Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

by Duccio di Buoninsegna,
Reading I: Hosea 14:2-10
Commentary on Hos 14:2-10
This prophetic work has an emotional motive on the part of the author. An ongoing analogy is playing out, using the backdrop of the author’s unfortunate marriage. Hosea’s prophecy paints Israel as an unfaithful wife (seduced away by idolatry and hardened by ignoring the poor), and God as the jealous husband who wants her back in spite of her faults. The language used in this selection, which is from the very end of the book, has that flavor to it. The passage can be summed up with: in spite of your sins, come back to God.
The Prophet continues to call Israel back to faithfulness and through repentance (“Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good”). God is their only salvation and their strength. The message to the people is one of complete forgiveness, if they but turn back to the Law of Moses. The conclusion of the passage is a possible inspiration for John the Baptist, for which the message of forgiveness and repentance was central, and whose role as precursor to Messiah echoed the message: “Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them."
R. (see 11 and 9a) I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
Psalm 81 is a prophetic liturgy.  The voice is a priest speaking in God’s name.  We hear in it the Lord’s promise of compassion and the warning to listen to God and turn back to him.
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
Commentary on Mk 12:28-34
In the continuing dialogue with the Sadducees from the Gospel of St. Mark, we find the questioner is impressed with the way Jesus handled the previous challenge by his colleagues (found in the previous verses). The Lord answers his question about the law with the Great Commandment, the opening of the Shema, the great Jewish Prayer, and then he follows that statement with the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (see also Leviticus 19:18). When the scholar clearly understands what Jesus is saying, the Lord tells him he is"... not far from the Kingdom of God" (see also the commentary on Matthew 22:34ff).
CCC: Mk 12:28-34 575; Mk 12:29-31 129, 2196; Mk 12:29-30 202; Mk 12:29 228
A number of years ago I learned to play (poorly) a Korean board game that is likely the most difficult and complex game in the world – Go.  Two players attempt to capture the largest part of the game board by laying down black and white stones.   What makes Go so difficult is its simplicity.  The game only has four rules and is played on a nineteen by nineteen grid board.  There are so many different options that it boggles the mind.
The reason I mention the game and its difficulty based upon simplicity is that the same is true of the “First Commandment,” or as we call it, the Great Commandment, that is presented in scripture today.  It sounds very simple, love God and love your neighbor.  The complexity and the difficulty come with the equally simple word, love.
First we separate love into two major Greek definitions; eros and agape (there are four, but for the sake of this discussion we will not take up philia or storge).  At some point they can come close to being seen as the same. Intense non-erotic love can be dangerous, and I suspect, misinterpreted.  Expressions of it in, for instance, Victorian England, where women frequently hugged and kissed, today could be interpreted as something different, and tragically increasingly acceptable, quite likely as erotic love.  For our purpose today let’s put eros away; it is not what the Lord was talking about.
So we now focus on just agape, familial love, love of a plutonic nature.  How we define that relationship in today’s culture is also complex.  For the sake of our discussion, let’s define it as caring more for the other person’s interests than one’s own.  It is simplistic but it will work for purposes of understanding what Jesus was talking about when he left us the Great Commandment.
If we are to place God’s interests in front of our own, we must first, at least at a high level, figure out what God wants.  We believe that God wants us to love him.  We have been told countless times this is ultimate truth.  Since loving God is explicit in the commandment, we go to the other things we know have pleased him – our success pleases him – the good we accomplish in His name reflects on him, just as what our children accomplish reflects upon us.  And when we fail, when we fall, that has the opposite effect.
We could go much deeper on the first part of the commandment but let’s get to the second: love our neighbor as ourself.  Using our definition, that would mean putting the interests of our neighbor before our own.  On the surface that does not sound very easy, or even wise (if we consider the greedy nature of some of our neighbors).  We must therefore consider this from a slightly more complex definition of our neighbor’s interests.  What is in our neighbor’s best interests is to embrace God and make him happy.  We must believe this because the Lord is the source of eternal life and it is only through the Lord that our neighbor can achieve the ultimate reward.
We must, as a consequence of our belief, lead our neighbor to God through our example and invitation.  We must, in a loving way, help our neighbor understand God in this way.  And that is why what the Lord asks us to do is so difficult.  Using the Lord’s example of humble love for all mankind, we are to live that life that will bring all those we meet to join us in loving God.

[1] The picture is “Hosea” by Duccio di Buoninsegna,1308-11

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

(Optional Memorial for Saint Toribio De Mogrovejo, Bishop)

“Get Behind Me, Satan” by Ilya Repin,1895
Reading I: Jeremiah 7:23-28
Commentary on Jer7:23-28
In this oracle, the Prophet Jeremiah, speaking with the voice of God, reminds the people that the Lord desires fidelity from them and they are not listening. The prophet’s plea echoes what Moses heard in Deuteronomy 4:1, asking the people to turn away from sin and be faithful. In this passage Jeremiah is referring to man’s fallen nature as he points to “the hardness of their evil hearts.
In the final verse of this passage Jeremiah says: “Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.” The people rejecting the “word” predict rejection of the Messiah, the Word made flesh.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Commentary on Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
This part of Psalm 95, commonly used as the invitatory psalm for the Liturgy of the Hours, is a song of thanksgiving. In these strophes the incident at Meribah is remembered (Exodus 17:3-7), and God’s undeserved mercy proclaimed. The community is rejoicing that the Lord is God and that he has brought us salvation in spite of our forebears' obstinacy. We are encouraged to listen to the Lord, even if what we are asked to do is difficult.
CCC: Ps 95:1-6 2628; Ps 95:7-8 2659; Ps 95:7 1165: Ps 95:9 2119
Gospel: Luke 11:14-23
Commentary on Lk 11:14-23
In the Gospel from St. Luke we find Jesus, in spite of his miraculous cure of the mute, being rejected by the people. They accuse him of representing a false God – Baal (the Jewish people nicknamed Baal – Beelzebul, “Lord of Flies”).
In response to the crowd asking for a “sign,” Jesus (equating belief in the false god Baal with Satan) forcefully rejects that notion. He sees in their request for a sign the desire to see a different kind of sign, a sign that would validate their view of what the Messiah should be, kingly and powerful in secular rule.
Jesus attacks their logic by saying that no kingdom could stand if its servants attacked each other. He makes it clear that by attacking evil he demonstrates that he comes from God. He goes on using analogy to say that God will always conquer evil (God is stronger than the strongest evil), and further, rejecting God’s Son amounts to standing on the side of evil.
CCC: Lk 11:20 700; Lk 11:21-22 385
Today we are given some of God's insight into the mind of mankind.  In Jeremiah, we are reminded of how the Hebrews, God's chosen ones, had, time and time again, turned away from God and been seduced by a secular society that provided more hedonistic pleasures.  We hear the Prophet, in what sounds like a forlorn entreaty, imploring them to turn once more to faithfulness. 
The Prophet's call is followed by the Psalmist who remembers: "Meribah: literally, "contention," the place where the Israelites quarreled with God. It recalls Massah: "testing," the place where they put God to the trial," and as we know, there is within it a prayer for us, that we not grow stubborn like our fathers did.
Finally, in the Gospel from Luke, we see Jesus sparring with disbelievers of his own place and time.  They wanted a Royal Messiah, one who would come in glory, openly challenging the Roman domination.  When they asked him for a sign, that's what they wanted, a sign of power.  Jesus must have been exasperated with them.   But, if we had been there, could we have accepted this humble (but charismatic) carpenter from Galilee as the one predicted?
The theme that unifies our scripture today is a call, yet again, for repentance.  On Ash Wednesday a little over three weeks ago we were told to "repent and believe in the Gospel."  We hear that message again today.  We cannot afford to be seduced by what secular society calls success and what Beelzebul calls good.  We are called to a higher standard and offered a greater reward. 

[1] The picture is “Get Behind Me, Satan” by Ilya Repin,1895

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

“Moses” by Guido Reni, 1600-10
Commentary on Dt 4:1, 5-9
This passage from Deuteronomy marks the end of the historical part of the book and the beginning of Moses’ presentation of the law and statutes. He addresses the whole people, telling them that unless they follow the statutes which he is about to present, they will not receive what God promises the faithful, in this case the land of milk and honey. There is a strong emphasis placed on passing the law on faithfully to the generations that follow, without forgetting any statute God enjoins upon them. While the promise of Moses was the inheritance of the land in a physical or literal sense, God’s later promise was a kingdom not of this earth.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Psalm 147 is a hymn of praise. In these strophes the singer celebrates God’s gifts to his people, the gift of faith to the patriarch Jacob, and the gift of his presence in the holy city Jerusalem. These strophes are from the third section (each section offering praise for a different gift from God to his special people). This section focuses on the gift of the Promised Land with Jerusalem as its spiritual center. We see the call to praise Jerusalem, the Holy City because in it was revealed the Word of God and a call to holiness. The Lord is praised for sending food that sustains the people. The final strophe also rejoices that the Law was handed on to them through Jacob.
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19
Commentary on Mt 5:17-19
Those who believed that Jesus came to destroy the Jewish faith and laws are refuted in this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Lord tells them that he did not come to destroy the law even though he disagreed with the way some of those laws were being implemented. Rather he came to fulfill it, essentially giving the law a reinterpretation through his own revelation.
In this early encounter between Jesus’ mission and the Law of Moses we are told that Jesus came to “fulfill” the law, to bring it to perfection as the messiah. He supports the rabbinical teaching of the time, which separates the 613 individual precepts of the law found in the Pentateuch into “great and small” based upon their seriousness, when he refers to breaking the least of the commandments. It is important to understand the Hebrew view of the Law: "The Law was thought to be the summary of all wisdom-human and divine, the revelation of God himself, a complete and a secure guide of conduct and endowed with a sacramental assurance of good relations with God." [4]
The passage is concluded in almost Mosaic style by saying that those who follow the law will be great in heaven. This draws a distinction between those who would break the law being least in heaven in the previous sentence.
CCC: Mt 5:17-19 577, 592, 1967; Mt 5:17 2053
What strikes us most immediately today is the connection between Moses giving the Law to the Hebrew people with his instructions to them to be faithful to it, and Jesus who comes to fulfill the Law.  It is pretty easy to see how Jesus came to fulfill what the Prophets had been saying for the 2,000 years of Hebrew history.  There were enough clues in the Old Testament scriptures to lead us to understand that statement before Jesus made it (reflecting also on the Augustinian quote: “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New.”).  What takes more thought, however, is how he came to fulfill the Law.
The reason that is a difficult question for us is that, to us, the Law is a set of rules that guide behavior.  We must first understand the view of the Hebrews concerning the Law if we are to realize the immense importance of the statement Jesus made when he said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  The scholarly statements about the meaning of the Law really help us here:
The Law was thought to be the summary of all wisdom-human and divine, the revelation of God himself, a complete and a secure guide of conduct and endowed with a sacramental assurance of good relations with God.” [5]
When we look at his statement in the context of Lord’s mission on earth, we understand.  What Jesus said in that short statement was, he came to reveal the living God.  He came to provide the path to the Lord God; the Logos (Word) made flesh.
It takes the whole revelation to a new level once we see that the Law Moses presented was more than just rules.  The question that strikes us though is: if the law of Christ was more than rules for the early Christians, what should it be for us today?
If we accept Christ’s word as being the “sacramental assurance of good relations with God,” what place must the Word of God assume in our lives?  The Word is not only a guide for our actions but for our hearts, not only our thoughts but our prayers.  It is clear we must work very hard to accept Christ’s leadership in our lives, no matter how difficult the road. 

[1] The picture used is “Moses” by Guido Reni, 1600-10
[4] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 43:34, pp. 70
[5] Ibid