The Centurion’s Faith

Matthew 8: 5-17
Lam 2: 2. 10-14. 18-19 / Ps 74: 1-7, 20-21

Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.
(Matthew 8:8)

By submitting to Christ’s dominion
We shall win a place of honor;
Just as Christ praised the Centurion
Whose faith and love were his armor.

As Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached Him, and appealed to Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. Jesus entered Peter’s house, and saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8: 5-17)

Reflection

After He had healed a leper, a Roman Centurion next came up to Jesus to appeal for the healing of his slave. While the leper was treated with contempt by the Jewish community, the Centurion was accorded their highest honor and respect, because “he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us” (according to the version of Luke, 7:5). The leper was a Jew, and the Centurion was a heathen. But Jesus never made any distinction on whoever came to Him for help. And just as He was willing to touch the leper who was considered “unclean”, He was just as ready to be “defiled” by entering the house of a pagan. What put both men in the same good graces with our Lord was their strong faith in His healing power.

Jesus was immediately won over by the Roman centurion, not by his power and authority, but by his humility and his compassion for his servant. His approach was one of surrender, begging for the life of his slave. But more than these, Jesus was impressed by the soldier’s strong faith. “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

It is a rare quality in a man who wields political or military power to humble himself before anyone under his authority or jurisdiction. The centurion was a Roman officer in charge of a hundred soldiers. Centurions were known to be fierce soldiers, and were thus respected and feared by the people Rome had subjugated. But this Centurion who sought the help of Jesus was different, because his life was ruled by love, love for the Jewish nation, and love for his slave. Love defined the strength of his character, matched only by his great faith in Jesus.

The example of the Centurion in today’s Gospel teaches us that to win the hearts of others, we must first conquer what is within. The world is not the battlefield; it is our mind and heart. And the prize at stake is our soul. The virtues of compassion, humility, respect and faith will serve us well if we first submit ourselves to God’s authority and His discipline.

Help us, Father God to develop humility in our strength, compassion for our enemies, and faith in times of trouble, so that like the Centurion in today’s Gospel, we also may win the praise of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Luke 1: 57-66, 80
Is 49: 1-6 / Ps 139: 1-3, 13-15 / Acts 13: 22-26

“What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
(Luke 1:66)

To proclaim the Savior Jesus
Was the purpose of his existence;
Like St. John let us give witness
In our words and works of His presence.

When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, asking him what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.” And all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he spoke, blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1: 57-66, 80)

Reflection

The feast day of all the saints and martyrs of the Church are usually commemorated on the date of their death. Only St. John the Baptist was given the special honor (along with our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary) of having his feast day celebrated on his nativity. We are told in the Gospel narrative of St. Luke that John the Baptist was born six months before the birth of our Lord. That is why the Church celebrates his feast day on June 24, exactly six months before the birth of Jesus, which we celebrate on December 25.

Why was John the Baptist given this special honor? Well, first of all, we can see from the Gospel of Luke how the nativity narrative of John the Baptist was given such prominence in the first two chapters, where his annunciation and birth alternate with those of his cousin, the Savior Jesus. We also see remarkable similarities in the birth of the Baptist and the Messiah. Both of their births were announced by the Archangel Gabriel, their names proclaimed as coming from God Himself. And both of their nativities were manifestations of God’s miraculous power: Jesus Christ born of a virgin, and St. John of parents no longer humanly capable of childbirth due to old age. But these details of his birth are only meant to highlight the fact that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet and precursor of our Lord Jesus Christ. His life plays an important role in God’s plan of salvation; he is the “bridge” between the Old and the New Testament, being the last prophet of the Old and the first prophet of the New to “prepare the way of the Messiah,” by genuine repentance.

St. John the Baptist remains one of the most influential saints in the liturgical history of the Church. He is remembered every time a child becomes a Christian through the sacrament of Baptism. His famous words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” constantly remind us of our need for purification, to wash ourselves clean, and be worthy to receive our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us make St. John the Baptist the model of our life by pointing others toward Jesus Christ, Who is the only Way to salvation. It would be a great privilege, even if like him we would be a “lone voice crying out in the wilderness.” St. John was never ashamed of his haggard appearance, clothed in camel hair, poorer than a desert rat. He was revered as a prophet of God in his time, and we revere him today as the greatest of saints in heaven.

We thank You, Father God, for the life and example of St. John the Baptist. We pray for his intercession, that our lives may be purified, to be worthy to enter Your kingdom. Amen.

Obedience and Grace

Matthew 7: 21-29
2 Kgs 24:8-17 / Psa 79

Therefore everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.
(Matthew 7:24)

Let obedience to Your laws, Lord
Be the prime rule in all our days;
This has kept us from all discord,
And led us to this life of grace.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rains fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house; but it did not collapse, because it had been built solidly on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rains came down, the floods rose, and the winds blew and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7: 21-29)

Reflection

Don’t we often hear “Born Again” Christians say, “All you have to do is accept Jesus as the Lord of your life, and you will be saved”? Well, today’s Gospel passage should set the record straight that merely professing one’s faith is not enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then there are those who say “Faith without works is useless” (Jam. 2:20). But even if our “works” are as miraculous as making prophecies or exorcising evil spirits, they are of no value to our faith if not done according to the will of the Father. Nothing we do in this life has any merit or substance unless we do it out of obedience to the commandments of God.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Obedience is the rock and foundation of our faith. When the floods of trials and sufferings come (as they inevitably do in everyone’s life), their onslaught will be in vain, as our fidelity in God’s Word will keep us steadfast and secure. When all our dreams and aspirations seem to fail, obedience is our lifeline of hope. It keeps us from being overwhelmed by despair, as we cling to God’s promise that He will “deliver whoever knows My Name; who call upon Me I will answer, and be with them in times of distress” (Psa. 91:14-15). Obedience is also the fire that purifies our heart, and is the true measure of our love for God. Whatever the pains or difficulties His laws and decrees may entail, we obey, simply because we love Him.

It is not what we accomplish for our Church or for our community that brings us to the fellowship of Christ. He has already redeemed us long before our conversion. Salvation is a grace freely given by God to His obedient servants. Only by our obedience were we qualified to merit this grace. In fact, it is by God’s grace that we have been transformed; and all our good deeds are simply the fruits of what we have already received. They are outpourings of our gratitude to God for having led us into this new life of grace.

Our Lord is telling us that we cannot take our salvation for granted. Obedience is the key, and the directions are laid out in Holy Scriptures. Unless we read the Bible, and follow Jesus Christ’s instructions in the Gospel, we may just be building our house on sand. Our faith is a house we must build on the firm foundation of God’s will. Whatever we do, we must pray to Him first for guidance, lest like Abraham’s wife , Sarai, we might misinterpret God’s will and take matters into our own hands, and produce the wrong result, like the illegitimate son of Hagar, Ishmael, who became Abraham’s first born (Gen.16:1-6). Because of this, Muslim fundamentalists claim that Islam has primacy over the other Abrahamic faiths (Christianity and Judaism).

Lord Jesus, like the Jews in Your time, we are always amazed at the wisdom of Your teachings. Help us Lord to discern Your thoughts, so that Your words we can fully understand; make us see that in all things, Your Will alone is our command. Amen.

Beware of False Prophets

Matthew 7: 15-20
2 Kgs 22:8-13;23:1-3 / Ps 119

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.
(Matthew 7:15-16)

Don’t be deceived by flowery speech,
Or bible verses they know so well;
Fruits of their work, and not what they teach
Tell us the truth, or lead us to hell.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruits you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7: 15-20)

Reflection

In today’s Gospel, our Lord emphasized the danger of falling prey to charlatans whose devious schemes can bring disaster to our souls (not to mention our pockets). Thousands of “Christian” denominations have proliferated all over the world bearing witness to the accuracy of our Lord’s prophecy. The principle of the separation of church and state has given rise to so many ‘propheteers’ who have seen the opportunity of making millions of tax-free money, with just a little charisma and a good memory for verses in the Bible. Multitudes of people all over the world in search of an “alternative religion” or a more modern church are simply ripe pickings for these wolves. Instead of repentance, they preach the “prosperity principle” of tithing and love offerings for the salvation of souls.

Jesus, however, tells us that we can recognize these false prophets by their fruit (or lack of it). Of course our Lord tells us not to be judgmental, but cautions us to be more discerning in choosing the leaders that we can trust. The “fruit” that we can recognize are the good examples that they have shown – in shepherding and in stewardship. Are they leading others to Christ, or to themselves alone? How well are they managing the resources that have been entrusted to them? St. Paul had warned about these false prophets in his letter to Timothy: “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine; but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth, and will be diverted to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This prophecy is now evident in such popular “New Age” religions like the Unification Church, Scientology, Hare Krishna, etc. These modern-day cults share common techniques of disorientation and mind control (meditation), that disillusioned Christians find attractive. Their mental techniques and tenets promise self-control and tranquility, drawn from a mixture of eastern mysticism, psychology, and enough Christian doctrine to fool their recruits. This New Age Movement boasts that its leaders have a very intimate relationship with God and they experience visions, encounters and conversations with a supreme being. But the clearest proof that this movement comes from the Prince of Lies is its teaching that there is no need to strive for holiness because God loves you no matter what you do. According to its adherents, sin is just a human weakness that God in all His goodness will tolerate if not forgive. This clearly contradicts God’s Word that we find in Psalm 5:5-6: “You are not a God who delights in evil… you hate all who do iniquity.”

Let God’s Word in the Bible be our guide: “Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one which you have received from us, let him be accursed.” (Gal.1:8) “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (2 Thess. 2:15)

We have been sufficiently warned about false prophets. Writers in both the Old and the New Testament have written about them on this earth. They will be around deceiving millions until the Second Coming of Christ. As members of the true Church instituted by Jesus Christ, let us pray that God our Father will protect us from the evil influence of these false prophets in our midst.

Dear God, send us true prophets to counter the false; true leaders to show us the right ways in following Your will. May Your judgment fall swiftly on the anti-christs who are leading so many away from Your kingdom. Amen.

The Narrow Road to Life

Matthew 7: 6,12-14
2Kgs 19:9b-11,14-21,31-36 /Ps 48

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
(Matthew 7:12)

The road is narrow that leads to life,
Broad the road that leads to destruction;
Thus we must face all trials and strife,
To share the Good News of salvation.

Jesus said to His disciples: “Do not give what is sacred to dogs; or throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. . . So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:6,12-14)

Reflection

The three lessons that our Lord Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel passage are part of the teachings that He enumerated, starting from the Beatitudes in chapter 5 (the sermon on the mount), up to the end of chapter 7, where He warns that those who do not act on His words will be like a man who foolishly builds his house on sand; when the floods come, it will collapse and be completely destroyed. (Mt.7:27)

At first these three lessons may appear to be disparate, but after some reflection, we will see that they are actually related. In the first lesson, our Lord draws the line between the sacred and the secular. The Jews regarded Samaritans, Gentiles, and scalawags like dogs and pigs, animals which they considered “unclean”, and so His followers are cautioned to be more discriminating in bringing something as sacred and priceless as the Word of God to them. This warning applies as well today in the case of attempting to convert followers of Islam to the Christian faith. “They may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Fundamentalist Muslims believe in the holy war (Jihad) of killing Christians to go to heaven. ‘Unclean’ also refers to the worldly. We cannot convert the world living by its rules. Our values must be set apart from the world’s standards. There can never be any compromises.

There is a way, however, that we can bridge the gap that separates us from the worldly (sinners), unbelievers, and those opposed to our faith. This is by applying the second lesson of Jesus— to “do to others what you would have them do to you”: by showing them the simple values of kindness, respect, tolerance and hospitality. Plus the sincerity of our good intentions. This may be what Jesus meant when He taught us to love our enemies (Mt.5:44-45). A person of compassion and integrity is a more powerful agent of transformation than an eloquent speaker or charismatic leader.

In His third lesson, Jesus never promised that the Way of the Lord was going to be easy. The narrow gate and hard road is a description of the kind of ministry that lies ahead, which is definitely not going to be a walk in the park. Only a few would be chosen, because most people would rather flow with the crowd and take the wide and spacious highways. But those few are special, because they choose to take the hard path of spreading the Good News of God’s kingdom to others, whatever the trials and difficulties the journey may entail.

We thank You, Almighty Father, for the commission that we have received, and along with it, the gifts of discernment, courage, prudence and peace of mind. Grant that with the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit, we may persevere in our mission to bring the Gospel values of our Lord Jesus to the marketplace, and win the marketplace for Him. Amen.

Judging Others

Matthew 7: 1-5
2 Kgs 17:5-8,15,18 / Ps 60

For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
(Matthew 7:2)

If we must judge others for their sins,
Pray to the Lord for discernment,
That He may provide us the means
To lead them to be penitent.

“Judge not, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, remove the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Reflection

Our Lord did not mean it literally when He said we should stop judging. After all, we cannot help but judge in order to make the right decisions. Judging is a mental process by which we evaluate facts and perceptions in order to reach a decision or opinion. We are given free will, and with the gifts of knowledge and discernment we can make the right decisions with regard to what is good, proper and true. With these gifts, He expects us to think and behave with acumen and good sense.

What Jesus meant first of all was, we should “Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly” (John 7:24). God has given us the privilege to make wise judgments, and in fact it is incumbent on us to point out the errors of others. We must take care, however, because, being human, our scope of perception is usually limited to the externals, is often subjective, and may even be biased, hardly adequate to judge the character of others. It is almost impossible for us to make an impartial opinion. As a result of past experiences, we carry prejudices that color our judgment. We can never see the real person as God does. He alone has unlimited wisdom and insight to see the character flaws and malicious motives of men.

Secondly, Jesus taught us to stop being judgmental, because too often we may have a greater flaw than the person we are judging. “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not perceive the plank in your own?” If we must be the judge of others for their faults or omissions, let us examine ourselves first, and see if we are living up to the standard of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will be our Final Judge. Therefore, it must be from the perspective of love that we judge as we will surely face the same standard that we are using.

The third point against judging others is having the wrong intention. The leaders of the Jews judged Jesus unfairly because they felt threatened by His teachings and wondrous works. Imagine accusing Him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul! By accusing Him this way, a judgment of damnation fell on their heads, as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt.12:31).

Jesus wants us to judge wisely for our own sake. As His followers, we also have the responsibility to use good judgment in shepherding others. St. Paul said, “Brothers, if a man is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct him in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself so that you also may not be tempted.” (Gal.6:1). St. James echoed the same message: “Brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Lord God, in regarding others, help us to ‘put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another… putting on love, which is the bond of perfection’ (Col. 3:12-14) so that we may receive the same. Amen.