Giving and Forgiving

Luke 6: 36-38
Dn 9: 4b-10 / Psa 79:8,9,11,13

For the measure with which you measure, will in return be measured out to you.
(Luke 6:38)

The good in others do not discount,
Better to praise than to criticize;
Take heed, we shall be called to account
At the judgment seat of Jesus Christ.

(Jesus said), “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, 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. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure, will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:36-38)

Reflection

After teaching His disciples how to treat their enemies, Jesus next taught them how to respond to their own friends who have offended them or behaved wrongfully. And His message consisted of: mercy, forgiveness, generosity and discernment. This last is important to prevent us from being judgmental. To be able to reject all kinds of injustice and unrighteousness, we must learn instead how to be discerning of what is good and evil. Through faith in God’s justice, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to determine what is right and wrong. Then we can teach, encourage and rebuke with authority. But it is always in humble supplication and a heart that is predisposed to mercy that we will receive this gift of sound judgment. Jesus told His disciples, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I am sorry,’ forgive him.” (Lk.17:3-4) We must never tolerate what is wrong, but we must always be predisposed to forgive, even the unrepentant wrongdoer.

Give, and it will be given to you.” Jesus encourages us to be always on the debit side of things, and never to claim back what we have already lost or given away. They will always come back with a bigger margin of profit. Nothing is more profitable than investing our treasure in heaven, which will guarantee eternal happiness. Only the short-sighted cling to their wealth here on earth. This applies to tithing as well. We noted that the members who are most active in the community, happiest in their ministries, and seem to be most successful in their families, careers and relationships are the ones who are most generous in the giving of tithes. The gifts that our Divine Providence showers us come in various forms: a happy marriage, obedient children, a stable business, physical fitness and freedom from sickness, a discerning mind, talents and abilites… the list can go on and on. But the one gift that gives us real joy because it reflects God’s compassionate nature is the gift of GENEROSITY. Blessed indeed are the Select who have been so favored by this gift. They are the happiest among God’s children.

Have a merciful heart, rather than a judgmental one; forgive rather than condemn; and give of ourselves with compassion, without counting the cost. If we can do these, then our merciful and forgiving Father in heaven will pour out His immeasurable generosity into our life. This is our Lord’s firm and dependable promise.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for teaching us that there is only one standard by which we can judge others, and that is by judging our own motives. Do not let what we hear or see in the world be our basis when we decide. Help us instead to be able to discern by listening to our heart, where we want You to reside. Amen.

Love Your Enemies…

Matthew 5: 43-48
Dt 26: 16-19/ Ps 119: 1-2. 4-5. 7-8

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5: 48)

Though it may seem inconceivable
Love must have no limitation;
Once it includes the unlovable,
Then love will come to perfection

(Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Reflection

Our Lord began His teachings correcting the Rabbinic laws of the past by starting with the premise, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good.” Jesus was pointing out a higher standard of love than that taught by the scribes and Pharisees. It was quite radical at that time, and for many people, it is still radical in this present age. But there is no reward for a kind of love that takes no effort to practice. To be worthy children of God, we must love the way He loves all men, with no discrimination, showering His blessings and trials both on the righteous and the sinners. Our Lord wants us to understand that all the people we come in contact with, regardless of position or affiliation deserve to be loved, as He Himself makes no distinction (all inclusive). It is true that loving one’s enemy is almost an impossible proposition. But only from a human perspective. It can only be done in the context of the divine; which is why He said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

As renewed Christians, we must learn to love like Jesus. This means removing all our biases in our dealings with others who do not share our beliefs. Enmities are borne out of prejudices. In our prayers, let us ask God to help us see Jesus in the faces of those whom we consider our enemies, so that we may learn to forgive and love them. When His apostles asked Him to teach them how to pray, one of the most important parts of the Lord’s Prayer was “…forgive us our sins, for we also forgive all who do us wrong…” (Luke 11:4). Unless we forgive, we cannot love. And our Lord always practiced what He preached. While he hang dying on the cross in Calvary, He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).

Loving, as our Lord has taught us, also means giving of ourselves to another, regardless of his status, tribe or affiliation. When a teacher of the law asked our Lord who his “neighbor” was that he should love, Jesus told His listeners the parable of the good Samaritan, who was “moved with compassion” for a total stranger who was waylaid by thieves and left for dead. Such a kind of love was foreign to the Jews who hated the Samaritans. A heart disposed to hatred will never learn the true meaning of love.

Lead us, Lord to the truth that it is better to be kind than to be right, and be willing to suffer ridicule for the sake of winning a friend for Jesus. It is the least that we can do to repay Him for His great love for us. Amen.

Dealing with Conflicts

Matthew 5: 20-26
Eze 18: 21-28 / Ps 130:1-8

Go first and be reconciled with your brother, then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5:24)

For the sake of peace, may I be meek,
Yield to what is right as Jesus would,
To even offer the other cheek,
And understand, than be understood.

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:20-26)

Reflection

The Pharisees and scribes projected their so-called righteousness by meticulously following the Mosaic laws in external practice. But Jesus knew they wanted to kill Him because of their extreme jealousy and prejudice. So Jesus pointed out that their pious posturing did not exempt them from the sin of murder, because their hearts were full of anger against Him. He reminded them that their festering hatred made them liable to God’s judgment, just as those who insulted others were liable to their own Sanhedrin as well as to the fires of hell. Then Jesus took this occasion to teach them and His followers about the importance of resolving personal conflicts. You cannot establish a loving relationship with the Father unless you are first reconciled with your own brother. And you must establish the same spirit of reconciliation with your enemy as well – if not for the sake of love, at least for the sake of your own peace of mind. Your debts to God may be forgiven, but no debts to men must remain unpaid. “You will not be released until you have paid the last penny” (Mt.5:26).

Human conflict is a natural occurrence in life which happens due to our different beliefs, values and concerns. It is more than a mere disagreement – it is a situation in which we perceive a threat to our personal or social well-being. If not managed carefully, conflicts can damage relationships. But more often, the causes of conflicts are much smaller than the perceived harm, and the wrong responses only manage to “turn molehills into mountains”. Properly addressed, however, as Jesus exemplified in His words and deeds, the resolution of conflicts can lead to spiritual growth, mutual respect, and even the transformation of the wrong attitudes of our adversaries.

The best behavior that one must have in the face of conflict is accommodation. “Put yourself in the other’s shoes,” is how a mediator would say it. Setting aside our position in order to understand the opposing party is a more constructive strategy in reaching a resolution than taking a more combative stand to gain the upper hand. “Yield to build” sounds like a better motto than “Compete to defeat.” Accommodation, respect, understanding and humility are essential tools in resolving conflicts, but just as important are honesty and courage. Jesus never held His punches when He condemned the Pharisees for their pride and hypocrisy. Dealing from a position of honesty and courage will earn the respect of our adversaries.

Father God, our Lord Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ for they shall be called Your children. Help us to offer first our hand before our thoughts, and seek first to understand before we try to be understood. Amen.

Ask, Seek and Knock

Matthew 7: 7-12
Est C:12,14-16,23-25 / Ps 138

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.
(Matthew 7:12)

Whatever we seek in prayer,
We are confident we shall find;
Jesus said, trust God our Father,
What we give we’ll receive in kind.

“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake if he asks for a fish? If you then, being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give what is good to those who ask Him! Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12)

Reflection

“Ask and it shall be given to you…” Please do not take these words too literally. What our Lord Jesus is saying may be that, if we are kind and generous to others as we are to our own children, then we can expect God to give us what we are asking for. God always hears and answers the prayers of those who reflect His kindness and practice the Golden Rule. Or He will give something even better. St. John enunciated this when he wrote that “We receive from God whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him” (1 Jn. 3:22). However, there may be times when God does not grant our supplication. St. James tells us why: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) Compared to the wisdom of God, we are mere babes crying out for something that may not even be good for us. When we ask God for something, we must be patient and at the same time persistent in our prayers. But we must also be mature enough to accept God’s wisdom and will for us, because what we are asking for may not always be in conformity with His plans.

“Seek and you shall find…” There are many who have been searching for meaning in their lives, and never find it. Why? Because they have been doing it on their own power, and never sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or even the direction that our Lord Jesus has laid out in the Gospel. Many Christians are just “going through the motions,” but never seem to find their faith, because they are only looking for signs and wonders, external revelations that give temporary spiritual nourishment. What we seek lies within. It is in our heart, and the reason we fail to find it is because we refuse to face up to our faults, our weaknesses and dishonesties. We will find the things that are most important in this life – joy, love and peace, and the hope of eternal life – when we finally realize the futility of temporal pursuits, and surrender our life to Jesus, accepting Him and Him alone as our life and Savior. We will only find Him when we lose our desire for pelf, pleasure, power and prestige that distract us from the real treasure that we must seek, which only Jesus can give.

Finally, the door will be opened to us if we cry out to God for His forgiveness. But first, we must open the door of our heart to others who may have offended us, even if they have not found the courage to knock. It is Jesus Who is knocking on our door for them. He had already died for the remission of all sins. So if He has already forgiven all sins by dying on the cross, who are we to withhold it?

Lord, You always know what is best for us. Remind us to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness, as Jesus taught us, with the assurance that all other things will be given to us as well” (Mt. 6:33). Amen.

Hardness of Heart

Luke 11: 29-32
Jon 3:1-10/ Ps 51:3-4,12-13,18-19

This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
(Luke 11:29)

We need not find wonders or signs
To change our hearts hardened by pride;
The Word of God alone defines
The True Path that we must abide.

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment, the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and there is something greater than Jonah here. (Luke 11: 29-32)

Reflection

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul said, “Jews demand signs, and Greeks look for wisdom” (1Cor.1:22). But “no sign will be given” because no amount of miracles that our Lord performed would change the hardness of their hearts. Earlier, Jesus had exorcised an evil spirit. But instead of seeing this as God’s handiwork, the Jews attributed His power to Beelzebul, the prince of demons. They refused to believe what was happening right before their very eyes. That is why Jesus condemned the Jews as “an evil generation.”

Jesus saw the hypocrisy in the hearts of His detractors that had made them blind and unyielding. They weren’t asking for a sign because they needed proof in order to believe; it was merely their ploy to put him to the test, and find something which they could use to condemn Him. No sign from heaven could ever turn their hearts to repentance and faith.

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 sign from heaven, why couldn’t the miracles 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 had witnessed the wonders performed by Jesus in their midst, still met Him 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 prejudice against a person whom one considers below his station (like Jesus, a mere son of a carpenter to the learned Pharisees and scribes) that 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.”

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 for our salvation. Amen.

Lessons in the Perfect Prayer

Matthew 6: 7-15
Is 55: 10-11/ Ps 34: 4-7, 16-19

If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you either.
(Matthew 6:15)

God wants us to pray every day
The most complete prayer there is.
As Jesus taught us how to pray,
Pray it for love, mercy, and peace.

Jesus instructed His disciples on praying: “Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from evil. If you forgive others their wrongs, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either.” (Mt. 6: 8-15)

Reflection

Jesus presented God to His disciples as a personal, loving Father, in contrast to the common perception of the Jews at that time, who viewed Yahweh God as a distant authority figure, awesome and severe, who only communicated with their prophets. This was how the pagan religions worshipped their gods, to whom some of them even sacrificed their own kind to win favors or answers to their prayers. To the Jews at that time, this teaching of Jesus must have seemed too radical, or even bordering on blasphemy. But Jesus taught with such authority that His disciples followed His example, and the whole Christian world is the better for it. Thus, when we pray to God, we should feel His presence like a father near his child.

At the same time, Jesus also taught us that we must acknowledge God as the King of all creation. He is the Ruler of our lives; thus we must subjugate our will to His will, and trust in all His plans for us. (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”) He is the Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power” (1 Tim. 6:15-16).

It is with an attitude of deep reverence for His Holy Name that we should approach God in prayer. That is why Jesus taught us to say, “Hallowed be Thy Name” (or “May Your Name be holy forever”). After the first commandment in the Decalogue, where Yahweh God demanded total fidelity (“Thou shall not have other gods besides me”), the second is: “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain” (Deut.5:11). People who do not take this commandment seriously are more likely to commit the unpardonable sin of blasphemy.

In this prayer, our Lord also taught us the value of forgiveness. “. . .forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” How indeed can we expect God to forgive our sins if we cannot forgive those who have wronged us? We might be powerless in times of tests (temptations), but it is never beyond our power to forgive. To forgive is the way to “love our enemies”, as Jesus encourages us to do.

Finally, Jesus taught us that we have to acknowledge God our Father as our Divine Provider, on Whom we depend for everything we need. In this way we are humbling ourselves, and putting our life totally under His care. For indeed our food and all our material needs come from Him; the forgiveness of our sins comes from Him (even our capacity to forgive comes from Him); and our protection from the snares of the evil one comes from Him. If we can meditate on all of these lessons that Jesus has taught us while we are praying to the Father, then we have made it a perfect prayer.

Dear God, grant that we may honor Your Name in the words that we speak, and follow Your will in everything we set out to do, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has taught us the way to love and adore You as our Father. Lord Jesus, we thank You for teaching us how to pray to God, our Father, so that we may always be trusting in His mercy and learning the value of forgiveness. Amen.