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Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:30

Lectio Divina: Mark 2:1-12

Ordinary Time

1) Opening prayer

Father of love, hear our prayers.

Help us to know Your will

and to do it with courage and faith.

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 - Mark 2,1-12

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, "Child, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?" Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, "Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, pick up your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" –he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

3) Reflection

• In Mark 1:1-15, Mark shows how the Good News of God should be prepared and spread. In Mark 1:16-45, he describes the objective of the Good News and the mission of the community. Now, in Mk 2:1 to 3, 6 there is the effect of the proclamation of the Good News. A community faithful to the Gospel lives values which can be in contradiction to the interests of the unjust society which surrounds it. This is why one of the effects of the proclamation of the Good News is the conflict with those who defend the interests of the unjust society. Mark gathers together five conflicts which the proclamation of the Good News brought to Jesus.

• In the year 70, the time when he wrote his Gospel, there were many conflicts in the life of the communities, but they did not always know how to behave before the accusations which they received from the Roman authorities and from the Jewish leaders. This series of five conflicts found in Mk 2:1 to 3, 6 served as a guide to the communities, those of the past as well as those of today. Conflict is not an incident along the road, it forms part of the journey.

• The following is the outline of the five conflicts which Mark presents in his Gospel: 

      Texts conflict:

      1st conflict: Mk 2:1-12

      2nd conflict: Mk 2:13-17

      3rd conflict: Mk 2:18-22

      4th conflict: Mk 2:23-28

      5th conflict: Mk 3:1-6

            Adversaries of Jesus: 

            The scribes

            The scribes of the Pharisees

            The disciples of John and the Pharisees

            The Pharisees

            The Pharisees and the Herodians

                        Cause of the conflict:

                        Forgiveness of sins

                        To eat with sinners

                        The practice of fasting

                        Observance of Saturday

                        To cure on Saturday

• The solidarity of the friends of the paralytic obtains the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is returning to Capernaum. Many people gather before the door of the house. He accepts everybody and begins to teach them. To teach, to speak of God, was what Jesus did the most. A paralytic, carried by four friends, arrived. Jesus is their only hope. They do not doubt about going up and they make an opening in the roof over the place where Jesus was. It must have been a poor house, with the roof being just mud covered with leaves. They lowered the stretcher with the man to Jesus. Jesus, seeing their faith, says to the paralytic: your sins are forgiven you. At that time people thought that physical defects (paralytic) were a punishment from God for any sin that had been committed. The Doctors of the Law taught that the person remained impure and therefore, incapable of getting close to God. For this reason, the sick, the poor, the paralytics, felt that they were rejected by God! But Jesus did not think this way. Such a great faith was a sign that the paralytic was accepted by God. And for this reason, He declares: “Your sins are forgiven you!” With this affirmation Jesus denies that the paralysis was a punishment due to the sin of the man.

• Jesus is accused of blasphemy by those who held power. The affirmation of Jesus was contrary to the catechism of the time. It was not in accordance with the idea that they had of God. And because of this they react against and accuse Jesus: He blasphemes! According to them only God could forgive sins. And only the priest could declare someone forgiven and purified. How could it be that Jesus, a man without studies, a lay person, a simple carpenter, could declare people forgiven and purified of their sins? There was also another reason which pushed them to criticize Jesus. They had thought: “If it is true what Jesus says, we will lose our power! We will lose our source of income”.

• By curing, Jesus shows that He also has the power to forgive sins. Jesus perceives the criticism. This is why He asks: “Which of these is easier to say to the paralytic: Your sins are forgiven you, or to say, get up, pick up your stretcher and walk? It is easier to say: “Your sins are forgiven you”. Because nobody can verify if the sins have truly been forgiven or not. But if I tell him: “Get up and walk!”, there, all can see if I have or don't have the power to heal. In order to show that He had the power to forgive sins, in the name of God, Jesus says to the paralytic: Get up, take up your stretcher and go off home! He cures the man! The leaders were confronted with a dilemma. Either their teaching was wrong and sickness is not related to sin, or Jesus had the power to forgive sins, proven by their own teaching! Thus, through a miracle, He taught that the paralysis of the man was not a punishment from God, and He showed that the faith of the poor is a proof that God accepts them in His love.

• The message of the miracle and the reaction of people. The paralytic gets up, he takes his stretcher, and begins to walk, and all say: “We have never seen anything like this!” This miracle reveals three very important things: a) The sicknesses of people are not a punishment for sins. b) Jesus opens a new way to reach God. What the system called impurity was no more an obstacle for people to get close to God. c) The face of God revealed through the attitude of Jesus was different from the severe face of God revealed by the attitude of the doctors.

• This reminds us of what a drug addict said once he had recovered and who is now a member of a community in Curitiba, Brazil: “I grew up in the Catholic religion. I abandoned it. My parents were good practicing Catholics and wanted us, their children to be like them. People were obliged always to go to Church, every Sunday and every feast day. And when one did not go, they would say: “God will punish you”. I went because this was imposed upon me, and when I became an adult, I no longer went to Mass. I did not like the God of my parents. I could not understand that God, the Creator of the world, could extend over me, a small child, threatening me with the punishment of hell. I liked much more the God of my uncle who never went to Church, but who every day, and I repeat, every day, bought twice as much bread than what he ate, in order to give to the poor!”.

4) Personal questions

• Do you like the God of the uncle or the God of the parents of the ex drug addict?

• Which is the face of God that others discover in my behavior?

5) Concluding prayer

What we have heard and know,

what our ancestors have told us

we shall not conceal from their descendants,

but will tell to a generation still to come:

the praises of Yahweh, His power,

the wonderful deeds He has done. (Ps 78,3-4)

Lectio Divina:
Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:21

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:40-45

Ordinary Time 

1) Opening prayer

Father of love, hear our prayers.

Help us to know Your will

and to do it with courage and faith.

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 - Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

3) Reflection

• Accepting and curing the leper, Jesus reveals a new face of God. A leper came near Jesus. He was an excluded, impure person. He should be far away. Anybody who touched him would also become impure! But that leper had great courage. He transgresses the norms of religion in order to be able to get near Jesus. He calls out: “If You want, You can heal me. You need not touch me! It suffices that You want, and I will be healed!” This phrase reveals two evils: a) the evil of leprosy which made him impure; and b) the evil of solitude to which he was condemned by society and by religion. It also reveals the great faith of the man in the power of Jesus. Jesus is profoundly moved and cures both evils. In the first place, in order to cure solitude, He touches the leper. It is as if He said: “For Me, you are not an excluded one. I accept you as a brother!” And then He cures the leper saying: “I want it! Be cured!” The leper, in order to enter into contact with Jesus, had transgressed the norms of the Law. Jesus, in order to be able to help that excluded person and therefore reveal a new face of God, transgresses the norms of His religion and touches the leper. At that time, whoever touched a leper became impure according to the religious authority and by the law of that time.

• He integrated the excluded person into fraternal living together. Jesus not only cures, but also wants the cured person to be able to live with the others. He once again inserts the person in society to live with others. At that time, for a leper to be accepted again in the community, it was necessary to get a certificate from the priest that he had been cured. It is like today in some places. A sick person leaves the hospital with a document signed by the doctor of the department where he had been hospitalized. Jesus obliges the person to look for that document in such a way that he will be able to live normally with others. He obliges the authorities to recognize that this man has been cured.

• The leper announces the good that Jesus has done to him and Jesus becomes an excluded person. Jesus forbids the leper to speak about the cure. The Gospel of Mark tells us that this prohibition does not survive. The leper, walking away, began to spread the news to the point that Jesus could no longer publicly enter into a city, but remained outside in a deserted place (Mk 1:45). Why? Because Jesus had touched the leper. Because of this, according to the opinion of the religion of that time, He himself was now impure and should live far away from all others. He could no longer enter the city. Mark says that people did not care about these official norms, in fact, people came to Him from everywhere (Mk 1:45).

• Summarizing. In the year 70, when Mark wrote, as well as today, the time in which we live, it was and is important to have models of how to live and how to proclaim the Good News of God. In verses 16 to 45 of the first chapter of his Gospel, Mark describes the mission of the community and presents eight criteria in order that the communities of his time could evaluate their mission. The following is the outline:

Text     Activity of Jesus     Objective of the mission

Mark 1:16-20

          Jesus calls His first disciples

                                          To form the community

Mark 1:21-22

          The people were admired at His teaching

                                          To create a critical conscience

Mark 1:23-28

          Jesus expels a devil 

                                          To overcome the force of evil

Mark 1:29-31

          He cures Peter’s mother-in-law

                                          To give life back so as to serve

Mark 1:32-34

          He cures the sick and the possessed

                                          To accept the marginalized

Mark 1:35

          Jesus rises early to pray 

                                          To remain united with the Father

Mark 1:36-39

          Jesus continues the announcement

                                          Not to stop at the results

Mark 1:40-45

          He cures a leper

                                          To integrate anew the excluded

 4) Personal questions

• To proclaim the Good News means to give witness to the experience of Jesus that one has. What does the leper announce? He tells others the good that Jesus has done to him. This witness leads others to accept the Good News of God which Jesus brings to us. What is the witness that you give?

• To take the Good News to the people, it is not necessary to be afraid of transgressing the religious norms which are contrary to God’s plan and which make communication, dialogue, and the living out of love difficult, even if this causes difficulty for the people as it caused difficulty for Jesus. Do I have this courage?

5) Concluding prayer

Come, let us bow low and do reverence;

kneel before Yahweh who made us!

For He is our God,

and we the people of His sheepfold,

the flock of His hand. (Ps 95:6-7)

Lectio Divina:
Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:20

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:29-39

Ordinary Time

1) Opening prayer

Father of love, hear our prayers.

Help us to know Your will

and to do it with courage and faith.

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 - Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you." He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

3) Reflection

• Jesus restores life for the service. After having participated in the celebration of Saturday in the Synagogue, Jesus went to Peter’s house and cured his mother-in-law. Once healed, she gets up, with her health restored and having recovered her dignity, and she begins to serve. Jesus does not only heal the person, but He does it in such a way that she begins to serve life.

• Jesus accepts the marginalized. When it begins to get dark, in the afternoon, at the end of Saturday when the first star shines in the sky, Jesus accepts and cures the sick and those possessed whom people had brought to Him. The sick and those possessed were the most marginalized people of that time. They had nobody to whom they had recourse. They depended on public charity. Besides this, religion considered them impure. They could not participate in the community. It was as if God rejected and excluded them. Therefore, the Good News of God consists of what He wants to do in the life of people: to accept the marginalized and the excluded, and to insert them again to live together in the community.

• To remain united to the Father, in prayer. Jesus is presented to us while He prays. He makes a great effort to have the time and the adequate environment to pray. He rises before the others and goes to a deserted place, to be able to be alone with God. Many times the Gospels speak to us about the prayer of Jesus, in silence (Mt 14:22-23); Mk 1:35; Lk 5:15-16; 3:21-22). Through prayer He maintains the awareness of His mission.

• To maintain the awareness of the mission and not to close oneself up in what is already obtained. Jesus is known. Everybody follows Him. This publicity pleases the disciples. They go to look for Jesus to take Him back to the people who were seeking for Him, and they tell Him: “All are looking for You.” They thought that Jesus would go to the banquet. They were disillusioned! Jesus does not pay attention and tells them: “Let us go elsewhere. It is precisely for this that I have come!” Surely, they must have been surprised! Jesus was not like what they had imagined Him to be. Jesus had a very clear conscience of the mission and wants to transmit this to the disciples. He does not want them to close themselves up in the results already obtained. They should not look back. But, like Jesus, they should maintain conscious of their mission. It is the mission received from the Father, which has to orientate their decisions.

• It is precisely for this that I have come! This was the first misunderstanding between Jesus and His disciples. At present, it is only a question of a small difference. Later on, in the Gospel of Mark, this misunderstanding will grow and will practically become a break between Jesus and the disciples (cf. Mk 8:14-21,32-33; 9:32; 14:27). Today, there are some misunderstandings along the way in the proclaiming the Good News. Mark helps one to be attentive to the differences.

4) Personal questions

• Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Peter’s mother-in-law began to serve. Do I act in such a way that my life is a service to God and to my brothers and sisters?

• Jesus is conscious and aware of His mission through prayer. Am I?

5) Concluding prayer

Sing to Yahweh, bless His name!

Proclaim His salvation day after day,

declare His glory among the nations,

His marvels to every people! (Ps 96:2-3)

Lectio Divina:
Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:19

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:21-28

Ordinary Time

1) Opening prayer

Father of love, hear our prayers.

Help us to know Your will

and to do it with courage and faith.

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 - Mark 1:21-28

Jesus came to Capernaum with his followers, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

3) Reflection

• Sequence of the Gospels of the days of this week. Yesterday’s Gospel informed us about the first activity of Jesus. He called four people to form a community with them (Mk 1:16-10). Today’s Gospel describes admiration for the teaching of Jesus (Mt 1:21-22) and the first miracle when He expels the devil (Mk 1:23-28). The Gospel of tomorrow narrates the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31), the healing of many sick people (Mk 1:32-34) and the prayer of Jesus in an isolated place (Mk 1:35-39). Mark gathers all of these episodes which had been transmitted orally in the communities, joining them together like bricks of a wall. In the years 70’s, the year in which he writes, the communities needed orientation. By describing how Jesus began His activity, Mark tells of what they should do to announce the Good News. Mark gives them a catechesis by telling the communities about the events in the life of Jesus.

• Jesus teaches with authority, differently from the way the scribes do it. The first thing that the people perceive is the diverse way in which Jesus teaches. It is not so much the content, but rather the way in which He teaches that impresses the people. For this reason, by His different way, Jesus creates a critical conscience in people concerning the religious authority of that time. The people compare and say: He teaches with authority, in a way different from the way the scribes do. The scribes of that time taught quoting the authority. Jesus does not quote any authority. He speaks  with His experience of God and of His life. His word is rooted in the heart.

• You have come to destroy us! In Mark, the first miracle is the expulsion of the devil. Jesus struggles and expels the power of evil that takes possession of people and alienates them from themselves. The man possessed by the devil shouts: “I know who You are: You are the Holy One of God!” The man repeated the official teaching which presented the Messiah as the “Holy One of God”, as a High Priest, or like a King, Judge, Doctor or General. Even today, many people live alienated from themselves, deceived by the power of mass media, mass communication, and the advertising of business. They repeat what they hear others say. They live as slaves of consumerism, oppressed by the power of money, and threatened by debtors. Many think that their life is not as it should be if they cannot buy what the advertising recommends.

• Jesus rebuked the evil spirit: “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. Jesus restores the person to himself. He gives him back his conscience and his liberty. He makes the person recover his complete judgment (cf. Mk 5:15). It was not easy then, it was not easy yesterday, and it is not easy today to do this in such a way that a person begins to think and act in a way which diverges from the official ideology.

• A new teaching! He commands even the evil spirits. The first two signs of the Good News are these: His different way of teaching the things of God, and His power over evil spirits. Jesus opens a new road in order for people to attain purity. At that time, a person who was declared impure could not present himself/herself before God to pray and to receive the blessing promised by God to Abraham. He/she should first purify himself/herself. These and many other laws and norms made the life of people very difficult and marginalized many people who were considered impure and far from God. Now, purified by the contact with Jesus, people could present themselves before God. This was a great Good News!

4) Personal questions

• Can I really say: “I am fully free, master of myself? If I cannot say it of myself, then something in me is possessed by other powers. What do I do to expel this strange power?

• Today many people do not live, do not think, but rather are driven by mass media. They do not have a critical mind or way of thinking. They allow other masters into their lives. How can this “devil” be expelled?

5) Concluding prayer

Yahweh our Lord,

how majestic is Your name throughout the world!

What are human beings that You spare a thought for them,

or the child of Adam that You care for him? (Ps 8,1.4)

Lectio Divina:
Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:15

Lectio Divina: Mark 1:14-20

Ordinary Time 

1) Opening prayer

Father of love, hear our prayers.

Help us to know Your will

and to do it with courage and faith.

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 - Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel." As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him. 

3) Reflection

• After John had been arrested, Jesus went to Galilee. There He proclaimed the Gospel of God. John was arrested by King Herod for having denounced the immoral behavior of the King (Lk 3:18-20). The imprisonment of John the Baptist did not frighten Jesus! On the contrary, in that event He saw a symbol of the coming of the Kingdom. Today, would  we know how to read the facts of politics and of urban violence to announce or proclaim the Good News of God?

• Jesus proclaimed the Good News of God. The Good News is of God not only because it comes from God, but also and, above all, because God is its content. God Himself is the greatest Good News for human life. He responds to the deepest aspiration of our heart. In Jesus, we see what happens when a human person allows God to enter and to reign. This Good News of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus has four different aspects:

a) The time is fulfilled and has arrived. For the other Jews the time was not as yet fulfilled, had not arrived. There was still much missing for the coming of the Kingdom. For the Pharisees, for example, the Kingdom could be attained only when the observance of the law would be perfect. Jesus had another way of reading the facts. He says that the time is fulfilled; it has arrived.

b) The Kingdom of God is close at hand! For the Pharisees the coming of the Kingdom depended on their efforts. It would have arrived only after they had observed the law. Jesus says the contrary: “The Kingdom is close at hand.” It is already here!  When Jesus says, “The Kingdom is close at hand”, He does not mean to say that the Kingdom has been reached only at that moment, but rather that it was already there. What everybody was expecting was already present in their life, but they did not know it. They did not perceive it (cf. Lk 17:21). Jesus saw it!  He saw and read reality from a different perspective.  It is in this hidden presence of the Kingdom in the midst of the people that Jesus reveals Himself to the poor of His land. And this is the seed of the Kingdom which will receive the rain of His Word and the warmth of His love.

c) Convert yourselves! The exact meaning is “change your way of thinking and of living.” In order to be able to perceive the presence of the Kingdom in life, a person should begin to think and live in a different way. The person should change his or her way of life and find another way of living together with others! He/she should leave aside all of the legalism of the teaching of the Pharisees and allow the new experience of God to invade his/her life and give him/her a new way of looking so as to read and understand the facts in a new way.

d) To believe in the Good News! It was not easy to accept this message. It is not easy for us to begin to think in a different way from all that we have learned since we were small children. This is possible only through an act of faith. When someone gives a different piece of  news, it is difficult to accept it, and it is accepted only if we trust the person who delivers the news. And thus, you will say to others, “You can accept! I know this person! This person does not deceive! You can trust him/her!” We can trust Jesus!

• The first objective of the proclamation of the Good News is to form a community. Jesus goes by; He sees and He calls. The first four who were called - Simon, Andrew, John and James - listen, abandon everything, and follow Jesus in order to form a community with Him. It seems to be love at first sight! According to Mark’s account, everything takes place in the first encounter with Jesus. Comparing with the other Gospels, people perceive that the four already knew Jesus (Jn 1:39; Lk 5:1-11). They had already had the opportunity to live with Him, to see Him help the people and to listen to Him in the synagogue. They knew how He lived and what He thought. The call was not something from one moment, but a progression of repeated calls and invitations, of progressing and retreating. The call begins and begins again always anew! In practice, it coincided with living together with Jesus for two or three years, since the time of the Baptism until the moment when Jesus ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:21-22). And then, why does Mark present this as something sudden, an act of love at first sight? Mark thinks of the ideal: the encounter with Jesus should bring about a radical change in our life! 

4) Personal questions

• A political fact, the imprisonment of John, led Jesus to begin the proclamation of the Good News of God. Today, does the  political situation exercise any influence in the proclamation of the Good News that we present to people today?

• “Repent!  Believe in the Good News!” How is this taking place in my own life? 

5) Concluding prayer

For You are Yahweh,

Most High over all the earth,

far transcending all gods. (Ps 97:9)

Lectio Divina:
Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:14

Lectio Divina: The Baptism of the Lord (C)

The Baptism of Jesus and

His manifestation as the Son of God

Luke 3:15-16,21-22

1. Opening prayer

Lord, our God and our Father, grant us to know the mystery of the baptism of Your Son. Grant that we may understand it as the Evangelist Luke understood it, as the early Christians understood it. Father, grant that we may contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ identity as You revealed it at His baptism in the waters of the Jordan and who is present in our baptism.

Lord Jesus, by our listening to Your word, teach us what it means to be children in You and with You. You are the true Christ because You teach us to be children of God as You are. Grant us a deep awareness of the action of the Spirit who invites us to listen to the word with docility and attention. 

Holy Spirit we ask You to calm our anxieties and fears so that we may become more free, simple and meek in listening to the voice of God who reveals Himself in the word of Jesus Christ, our brother and redeemer. Amen!

2. Reading

a) A key to the reading:

The account of the baptism of Jesus, presented to us in this Sunday’s liturgy, invites us to meditate on it and touches on a crucial question concerning our faith: Who is Jesus? At the time of Jesus and throughout history, this question has been answered in numerous ways and these indicate the attempt of human beings and believers to better understand the mystery of the person of Jesus. However, in this meditative exercise of ours, we wish to draw deeply from the more genuine and reliable source, the word of God. In describing the scene of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, Luke is not interested in telling us the historical and concrete details of this event, but rather invites us who read the Gospel in this liturgical year, to consider the main elements that enable us to grasp the identity of Jesus.

b) A division of the text to help us with the reading:

This passage from Luke contains two declarations on the identity of Jesus, namely the declaration of John (3:15-16) and that of God Himself (3:21-22).

- The first declaration is provoked by the people’s reaction to the preaching and baptism of conversion of John: might he not be the Messiah? (3:15). John replies that there is a substantial difference between his baptism by water and Jesus’ baptism administered in the “Holy Spirit and fire.” (3:16).

- The second declaration comes from heaven and is made during Jesus’ baptism. In the background, there are the baptized from among whom the figure of Jesus comes forward to be baptized (3:21). The focal point of the scene is not the baptism, but the events surrounding it: the heavens open, the Spirit descends on Him and a voice is heard proclaiming Jesus’ identity (3:22).

c) The text:The Baptism of the Lord

The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

3. A moment of prayerful silence

In the silence, try to bring to life in your heart the Gospel scene just read. Try to assimilate it and make the words your own, thus identifying your thoughts with the content or meaning of the words.

4. A few questions

to help us in our meditation and prayer.

a) What effect did the “voice of God” declaring Jesus “the” only, beloved Son of God, have on you?

b) Is this truth a shared and conscious conviction for you?

c) Has the baptism of Jesus convinced you that God is not distant, closed in His transcendence and indifferent to humanity’s need of salvation?

d) Does it not surprise you that Jesus goes down into the water of the Jordan to receive the baptism of penance, becoming one with sinners, He who is sinless?

e) Jesus is no sinner, but He does not refuse to become one with sinful humanity. Are you convinced that salvation begins with the law of solidarity?

f) You, who have been baptized in the name of Christ, “in the Holy Spirit and fire”, are you aware that you have been called by God to experience God’s solidarity with your personal history, so that you may no longer identify with sin that isolates and divides, but with love that unites?

5. A key to the reading

for those who wish to deepen their understanding.

I. The context of the Jesus’ baptism

After the childhood accounts and in preparation for the public activities of Jesus, Luke tells us of John the Baptist’s activities and the baptism and temptations of Jesus. These introduce Jesus’ own activities and give them meaning. The Evangelist includes in one unique and complete frame all of the activities of John: from the beginning of his preaching on the banks of the Jordan (3:3-18) to his capture by Herod Antipas (3:19-20). When Jesus appears on the scene in 3:21 to be baptized, John is no longer mentioned. Through this silence, Luke makes explicit his reading of salvation history: John is the last prophetic voice of the promise of the Old Testament. Now the center of history is Jesus, and it is He who begins the time of salvation, which is extended into the time of the Church.  

A significant element in the understanding of the events previous to those of John the Baptist and of Jesus is the geographical and political description of Palestine in the thirties. The Evangelist wants to present a historical dimension and a theological meaning to the Jesus event. He wants to say that it is not worldly political power (represented by Tiberius Caesar) nor religious power (represented by the high priests) that gives value or meaning to human events; but rather it is “the word of God that rests upon John, son of Zachary, in the desert” (Lk 1:2). For Luke, the new or developed aspect of the history inaugurated by Jesus lies in this context or political situation of profane and religious dominance and power. In previous times, in the accounts of the prophets, the word of God was addressed to a particular historical-political situation, but in John’s message there is a sense of urgency: God comes in the person of Jesus. Thus the word of God calls John the Baptist from the desert to send him to the people of Israel. The task of this last prophet of the Old Testament is to prepare for the coming of the Lord among His people (Lk 1:16-17,76). He accomplishes this task by preparing all to receive God’s forgiveness through the baptism of conversion (Ezek 36:25), which means a change in the way of seeing one’s relationship with God. Changing one’s life means practicing fraternity and justice according to the teaching of the prophets (Lk 3:10-14). As opposed to religious or social conformity, the reader of Luke’s Gospel is invited to be open to the person of Jesus, the saving Messiah. Moreover, Luke emphasizes that the prophet John did not pretend to be Jesus’ rival. On the contrary, the prophet of the Jordan saw himself as entirely subordinate to the person of Jesus: “the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (3:16). Again, Jesus is stronger because He gives the Spirit.

John’s life comes to a violent end in the manner of the classical prophets. The authenticity of a prophet is measured by his freedom in facing political power. Indeed, he courageously denounces the evil actions of Herod towards his people. There are two reactions to the call of the prophet: the people and sinners become converted, whereas the powerful react with repressive violence. John ends his days in prison. Through this tragic event, John anticipates the fate of Jesus who is rejected and killed, but who becomes the point of reference for all those persecuted by repressive power.

Finally, the Jordan is the physical setting of John’s preaching. Luke means to establish a close tie between this river and the Baptist: after His baptism, Jesus will never go to the Jordan again and John will never cross into Galilee and Judea, because these are places reserved for the activities of Jesus.

II. A commentary on the text

1. The Baptist’s words concerning Jesus (Lk 3:15-16)

In the first scene of the Gospel passage of today’s liturgy, John prophetically affirms that there is one “who is mightier” than he who is to come. This is the answer of the prophet of the Jordan to the opinion of the crowd that he might be the Christ. The crowds here are called people filled with expectation. For Luke, Israel is considered a people open and prepared to receive the messianic salvation (at least during the time before the crucifixion). John’s words draw on the images of the Old Testament and act to exalt the mysterious person whose imminent coming he announces: “He who is mightier than I is coming” (3:16).

a) the figure of “the mightier”

The Baptist begins to paint the figure of Christ with the adjective “mighty” already used by Isaiah of the king-Messiah: “mighty, powerful like God” (9:5) and a term used in the Old Testament to signify an attribute of the Creator, considered sovereign of the universe and of history: “Yahweh is king, robed in majesty, Yahweh is robed in power, He wears it like a belt” (Ps 93:1). The expression “one is coming” echoes a title of messianic flavor found in Psalm 118, a processional hymn sung during the feast of  Tabernacles: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Luke applies this hymn to Jesus when He enters Jerusalem. The famous messianic proclamation in the book of the prophet Zachariah bears the same message: “See now, your king comes to you…” (9:9).

b) A humble gesture: “the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”

This is another way the Evangelist describes the figure of Christ and has a typically oriental flavor: “to untie the thong of the sandals”. This is the task of a slave. The Baptist sees himself as a servant of the Messiah who is to come, moreover he feels humble and unworthy: “the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”.

Then he presents the baptism that the proclaimed person will perform: “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” In Psalm 104:3 the Spirit of God is defined as the principle that creates and regenerates all being: “Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.” The fire, however, is par excellence the symbol of divinity: it brings heat and enkindles, animates and destroys. It is the source of warmth and death.

2. The words from heaven concerning Jesus (Lk 3:1-22)

In the second scene we have a new profile or revelation of Christ. This time, it is God Himself, and not John, who paints the figure of Christ with solemn words: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” This introduction and definition of Christ is supported by a real and particular heavenly choreography (the heavens open… the Spirit descends in the form of a dove… the voice from heaven) to show the divine quality of the words pronounced on the person of Jesus.

a) The dove is the symbol of the Spirit of God who possessed the prophets, but who now is infused in his fullness on the Messiah foretold by Isaiah: “On him the Spirit of Yahweh rests” (11:2). The symbol of the dove shows that with the coming of Jesus the perfect presence of God takes place, who manifests Himself in the pouring out of His Spirit. It is this fullness of the Holy Spirit that consecrates Christ for His saving mission and for the task of revealing to people the definitive word of the Father. It is certain that the sign of the dove shows the reader of the passage concerning the baptism that God is about to meet with humanity. This meeting is verified in the person of Jesus. The Baptist presented Jesus as the Messiah – who in the OT remains simply a man, even though perfect – and now God defines Jesus as the “beloved” Son. This title shows the supreme presence of God, which goes beyond that experienced in the cult or any other aspect of life in Israel.

b) The divine voice is another sign accompanying the revelation of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. The voice recalls two texts of the Old Testament. The first is a messianic hymn that cites some words of God addressed to His king-Messiah: “You are My son, this day I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7). In the OT both the figure of the king and the Messiah were considered as adoptive sons of God. Jesus, however, is the beloved son, synonymous with the only son. The second text that throws light on the words pronounced by the voice from heaven is a passage taken from the Hymns of the servant of the Lord and that the liturgy of the word of this Sunday gives us for the first reading: “Here is My servant whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom My soul delights” (Is 42:1). Two figures presented by Isaiah converge in Jesus: the hope of the Messiah-king and the figure of the suffering Messiah. It would not be improper to say that the scene of the baptism as presented by Luke is a true catechesis on the mystery of the person of Jesus, Messiah, king, servant, prophet, Son of God.

c) Again, from the voice from heaven we can see the transcendent, divine, unique quality of Jesus. This belonging of Jesus to the world of God will become visible, palpable, experienced in His humanity, in His belonging in the midst of people, in His wandering along the roads of Palestine. 

Thus the Word of God this Sunday, through the account of Jesus’ baptism, is meant to introduce Jesus to the world in a solemn way. This presentation will be complete only on the cross and in the resurrection. Indeed, on the cross, two faces of Christ are presented, the human-saving face through His death on the cross for our redemption, and the divine face in the profession of faith of the centurion: “Indeed, this is the Son of God!”  The word of God on this day of the Lord invites us to contemplate and adore the face of Christ that St. Augustine presented in one of his reflections: “In that face we can also see our features, those of the adoptive son revealed in our baptism.”

6. Psalm 42

When we experience the silence of God in our life, let us not grow discouraged, but let us always cultivate our thirst for Him together with all our brothers and sisters. Let us walk on the roads of the Kingdom, sure to find His presence in Christ Jesus.

Seeking the face of God

As a hart longs for flowing streams,

so longs my soul for Thee, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while men say to me continually, "Where is your God?"

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng,

and led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help

and my God.

7. Closing prayer

Lord God, when Your Son Jesus was being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan He prayed. Your divine voice heard His prayer that opened the heavens. The Holy Spirit too revealed His presence under the form of a dove. Listen to our prayer! We implore You to sustain us with Your grace so that we may behave truly as children of the light. Grant us the strength to abandon the habits of the old man so that we may be constantly renewed in the Spirit, clothed and imbued with the thoughts and feelings of Christ.  

Lord Jesus, You willed to be baptized by John the Baptist with the baptism of repentance. We turn the eyes of our heart to You so that we may learn to pray as You prayed to the Father at Your baptism, with filial trust and complete faithfulness to His will. Amen!

Lectio Divina:
Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:12

Lectio Divina: Mark 6:45-52

Christmas Time

1) Opening prayer

God, light of all nations,

give us the joy of lasting peace,

and fill us with Your radiance

as You filled the hearts of our fathers.

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 - Mark 6:45-52

After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore. Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

3) Reflection

• After the multiplication of the loaves (yesterday’s Gospel), Jesus ordered the disciples to go into the boat. Why? Mark does not explain this. The Gospel of John says the following. According to the hope people had at that time, the Messiah would repeat the gesture of Moses and would feed the multitude in the desert. This is why, before the multiplication of the loaves, the people concluded that Jesus must be the expected Messiah, announced by Moses (cf. Dt 18:15-18) and they wanted to make Him a King (cf. Jn 6:14-15). This decision of the people was a temptation for Jesus as well as for the disciples. For this reason, Jesus obliged the disciples to take the boat and leave. He wanted to avoid the risk of them being contaminated with the dominant ideology, because the “leaven of Herod and of the Pharisees” was very strong (Mk 8:15). Jesus Himself faces the temptation through prayer.

• Mark describes the events with great art. On one side, Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray. On the other, the disciples go toward the sea and get into the boat. It almost seems like a symbolical picture which foreshadows the future: it is as if Jesus went up to Heaven, leaving the disciples alone in the midst of the contradictions of life, in the fragile boat of the community. It was night. They are in the high seas, all together in the small boat, trying to advance, rowing, but the wind was strong and against them. They were tired. It was night, between three and six o’clock in the morning. The communities of the time of Mark were like the disciples. In the night! Contrary wind! They caught no fish, in spite of the efforts made! Jesus seemed to be absent! This is very symbolic of the times. But He was present and came close to them, and they, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, did not recognize Him (Lk 24:16).

• At the time of Mark, around the year 70, the small boat of the communities had to face the contrary wind on the part of some converted Jews who wished to reduce the mystery of Jesus to the prophecies and figures of the Old Testament, as well as some converted pagans who thought it was possible to have a certain alliance between faith in Jesus and the empire. Mark tries to help the Christians to respect the mystery of Jesus and not to want to reduce Jesus to their own desires and ideas.

• Jesus arrives walking on the water of the sea of life. They scream, taken up by fear, because they think that it is a ghost. As it happens in the passage of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus pretends that He wants to continue to walk (Lk 24:28). But they cry out and this causes Him to change the way.  He gets close to them and says, “Courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Here, once again, for one who knows the story of the Old Testament, this recalls some very important facts: (a) Remember that the people, protected by God, crossed the Red Sea without fear; (b) Remember that God, calling Moses, declared his name several times, saying, “I am He who is!” (cf. Ex 3:15); (c) Remember also the Book of Isaiah which represents the return from the exile as a new Exodus, where God appears, repeating numerous times, “I am He who is!” (cf. Is 42:8; 43:5,11,13; 44:6,25; 45:5-7). This way of recalling the Old Testament, of using the bible, helped the communities to recognize the presence of God in Jesus and in the facts of life. Do not be afraid!

• Jesus got into the boat and the wind ceased. But the disciples’ fear, instead of disappearing, increases. Mark the Evangelist criticizes them and says, “They had not understood what the miracle of the loaves meant, and their minds were closed” (6:52). The affirmation that their minds were closed reminds us of the heart of Pharaoh which was hardened (Ex 7:3,13,22) and of the people in the desert (Ps 95:8) who did not want to listen to Moses and thought only of returning to Egypt (Num 20:2-10), where there was plenty of bread and meat to satisfy them (Ex 16:3).

4) Personal questions

• Night, stormy sea, contrary wind... Have you ever felt like this? What have you done to overcome it?

• Have you been afraid so many times because you have not known how to recognize Jesus present and acting in your life?

• How does this passage apply to me personally and to the Church today, with all the world problems and challenges?

5) Concluding prayer

He has pity on the weak and the needy,

and saves the needy from death.

From oppression and violence He redeems their lives,

their blood is precious in His sight. (Ps 72:13-14)

Lectio Divina:
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 20:11

Lectio Divina: Mark 6:34-44

Christmas Time

1) Opening prayer

Father, Your Son became like us

when He revealed Himself in our nature;

help us to become more like Him,

who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Mark 6:34-44

When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat." He said to them in reply, "Give them some food yourselves." But they said to him, "Are we to buy two hundred days' wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?" He asked them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they had found out they said, "Five loaves and two fish." So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass. The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. Those who ate of the loaves were five thousand men.

3) Reflection

• It is always good to look at the context in which the text of the Gospel is found because it enlightens us to discover the meaning more fully. A bit before (Mk 6:17-19), Mark narrates the banquet of death, organized by Herod with the great people of Galilee, in the palace of the capital city, during which John the Baptist was killed. In today’s text, he describes the banquet of life promoted by Jesus with the hungry crowds of Galilee there in the desert. The contrast of this context is great and enlightens the text.

• In Mark’s Gospel, the multiplication of the loaves is very important. It is mentioned twice: here and in Mk 8:1-9. And Jesus Himself questions the disciples on the multiplication of the loaves (Mk 8:14-21). This is why it is worthwhile to observe and to reflect, so as to discover what exactly is the importance of the multiplication of the loaves.

• Jesus had invited the disciples to rest a bit in a place in the desert (Mk 6:31). The crowds noticed that Jesus had gone to the other side of the lake, and they followed Him and arrived there before He did (Mk 6:33). When Jesus, getting down from the boat, sees that large crowd waiting for Him, He becomes sad “because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. This phrase recalls the psalm of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23). Faced with these people without a shepherd, Jesus forgets to rest and begins to teach. He begins to be a shepherd. With His words, He guides the crowds in the desert of life; and in this way the crowd could sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd! There is nothing I shall want!” (Ps 23:1).

• Time went by and it began to be late and dark. The disciples were concerned and asked Jesus to send the people away. They affirm that there in the desert it is not possible to find anything to eat for so many people. Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves.” But they were afraid: “Do you want us to go and buy bread for 200 denarii?” (that is, the salary of 200 days!). The disciples seek a solution outside the crowds, for the crowds. Jesus does not seek the solution outside, but rather within the crowd and for the crowd and He asks, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” The answer is, “Five loaves and two fish!” It is very little for so many people! Jesus orders the crowd to sit down in groups and asks the disciples to distribute the bread and the fish. Everybody ate enough to be satisfied!

• It is important to observe how Mark describes this fact: Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, raised His eyes to Heaven, pronounced the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to the disciples to distribute it. This way of speaking makes the communities think about what? No doubt, this made them think about the Eucharist. Because these same words will be used (even now) in the celebration of the Supper of the Lord. Thus Mark suggests that the Eucharist has to lead us to share. It is the Bread of Life which gives us courage and leads us to face the problems of people in a different way, not from outside, but from inside.

• In the way of describing the facts, Mark recalls the bible in order to illuminate the meaning of the facts. To feed the hungry crowds in the desert, Moses was the first one to do it (cf. Ex 16:1-36). And to ask the people to organize themselves and sit down in groups of 50 or 100 reminds us of the census of the people in the desert after they left Egypt (cf. Num 1-4). In this way, Mark suggests that Jesus is the new Messiah. The people of the communities knew the Old Testament, and for one who understands well, a few words suffice. In this way they discovered the mystery which surrounded the person of Jesus.

Thoughts to put into practice

When we think of feeding the world, or of all the need in the world, it can be overwhelming and might either give us a reason to put it off until we have a solution, or throw up our hands in the face of such an enormous task. Mother Teresa (St Teresa of Calcutta) offered advice throughout her life on this. It is necessary to first love those in your family. Love begins at home.

Some families have someone who is suffering or lonely, yet we don't even have time to smile at them. “If you really want to be God's love in the world of today, begin to be God's love in your own home first.” You must be hope of eternal happiness to your husband, your wife, your child, your grandparents, parents, and whoever is connected to you. Even among co-workers in the office or at the job, can they see Jesus in you? So many people go to their office meetings to defend their interests, rather than serve for instance.

She once visited what would be a care home for the elderly. It had everything they needed and was quite beautiful, yet she noticed everybody was sad and looking towards the door. When she asked a sister why, she was told they spend their time expecting, hoping, that a son or daughter will come to visit them. They hurt because they are forgotten.

Another time, a rich man visited from another country and asked her if she wanted him to give up his big house and nice car. She said “no” - but go back and see some of the lonely people where you live. Take them in your nice car and invite them in and entertain them in your big house for a short time. Make your house a center for love! “And when you buy some clothes, buy one for a little less and use the extra money to buy something for someone else.”

These are ways to start.

4) Personal questions

• Jesus forgets to rest in order to serve the people. What example does this set for myself?

• If  we shared what we have today, there would be no hunger in the world. What can I do?

• Am I personally involved in serving and loving others, or is my effort just symbolic gesture from me?

5) Concluding prayer

In His days uprightness shall flourish,

and peace in plenty till the moon is no more.

His empire shall stretch from sea to sea,

from the river to the limits of the earth. (Ps 72:7-8)

Lectio Divina:
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 20:10

Lectio Divina: Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

Christmas Time

1) Opening prayer

Lord, let the light of Your glory shine within us,

and lead us through the darkness of this world

to the radiant joy of our eternal home.

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 4:12-17, 23-25

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.

3) Reflection

• Some brief information on the objective of the Gospel of Matthew: The Gospel of Matthew was written during the second half of the first century in order to encourage the small and fragile community of converted Jews who lived in the region of Galilee and Syria. They suffered persecution and threats on the part of the Jewish brothers because they had accepted Jesus as the Messiah and for having received the pagans. In order to strengthen them in their faith, the Gospel of Matthew insists on saying that Jesus is really the Messiah and that the salvation which Jesus comes to bring is not only for the Jews, but for all of humanity. At the beginning of his Gospel, in the genealogy, Matthew already indicates this universal vocation of Jesus, because being “son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1, 17) He will be a source of blessings for all the nations of the world” (cf. Gen 12:3). In the visit of the Magi, who came from the East, he suggests once again that salvation is addressed to the pagans (Mt 2:1-12). In the text of today’s Gospel, he shows that the light which shines in the “Galilee of the Gentiles” shines also outside the frontiers of Israel, in the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan (Mt 4:12-25). Further on, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will say that the vocation of the Christian community is that of being “salt of the earth and light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14) and He asks people to love their enemies (Mt 5:43-48). Jesus is the servant of God who announces the rights of the nations (Mt 12:18). Helped by the Canaanite woman, Jesus Himself overcomes the barriers of race (Mt 15:21-28). He also overcomes the laws of purity which prevented the Gospel from being opened to the pagans (Mt 15:1-20). And finally, when Jesus sends His disciples to all nations, the universality of salvation is even clearer (Mt 28:19-20). In the same way, the communities are called to open themselves to all, without excluding anyone, because all are called to live as sons and daughters of God.

• Today’s Gospel describes how this universal mission is an initiative. The news of the imprisonment of John the Baptist impels Jesus to begin His preaching. John had said, “Repent, because the Kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mt 3:2). This was the reason why he was imprisoned by Herod. When Jesus knew that John had been imprisoned, He returned to Galilee proclaiming the same message: “Repent, because the Kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mt 4:17). In other words, from the beginning, the preaching of the Gospel involved risks, but Jesus did not allow Himself to be frightened. In this way, Matthew encourages the communities which were running the same risks of persecution. He quotes from Isaiah: “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light!” Like Jesus, the communities are also called to be “the light of nations!”

• Jesus began the announcement of the Good News by going through the whole of Galilee. He does not stop, waiting for the people to arrive, but He goes to the people. He Himself participates in the meetings, and in the synagogues, to announce His message. The people bring the sick and the possessed, and Jesus accepts all and cures them. This service to the sick forms part of the Good News and reveals to the people the presence of the Kingdom.

• Thus, the fame of Jesus is spread throughout all the region, going beyond the frontier of Galilee, penetrates Judah, reaches Jerusalem, goes beyond the Jordan and reaches Syria and the Decapolis. In this region there are also some communities for whom Matthew was writing his Gospel. Now they know that in spite of all the difficulties and the risks, there is already the light which shines in the darkness.

4) Personal questions

• Are you also light for others?

• Today many close themselves up in the Catholic religion. How can we live the universality of salvation?

• “Repent” is a common phrase heard in Christian discussions. What does this really mean? Take some time to examine the meaning of “repent” and its forms, and what it means personally.

5) Concluding prayer

I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh:

He said to me, "You are My son,

today have I fathered you." (Ps 2:7)

Lectio Divina:
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 19:58

Lectio Divina: Epiphany of the Lord

The Magi’s journey of faith

The adoration of the child Jesus as King and Lord

Matthew 2:1-12

1. Opening prayer

Merciful Father, You have called me to meet You in this word of the Gospel, because You wish that I may have life, You wish to give me Yourself. Send, I pray You, Your Holy Spirit upon me so that I may let myself be led along the holy way of this passage of Scripture.

May I, today, get out of my prison to set out on a journey to seek You. May I recognize the star that You have lit as a sign of Your love on my journey to follow it tirelessly, intensely, committing my whole life. May I, finally, enter Your house and there see the Lord; may I bend low humbly before You to adore You and offer my life to You, all that I am and all that I have. Lord, by Your grace, may I return by a new route, without ever passing through the old paths of sin.

2. Reading

a) Placing the passage in its context:

This passage belongs to the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, which constitute a kind of prologue to the whole work. We are presented with the historical origin of the Messiah as son of David, as well as His divine origin as Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Matthew immediately leads us into a very deep and engaging meditation, placing before us a choice about the people he introduces in his story: we either recognize and welcome the Lord who is just born, or we remain indifferent, even to wanting to eliminate Him and kill Him. This passage offers us the beautiful story of the journey of the Magi, who come from afar because they want to seek and welcome, love and adore the Lord Jesus. But their long journey and tireless search, and the conversion of their hearts, are facts that speak of us, facts already written on the scroll of our own sacred story.

b) An aid to the reading of the passage:

The passage may be divided into two main parts, determined by the location where the scenes take place: the first part (2:1-9a) takes place in Jerusalem, and the second part is focused around Bethlehem (2:9b-12).

Mt 2:1-2: The passage begins with the place and time of the birth of Jesus: in Bethlehem of Judea, at the time of King Herod. Within this quite specific description, the Magi suddenly appear, coming from afar, and arriving in Jerusalem under the guidance of a star. It is they who announce the birth of the Lord King. They ask where they might find Him because they wish to adore Him.

Mt 2:3-6: On hearing the words of the Magi, king Herod, and with him all of Jerusalem, is disturbed and afraid. Rather than welcoming the Lord and joining Him, they seek to eliminate Him. Herod calls the authorities of the Jewish people and the experts in scripture. It is they, with the help of ancient prophecies, who reveal Bethlehem as the place to find the Messiah.

Mt 2:7-8: Herod calls the Magi in secret because he wants to use them for his own evil ends. His detailed interest is entirely directed towards the elimination of Christ.

Mt 2:9a: The Magi, urged by strength of faith and led by the star, leave again and go towards Bethlehem.

Mt 2:9b-11: The star reappears, moves with the Magi and leads them to the exact spot where the Lord Jesus is. Full of joy, they enter the house and prostrate themselves. They offer precious gifts because they recognize that He is king and Lord.

Mt 2:12: When they have contemplated and adored the Lord, the Magi receive a revelation from God. It is He who speaks to them. They are new men. They have in them a new heaven and a new earth. They are free of the deceits of Herod and therefore they go back to their lives by an entirely new way

c) The text:

Matteo 2,1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel." Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and do Him homage." After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

3. A moment of prayerful silence

I listen deeply to the silent voice of the Lord and let the breath of the Spirit come to me and infuse me. In this silence I seek the Lord and repeat in my heart: “Where are You, my God?”

4. A few questions

a) I take the first words that come from the mouths of the Magi and make them my own: “Where is the infant king of the Jews?” Do I really feel attracted to the place where the Lord is because I desire to be with Him? Am I ready to leave the dark and old places of my habits and my comfort, to undertake a journey of faith in search of Jesus?

b) “We have come to adore Him”. Here the Word of the Lord tests me and puts me through a crucible: do I really live in a relationship of love with God? Am I able to open my life in His presence and allow Him to enter into my very heartbeats?

c) “From you will come a leader who will shepherd My people”. Am I capable of placing and giving my whole existence to the guidance of the Lord? To trust in Him, in His love, in His real presence, even though He remains invisible?

d) “Going into the house they saw the child”. It is precisely because they accept to go into the house, to enter into communion, to give themselves fully and truly, that their eyes can see, contemplate, and recognize. Am I not aware of the fact that the more I stay outside, the more I am distant from the life of my brothers and sisters and the more I become sad and empty?

5. A key to the reading

I look for some key words, some basic themes, that may guide and help me better penetrate the meaning of this passage of the Gospel, so that my life may be enlightened and changed by this Word of the Lord.

* The journey: This passage seems to be given the theme of a journey, an exodus, a going out. The Magi, these mysterious characters, get moving, go far away from their land and go seeking the king, the Lord. Matthew presents this fact by means of some verbs that proceed along with the development of the event: “came, we have come, sent them, go, set out, went before them, going into, not to go back, returned.” The physical journey of the Magi hides a much more important and meaningful journey: the journey of faith. This is the movement of the soul born from a desire to meet and know the Lord. At the same time it is God’s invitation which calls and attracts us with His own power. It is He who gets us to stand up and sets us in motion and who offers us signs and does not cease to walk with us. Scripture gives us many important examples, and these help us enter into this path of grace and blessings. God said to Abraham: “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Jacob was also a pilgrim of faith and conversion. It is written about him: “Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran” (Gen 28:10), and: “Moving on, Jacob went to the land of the sons of the East” (Gen 29:1). Many years later, the Lord spoke to him and said: “Go back to the land of your forefathers and to your kindred; and I will be with you” (Gen 31:3). Moses was also a man on a journey. God Himself showed him the way, the exodus, in his heart, and made his whole life a long march of salvation for him and for his brothers and sisters. “So come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, My people, out of Egypt!” (Ex 3:10). As the new people of God, we are the children of the promise and of the new covenant and are called to go out, setting out on a journey in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus. The exodus never ceased. The liberation that comes from faith is always active. Let us look at Jesus, at His apostles, at Paul: not one of them stands still, not one of them hides. All these witnesses speak to us today by their deeds and they repeat, “Blessed is he who finds in You his strength and one who decides in his heart to go on the holy journey” (Ps 83:6).

The star: This is a very important and central element in this passage because the star has the role of guiding the Magi to their destination, enlightening their nights along the journey, indicating precisely the place of the presence of the Lord, and giving great joy to their hearts. Throughout the Bible, stars appear as signs of blessing and glory, almost as a personification of God, who does not abandon His people, and at the same time, is a personification of the people that does not forget its God and praises and blesses Him (cf. Ps 148:3; Bar 3:34). The word star appears for the first time in Scripture in Genesis 1:16. On the fourth day the story of creation tells us of the appearance in the heavens of the sun, the moon and stars, as signs and as light, to set order and give light. The Jewish term for “star” kokhab is very beautiful and full of meaning. In fact, the letters that make up the word reveal the immensity of the presence that these celestial elements bring with them. We find two letters kaf, which signify “hand” and which enclose the letter waw which means man. Thus, within the stars there are two hands, kaf and kaf, that lovingly hold within them waw, man. These are the hands of God that never cease to hold us, if only we entrust ourselves to them. Then appears the letter bet, which means house. Thus, the stars speak of our journey towards our house, our constant migration, from whence we have come, from the day of our creation and even from all eternity. Often God compares the descendants of Abraham to the stars in the heavens, almost as if each person is a star, born to give light in the night: “Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can” and then He adds: “Such will be your descendants” (Gen 15:5). Jesus is also a star, the star that takes its rise from Jacob (Num 24:17), which rises from on high and is the radiant morning star as the Apocalypse says (22:16). By taking on flesh the infinite love of God, which bends itself down towards us, His children, opens the palms of His hands to gather and welcome us. Only such love can give our infinite weakness the capacity and courage, the perseverance and joy of accepting to leave and to go on the long and arduous journey of faith which takes us to Bethlehem, to the place where God appears to us.

* The adoration: The act of adoration is as old as humankind itself, because since the beginning, the relationship with the divine has been accompanied by this demand of love, humility, and self-offering. Before the greatness of God, we little people feel and discover that we are nothing, a speck of dust, a drop from a bucket. In the Old Testament, the act of adoration appears as an act of deep love towards the Lord, an act that demands the involvement of the whole person. It involves the mind, the will to choose, love full of desire and a body that bows and prostrates itself even to the ground. It is said in several places that the act of adoration is accompanied by a prostration with the face touching the ground. The face of man, his gaze, his breath returns to the dust whence he has his origin and there he recognizes himself as creature of God, as a breath of God’s nostrils. “Come in, let us bow, prostrate ourselves, and kneel in front of Yahweh our maker” (Ps 94:6). This is the invitation of Scripture to us every day which shows us the way to walk so that we may again and again come to the truth and therefore live fully.

The New Testament goes even deeper in its spiritual reflection on this fact and seems to want to accompany us on a pedagogical journey of conversion and maturity in our interior life. In the Gospels we see the disciples, men and women, adoring the Lord Jesus after His resurrection (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:52) because they recognize Him as God. Jesus’ words in His dialogue with the Samaritan woman give us a deep insight into the truth of this act, which after all, involves the whole of life and is an attitude of the heart. Adoration is for God the Father and does not happen here or there but in Spirit and in truth, which is in the Spirit and the Son, Jesus. We must not deceive ourselves. It is not by moving from one place to another, nor by seeking this or that spiritual person, that we can adore our God. The movement, the journey, is an interior one and takes place in our deepest being and is a complete surrender of ourselves, our life, and our whole being, to the wings of the Holy Spirit and into the arms of Jesus which are wide open on the cross and ever ready to attract all things to Himself. St. Peter says clearly: “Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts” (1 Pet 3:15). The act of bowing to the ground, of prostrating ourselves before the Lord comes from the heart. If we let ourselves be touched and reach into our hearts, if we allow the Lord to enter our hearts, that sacred space, then He will change us completely, transforming the whole of our person to make of us new men and women.

6. A moment of prayer: Psalm 84

A hymn concerning the trust of man

on his journey to the house of God

Res. I have seen Your star, Lord,

and I have come to adore You!

How lovely are Your dwelling-places, YHWH Sabaoth.

My whole being yearns and pines for Yahweh's courts,

My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a nest to place its young: Your altars,  YHWH Sabaoth, my King and my God.

How blessed are those who live in Your house;

they shall praise You continually.

Blessed those who find their strength in You,

whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

As they pass through the Valley of the Balsam,

they make there a water-hole,

and -- a further blessing -- early rain fills it.

They make their way from height to height,

God shows himself to them in Zion.

YHWH Sabaoth, hear my prayer,

listen, God of Jacob.

God, our shield, look,

and see the face of Your anointed.

Better one day in Your courts than a thousand at my own devices,

to stand on the threshold of God's house

than to live in the tents of the wicked.

For Yahweh God is a rampart and shield,

He gives grace and glory;

Yahweh refuses nothing good to those whose life is blameless.

YHWH Sabaoth,

blessed is he who trusts in You.

7. Closing prayer

Lord, my Father, I have really seen Your star. I have opened my eyes to Your presence of love and salvation and I have received the light of life. I have contemplated the night changed into light, pain into joy and solitude into communion; yes, all this happened before You, in Your Word. You have led me through the desert; You have led me to Your house and opened the door for me to enter. There I saw You, Your Son Jesus, savior of my life; there I prayed and adored, I cried and found Your smile, I kept silence and learned to speak. In Your house, merciful Father, I have found life once more!

And now I am going back. I have resumed my journey, but the way is not the one I took before and my life is not what it was before. Your Word has left me with a new heart, capable of opening itself to love, to listen, to welcome and become home to so many brothers and sisters whom You have placed in my way. I was not aware, Lord, but You have made me into a child again. You have given birth to me with Jesus. Thank You, Father, my Father!

Lectio Divina:
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