Bible Diary for March 24th – 30thBible Diary
3rd Sunday of Lent
Blessed Oscar Romero
1st Reading: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15:
Moses pastured the sheep of Jethro, his father-in-law, priest of Midian. One day he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the Mountain of God. The angel of Yahweh appeared to him by means of a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that although the bush was on fire it did not burn up. Moses thought, “I will go and see this amazing sight, why is the bush not burning up?” Yahweh saw that Moses was drawing near to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He replied, “Here I am.” Yahweh said to him, “Do not come near; take off your sandals because the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
And God continued, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face lest his eyes look on God. Yahweh said, “I have seen the humiliation of my people in Egypt and I hear their cry when they are cruelly treated by their taskmasters. I know their suffering. I have come down to free them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a beautiful spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the territory of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.
Moses answered God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ they will ask me: ‘What is his name?’ What shall I answer them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO AM. This is what you will say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM sent me to you.” God then said to Moses, “You will say to the Israelites: ‘YAHWEH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me.’ That will be my name forever, and by this name they shall call upon me for all generations to come.
2nd Reading: 1 Cor 10: 1-6, 10-12:
Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, about our ancestors. All of them were under the cloud and all crossed the sea. All underwent the baptism of the land and of the sea to join Moses; and all of them ate from the same spiritual manna; and all of them drank from the same spiritual drink. For you know, that they drank from a spiritual rock following them, and the rock was Christ.
However, most of them did not please God, and the desert was strewn with their bodies. All of this happened as an example for us, so that we might not become people of evil desires, as they did. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were cut down by the destroying angel. These things happened to them, as an example, and they were written as a warning, for us, as the last times come upon us. Therefore, if you think you stand, beware, lest you fall.
Gospel: Lk 13:1-9:
One day, some people told Jesus what had occurred in the temple: Pilate had had Galileans killed, and their blood mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this? No, I tell you. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish, as they did. And those eighteen persons in Siloah, who were crushed when the tower fell, do you think they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem? I tell you: no. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish, as they did.”
And Jesus continued, “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the gardener, ‘Look here, for three years now I have been looking for figs on this tree, and I have found none. Cut it down, why should it continue to deplete the soil?’ The gardener replied, ‘Leave it one more year, so that I may dig around it and add some fertilizer; perhaps it will bear fruit from now on. But if it doesn’t, you can cut it down.’”
When a disaster strikes—a typhoon, an earthquake—there is a temptation to ask, “What did they do to deserve this?” Was it their immorality? Their lack of faith? When disaster strikes close to home, we ask, “How could God allow this?” Someone— God or the victims must somehow be to “blame.” But God—whose name is “I AM”—hears the cries of the victims. And God is present in those who respond with compassion and deliverance. Lord, let me listen with your ears to the cries of the oppressed.
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
1st Reading: Is 7:10-14; 8:10:
The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!”
2nd Reading: Heb 10: 4-10:
Brothers and sisters:
It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”
First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Gospel: Lk 1:26-38:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God, to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a son; and you shall call him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the kingdom of David, his ancestor; he will rule over the people of Jacob forever; and his reign shall have no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the holy child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative, Elizabeth, is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.” Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
In this gospel text Mary passes through a range of feelings: She was “troubled” by the angel’s strange greeting; she was afraid; she was incredulous (“How can this be…?”); and finally she responded with faithful submission: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” None of us faces exactly the same leap of faith that was required of Mary. But all of us as Christians are called to accept God’s promises on the basis of faith—without proof or guarantee. Faith, in contrast, is not “natural.” It was in the space created by Mary’s faith—and not simply in her womb—that the Word became flesh.
For this reason she has been called not only the Mother of Jesus but Mother of Church. In subsequent centuries, Mary’s status and her distinctive nature would be the subject of dogmatic pronouncements and learned tomes. But in the end her preeminence is due to her having exemplified the spirit of true discipleship: attention, reverence, and obedience to the word and will of God. She was in effect the first and paradigmatic disciple. She is thus the first to be honored among the saints.
1st Reading: Dn 3:25, 34-43:
Azariah stood up in the fire and prayed aloud:
“For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, to whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea. For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; as though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”
Gospel: Mt 18:21-35:
Then Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times must I forgive the offenses of my brother or sister? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. This story throws light on the kingdom of Heaven: A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. (…) The servant threw himself at the feet of the king and said, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you back everything.’ The king took pity on him, and not only set him free, but even canceled his debt. When this servant left the king’s presence, he met one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pieces of silver.
He grabbed him by the throat and almost choked him, shouting, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ (…) Now the servants of the king saw what had happened. They were extremely upset, and so they went and reported everything to their lord. (…) He handed the wicked servant over to be punished, until he had paid the whole debt.” Jesus added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you, unless you sincerely forgive your brothers and sisters.”
There is a kind of cheap forgiveness that falls in the category of “please and thank you”—an exchange of courtesies: “I’m sorry”; “I forgive you.” It is easy to forgive someone who is late for dinner, or who inadvertently steps on your toes. But Jesus describes a kind of forgiveness without limit—seventy times the maximum that Peter could envision. And the real test of this forgiveness is that it applies to real injury. Think of what happened following the massacre of nine African Americans, who were shot while they were praying in a church in South Carolina.
Soon after the arrest of the shooter—a young white racist—he was confronted by family members of the victims who expressed their forgiveness. They did not do this because the killer was “worthy” of their forgiveness, but to honor the faith of their loved ones, and to express their own faith in Christ, who uttered from the Cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” As Jesus would say, “This story throws light on the Kingdom of Heaven.”
1st Reading: Dt 4:1, 5-9:
Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy. Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”
Gospel: Mt 5:17-19
Do not think that I have come to annul the law and the prophets. I have not come to annul them, but to fulfill them. I tell you this: as long as heaven and earth last, not the smallest letter or dot in the law will change, until all is fulfilled. So then, whoever breaks the least important of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be the least in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, whoever obeys them, and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the kingdom of heaven.
One can quote scripture to support many positions. In one passage Jesus is attacked for violating the Sabbath or consorting with unclean people or seeming to set his own authority above the Law. And here he is seeming to abhor any violation of even “the least important” of the commandments. He has not come to “annul” the commandments but to “fulfill them.” Not even “the smallest letter or dot in the law will change,” until all is fulfilled. And yet Jesus constantly seems to set the spirit of the law—exemplified in love of God and love of one’s neighbor—against the letter.
Certainly St. Paul and the early church came to believe that faith set one free from any captivity to the law. It is important to note that Jesus speaks of “the law and the prophets.” When the law is interpreted from the perspective of the prophets, it becomes clear that the highest form of righteousness is the practice of mercy, justice, service to the poor and the stranger, a contrite heart, and humility before the Lord. With the law interpreted in this context, it becomes clear what Jesus means when he says, “I have not come to annul them but to fulfill them.”
1st Reading: Jer 7:23-28:
Thus says the Lord:
This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.
But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed. They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me. From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day, I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets. Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed; they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers. When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you. Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord, its God, or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.
Gospel: Lk 11:14-23:
One day, Jesus was driving out a demon, which was mute. When the demon had been driven out, the mute person could speak, and the people were amazed. Yet some of them said, “He drives out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the chief of the demons.” Others wanted to put him to the test, by asking him for a heavenly sign. But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them, “Every nation divided by civil war is on the road to ruin, and will fall. If Satan also is divided, his empire is coming to an end. How can you say that I drive out demons by calling upon Beelzebub?
If I drive them out by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons drive out demons? They will be your judges, then. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God; would not this mean that the kingdom of God has come upon you? As long as a man, strong and well-armed, guards his house, his goods are safe. But when a stronger man attacks and overcomes him, the challenger takes away all the weapons he relied on, and disposes of his spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters.
Jesus, presumably, had the power to perform any number of wonders: to make the sky turn dark, or make the earth tremble. And yet by and large he used his power to heal sick and afflicted people—not even important people, but just any miserable and outcast person he met along the way. This raised the question: “By what power does he do these things?” Jesus knew what they were thinking: that he must be relying on demonic powers! How could he rely on the power of demons to drive out demons? A tree may be judged by its fruits.
What produces life, wholeness, and holiness, comes from God. What produces division, discord, and hatred, comes from demons. What confuses us is that demonic forces often operate under the banner of God. People can wage war, amass unjust fortunes, dismiss the poor, or discriminate against their neighbors while loudly proclaiming God’s name. That is why it is so important to pay attention to the fruits. Do their deeds protect life, honor human dignity, and promote peace and reconciliation? On that basis it is easy to discern the difference between God and demons.
1st Reading: Hos 14:2-10:
Thus says the Lord:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the Lord; say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls. Assyria will not save us, nor shall we have horses to mount; we shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.”
I will heal their defection, says the Lord, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; he shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; they shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols? I have humbled him, but I will prosper him. “I am like a verdant cypress tree”– because of me you bear fruit! Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.
Gospel: Mk 12:28-34:
A teacher of the law had been listening to this discussion and admired how Jesus answered them. So he came up and asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is: Hear, Israel! The Lord, our God, is One Lord; and you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And after this comes a second commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these two.”
The teacher of the law said to him, “Well spoken, Master; you are right when you say that he is one, and there is no other besides him. To love him with all our heart, with all our understanding and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves is more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice.” Jesus approved this answer and said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The Gospels do not always feature teachers of the law in a positive light. But here is one who approaches Jesus with a sincere desire to learn his message. When he asks Jesus to say which commandment is first of all, he applauds Jesus’ answer: that the first commandment is to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength—and that this is joined by a second and equivalent commandment, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. This is a reminder that the message of Jesus was in fact the highest expression of Jewish teaching.
And yet, how often in Christian history have we strayed from the simple religious message of Jesus, instead battling with one another over matters of doctrine, creedal definitions, or the correct way of worshiping? Jesus was asked: What is the most important commandment of all? And he offered a plain answer: It is that we truly love God and we truly love our neighbor. If we get that much right, regardless of our other failings, we are not far from the kingdom of God.
1st Reading: Hos 6:1-6:
“Come, let us return to the Lord, it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence. Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day! He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.”
What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away. For this reason I smote them through the prophets, I slew them by the words of my mouth; for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Gospel: Lk 18:9-14:
Jesus told another parable to some people, fully convinced of their own righteousness, who looked down on others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself, and said, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and give a tenth of all my income to the temple.’
In the meantime the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, when this man went back to his house, he had been reconciled with God, but not the other. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised up.”
Jesus describes two men. One is apparently righteous; he is honest, obeys the law, and tithes his income. But his heart is a desert of pride. “Thank God I am not like other people… or even like this tax collector,” he says. Lacking any self-awareness or consciousness of his own sin, he truly worships his own image—a form of idolatry as real as if he worshiped a golden calf. Meanwhile, the tax collector, whom he disdains, offers a genuinely heartfelt prayer: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Christians like to mock the Pharisees.
But the figure in Jesus’ parables is all too familiar. How often do we congratulate ourselves on our virtue, our piety, our respectability, disdaining others without any conception of what is in their hearts, or consciousness of our reliance on God’s mercy. In contrast, Pope Francis, when asked to describe himself, replied, “I am a sinner. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. . . I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” It is good to obey the law, to tithe, to fast, and pray. But the only honest self-description for any Christian is simply, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”