Bible Diary for March 17th – 23rdBible Diary
2nd Sunday of Lent
Joseph of Arimathea
1st Reading: Gen 15:5-12, 17-18:
Then Yahweh brought him outside and said to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that.” Abram believed Yahweh who, because of this, held him to be an up – right man. And he said, “I am Yahweh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” Then Abram asked, “My Lord, how am I to know that it shall be mine?” Yahweh replied, “Bring me a three year- old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle dove and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought all these animals, cut them in two, and laid each half facing its other half, but he did not cut the birds in half. The birds of prey came down upon them, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep came over Abram, and a dreadful darkness took hold of him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the halves of the victims. On that day Yahweh made a Covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this country from the river of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.
2nd Reading: Phil 3:17—4:1:
Unite in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and look at those who walk in our way of life. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. I have said it to you many times, and now I repeat it with tears: they are heading for ruin; their belly is their god, and they feel proud of what should be their shame. They only think of earthly things. (…)
Gospel: Lk 9:28b-36:
About eight days after Jesus had said all this, he took Peter, John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the aspect of his face was changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. Two men were talking with Jesus: Moses and Elijah. Appearing in the glory of heaven, Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his departure from this life, which was to take place in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had fallen asleep; but they awoke suddenly, and they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As Moses and Elijah were about to leave, Peter—not knowing what to say— said to Jesus, “Master, how good it is for us to be here! Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And no sooner had he spoken, than a cloud appeared and covered them; and the disciples were afraid as they entered the cloud. Then these words came from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to him.” And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was there alone. The disciples kept this to themselves at the time, telling no one of anything they had seen.
In the lives of most Christians there are moments when we experienced deep clarity and insight—in reading a meaningful text, in a profound conversation, in an experience of forgiveness or reconciliation. We may have wished to stay in that moment forever. But the moment passes and we return to ordinary life. How do we honor such moments, which disclose a deeper dimension of reality? How do we remain faithful to the truths they revealed? Dear Lord, lead us in faith to our true homeland, and give us signs, even on this journey, of the promised land that lies ahead.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
1st Reading: Dn 9:4b-10:
“Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you and observe your commandments! We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land. Justice, O Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day: we, the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel, near and far, in all the countries to which you have scattered them because of their treachery toward you.
O Lord, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers, for having sinned against you. But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness! Yet we rebelled against you and paid no heed to your command, O Lord, our God, to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.”
Gospel: Lk 6:36-38:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Don’t be a judge of others and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you, and you will receive in your sack good measure, pressed down, full and running over. For the measure you give will be the measure you receive back.
We are all familiar with the economy of the marketplace: goods and services have their price, determined by the law of “supply and demand.” But Jesus describes a different kind of economy, a marketplace of spiritual goods, which follows its own rules. If you want to receive mercy, then practice mercy. If you wish to be forgiven, practice forgiveness. The measure you give will be the measure you receive. Of course we know that this doesn’t always work out so neatly in practice. An act of trust may be repaid with betrayal.
I may forgive someone, only to be cheated or robbed. I may refrain from judging another, only to be judged harshly or unfairly in return. The economy that Jesus describes presumes that we occupy a wider spiritual realm. Jesus taught that his followers would be persecuted for his sake— regardless of whether they were merciful or forgiving of others. The rewards for mercy and forgiveness may not be visible immediately or in this life. But we can make a start now, in this life, to live by God’s values, already living in hope of the Kingdom we wish to enter.
Solemnity of St. Joseph
1st Reading: 2 S 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16:
The Lord spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.’”
2nd Reading: Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22:
Brothers and sisters:
It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith. For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us, as it is written, I have made you father of many nations.
He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into being what does not exist. He believed, hoping against hope, that he would become the father of many nations, according to what was said, thus shall your descendants be. That is why it was credited to him as righteousness.
Gospel: Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a:
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and from her came Jesus who is called the Christ —the Messiah. This is how Jesus Christ was born: Mary his mother had been given to Joseph in marriage, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, her husband, made plans to divorce her in all secrecy. He was an upright man, and in no way did he want to disgrace her.
While he was pondering over this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has conceived by the Holy Spirit, and now she will bear a son. You shall call him ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do, and he took his wife to his home.
In both the Gospel nativity narratives, Joseph and Mary were betrothed when Mary was discovered to be pregnant. Luke recounts Mary’s side of the story, while Matthew focuses on Joseph. In his story, the discovery of Mary’s pregnancy precedes any divine reassurance, thus presenting Joseph with a terrible dilemma.
According to the law, Mary should be stoned to death. But Joseph, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” (a delicate reference to the alternative), resolves to divorce her quietly. Fortunately, an angel appears in Joseph’s sleep to explain the source of Mary’s condition, and he is apparently satisfied. We have become accustomed to the happy, and seemingly inevitable, outcome of this story.
In that light, it is good to stop and consider Joseph’s extraordinary leap of faith, which silently echoes Mary’s prayer, “Let it be done to me according God’s will.” Note well: Joseph was reassured in a dream. On that basis he decides to spare his betrothed and her unborn child the penalty of the law. Thus, Jesus’ very birth is a triumph of faith over the cruel letter of the law. A silent figure throughout the Gospel, Joseph utters no words to correspond to Mary’s heartfelt prayer. His actions, however, reflect the same faithful consent to a plan beyond his understanding.
1st Reading: Jer 18:18-20:
The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said,
“Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah. It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests,
nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets. And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word.”
Heed me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.
Gospel: Mt 20: 17-28:
When Jesus was going to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem. There, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law; and they will condemn him to death. They will hand him over to the foreigners, who will mock him, scourge him and crucify him. But he will be raised to life on the third day.” Then the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down, to ask a favor. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?” And she answered, “Here, you have my two sons. Grant, that they may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink my cup; but to sit at my right or at my left is not for me to grant. That will be for those, for whom my Father has prepared it.” The other ten heard all this, and were angry with the two brothers. (…) And if you want to be the first of all, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many.”
The gospel writer is hardly subtle in depicting the wide gulf between Jesus’ teaching and his disciples’ capacity to comprehend. Here he delivers a chilling forecast of the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem: betrayal, arrest, torture, and death. At least Peter’s previous reply, “Lord, this shall never happen!” is appropriate to the subject matter. But it is hard to surpass the obtuse request of the mother of James and John, that her sons may be afforded places of honor when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Even the two disciples seem to have focused purely on glory.
They are confident that they have joined a “winning team.” But are they truly prepared to drink from the cup from which he will drink—the cup that even Jesus prays might pass him by? In the cup that Jesus will drink, there is no separating the glory from its bitter price. And Jesus’ kingdom is not a reflection of worldly hierarchies where greatness is a matter of lording it over and oppressing others. It is a way of humility, an emptying of power. To be first in this kingdom is to be the servant of all. But words fail. Jesus will have to show them what this means.
1st Reading: Jer 17:5-10:
Thus says the Lord:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit. More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds.
Gospel: Lk 16:19-31:
Once there was a rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted every day. At his gate lay Lazarus, a poor man covered with sores, who longed to eat just the scraps falling from the rich man’s table. Even dogs used to come and lick his sores. It happened that the poor man died, and angels carried him to take his place with Abraham. The rich man also died, and was buried. From the netherworld where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham afar off, and with him Lazarus at rest. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me, and send Lazarus, with the tip of his finger dipped in water, to cool my tongue, for I suffer so much in this fire!’
Abraham replied, ‘My son, remember that in your lifetime you were well-off, while the lot of Lazarus was misfortune. Now he is in comfort, and you are in agony. (…) The rich man implored once more, ‘Then I beg you, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house, where my five brothers live. Let him warn them, so that they may not end up in this place of torment.’ (…) Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Now the rich man suffers continuous torment. He ignored Lazarus, who in life merely wished for table scraps from his table. Now they are separated by a chasm that cannot be bridged—a chasm that reproduces the breach which in life prevented the rich man from even acknowledging the existence of Lazarus. For those who live in the affluent world, indifferent to the misery of the majority who struggle to survive, the message of this parable could not be more challenging.
Pope Francis has spoken of the effects of affluence and consumerism that foster a “culture of indifference” that makes it impossible even to see our brothers and sisters. “Who weeps for these?” he says, referring to families who drown in the sea while seeking to escape from lives of misery. The deaths of countless poor people is simply a statistic, an anecdote that doesn’t disturb our sleep, or suppress our appetites. What if one of them could come back from death to warn us of the fate that awaits us? Yet we already have Moses and the Prophets. For that matter, we have Jesus, who died and returned from the dead. What more do we need?
1st Reading: Gen 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a:
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic. When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.
One day, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem, Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem. Get ready; I will send you to them.”
So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan. They noticed him from a distance, and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him. They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here; we could say that a wild beast devoured him. We shall then see what comes of his dreams.” When Reuben heard this,he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life. Instead of shedding blood,” he continued, “just throw him into that cistern there in the desert; but do not kill him outright.” His purpose was to rescue him from their hands and return him to his father. So when Joseph came up to them, they stripped him of the long tunic he had on; then they took him and threw him into the cistern, which was empty and dry.
They then sat down to their meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers: ”What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.
Gospel: Mt 21:33-43, 45-46:
Listen to another example: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, built a watchtower, leased the vineyard to tenants, and then, went to a distant country. When harvest time came, the landowner sent his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the harvest. But the tenants seized his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, the owner sent more servants; but they were treated in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they thought, ‘This is the one who is to inherit the vineyard. Let us kill him, and his inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (…) When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard these parables, they realized that Jesus was referring to them. They would have arrested him, but they were afraid of the crowd, who regarded him as a prophet.
The crowd “regarded him as a prophet.” What protected Jesus, on this occasion, was also what threatened him. A prophet, after all, is one who speaks truth to power—a dangerous profession. The powerful elite liked to invoke God’s promises as an unconditional guarantee of their wealth and happiness. They measured their faithfulness by the volume of their prayers and the value of their burnt offerings. But for the prophets, the crucial measure was the degree of mercy toward the weak and justice for the poor and oppressed. Many of the prophets suffered persecution or even death.
The chief priests and Pharisees “realized Jesus was referring to them.” In telling this parable, Jesus had held up a mirror. Those captured in it saw their own reflection, and responded in character: “They would have him arrested.” Lest we be quick to judge the hapless Pharisees: Let us ask ourselves if we have served our Master any better than the wicked tenants. Prophets continue to arise in our midst. If we fail to heed their word, the kingdom of heaven will be taken from us “and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
1st Reading: Mi 7:14-15, 18-20:
Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old; as in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs.
Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins; you will show faithfulness to Jacob, and grace to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old.
Gospel: Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Meanwhile tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what he had to say. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law frowned at this, muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: Jesus continued, “There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the estate.’ So the father divided his property between them. Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in loose living. Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land. (…)
Finally coming to his senses, (…) he set off for his father’s house. He was still a long way off, when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ (…) The elder son became angry, and refused to go in. (…) The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.’”
In reading this beloved parable, we typically focus on the remorse of the prodigal son, and the gratuitous mercy of his father. But another aspect of the story comes into focus when we consider the context. Jesus tells this story in reply to the “muttering” of the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were scandalized by Jesus’ welcome to sinners. Their counterpart in the story is the “elder son,” who looks on resentfully at the abundance of the Father’s love. In this context the story of God’s mercy has a more polemical edge.
It’s message is not so much directed at sinners, assuring them of God’s love and forgiveness—but against the righteous, religious people who would draw a circle around God’s love, one that includes them but excludes everyone else. Jesus does not exclude them—“you are always with me and everything I have is yours”—but how can he fail to rejoice that one who was dead has come back to life? There are many things to feel indignant about. But the mercy of God is not one of them. Indignant as we are, that mercy extends to us, as well.