ourselves and to the knowledge of the Son of God who redeems us and makes us one with Him, so that the Father may be well pleased with us too. Amen.

2. The Gospel

a) A key to the reading:

Even Christ, in His human journey, had to gradually grow in the knowledge of His identity and of the task, in human history, entrusted to Him by the Father.
The baptism in the Jordan marks this growing in awareness and launches Jesus beyond the borders of His land, Galilee, into a universal mission and into a dimension where He shares the human condition, until then unimaginable for Him and for His prophets: it is God himself who "descends" to be by the side of human beings, even though aware of their weaknesses, to allow them to "climb" to the Father and give them access to communion with Him. The "pleasure" of the Father that Jesus hears in the Spirit will go with Him always on His earthly journey, making Him constantly aware of the joyful love of Him who sent Him into the world.

b) The text:

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

3. A time of silence,

interior as well as exterior, to open our hearts and allow space for the Word of God to enter into us.

4. The Word given to us:

* The baptism: purification rites by means of bathing or ablutions were quite common as a daily practice among the Jews at the time of Jesus (cf Mk 7:1-4), as well as among the Essenes of Qumran. 
The word baptism indicates a bath, a complete immersion in water, and comes from the verb baptizo, rarely used in the Greek Old Testament: to immerse or submerge , producing a permanent change. We find this in 2Kings 5:14: the healing of Naaman, which comes about by means of a series of baths in the Jordan at the command of Elisha. It is from this event that the positive use of the word comes in later times.

* The baptism of John: is characteristic of this practice (so much so that it becomes known by his name) (cf Mk 1:4). John works in an unnamed place along the Jordan and baptizes in the flowing water of the river, not in specified places and in waters prepared for the rite. The conversion and penance demanded by him (Mk 1:4) are more on the moral than on the ritual level (cf Lk 3:8) and the rite, which signified such an existential change (bath and confession of sins), took place only once in a lifetime. Moreover, John clearly says that his baptism is only the preparation for a more radical purifying event, directly connected with the final judgment of God: "baptism in the spirit" and "in fire" (cf Mk 1:7-8, Mt 1:2-3). 
The people of Judea and Jerusalem greatly welcomed John’s preaching, so much so that large crowds went to him to be baptized (Mk 1:5) as Joseph Flavius also narrates.

* Jesus and John at the Jordan: John knows quite well that he is not the Messiah and is inferior to him, yet he is called to prepare for His now imminent coming (Mk 1:7-8). All the Gospels speak of this awareness, emphasized by the use of the verb in the past for his baptism and in the future for the baptism of the Messiah. This reflects the care that the first Christian communities took to show that Christian baptism was superior to John’s baptism, as also Jesus, the Christ, was superior to John the Baptist (cf Mt 3:14; Jn 1:26-34).

* Baptism in the Spirit: it is the eschatological baptism promised by the prophets (cf Joel 3:1-5), connected with the fire of the judgment or under the form of sprinkling (cf Ez 36:25). Jesus receives this baptism soon after and His baptism will be the source and model of the baptism of the Christians. Thus the Christian community is founded on the gift of the Holy Spirit.

* Jesus came from Nazareth: Jesus stands out among the great crowd of Jewish penitents (cf Mk1:5) because He comes from an area where only echoes of the penitential preaching of the Baptist had reached in Galilee (Mk 1:9). For Mark this is an important place: Jesus begins His activities there and is well received. After Easter, it is there that the disciples meet Him (16:7) and understand Him fully and it is from there that they will leave for their mission (16:20). In the light of what Mark says immediately after the voice from heaven, Jesus is not only "stronger" than John, but has a nature far superior to that of John. And yet He went down among those who admitted being sinners, without being afraid of suffering any diminution of His dignity (cf Phil 2:6-7). He is "the light that shines in the darkness" (cf Jn 1:5). 
The second Gospel does not report the reasons for which Jesus goes to receive the baptism of penance, even though the event is one of the most historically reliable among those narrated in the Gospels. What primarily interests the Evangelist is the divine revelation that comes after the baptism of Jesus.

* He saw the heavens torn apart: this is not a kind of special revelation for Jesus alone. The heavens, literally, "rip themselves open", in answer to Isaiah’s invocation: "If you would tear the heavens open and come down" (Is 63:19b). Thus, after a time of separation, a completely new phase begins in the communication between God and humankind. This new relationship is confirmed and becomes definitive with the redemptive death of Jesus, when the veil of the Temple was "torn" (cf Mk 15:38) as though a hand from heaven had struck it. The Easter of the death and resurrection is the "baptism wished for" by Jesus (cf Lk 12:50).

* The Spirit descending on Him: Jesus "ascends" from the water of the river and immediately after, the heavens open and the Spirit "descends" and rests on Him. From now on the period of waiting for the Spirit is over and the direct way that unites God with humankind is opened. Mark shows that Jesus is the only possessor of the Spirit who consecrates Him Messiah, makes Him fully aware of being God-Son, and dwells in Him and sustains Him in the mission willed by the Father. 
According to Mark, the Spirit comes to Jesus like a dove. We meet the dove in the story of Noah and the dove is also connected to the waters and the work of God in the world (cf Gen 8:8-12). Elsewhere, the dove is used as a reminder of fidelity and  permanence, and for its faithfulness in returning to the place from which it departed (cf Ct 2:14; Jn 1:33-34). The Spirit rests permanently on Jesus and takes possession of Him. In this passage we could also see a reference to the "breathing of the spirit of God over the waters" of creation (Gen 1:2). With Jesus, a "new creation" really begins (cf Mt 19:38; 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).

* A voice came from heaven: with the coming of Jesus, communication between God and humankind is restored. It is not a matter of what the rabbis called "the daughter of the voice", an incomplete substitution of the prophetic word, but a matter of direct communication between Father and Son.

* Came…saw descending…was heard: we must admire the condescension of the Trinity that "stoops down" towards humankind, descends to the Jordan in Jesus to be baptized like so many sinners, descends upon Jesus in the Spirit for the sake of His self-awareness and His mission and descends in the voice of the Father to confirm His son-ship.

* You are My Son, My Beloved; My favor rests on You: Mark may have deliberately wanted to recall several passages of the Old Testament in order to emphasize, at least by allusion, the importance of the many nuances of these divine words. 
First of all, we recall Isaiah 42:1 " Here is My servant whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have endowed Him with My spirit that He may bring true justice to the nations". It is JHWH whom introduces His faithful servant. Here, however, the title of "servant" is not used but that of "son", weaving the prophetic text with a psalm of royal and messianic investiture: "He has told Me, ‘You are My son, today I have become your father’" (Ps 2:7). The Evangelist (as the other synoptic) allows the nature of the human-divine identity of Jesus to appear.

* You are My Son, My Beloved: In the light of the Paschal faith, Mark could not have meant this revelation to be that God was adopting the man Jesus. The voice from heaven is a confirmation of a special relationship already in existence between Jesus and the Father. The title Son of God is attributed to Jesus in the very first verse of Mark and again at the end of the passion when the centurion says, "In truth this man was a son of God" (Mk 1:1; 15:39). However, this title recurs in various forms and frequently (cf 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61). For Mark, the title "Son of God" is especially relevant for an understanding of the person of Jesus and for a full profession of faith. It is so important that eventually it was the proper name given to Jesus by Christians by which they meant to proclaim the essential elements of their own faith in Him (cf Rom 1:4): the Messiah king, the eschatological savior, the man who had a special relationship with the divine, the one risen from the dead, the second person of the Trinity. 
The fact that the voice from heaven calls Him "chosen" and "beloved" (as will be repeated at the Transfiguration in 5:7 and 12:6) emphasizes the completely unique relationship of the Father with Jesus, so special that it overshadows the other relationships between human beings and God. Jacob, like Jesus, is the "only and chosen" son (cf Gen 22:2) and he is not spared the agony of a violent death (cf Heb 5:7).

* My favor rests on You: these words emphasize once more the messianic election of Jesus, fruit of the Father’s benevolence, that thus shows His absolute preference for the Son in whom He finds joy and satisfaction (cf Is 42:1). While Jesus, obedient to the Father, begins His mission of bringing humanity back to the Father (cf Mk 1:38).

5. A few questions

to give our reflection and actions direction:

a) Like us, Jesus lives on a stage in life. He goes from the "hidden life" to His "public life". We are passing from the Christmas season to "ordinary" time. These are the times for us to realize our mission which consists in our daily commitment (often hard and usually dry) to express in our life an awareness that God the Son is with us as our brother and savior, by using the gifts received in baptism. 

Am I aware of the mission entrusted to me by the Father?

Am I able to express this mission in my everyday life or do I limit myself to special occasions? 

b) Our baptism made us "children of God in the Son". God is also well pleased with us and we too are His "chosen" (cf 1Jn 2, 7, 3, 2:21, etc.). 

Am I aware of the love with which the Father looks at me and relates to me?

Am I able to respond to this love with the simplicity and docility of Jesus? 

c) Our passage contains a manifestation of the Trinity in action. The Spirit descends upon Jesus, the Father speaks to His Son and thus opens a new way of communicating with us human beings. 

How is my prayer?

To whom do I usually pray?

6. Psalm 20

Let us pray this Psalm, aware of being chosen by the Father and that the Father is by our side always with great tenderness of heart.

The Lord answer you in the day of trouble! 
The name of the God of Jacob protect you! 
May He send you help from the sanctuary, 
and give you support from Zion! 
May He remember all your offerings, 
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! 
May He grant you your heart's desire, 
and fulfill all your plans! 
May we shout for joy over your victory, 
and in the name of our God set up our banners! 
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! 
Now I know that the Lord will help His anointed; 
he will answer him from His holy heaven 
with mighty victories by His right hand. 
Some boast of chariots, and some of horses; 
but we boast of the name of the Lord our God. 
They will collapse and fall; 
but we shall rise and stand upright. 
Give victory to the king, O Lord; 
answer us when we call.

7. Closing prayer

The liturgical context is excellent for an understanding and for praying this Gospel. We, therefore, take up the preface to convey our prayer to God: 
Father, in Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, You worked signs and wonders 
to manifest the mystery of the new washing (our baptism). 
Your voice was heard from heaven 
to awaken faith in the presence among us 
of the Word made man. 
Your Spirit was seen as a dove resting upon Him 
and consecrated Your Servant 
with priestly, prophetic and royal anointing, 
so that all would recognize Him as the Messiah, 
sent to bring to the poor 
the good news of salvation. 
Grant that we may thank and glorify You 
for this priceless gift, 
for having sent to us Your Son, our brother and teacher. 
Let Your kind gaze rest upon us 
and grant that we may bring You joy in all our actions, 
Forever and ever.

Monday, 18 July 2011 15:40

Lectio Divina: Matthew 23:1-12

Written by

Ordinary Time

1) Opening prayer

God our Father,
may we love You in all things and above all things
and reach the joy You have prepared for us
beyond all our imagining.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.' As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." 

3) Reflection

• Today’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ long criticism of the scribes and the Pharisees (Mt 23:1-39). Luke and Mark mention only a few lines of this criticism aimed at the religious heads of the time. Only the Gospel of Matthew has a longer presentation of this. This very severe text gives us a glimpse of the polemics which existed in the communities of Matthew with the communities of the Jews of Galilee and Syria of that time.
• In reading this text, which is strongly critical of the Pharisees, we have to be very careful not to be unfair to the Jewish people. Many Christians, for centuries, have had attitudes against the Jews and, for this reason, engenders attitudes against the Christians. What is important in meditating on these texts is to discover their objective. Jesus condemns the lack of sincerity in the relationship with God and with neighbor. He is speaking about hypocrisy, that of yesterday as well as that of today - of our hypocrisy!
• Matthew 23:1-3: The basic error: they say, but they do not do. Jesus addresses Himself to the multitude and to the disciples and criticizes the scribes and the Pharisees. The reason for attacking them is the disjuncture between their words and their actions. They speak, but they do not do. Jesus recognizes the authority and the knowledge of the scribes: “The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses! You must, therefore, do and observe what they tell you, but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.”
• Matthew 23:4-7: The fundamental error is manifested in diverse ways. The fundamental error is hypocrasy: “They say, but they do not do”. Jesus enumerates the  points which reveal this. Some scribes and Pharisees imposed heavy laws upon the people. They knew the laws well, but they did not practice them; neither did they use their knowledge to lessen the weight imposed upon the people. They did everything possible to be seen and praised; they wore special tunics for prayer; they liked the first places and to be greeted in the public squares. They wanted to be called “Teacher.” They represented a type of community which maintained, legitimized and nourished the difference of social classes. It legitimized the privileges of the great and the inferior position of the little ones. Now, if there is something which displeases Jesus, it is appearances which deceive.
• Matthew 23:8-12: How to overcome the fundamental error. How should a Christian community be? All the community functions should be assumed as a service: “The greatest among you must be your servant!” You should call nobody teacher (Rabbi), nor father, nor guide; because the community of Jesus has to maintain, legitimize and nourish not the differences, but rather the fraternal spirit. This is the fundamental law: “You are all brothers and sisters!” The fraternal spirit comes from the experience that Jesus is Father, and makes of all of us brothers and sisters. “Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”
• The group of the Pharisees!
The group of the Pharisees was born in the second century before Christ, with the objective of a more perfect observance of the law of God, especially regarding the prescriptions on purity. They were more open to novelty than the Sadducees. For example, they accepted faith in the resurrection and faith in the angels, something which the Sadducees did not accept. The life of the Pharisees was an exemplary witness: they prayed and studied the law for eight hours a day; they worked eight hours in order to be able to survive; they dedicated eight hours to rest. This is the reason why people respected them very much. And in this way, they helped people to keep their own identity and not to lose it, in the course of centuries.
The so-called Pharisaic mentality. With time, the Pharisees took hold of power and no longer listened to the appeals of the people, nor did they allow them to speak. The word “Pharisee” means “separated”. Their observance was so strict and rigorous that they separated themselves from the rest of the people. This is why they were called “separated”. From this comes the expression “pharisaic mentality”. It is typical of the people who think they can attain justice through the rigid and rigorous observance of the law. Generally, they are people who are afraid, who do not have the courage to assume the risk of liberty and of responsibility. They hide themselves behind the law and authority. When these people obtain an important function, they become harsh and insensitive and indifferent to hide their own imperfection.
Rabbi, Guide, Teacher, Father. These are four titles that Jesus prohibits people to use. Today, in Church, the priests are called “Father.” Many study in the university of the Church and obtain the title of “Doctor” (Teacher). Many people receive spiritual direction and take advice from people who are called “Spiritual directors” (Guides). What is important is to take into account the reason which impelled Jesus to prohibit the use of these titles. If these were used by people in order to affirm their position of authority and their power, these people would be in error and would be criticized by Jesus. If these titles were used to nourish and deepen fraternal spirit and service, they would not be criticized by Jesus. 

4) Personal questions

• What is my reason for living and working in community?

• How does the community help me to correct and to improve my motivations?

• Do you know of people within the Church who also see themselves as more important or above others because of their position in the Church? Why is this?

5) Concluding Prayer

I am listening.
What is God's message?
Yahweh's message is peace for His people,
for His faithful, if only they renounce their folly. (Ps 85:8)

Monday, 18 July 2011 15:23

Lectio Divina: Matthew 17:22-27

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1) Opening prayer

Almighty and ever-living God,

your Spirit made us Your children,

confident to call You Father.

Increase Your Spirit within us

and bring us to our promised inheritance.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,

who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 17:22-27

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day." And they were overwhelmed with grief. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, "Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes," he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?" When he said, "From foreigners," Jesus said to him, "Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you."

3) Reflection

• The five verses of today’s Gospel speak about two very different themes between them. (a) The second announcement of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus (Mt 17:22-23); and (b) they report Jesus’ conversation with Peter about paying the taxes and the dues to the temple (Mt 17:24-27).

• Matthew 17:22-23: The prediction of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The first prediction (Mt 16:21) had produced a strong reaction in Peter, who did not want to know anything about suffering nor the cross. Jesus had answered just as strongly: “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Mt 16:23). Here, in the second prediction, the reaction of the disciples is less strong, less aggressive. The prediction produces sadness. It seems that now they begin to understand that the cross forms part of the journey. The proximity of the death and the suffering weigh heavily on them, giving rise to a great discouragement. Even if Jesus tries to help them, the resistance of centuries against the idea of a crucified Messiah, was much greater.

• Matthew 17:24-25a: The question which the tax collectors ask Peter concerning the taxes. When they reached Capernaum, the tax collector of the taxes of the Temple asks Peter, “Does your Master not pay the half-shekel for the Temple?” Peter answered: “Yes.” From the time of Nehemiah (V Century BC), the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian exile committed themselves solemnly in the Assembly to pay the various taxes and dues in order to allow the Temple to continue to function and to take care of the maintenance both of the priestly service and of the building of the Temple. (Neh 10:33-40). From what we can see from Peter’s response, Jesus paid the taxes like any other Jew.

• Matthew 17:25b-26:  Jesus’ question to Peter concerning the taxes. The conversation between Jesus and Peter is very strange. When they reach home, Jesus asked, “ Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do earthly kings take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?” Peter responds, “From foreigners.” And Jesus says, “Therefore, the sons are exempt!” Probably, here we can see a discussion among the Christian Jews before the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. They asked themselves if they had to continue  to pay the taxes of the Temple, as they did before. By Jesus’ response they discover that they are not obliged to pay this tax: “The sons are exempt!” The sons are the Christians, but even if they are not obliged to pay, the recommendation of Jesus is to pay in order not to cause scandal.

• Matthew 17:27: The conclusion of the conversation on the paying of the tax. The solution which Jesus gives to this situation is even stranger. He tells Peter, “However, so that we shall not be the downfall of others, go to the lake and cast a hook: take the first fish that rises, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for Me and for yourself.” This was a strange miracle, strange as that of the 2000 pigs which rushed down into the sea (Mk 5:13). Whichever is the interpretation of this miraculous fact, this way of resolving the problem suggests that it is a question that is not too important for Jesus.

4) Personal questions

• The suffering of the Cross discourages and saddens the disciples. Has this ever happened in your life?

• How do you interpret the episode of the coin found in the mouth of the fish?

• What is the significance of using a fish here? Is there meaning to this that would be lost if it were just a matter of finding or having a coin instead?

5) Concluding Prayer

Praise Yahweh from the heavens,

praise Him in the heights.

Praise Him, all His angels,

praise Him, all His host! (Ps 148:1-2)

Lectio Divina:
Monday, 18 July 2011 15:18

Lectio Divina: Matthew 15:1-2,10-14

Written by

1) Opening prayer

Father of everlasting goodness,

our origin and guide,

be close to us

and hear the prayers of all who praise You.

Forgive our sins and restore us to life.

Keep us safe in Your love.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,

who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 15:1-2,10-14

Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal." He summoned the crowd and said to them, "Hear and understand. It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles the man; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one." Then his disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" He said in reply, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." 

3) Reflection

• Today’s Gospel presents the discussion of Jesus with the Pharisees regarding what is pure and impure. The text speaks about the use and religious customs of that time, it speaks about the Pharisees who taught these uses and customs to the people and it also speaks about the instructions which Jesus gives regarding these uses and customs, many of which had already lost their significance. Here in the 15th chapter, Jesus helps the people and the disciples to better understand this very important theme concerning purity and the law of purity.

• Matthew 15:1-2: The Pharisees criticize the behavior of Jesus’ disciples. Some Pharisees and doctors of the Law came to Jesus and asked, “Why do Your disciples break away from the tradition of the elder? They eat without washing their hands!” They pretend to be interested in knowing the reason for the behavior of the disciples. In reality, they criticize Jesus because He allows His disciples to break the norms of purity. There are three points which merit our attention: (a) The scribes are from Jerusalem, the capital. They have come to observe what Jesus does. (b) The disciples do not wash their hands before eating! Living with Jesus gives them the courage to break the norms which tradition imposed upon people, but which no longer had any sense for life. (c) The washing of hands continues even now to be an important norm of hygiene, but had assumed for them a religious significance which served to control and discriminate against people.

• The Tradition of the Elders (Mt 15:3-9). “The Tradition of the Elders” transmitted the norms which had to be observed by the people in order to attain the purity which the law demanded. The observance of the law was something very serious. An impure or unclean person could not receive the blessing promised by God to Abraham. The norms of the law of purity taught how to recover purity in order to be able to appear once again before God and to feel at ease in His presence. One could not appear before God just in any way, because God is the Holy One and the law said, “Be holy because I am Holy!” (Lev 19: 2). The norms of purity were, in reality, a prison, an enslavement (cf. Mt 23: 4). For the poor, it was practically impossible to observe them: to touch a leper, to eat with a tax collector, to eat without washing one’s hands, and so many other activities. All these things rendered the person impure, and any contact with a person contaminated the others. This is why people lived in fear, always threatened by the many impure things which threatened their life. They were obliged to live, fearing everything and everyone. Insisting on the norms of purity, the Pharisees arrived at emptying the sense of the commandments of the Law of God. Jesus gives a concrete example. They said, “A person who consecrates his goods to the Temple can no longer use those goods to help the needy. Thus, in the name of tradition, they eliminated the significance of the fourth commandment which commands the honor of father and mother (Mt 15:3-6). These people seemed to be very observant, but they were only externally so. Inwardly , the heart was far away from God! Jesus said, quoting Isaiah, “These people honor me with the lips, but their heart is far away from Me (Mt 15:7-9). The wisdom of the people no longer agreed with what was taught, and they were waiting for the Messiah to come to show them another way in which to attain purity. This hope is realized in Jesus. Through His word He purified lepers (Mk 1:40-44), cast out demons (Mk 1: 26, 39; 3:15,22, etc.), and conquered death which was the source of all impurity. Jesus touches the woman who was excluded, and she is cured (Mk 5:25-34). Without fear of being contaminated, Jesus ate with people who were considered impure (Mk 2:15-17).

• Matthew 15:10-11: Jesus opens a new way to get people close to God. He tells the crowds, “Listen and understand! What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean: it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean!” Jesus reverses things: What is impure does not come from outside toward inside, as the doctors of the law taught, but from inside toward outside. In this way, nobody needs to ask himself if this or that food or drink is pure or impure. Jesus places what is clean and unclean on another level, the level of ethical behavior. He opens a new path to reach God, and in this way, He realizes the deepest desire of the people: to be at peace with God. Now all of a sudden everything changes! Through faith in Jesus, it was possible to attain purity and to feel well before God, without the need to observe all those norms of the “Tradition of the Elders.” This was liberation! The Good News announced by Jesus liberates people from the defensive, from fear, and gives them back the will to live, the joy of being sons and daughters of God.

• Matthew 15:12-14: Jesus affirms again what He had already said. The disciples tell Jesus that His words have scandalized the Pharisees, because they were contrary to what the Pharisees taught the people. Because, if the people had seriously lived the new teaching of Jesus, the whole tradition of the elders would have to be abolished and the Pharisees and the doctors of the law would have lost their leadership and their source of income. Jesus’ response is clear and leaves no doubts: “Any plant My Heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled out by the roots. Leave them alone! They are blind leaders of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into the pit.” Jesus did not diminish the impact of His words and He reaffirmed what He had said before.

4) Personal questions

•Do you know any religious practice today which no longer makes any sense, but which continues to be taught? In your life are there some practices and customs which are considered sacred, and others which are not?

• By what criteria would you judge these practices? Are these criteria consistent with all of Jesus’ teaching, or just a limited passage (a single passage is easy to take out of context)? 

• The Pharisees were practicing Jews, but their faith was separated from the life of the people. This is why Jesus criticizes them. And today, would Jesus criticize us? For what things?

5) Concluding Prayer

The angel of Yahweh encamps

around those who fear Him and rescues them.

Taste and see that Yahweh is good.

How blessed are those who take refuge in Him. (Ps 34:7-8)

Lectio Divina:
Wednesday, 08 June 2011 15:39

Lectio Divina: The Sacred Heart of Jesus (A)

Written by

1) Opening prayer

Holy God,

we often turn our hearts

into houses of pride and greed

rather than into homes of love and goodness

where You can feel at home.

Destroythe temple ofsin in us,

drive out all evil from our hearts

and make us living stones of a community

in which can live and reign

Your Son Jesus Christ,

our living Lord for ever and ever.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus exclaimed, 'I bless You, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased You to do.

Everything has been entrusted to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.

'Come to Me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder My yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, My yoke is easy and My burden light.'

3) Reflection

• Today we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the Gospel we will listen to the invitation of Jesus: “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart”. The Gospel shows the tenderness with which Jesus welcomes, accepts the little ones. He wanted the poor to find rest and peace in Him.

• The context of chapters 11 and 12 of Matthew. In this context is stressed and made evident the fact that the poor are the only ones to understand and to accept the wisdom of the Kingdom. Many people did not understand Jesus’ preference for the poor and the excluded.

a) John the Baptist, who looked at Jesus with the eyes of the past, had doubts (Mt 11: 1-15)

b) The people, who looked at Jesus with a purpose of their own interests, were not able to understand him (Mt 11:16-19).

c) The great cities around the lake, which listened to Jesus’ preaching and saw the miracles, did not want to open themselves to His message (Mt 11: 20-24).

d) The wise and the Doctors, who judged everything according to their own science, were not able to understand  Jesus’ preaching (Mt 11: 25).

e) Not even his relatives understood Him (Mt 12: 46-50).

f) Only the little ones understood Him and accepted the Good News of the Kingdom (Mt 11:25-30).

g) The others want sacrifice, but Jesus wants mercy (Mt 12:1-8).

h) The reaction against Jesus impels the Pharisees to want to kill Him (Mt 12: 9-14).

i) They said that Jesus was Beelzebul (Mt 12:22-32).

j) But Jesus did not draw back. He continues to assume the mission of Servant, as described in the prophecies (Mt 12:15-21). This is why He was persecuted and condemned to death.

• Matthew 11: 25-26: Only the little ones understand and accept the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus addresses a prayer to the Father: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased You to do!” The wise, the doctors of that time, had created a series of laws which they imposed upon the people in the name of God. They thought that God demanded this observance from the people. But the Law of love, brought by Jesus, said the contrary. What is important is not what we do for God, but rather what God, in His great love, does for us! People understood Jesus’ words and were filled with joy. The wise thought that Jesus was not right. They could not understand this teaching which modified the relationship of the people of God.

• Matthew 11: 27: The origin of the New Law: The Son knows the Father. Jesus, the Son, knows the Father. He knows what the Father wanted when, centuries before, He gave the Law to Moses. What the Father wants to tell us He handed to Jesus, and Jesus revealed it to the little ones, because they opened themselves to His message. Today, also, Jesus continues to teach many things to the poor and to the little ones. The wise and the intelligent do well if they become pupils of the little ones!

• Matthew 11: 28-30: “Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”. Jesus invites all those who are tired to find rest in Him. These are the people who are tired under the weight of the impositions and the observances which the law of purity demanded. And He says, “Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”. Many times this sentence has been manipulated to ask people to submit themselves, to be passive. What Jesus wants to say is the contrary. He asks people to leave aside the professors of religion of that time, to rest and to begin to learn from Him, from Jesus, who is “gentle and humble of heart”. Jesus does not do like the Scribes take pride in their own science, but He is like the people who live humiliated and exploited. Jesus, the new teacher, knows from experience what happens in the heart of the people and how much the people suffer.

• The invitation of divine wisdom to all those who seek it. Jesus invites all those who are oppressed under the weight of the observance of the law to find rest in Him, because He is gentle and humble of heart, capable of relieving and consoling the people who suffer, who feel tired and depressed (Mt 11:25-30). In this invitation resound the beautiful words of Isaiah who consoled the people who lived in exile (Isa 55:1-3). This invitation is bound to divine wisdom, which invites people to the encounter with her (Wis 24: 19), saying, “her ways are filled with delight; her paths all lead to contentment” (Prov 3:17). And He adds: “Wisdom brings up her own children and cares for those who seek her. Whoever loves her, loves life, those who seek her early will be filled with joy” (Sir 4:11-12). This invitation reveals a very important characteristic of the feminine face of God: tenderness and acceptance which consoles, which gives life to persons and leads them to feel well. Jesus is defense, the protection and the maternal womb which the Father offers to people who are tired (cfr. Isa 66:10-13).

4) Personal questions

• What produces tension in you and what gives you peace? For you, to live in community, is it a source of tension or of peace?

• How can Jesus’ words  help our community to be a place of rest for our life?

5) Concluding Prayer

Yahweh is tenderness and pity,

slow to anger and rich in faithful love;

His indignation does not last for ever,

nor His resentment remain for all time. (Ps 103:8-9)

Lectio Divina:
Monday, 16 May 2011 09:30

Lectio Divina: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Written by

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send us the Spirit that we may read your Word free of all prejudice, so that we may meditate upon your proclamation in its entirety and not selectively, so that we may pray that we grow in communion with you and with our brothers and sisters, so that we may finally act, contemplating the reality that we are living this day with your feelings and with your mercy. You who live with the Father and who grants us Love. Amen.

2. Reading

a) Introduction:

This Gospel passage is the last of Jesus’ public teachings, which began with the sermon on the mount (cc.5-7). Jesus is in Jerusalem. The time for His arrest is close at hand, and He is having a hard time confronting many kinds of people: the high priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees, etc. Jesus is questioning Jewish religiosity as such, but He uses strong words concerning the efforts of some, especially those in authority, to twist Jewish authentic values by means of inappropriate attitudes. In this first part of chapter 23, Matthew, reporting the words of Jesus, warns the community of early Christians against reproducing a kind of life that is incompatible with faith in Jesus. Behind these words, we glimpse the conflict between the budding church and the synagogue.

b) A possible division of the text:

Matthew 23:1-7: Warning listeners and denouncing the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees.

Matthew 23:8-12:

Recommendations to the community of disciples.

c) Text:

1 Then, addressing the crowds and His disciples Jesus said, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. 3 You must therefore do and observe what they tell you; but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people"s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! 5 Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader headbands and longer tassels, 6 like wanting to take the place of honor at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, 7 being greeted respectfully in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi. 8 "You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. 9 You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and He is in Heaven. 10 Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you must be your servant. 12 Anyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”

3. A moment of silence

To listen to the Spirit and let the Word of God enter and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

To whom is Jesus speaking?

With whom is Matthew conversing?

Can observance and hypocrisy live together?

What is new in Jesus’ message?

What attitudes mark the community of disciples of Jesus?

5. Meditation

These words of Jesus seem hard and argumentative. Let us try to meditate on them in conjunction with Jesus’ first discourse on the mount according to Matthew. This then becomes a comparison between the ideal of the life of a disciple of Christ and the attitudes that do not correspond with this ideal, seen in those who are still “under the Law”, as Paul would say. The discourse is addressed to the crowd and especially to the disciples, not to the scribes and Pharisees, at least in this first part of the chapter. However, there are also scribes who are “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:34). Everywhere there are those who “say and do not do”.

Concerning the teaching of the scribes who “occupy the chair of Moses”, it was real enough in the synagogues, but this also has a symbolic reference because occupying the chair of Moses became a sign of power, while Jesus was teaching sitting on the ground (Mt 5:1). Jesus’ relationship with the Law is made clear in the sermon on the mount when He says that He did not come to abolish the law but to complete it (Mt 5: 17-19). Thus authentic commandments must be put into practice: “do what they tell you and listen to what they say”. In the previous discourse Jesus added: “For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:20). He followed the authentic interpretation of the Law: “you have heard it said… but I say to you”. Jesus goes beyond the formal observance of the Law (Mk 7:15) because the Kingdom of God has come (Mt 4:17), and with its coming Love, is above the Law. It is no longer sufficient to have recourse to the Law to justify the validity of religious observances (the Sabbath, the washing of hands) nor to impose “heavy burdens”. Now reference must be made to the love of God who alone gives final meaning to the behavior of human beings. For the disciple of Christ, interior motives and authentic intentions are what make an action valid (Mt 6: 22-23). By proclaiming that the kingdom of God is here, Jesus is giving us a new criterion for action that does not suppress the Law but rather reveals its authentic meaning. The commandment to love is the measure by which to criticize the Law. “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened …Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-30). The “heavy burdens” are prescriptions elaborated on by oral tradition. These may help in the observance of the Torah, but they can also bypass and supplant human customs. Thus, they concern others but not the leaders: “will they lift a finger to move them?”.

Religiosity can also be a means of pure exhibitionism (vv.5-7) contrary to all the teachings of the sermon on the mount. “Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men” (Mt 6:1). Give alms (Mt 6:3), pray (Mt 6:5), fast (Mt 6:16), which were the most frequent good deeds for a Jew, must be performed “in secret” by the disciple of Christ because their only motive is to adore God. What is more important for the disciple is not social approval or the respect of other human beings, nor is it about titles of honor such as “rabbi”, but to be “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3) because he or she has placed him/herself in the hands of God and claims nothing for him/herself. That is where his/her treasure lies (Mt 6:21), in heaven. This entails persecution (Mt 5:10-11) rather than applause or approval (Mt 23:6-7). God is “Our Father” (Mt 6:9), no one can take His place. That is why the disciple of Christ must be careful not to confer titles such as rabbi, father, or master. Importance and power obscure the fact that there is only one who is rabbi, father, master and you are all brothers. When John, who baptized, saw the true Master passing by, he sent his disciples to Him (Jn 1:35), the only Master, and did not keep them for himself. The community of Jesus is the one described in the discourse on the “Beatitudes” with all its radical consequences, One community of brothers and sisters capable of receiving God who comes to save gratuitously. The ideal of this community is the “service” (Mt 20:28) of the Son of Man and model of the Church. The authority of leadership loses its attraction and is no longer an ideal, “The greatest among you must be your servant” (conf. Mk 10:41-44; Jn 13), and there is no talk of hierarchical model but of service and humility, “anyone who raises himself will be humbled and anyone who humbles himself will be raised up”. Jesus’ words involve more than just an argument with the scribes and Pharisees and much more than just an exhortation to be coherent. They remind us of the identity of His disciples and of the new way in which they are called to witness.

6. Prayer

Let us pray with Psalm 131

Yahweh, my heart is not haughty,

I do not set my sights too high.

I have taken no part in great affairs,

in wonders beyond my scope.

No, I hold myself in quiet and silence,

like a little child in its mother's arms,

like a little child, so I keep myself.

Let Israel hope in Yahweh

henceforth and for ever.

7. Contemplation

Lord, you have warned me against hypocritical behavior that does not reflect the new way that inspires the community of your disciples. How easy it is to place oneself back in the center, to grow attached to habits and to stay still while listening to your Word. Yes, I too am among those who “say and do not do” and your Word makes me uncomfortable. The search for external signs, for approval, for titles and honors disturbs my thoughts and weakens fraternity. Make my intentions and behavior as pure as were those of your mother, Mary, so as to build a community according to your feelings and with your same compassion for all. Amen

Monday, 16 May 2011 09:27

Lectio Divina: 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Written by

The greatest commandment
To love God is to love one’s neighbor
Matthew 22:34-40

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.

Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.

2. Reading

a) A key to the reading:

In the Gospel of the 30th Sunday of ordinary time, the Pharisees want to know what Jesus thinks is the greatest commandment of the law. This theme was much discussed among the Jews of those days. It was a regular debate. Today too, people wish to know what defines a person as a good Christian. Some say that this consists in being baptized, praying and going to Mass on Sunday. Others say it consists in practicing justice and living out fraternity. Each has his or her opinion. According to you, what is the most important thing in religion and in the life of the Church? When reading this text try to pay great attention to the way Jesus answers the question.

b) Text:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees they got together 35 and, to put Him to the test, one of them put a further question, 36 'Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?' 37 Jesus said to him, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first command-ment. 39 The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.'

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) What did you like most in this text or what touched you most? Why?
b) Who were the Pharisees then? Who are the Pharisees today?
c) How could the question asked of Jesus by the Pharisees put Him to the test?
d) What is the relationship between the first and the second commandment?
e) Why is it that the love of God and the love of neighbor constitute a summary of the law and the prophets?

5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme

a) The context of this text as it appears in the Gospel of Matthew:

This is one of the many discussions Jesus had with the religious authorities of that time. This time it was with the Pharisees. First, the Pharisees had tried to discredit Jesus with the people by spreading theories about Him saying that He was possessed by devils with which He drove out Beelzebub (Mt 12:24). Now, in Jerusalem, they enter once more into a discussion with Jesus concerning the interpretation of the law of God.

b) A commentary on the text:

Matthew 22:34-36: A question put by the Pharisees.
First, to put Jesus to the test, the Sadducees had asked Him about belief in the resurrection and were firmly silenced by Jesus (Mt 22:23-33). Now the Pharisees come to the fore. The Pharisees and Sadducees were enemies, but they become friends in criticising Jesus. The Pharisees come together and one of them represents them by asking for a clarification: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?" In those days, the Jews had a huge number of norms, customs, and laws, great and small, to regulate the observance of the Ten Commandments. One point concerning two commandments of the law of God was a matter of great discussion among the Pharisees. Some said: "All the laws, great or small, have equal value because they all come from God. We cannot make distinctions in matters concerning God". Others said: "Some laws are more important than others and thus they deserve greater observance!" The Pharisees want to know where Jesus stands in this debate.

Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus’ reply.
Jesus replies by quoting some words from the Bible: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind!" (cfr Dt 6:4-5). In Jesus’ days, pious Jews recited this phrase three times a day, morning, noon and night. It was a well-known prayer among them, as the Our Father is for us today. And Jesus goes on quoting the Old Testament: "This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18). And He concludes: "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets too". In other words, this is the way to God and the neighbor.neighbor There is no other. The greatest temptation of human beings is that of trying to separate these two loves, because in this way the poverty of others would not discomfort their consciences.

c) A deepening:

i) Pharisees:

The word “Pharisees” means “separate” because their rigid way of observing the Law of God separated them from others. Among themselves they called each other companions because they formed a community whose ideal was that of observing absolutely the norms and all the commandments of the Law of God. The way of life of most of them was a witness to the people because they lived by their laborlabor and dedicated many hours every day to study and meditation on the law of God. But there was something very negative They sought their safety not in God but in the rigorous observance of the Law of God. They trusted more in what they did for God than in what God did for them. They had lost the notion of gratuity, which is the source and fruit of love. Before such a false attitude towards God, Jesus reacts firmly and insists on the practice of love that makes the observance of the law, and of its true meaning, relative. In an age of change and uncertainty, such as now, the same temptation reappears. Seeking safety before God, not in the goodness of God towards us, but in the rigorous observance of the Law. If we succumb to such a temptation, then we deserve the same censure from Jesus.

ii) A parallel between Mark and Matthew:

In the Gospel of Mark, it is a doctor of the law who asks the question (Mk 12:32-33). After listening to Jesus’ reply, the doctor agrees with Him and draws the following conclusion: "Yes, to love God and neighborneighbor is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice". Or else, the commandment of love is the most important among all the commandments concerned with cult and sacrifices of the Temple and with external observances. This statement already existed in the Old Testament from the time of the prophet Hosea (Hos 6:6; Ps 40:6-8; Ps 51:16-17). Today we would say that the practice of love is more important than novenas, promises, fasts, prayers and processions. Jesus approves of the conclusion reached by the doctor of the law and says: "You are not far from the Kingdom"! The Kingdom of God consists of this: acknowledging that the love of God is equal to the love of neighbor. We cannot reach God without giving ourselves to the neighbor!

iii) The greatest commandment:

The greatest commandment and the first is this: "You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mk 12:30; Mt 22:37). As far as the people of God, throughout the centuries, understood the meaning of this love did they become aware that the love of God is real and true only if it is made concrete in the love of neighbor. That is why the second commandment resembles the first (Mt 22:39; Mk 12:31). "Anyone who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, is a liar" (1Jn 4:20). "On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also" (Mt 22:40). Because of this identification of the two loves, there has been an evolution in three phases:

1st Phase: "neighbor", is the relative of the same race
The Old Testament already taught that we must "love our neighbor as ourselves!" (Lv 19:18). Then the word neighbor was synonymous with relative. They felt obliged to love all those who were part of the same family, the same clan, the same people. As for strangers, that is, those who did not belong to the Jewish people, the book of Deuteronomy says: “From a foreigner you may exact payment, but you must remit whatever claim you have on your brother (relative, neighbor)!" (Dt 15:3).

2nd Phase: "neighbor" is the one I approach or who approaches me.
The concept of neighbor is broadened. In Jesus’ time, there was a whole discussion as to “who is my neighbor?” Some doctors of the law thought the concept of neighbor had to be extended beyond the limits of race. Others would not hear of this. So a doctor turns to Jesus and asks this vexed question: "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37), where the neighbor is neither the relative nor the friend, but all those who approach us, irrespective of religion, colour, race, gender or language! You must love him!

3rd Phase: The measure of our love for the “neighbor” is the love with which Jesus loves us.
Jesus had said to the doctor of the law: "You are not far from the Kingdom!" (Mk 12:34). The doctor was already close because in fact, the Kingdom consists in uniting the love of God with the love of neighbor as the doctor had solemnly declared before Jesus (Mk 12:33). But to enter the Kingdom he had to take one more step. In the Old Testament, the criterion of love for neighbor was the following: "love your neighbor as yourself". Jesus stretches the criterion further and says: "This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you! A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends!" (Jn 15:12-13). Now, in the New Testament, the criterion is: "Love your neighbor as Jesus loved us!". Jesus interpreted the exact meaning of the Word of God and showed us the way to a more just and fraternal way of life.

6. Psalm 62

In God alone there is rest for my soul

In God alone there is rest for my soul,
from Him comes my safety;
 he alone is my rock, my safety,
my stronghold so that I stand unshaken.
How much longer will you set on a victim,
all together, intent on murder,
like a rampart already leaning over,
a wall already damaged?
Trickery is their only plan,
deception their only pleasure,
with lies on their lips they pronounce a blessing,
with a curse in their hearts.

Rest in God alone, my soul!
He is the source of my hope.
He alone is my rock, my safety, my stronghold,
so that I stand unwavering.
In God is my safety and my glory,
the rock of my strength.
In God is my refuge;
trust in him, you people, at all times.
Pour out your hearts to him,
God is a refuge for us.
Ordinary people are a mere puff of wind,
important people a delusion;
set both on the scales together,
and they are lighter than a puff of wind.

Put no trust in extortion,
no empty hopes in robbery;
however much wealth may multiply,
do not set your heart on it.
Once God has spoken,
twice have I heard this:
Strength belongs to God,
to you, Lord, faithful love;
and you repay everyone as their deeds deserve.

7. Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, 16 May 2011 09:26

Lectio Divina: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Written by

Tribute to Caesar

When hypocrisy sets a snare for honest people

Matthew 22:15-21

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.

Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.

2. Reading

a) A division of the text to help with the reading:

Matthew 22:15-17: The question of the Pharisees and Herodians

Matthew 22:18-21: Jesus’ reply

b) A key to the reading:

Jesus comes from Galilee to Jerusalem for the annual feast of the Pasch. As He enters the city, He is acclaimed by the people (Mt 21:1-11). He immediately goes to the temple where He drives the vendors away (Mt 21:12-16). Although He stays in Jerusalem, He spends the nights outside the city and returns to the city in the morning (Mt 21:17). The situation is very tense. In his discussions with the authorities, the high priests, the elders and the Pharisees in Jerusalem, Jesus expresses himself in parables (Mt 21,23 a 22,14). They would like to get hold of him, but they are scared (Mt 21:45-46). This Sunday’s Gospel on the tribute due to Caesar (Mt 22,15-21) is situated within this general state of conflict between Jesus and the authorities.

c) Text:

15 Then the Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, together with some Herodians, to say, 'Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in all honesty, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because human rank means nothing to you. 17 Give us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?' 18 But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, 'You hypocrites! Why are you putting me to the test? 19 Show me the money you pay the tax with.' They handed Him a denarius, 20 and He said, 'Whose portrait is this? Whose title?' 21 They replied, 'Caesar's.' Then He said to them, 'Very well, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.'

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) Which part of the text touched you most? Why?

b) Which groups in power are getting ready to set a trap for Jesus? What kind of trap?

c) What did Jesus do to get out of the trap laid by the powerful?

d) For today, what does the saying: “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God” mean?

5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme

a) The context of our text of the Gospel of Matthew:

As we were saying, the context of the Gospel of the 29th Sunday is the debate between Jesus and the authorities. It begins with the discussion with the priests and elders on the authority of Jesus (Mt 21:23-27). Then comes the parable of the two sons where Jesus denounces the hypocrisy of some groups (Mt 21:28-32). There follow two parables, one of the murderous wine growers (Mt 21:33-46) and another concerning those whao are invited but refuse to attend the wedding feast (Mt 22:1-14). At this point in our text (Mt 22:15-22) the Pharisees and the Herodians enter to set a trap. They ask Him about the tribute to be paid to the Romans. It was a tricky question that divided public opinion. They wanted to accuse Jesus and so lessen his influence over the people at all costs. The Sadducees immediately begin to question Him on the resurrection of the dead, another controversial question and cause of dissent between the Sadducees and the Pharisees (Mt 22:23-33). It all ends with a discussion on the greatest commandment of all (Mt 22:34-40) and the Messiah as son of David (Mt 22:41-45).

Like Jesus, the Christians of the communities in Syria and Palestine for whom Matthew was writing his Gospel were accused and questioned by the authorities, by other groups, and by their neighbors who felt uncomfortable because of the witness of the disciples. When reading these episodes of conflict with the authorities, they felt comforted and encouraged to continue on their journey.

b) A commentary on the text:

Matthew 22:15-17: The question of the Pharisees and Herodians.

The Pharisees and Herodians were the local authorities who did not enjoy popular support in Galilee. They had decided that it was time to kill Jesus (Mt 12:14; Mc 3,6). Now, by order of the priests and elders, they want to know whether Jesus is in favor of, or against, paying tribute to the Romans. A deliberate question and full of malice! Under the guise of fidelity to the law of God, they seek reasons for accusing him. If Jesus were to say: “You must pay!” they would accuse him, together with the people, of being a friend of the Romans. If He were to say: “You must not pay!” they would accuse him, together with the Roman authorities, of being a subversive. A dead end!

Matthew 22:18-21a: Jesus’ reply: show me a coin.

Jesus is aware of their hypocrisy. In his reply, He wastes no time in useless discussion and goes directly to the heart of the question: “Whose portrait is this? Whose title?” They answer: “Caesar’s!”

Matthew 22:21b: Jesus’ conclusion

Jesus then draws the conclusion: “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God!”. In fact, they had already acknowledged Caesar’s authority. They already paid Caesar what belonged to Caesar since they used his money to buy and sell and even to pay the tribute to the Temple! Hence, the question was useless. Why ask something whose answer was clear in practice? They, who by their question pretended to be servants of God, were in fact forgetting the most important thing: they forgot to give God what belongs to God! What mattered to Jesus was that “they pay to God what belongs to God”, that is, they mislead the people that they had lead away from God through their own fault, because through their teachings they prevented people from entering the Kingdom (Mt 23:13). Rather say: “Pay to God what belongs to God”, which is, practice justice and honesty according to the demands of the law of God, because by your hypocrisy your are denying God what is due to Him. The disciples must be aware of this! Because it was the hypocrisy of these Pharisees and Herodians that was blinding their eyes! (Mk 8:15).

c) A deepening: Levies, tributes, taxes and tithes:

In Jesus’ time, the people of Palestine paid very many levies, taxes, tributes, fines, contributions, donations and tithes. Some scholars calculate that half of a family’s income went to pay levies. Here is a list that gives an idea of all that the people paid in levies:

* Direct levies on properties and persons:

Levy on property (tributum soli). The taxation officers of the government checked on properties, production, the number of slaves and then fixed the amount to be paid. Periodically, new taxation amounts were set in accordance with census taken.

Levies on persons (tributum capitis). For the poor without land, which included women and men between the ages of 12 and 65 years. The levy on the workforce was 20% of the income of every individual.

* Indirect levies on various transactions:

Golden crown
: Originally this was a gift to the emperor, but then became a compulsory levy. It was paid on special occasions such as feasts or visits of the emperor.

Salt levy: Salt was the emperor’s monopoly. The tribute was paid on salt for commercial use. For instance, salt used by fishermen to salt fish. That is the origin of the word “salary”.

Levy on buying and selling: For each commercial transaction there was a levy of 1%. It was the taxation officers who collected this money. For instance, to buy a slave they asked for 2%.

Levy on professional practice: For anything at all one needed a permit. For instance, a shoemaker in Palmira paid one denarius per month. One denarius was equivalent to a day’s salary. Even prostitutes had to pay.

Levy on the use of public utilities: Emperor Vespasian introduced a levy on the use of public baths in Rome. He used to say, “Money has no smell!”

* Other taxes and obligations:

This was a levy on the movement of merchandise, collected by Publicans. Tolls were paid on the road. At certain points there were soldiers who forced those who were reluctant to pay.

Forced labor: Everyone could be forced to render some service to the State for five years, without remuneration.

Special subsidy for the armed forces: People were obliged to offer hospitality to soldiers. People also had to pay a certain amount of money for the nourishment and support of the troops.

* Levy for the Temple and for Cult:

Shekalim: This was the levy for the upkeep of the Temple.

Tithe: This was the levy for the upkeep of the priests. “Tithe” means the tenth part!

First fruits: This was the levy for the upkeep of the cult. That is, the first fruits of all land products.

6. Psalm 12

Against lying lips

Help, Yahweh! No one loyal is left,

the faithful have vanished from among the children of Adam.

Friend tells lies to friend, and, smooth-tongued,

speaks from an insincere heart.

May Yahweh cut away every smooth lip,

every boastful tongue,

those who say, 'In our tongue lies our strength,

our lips are our allies; who can master us?'

'For the poor who are plundered,

the needy who groan, now will I act,' says Yahweh,

'I will grant salvation to those who sigh for it.'

Yahweh's promises are promises unalloyed,

natural silver which comes from the earth seven times refined.

You, Yahweh, will watch over them,

you will protect them from that brood for ever.

The wicked will scatter in every direction,

as the height of depravity among the children of Adam.

7. Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen

Monday, 16 May 2011 09:24

Lectio Divina: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Written by

A universal invitation to the banquet of the Realm

To welcome salvation with the right disposition

Matthew 22:1-14

1. Opening prayer

Spirit of truth, sent by Jesus to guide us to the whole truth, enlighten our minds so that we may understand the Scriptures. You who overshadowed Mary and made her fruitful ground where the Word of God could germinate, purify our hearts from all obstacles to the Word. Help us to learn like her to listen with good and pure hearts to the Word that God speaks to us in life and in Scripture, so that we may observe the Word and produce good fruit through our perseverance.

2. Reading

a) The context:

The meaning of the parable is quite clear when we read it in its context. It comes straight after another parable on the Realm (21:33-43) and is part of an argument between Jesus and the high priests and the Pharisees on his mission and authority (see 21:23-46).

In the preceding parable on the vineyard, Jesus sums up the history of salvation. God enveloped Israel with special care and hoped that such care would have produced fruit in the shape of a life of faithfulness and justice. From time to time God sent prophets to remind the people of the fruit that God expected, but their mission always met with Israel’s rejection. Finally, God sent his own Son, but they killed him. At this point Jesus says that because Israel continued to reject the Realm, the Realm would therefore pass on to another people, that is, the pagans (21:43). This pronouncement gives us the key to the reading of our parable, which really repeats the message of the previous parable using a different image and with different nuances.

We must affirm clearly that both parables can in no way justify the idea that God rejected Israel in favor of the Church. Suffice it to read Romans 9-11 to be convinced of the contrary. Jesus says hard things, prophetic things, to draw his people to repentance and for them to accept him. Besides, the pagans too, the newly invited ones, run the risk of being thrown out if they do not wear the wedding garment.

b) The text:

Jesus began to speak to them in parables once again. 'The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a feast for his son's wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited, but they would not come. Next he sent some more servants with the words, "Tell those who have been invited: Look, my banquet is all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding." But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them. The king was furious. He dispatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town. Then he said to his servants, "The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the main crossroads and invite everyone you can find to come to the wedding." So these servants went out onto the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests. When the king came in to look at the guests he noticed one man who was not wearing a wedding garment, and said to him, "How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?" And the man was silent. Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot and throw him into the darkness outside, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth." For many are invited but not all are chosen.'

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may enter into us and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) Whom do the invited guests who refuse the invitation represent?

b) Whom do the newly invited guests found in the street represent?

c) Whom does the person without the wedding garment represent?

d) Are there "urgent matters" in my life that prevent me from accepting God’s invitation?

e) What is the wedding garment God wants me to wear for me to take part at the wedding banquet of the Realm of God?

5. A key to the reading

for those who wish to go deeper into the text.

● The banquet of the Realm

The prophets often proclaimed the benefits of salvation and especially those of the eschatological times through the image of a banquet. The first reading of this Sunday (Is 25:6-10a) is an example. Like Jesus, Isaiah too speaks of a banquet prepared by God for all peoples. However, the people of Israel and especially the city of Jerusalem remain at the center of God’s plan as mediators of the salvation offered by God for all. In the New Testament, however, even though there is an admission that "salvation comes from the Jews" (Jn 4:22), the only mediator of salvation is Jesus, who continues to exercise his mediation through the community of his disciples, the Church.

● The wedding garment

It is an insult to the one who has sent the invitation to arrive at the feast wearing ordinary working clothes. It is sign of not giving proper consideration for the occasion to which one is invited. This image, used in the parable on the Realm, wants to convey the idea that one cannot enter the Realm without preparation, and the only preparation is conversion. In fact, to change garment in biblical terms means to change style of life or to be converted (see for instance Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27; Eph 4:20-24).

● "Many are called but few are chosen"

This expression is a semitism. In the absence of comparisons, biblical Hebrew uses expressions that are based on drastic opposites. Hence this expression says nothing on the numerical relationship between those called into the Church and the elect to eternal life. However, it is also true that the parable makes a distinction between the call to salvation, election and final perseverance. The generosity of the ruler is huge, but we must be serious about the demands of the Realm. The expression is a pressing appeal not to be satisfied with just formal membership among the people of God. We cannot take salvation for granted. Here Jesus follows closely the teaching of the prophets. Recall Jer 7:1-15 and Os 6:1-6.

6. Psalm 47

The Lord is Ruler of Israel and the world

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

For the Lord, the Most High, is terrible,

a great king over all the earth.

He subdued peoples under us,

and nations under our feet.

He chose our heritage for us,

the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout,

the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.

Sing praises to God, sing praises!

Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

For God is the king of all the earth;

sing praises with a psalm!

God reigns over the nations;

God sits on his holy throne.

The princes of the peoples

gather as the people of the God of Abraham.

For the shields of the earth belong to God;

he is highly exalted!

7. Closing prayer

God, Lord of the world and Ruler of all peoples, from the beginning you have prepared a banquet for your children and you wish to gather us around your table to share in your own life. We thank you for having called us into your Church through Jesus your Son. May your Spirit make us ever attentive and ready to continue to accept your invitation and may we, through the same Spirit, put on the new person, created according to God in justice and in true holiness, in the image of Christ, so that we may enter the banquet of your Realm together with a multitude of brothers and sisters. Use us, if you so wish, to continue to call others to the universal banquet of your Realm.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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