Alms for Atonement

Luke 11: 37-41
Gal.5:1-6 / Psa 119:41-48

. . . give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
(Luke 11:41)

What rituals in our religion
Can lead to our purification?
All that we need is compassion
To the poorest for our salvation.

After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited Him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that He did not observe the prescribed washing before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, inside you are full of plunder and evil. You fools! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” (Luke 11:37-41)

Reflection

Our Lord was fully aware that His non-observance of the ritual washing of the hands before a meal would shock His host, but He intentionally disregarded this outward display of piety to teach this Pharisee a lesson on transparency and charity as the way to genuine purity. External purification mattered little compared to the righteousness in a man’s heart.

The Pharisees had become so engrossed in the performance of certain rituals according to their Talmud that they believed being faithful in their observance was enough to keep them righteous before God and in the eyes of men, even if they indulged themselves in greed, envy and malevolent schemes (against Jesus). But our Lord knew their thoughts, and boldly called them “fools!” for failing to see that they cannot hide their plunder and evil from God, “Who made the outside (and) inside also”. The best way to cleanse the greed and all forms of evil in their hearts would be to practice charity and almsgiving. All their rituals count for nothing; according to St. Paul (first reading), “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal.5:6).

Charity has always been the message of God even as far back as the time of the patriarchs. “He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who is merciful to the needy glorifies Him” (Prov.14:31). “Just as water quenches fire, so alms atone for sins” (Sir.3:29). The Pharisees had long neglected this important practice of the ancients, where a part of the tithes and remains of harvests were given to widows and orphans (Deut.24:17-22). Jesus was reminding them of their negligence due to their preoccupation with their empty rituals intended for their own “sanctification”. True holiness lies in positive acts of kindness and compassion to the needy, especially the widows, beggars and homeless orphans.

It is heartening to note that most if not all of our parish churches continue to provide charitable outreaches for the poor such as the Caritas program, through which those who have more in life can extend help to those who have less. Jesus has taught us in many instances in the Gospel that if we truly love God, then we must show our love and mercy to the least of His children. How much love and gratitude do we give back to God when the second collection comes around after the holy communion at Sunday mass? For our sakes, let us always remember His words, “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Teach us, dear Lord, to be generous and kind to the needy. If we can be generous in giving to our church, then we must also be as generous if not even more so to the needy who beg for alms. After all, in their want they are helping us to atone for our sins, so they must be there for our cleansing. Amen.

Hardness of Heart

Luke 11: 29-32
Gal 4:22-27,31-5:1 / Ps 113

. . . no sign will be given to them except the sign of Jonah.
(Luke 11:29)

No other sign can immortalize
Divine love as the cross on the wall.
Reminds us of the great sacrifice
That Jesus endured to save us all.

As the crowds gathered around Him, Jesus taught them that those who ask for a sign are evil people. “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. On Judgment Day the Queen of the South will rise to accuse the people of these times, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. The people of Nineveh will also rise up on Judgment Day to accuse the people of this generation, for Jonah’s preaching made them turn from their sins, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” (Lk.11: 29-32)

Reflection

Everyone familiar with the story of Jonah knows that he stayed in the belly of a huge fish for three days before coming out to proclaim God’s wrath of impending doom to the Ninevites unless they repented. Jesus predicted that like Jonah He would also remain in the “belly” of a rocky tomb for three days before arising to proclaim His Good News of salvation. But this was where the similarity ended. The stark contrast lay in the different responses of the “Chosen People” vis-a-vis the Ninevites, a people of Assyria who were unbelieving pagans. If God’s reluctant prophet could turn the hearts of these Gentiles to repentance without even performing a single miracle, why couldn’t the wonders performed by Jesus convince His own people? The Queen of Sheba, another Gentile who visited King Solomon, acknowledged his wisdom as coming from the One True God (1 Kings 10) and believed just as the residents of Nineveh repented. So what could be the reason why the Jews, who were privileged to hear the wisdom of Jesus, still responded with resistance instead of belief and repentance? It was simply because of their hardness of heart.

Hardness of heart is what prevents us from seeing/accepting the truth. It is usually bias, or envy against a person whom one considers below his station (like Jesus, a mere son of a carpenter, preaching to the learned Pharisees and scribes). Prejudice blurs one’s perception of the truth. Proverbs 28:14 says: “Happy the man who is always on his guard; but he who hardens his heart will fall into evil.”

We have learned that those who are “renewed”, or who turn from their worldly ways because of some ‘miraculous sign’ are usually the ones not steadfast in their faith. Their “rootless” kind of faith needs a regular dose of the supernatural or the fanciful (like the “dancing sun” or shower of rose petals from nowhere) to keep it alive. But a strong faith is not dependent on supernatural signs. It is sustained by acts of piety, perseverance and prayer, especially in times of crisis or the so-called “dryness of spirit”. In fact it is when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers that our faith in Him is fortified, even without our knowledge. Psalm 51:19 says, “Lord, my sacrifice is a broken spirit; a contrite heart You will not despise.” The great pains and death of Jesus on the cross serve as our inspiration in times of our own trials.

Lord Jesus, you have taught us not to look for signs to prove Your love. It is enough that we see Your cross to make us believe and repent of our sins. We are the ones who still have so much to prove to be worthy of Your great sacrifice. Amen.

Mary and the Word of God

Luke 11: 27-28
Gal. 3:22-29 / Ps 105:2-7

‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’
(Luke 11:28)

We keep God’s Word to make us worthy
To earn God’s kingdom, and nothing less.
Let’s strive to be like Mother Mary,
Who is our model of holiness.

As Jesus was speaking, a woman there raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the one who gave you birth, and the breasts that nursed you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’ (Luke 11:27-28)

Reflection

There was never an opportunity that our Lord did not use to enlighten His followers to a higher truth. When a woman heaped praises on Him for His wondrous works, He deflected the blessing to “those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” He never deviated from His single-minded mission to proclaim God’s message of salvation.

But was He disparaging His own mother for the sake of proclaiming the Good News? This was the second time that Jesus seemed to be belittling His own mother in order to emphasize the importance of God’s Word. The first time was when His mother and some cousins came to see Him but could not enter the house where He was teaching because of the crowd. When someone told Jesus that they were outside and wished to see Him, He replied, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it” (Lk.8:19-21). As some detractors of our Marian devotion like to point out, aren’t these passages proof that our Lord gave little importance to the role of Mary in our faith vis-à-vis the Word of God? Quite the contrary. Our Mother Mary was in fact Jesus’ model of one who lived the Word of God. She was not only blessed for bearing and nursing Jesus, but rather she was more blessed for hearing the Word of God constantly and obeying it fully. After all, she was the first to believe (Lk.1:45), and had always kept the words of her Son in her heart (Lk.2:51). St. Augustine spoke of her so well in one of his homilies when he said, “Mary heard God’s word and kept it, and so she is blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying His body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: He was kept in Mary’s mind insofar as He is truth, He was carried in her womb insofar as He is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.” (St. Augustine Sermon 25, 7-8: PL 46, 937-938.)

Lord Jesus, we thank You for giving us Mary, Your Mother when You were at the point of death in Calvary to be our Mother of Intercession. Especially during this month of the Holy Rosary, we venerate her as our model of faith, obedience, purity and compassion. May the devotion of our Church to Your Mother grow stronger even in the midst of the world’s tribulations. Dear Mother Mary, pray for us. Amen.

Seeing Evil in Good

Luke 11: 15-26
Gal 3:7-14 / Ps 111

If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul.
(Luke 11:18)

The evil Jesus exorcized
Are spirits we must recognize;
They are scattered by scheming lies
Who don’t gather with Jesus Christ.

But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it goes through dry lands seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:15-26)

Reflection

The pharisees attributed the Lord’s power to drive out demons from Beelzebul, the prince of darkness. But by their very words, the pharisees revealed their true nature. They would rather be in the dark than accept the power of Jesus as divine. They schemed and spread their lies that up to the present time have only served to scatter the Jews as a nation. Their lies have put a perpetual curse of conflicts and wars on the land of the “chosen people” because they rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior.

Rather than being cynical and suspicious, we must learn to open our minds and hearts to the good that is happening around us, or what we see others are doing. A discerning mind trusts, and a compassionate heart believes, even when the ways are mysterious, and not familiar to our own.

Sometimes, a traumatic experience has to happen before a cynical heart begins to undergo a transformation. A guest speaker in our breakfast meeting, who was once an atheist, shared how he started his own “road to Damascus”. He experienced a dramatic change of heart when an office mate prayed over him when he was stricken with pneumonia, and he was healed completely after a few days. God’s healing power not only healed him of his illness, but expelled the spirit of unbelief from his heart.

Let me praise You, Lord, with all my being; it is only proper that we declare all Your wondrous deeds. I take delight and rejoice in Your goodness, Lord; come, let us sing hymns to the holy Name of our God!” (Psalm 9:2-3.)

Pray With Perseverance

Luke 11: 5-13
Gal 3:1-5/ Lk 1:69-75

. . . he will give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.
(Luke 11:8)

We may not receive in prayer
When we ask for some material need,
But God will give His Spirit’s power
If it’s for others we intercede.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)

Reflection

The story might seem ridiculous or funny to us, but for the people in the middle east, especially during Jesus’ time, one would go to extreme measures for a visiting friend even if it meant pestering his neighbor in the middle of the night for a few loaves of bread. Doesn’t this compare to our own Filipino culture of hospitality? I remember the time when my wife and I visited her aunt, and she toured us around her beautiful home. We were attracted to a pair of aztec masks hanging on a wall and noted how well they gave accent to that corner. At the end of our visit, my wife’s aunt surprised us with a gift. We were shocked even more when we unwrapped it at home to find the pair of aztec masks. My wife said, “It’s an old Tagalog tradition.”

The guest in Jesus’ story was fortunate to have a friend who would go to shameless lengths (even at an ungodly hour) just to be able to provide for his nourishment. I believe the importunate friend in this story was our Lord Jesus Himself, Who would go to all extremes just to provide for our salvation. And in His story, He is teaching us that against all odds, our prayers will prevail if only we persist and persevere. This is because true prayer springs from a sense of critical need, and usually, not for our own benefit but for others, as in the case of the friend who had come from a long journey, tired and very hungry. When we pray, we must not only ask, but we must also go out and seek for the solution; and when we have found it, we must knock continually on the door of opportunity until it is opened to us. In our perseverance, how can our Father in heaven refuse, when He is far more generous and loving than any father on earth can be? Finally, Jesus tells us to trust in His Father’s mercy.

Almighty Father, may our prayers conform always to Your will, reminding us that if some are not granted, it is because You have something better in store. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11: 1-4
Gal 2:1-2,7-14 / Ps 117

Let our prayers be for others,
Not for our own whims or desires;
Trust all our needs to our Father
Who always listens, never tires.

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Luke 11: 1-4

Reflection

In the days of the patriarchs, the Israelites worshipped God by offering sacrifices, and usually, as a community. Only the Levites, the priestly clan of Israel, could lead or represent the people in prayer. It was only when John the Baptist, led by the Holy Spirit, came into the scene and taught his disciples how to meditate that the hunger of the Jews for a more personal relationship with their God Yahweh was satisfied. As he baptized them in the river Jordan, they no longer felt that their God was a distant God, but a very personal one. One of the apostles of Jesus, a former follower of John, must have been ‘awakened’ to this novel form of worship, and so asked the Master, Whom they always witnessed in deep meditation, to further enlighten them about personal prayer.

Our Lord Jesus has taught us in “The Lord’s Prayer” that the Father is a person, Who responds to our prayers according to the sincerity of our intentions. Nothing is too great or too little for His consideration. He loves to hear His children praying not because He desires to be adored, but because it pleases Him to see them growing in holiness through their prayers.

Too often we find it difficult to pray when our prayers become mechanical, a force of habit, or a routine that must be done with before we get on with the day’s work, sit down for a meal, or hit the sack at the end of the day. Let’s face it: we only get serious with our prayers when we are asking God for something. But God doesn’t mind that we remember Him only in need. As long as we have faith in His Divine Providence, and the answer to our prayers adds to our spiritual growth, He will fulfill our supplications. Our two grandsons (3 years old and 11 months) were both sick and had high fever. I could hear their coughing over the phone as our daughter related their sleepless nights. We told her that we would pray for their healing that night. And we did, quite fervently, asking the Father to please grant us our prayer for the kids’ healing. The next morning, our daughter called us to say that they all had a restful sleep and the two kids were both fine and no longer had any fever.

It was then I remembered the words of St. Paul, who wrote that “in everything God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28) I believe our God is really a very loving personal Father. Jesus said, “If you who are sinful can give what your children asks for, how much more Your heavenly Father?” He will certainly give what we ask for as long as we surrender to His will.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for the times when we doubted. Thank You for being so loving, patient and understanding, and for increasing our faith in You. Amen.