Bible Diary for March 10th – 16thBible Diary
1st Sunday of Lent
1st Reading: Dt 26:4-10:
Then the priest shall take the large basket from your hands and place it before the altar of Yahweh, your God, and you shall say these words before Yahweh, “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt to find refuge there, while still few in number; but in that country, he became a great and powerful nation. The Egyptians maltreated us, oppressed us and subjected us to harsh slavery. So we called to Yahweh, the God of our ancestors, and Yahweh listened to us. He saw our humiliation, our hard labor and the oppression to which we were subjected. He brought us out of Egypt with a firm hand, manifesting his power with signs and awesome wonders. And he brought us here to give us this land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring and offer the first fruits of the land which you, Yahweh, have given me.”
2nd Reading: Rom 10: 8-13:
True righteousness, coming from faith, also says: The word of God is near you, on your lips and in your hearts. This is the message that we preach, and this is faith. You are saved, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and, in your heart, you believe that God raised him from the dead. By believing from the heart, you obtain true righteousness; by confessing the faith with your lips, you are saved. For Scripture says: No one who believes in him will be ashamed. Here, there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; all have the same Lord, who is very generous with whoever calls on him. Truly, all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved
Gospel: Lk 4:1-13:
Jesus was now full of the Holy Spirit. As he returned from the Jordan, the Spirit led him into the desert, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. He did not eat anything during that time, and at the end he was hungry. The devil then said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into bread.” But Jesus answered, “Scripture says: People cannot live on bread alone.” Then the devil took him up to a high place, and showed him, in a flash, all the nations of the world. And he said to Jesus, “I can give you power over all the nations; and their wealth will be yours; for power and wealth have been delivered to me; and I give them to whom I wish. All this will be yours, provided you worship me.”
But Jesus replied, “Scripture says: You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” Then the devil took him up to Jerusalem, and set him on the highest wall of the temple; and he said, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it is written: God will order his angels to take care of you; and again: They will hold you in their hands, lest you hurt your foot on the stones.” But Jesus replied, “It is written: You shall not challenge the Lord your God.” When the devil had exhausted every way of tempting Jesus, he left him, to return another time.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus had to face the deepest temptations. Would he seek his own comfort and needs? Would he use his gifts to pursue power and influence or to amaze people with his spectacular abilities? At root, these temptations were all about seeking his own glory rather than God’s. They deflected him from his true mission. In this spirit he rebuked Peter as “Satan,” when his disciple tried to steer him from the way of the Cross. What is our own mission? What are the temptations that seek to deflect us from that path? Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
1st Reading: Lev 19:1-2, 11-18:
The Lord said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole assembly of the children of Israel and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord.
“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the Lord. You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your fellow men justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the Lord.
“You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Gospel: Mt 25:31-46:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be brought before him; and, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, so will he do with them, placing the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. The king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.
I was a stranger, and you welcomed me into your home. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to see me.’ Then the righteous will ask him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and give you food; thirsty, and give you something to drink; or a stranger, and welcome you; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and go to see you?’ The king will answer, ‘Truly I say to you: just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ (…)
On many occasions Jesus draws an equivalence between love for God and love for our neighbors. But this marks his clearest indication that our very salvation depends on how we have treated others—especially those in need. Jesus comes to us in disguise, hidden in our neighbor’s need. This passage is the foundation for the Works of Mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and so forth. There are also “spiritual works of mercy”: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, praying for the living and dead, etc.
Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement in New York, based her whole life on the meaning of this passage: “The mystery of the poor is this,” she said: “that they are Jesus, and what we do for them we do for him.” But there is another side to this story. We are judged not only by what we did, but what we failed to do: neglecting the prisoner; disdaining the stranger; ignoring the hungry. What are the implications for a global economy that systematically ignores these needs? It causes one to tremble.
1st Reading: Is 55:10-11:
Thus says the Lord:
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
Gospel: Mt 6:7-15:
When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do; for they believe that, the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, holy be your name, your kingdom, come, your will, be done on earth, as in heaven. Give us today, our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are in debt to us. Do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their wrongdoings, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you.
This precious prayer is part of the Eucharistic liturgy. In repeating these words we are not only following Jesus’ instructions; we are repeating the very words he spoke to his disciples. Just as he is truly present to us in the Eucharist, so he is present to us, praying through the Spirit, when we repeat his words. Of course there is a difference between truly praying, and merely repeating “a lot of words, as the pagans do.” Yes, it is wonderful to invoke God’s holy name, to pray in confidence for our daily needs, and to pray for deliverance from temptation.
But the greater part of the Gospel text is actually about what we must do: Forgive others. This is crucially tied to the forgiveness we seek. If we forgive others, God will also forgive us; if we do not forgive others, neither will we be forgiven. When we forgive others, Jesus is truly present. When we work for a world where everyone is assured of both bread and mercy, then God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. With this prayer that revolution of the heart begins.
1st Reading: Jon 3:1-10:
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding. Now Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: “Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand. Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish.” When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
Gospel: Lk 11:29-32:
As the crowd increased, Jesus spoke the following words: “People of the present time are troubled people. They ask for a sign, but no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah became a sign for the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be a sign for this generation. The Queen of the South will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and here, there is greater than Solomon. The people of Nineveh will rise up on Judgment Day with the people of these times and accuse them, for Jonah’s preaching made them turn from their sins, and here, there is greater than Jonah.
The prophet Jonah delivered just about the lamest and most insincere prophetic utterance in scripture: “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.” This is a message he did not want to deliver precisely because he feared the people would repent, God would forgive them, and they would be spared the destruction Jonah thought they deserved. And that is exactly what happened. The people from king to servant all repented and put on sackcloth, and Jonah was furious. He is the epitome of an “angry prophet”—angry in this case at the mercy of God.
Yet that is not what Jonah is remembered for. Instead, we recall that he was swallowed by a whale who carried him for three days toward the destination he had tried to avoid. And that, curiously, is the sign that Jesus offers to his generation: the sign of Jonah. It is doubtful that the crowd gathered around Jesus could make much of this cryptic prophecy—presumably a reference to the three days he would spend in the realm of death prior to his resurrection. But the prophet’s message— Repent, or face catastrophe— applies as much today as it did in Jesus’ time. Do we listen to the Jonahs in our midst?
1st Reading: Est C: 12, 14-16, 23-25:
Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the Lord. She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O Lord, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God.
And now, come to help me, an orphan. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and those who are in league with him may perish. Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”
Gospel: Mt 7:7-12:
Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Would any of you give a stone to your son, when he asks for bread? Or give him a snake, when he asks for a fish? However bad you may be, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So, do to others whatever you would that others do to you: there, you have the law and the prophets.
According to Jesus, the essence of true religion— “the law and the prophets” as he would say—is to “do to others whatever you would that others do you.” This has come down to us as “the Golden Rule.” We could memorize the catechism and the Code of Canon Law and it would profit us nothing if we violated this simple “Rule.” And yet how often we fail this test? It is difficult enough to follow this practice with those close to us—our neighbors, family members, coworkers. But what of those we consider the intrinsic “Other”: those of other races, other nations, other religions?
Oh, but “they” are different, they don’t like us, they wish us harm. Perhaps that is even true. But what if we truly believed that Jesus came precisely to break this cycle of distrust, recrimination, and enmity? What if the distinguishing characteristic of a follower of Jesus was a capacity to see beyond external differences and truly treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves? We don’t give a snake to our child who asks for bread. Many children are asking for bread. What should we give them?
1st Reading: Ezk 18:21-28:
Thus says the Lord God:
If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced. Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?
And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die. You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Gospel: Mt 5:20-26:
I tell you, if your sense of right and wrong is not keener than that of the Lawyers and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard, that it was said to our people in the past: Do not commit murder; anyone who murders will have to face trial. But now, I tell you: whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial. Whoever insults a brother or sister is liable, to be brought before the council. Whoever calls a brother or sister “Fool!” is liable, of being thrown into the fire of hell.
So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there, in front of the altar; go at once, and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God. Don’t forget this: be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There, you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.
Every society relies on laws to provide a minimal standard of order. Most people do not need a law to tell them not to commit murder. By the same token, someone who is willing to murder another person is rarely restrained just by fear of breaking the law. The church has its own code of laws. But the essential teaching of the gospel is not written in any code or set of laws. If it is not inscribed in our hearts, then it makes no difference what the law says. Be merciful.
Forgive one another. Love your enemies. The roots of violence and injustice are deeper than any law. They begin in our hearts, in our capacity for anger, hatred, and contempt toward others. It may begin with something as small as calling a brother or sister “Fool!” By the same token the seeds of the kingdom are also in our hearts: when we forgive our brothers and sisters and those who frustrate us or do us harm. So serious is the call to be reconciled that it is a higher priority to make peace with our brother or sister than to go to Mass.
1st Reading: Dt 26:16-19:
Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“This day the Lord, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you are making this agreement with the Lord: He is to be your God and you are to walk in His ways and observe His statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to His voice. And today the Lord is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as He promised you; and provided you keep all His commandments, He will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations He has made, and you will be a people sacred to the Lord, your God, as He promised.”
Gospel: Mt 5:43-48:
You have heard, that it was said: Love your neighbor and do not do good to your enemy. But this I tell you: love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. For he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good; and he gives rain to both the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what is special about that? Do not even tax collectors do as much? And if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that? Do not even the pagans do as much? As for you, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
There is surely no more difficult commandment in scripture than Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you.” It is the most human instinct in the world to wish harm to those who wish us harm. By the same token, it is natural to love those who love us in return. Jesus is setting a supernatural challenge. And yet that is precisely the distinguishing characteristic of a Christian. And if this were widely practiced by Christians it would represent an extraordinary revolution in values.
Of course love in action is not a matter of sentimental feelings. It may mean standing up to injustice, and resisting the perpetrators of violence and corruption. Jesus does not deny the existence of enemies. And so we must understand that he is proposing a way of confronting or even resisting our enemies that does not dehumanize them or despair of their conversion. After all, God makes the sun rise on both the wicked and the good.