Charity Saves Souls

Matthew 19: 16-22
Jdgs 2:11-19 / Psa 106

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
(Matthew 19:21-22)

Poverty now plagues our nation,
And yet many don’t seem to care;
For the sake of your salvation,
For the poor, how much can you spare?

A young man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” There is only One Who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.” The young man said, “Which ones?” Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Reflection

The young man wanted to justify himself, because he knew that he had kept all the commandments. In all likelihood, he was hoping that Jesus would give him some kind of commission befitting his stature, or the honor of being their group’s official benefactor. He never expected that Jesus’ reply would be: “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man went away sad, for although he could spare to give a part of his great possessions, he could not bring himself to part with most of it to follow Jesus.

In our quest to bring others to Jesus, and win the “marketplace” for Him, many of us have experienced the same kind of disappointment that our Lord must have felt towards the rich young man who had at first shown interest in the life eternal, but had walked away when he learned of the stakes involved. In our last Brotherhood’s Christian Life Program, where we had our Baptism in the Holy Spirit, almost all of the 27 participants shared how they were touched by the power of the Holy Spirit. But I wonder, how many will persevere and become fully committed members of our community? So far, 3 have already backed out of the original 30. Or take the case of a brother (or sister) to whom you have been ‘feeding’ the Word of God, and leading him/her to Christ, only to find out later that they had not given up their bad habits. Why is this?

Discipleship is all about total commitment. And one can only be totally committed to follow Jesus if he can serve only one Master (Mt. 6:24). As our Lord Jesus said in Luke 14:33, “Everyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be My disciple.” All Christians want to be assured of their passage to heaven, but how many are willing to pay the ultimate price? Of course it is only from His ministers (priests and bishops) that Jesus requires total renunciation of material things – that is why they take the vow of poverty – but all Christians who want to gain eternal life must also be “broken and shared” in imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have to sell all our properties to help alleviate poverty in order to be assured of a place in Paradise, but we must at least show God that serving Him through kindness and compassion to the poor is more important than the preservation of our wealth. Perhaps this was why Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” (Mt.26:11)

Grant us, loving Father, to become fully committed to follow Your will, as our Lord Jesus had done when He sacrificed His life to complete Your Divine Plan for our salvation. Thank You, precious Saviour, for teaching us how in Your Gospel today. Amen.

Divorce Leads to Adultery

Matthew 19: 3-12
Jos 24:1-13 / Psa 136

I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.
(Matthew 19:9)

God blessed you with a loving wife,
Give your love to her alone,
And you will have a blissful life
With Jesus as your cornerstone.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” He replied, “Haven’t you read, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to Him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19: 3-12)

Reflection

There can never be any justification for, nor any good that can be said about divorce. The oft repeated phrase, “for the sake of the children” is the exact opposite of its consequences. Its disastrous effects on the mental, social, psychological, and spiritual formation of children have such far-reaching implications that studies have shown children from divorced or separated parents have twice the likelihood of undergoing separation or troubled marriages themselves when they enter into this phase of their lives.

Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Since we believe that our God is Trinitarian, His image is therefore a union between one man and one woman with Jesus Christ at the center. Whatever the differences a husband and wife may have, no matter if their personalities are poles apart, if they have decided to put Jesus Christ in the center of their lives, their marriage will work, and their union will most assuredly last. Divorce can never be a Christian option, because if we destroy this union, then we are actively denying the Divine Plan for man.

The union of marriage reflects God’s close relationship and love for mankind. God never divorced His wife and chose another just because mankind had sinned and was no longer pleasing to Him. He chose to forgive and reconciled His wayward people to Himself. This is the lesson that we find in the Book of Hosea – (1:2-3,8-9, 2:1-22, 3:1-5). In fact, in all the episodes and teachings in the Old Testament, we have seen that whenever God made a covenant with His people, He never broke the union – it was always His Chosen People who committed the spiritual adultery of sin.

For this reason, we can see why God never allowed divorce. Jesus said, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives’ – if only to protect the rights of women who were cast off by their husbands. But for Jesus, marriage must be for life or there must be no marriage at all. Divorce or separation is never the logical option when a marriage doesn’t seem to be working out. Working harder in making it work is. With God’s help, love will prevail.

Lord Jesus, you instituted the sacrament of marriage as a manifestation of God’s love for mankind. Grant that we whom You have blessed with its joys may be Your worthy heralds in sharing its Good News of love to other couples. Amen.

Releasing Resentment

Matthew 18:21—19:1
Jos 3:7-10a,11,13-17 / Psa 114

I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
(Matthew 18:22)

We forget what forgiveness means
When we’re offended or betrayed;
Lord, remind us of our own sins,
And Your mercy in times we strayed.

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him a huge amount was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. The master summoned him and told him, ‘You wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21–19:1)

Reflection

It is the wise man who easily forgives the wrongs done to him by his fellowmen. Our Lord Jesus gave us this practical advice on forgiveness to spare us the emotional baggage (and the disease that may result from it) of refusing to forgive. My earliest lesson on the subject came from my own father who taught us that when someone offended him in a major way which was hard to forgive, he just followed a verse in the Bible, which says, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom.12:19). Lifting up his grievance to God made him feel better, knowing that God’s justice never fails. He would just say, “I have forgiven him. He will have to answer to God for what he did.”

I also learned from my father that harboring a resentment can be contaminating if allowed to fester. If someone has done you a grave offense, the guilt must be his alone, and not “spill over” to his relatives or associates. The person responsible for the untimely death of our youngest brother has many siblings, some of whom were old friends. Of course we could no longer associate with them, but we never blamed any of them for the act of their brother, who had managed to escape to the USA. In fact we also felt the sadness of losing their friendship, and remain cordial to one another.

The lessons taught in the Bible on the subject of forgiveness are truly nuggets of wisdom. For instance, Proverbs says, “It is good sense in a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov.19:11). The same book says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, if thirsty, give him to drink; for live coals you will heap on his head, and the Lord will vindicate you” (Prov.25:21-22). A man who shows no anger or resentment in the face of insult or injustice, but instead returns it with patience and kindness wins the admiration and respect of his peers. And more important than this, God will surely reward him for showing that he is His child.

Let us forgive all the wrongs that were inflicted on us, because unless we do, we will always feel the bitterness that Satan had planted in our heart. If we find it hard to “let go” and give up the resentment that we feel, ask for God’s help in prayer. He alone has the antidote for this vile ailment of unforgiveness. Remember what our Lord said: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 19:1)

Help me, dear God, when I am inclined to hate my neighbor for the injuries that he may have inflicted upon me. Make us realize that the offenses of our enemies are insignificant compared to the sins that we had committed that sent our Lord Jesus to Calvary. Grant us the grace to forgive our enemies so that Your message of love may endure and prevail against the real enemy’s evil schemes. Thank You for Your lessons on the healing power of forgiveness. Amen.

Correcting an Offender

Matthew 18:15-20
Deut 34:1-12/Psa 66

If your brother sins, go and point out his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
(Matthew 18:1)

Resolve conflicts without enmity,
More than justice employ charity;
Look for ways where we can all agree
For the sake of peace and harmony.

“If your brother sins (against you), go and point out his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he still refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen I say to you that if two of you on earth agree about anything for which you pray for, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:16-20)

Reflection

As followers of Christ, we all have a moral duty to try to mend broken relationships in the family or community, whether we are the offended party or not. In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord is telling us that more often than not, the person who has offended us may not be aware that he (or she) has done a wrongful or offensive act, and has therefore damaged his relationship with God. Thus, for their own sake, their mistake must be pointed out to them. Correction in this case is not in pursuit of justice, but in loving concern for the other’s spiritual well-being. St. Augustine of Hippo said, “If you fail to do so, you are worse than he is. He has done someone harm, and by doing harm he has stricken himself with a grievous wound. Will you then completely disregard your brother’s wound? Will you simply watch him stumble and fall down? Will you disregard his predicament? If so, you are worse in your silence than he in his abuse.” (Sermon # 32, par.7)

Our Lord tells us that we must exert all efforts to persuade the offending party to face up to his or her transgression, and be willing to reconcile. The assistance of third parties (in a loving community, preferably the elders) may have to be resorted to. If the offender still will not listen, then the matter must be brought to the consideration of the governing council of the community or brotherhood.

In our passion to reconcile with those who are remiss, we must not be afraid to be branded as a “holier than thou” person. After all, Jesus Himself assures us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Mt.5:9). As servant-leaders of our community we understand the importance of promoting harmony and peace among all the members, for it is in this kind of environment that the spiritual development of its members is assured.

Finally, forgiveness may be the essential ingredient needed to make the offending party see the error of his ways. In the Gospel of Luke (17:3), Jesus says, ‘If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him.’ He teaches us that the primary condition for receiving God’s forgiveness is the willingness to forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer and in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus clearly indicates that “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt.6:14-15). The forgiven life is the forgiving life.

Divine Healer, make us instruments of Your peace. Help us to realize that our human errors are at most times unavoidable. None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, we all fail to understand, and all have been guilty of lack of love or tolerance, especially towards those who are close to us and whom we always seem to take for granted. Give us the grace to have more patience and understanding, for the sake of peace and unity in our community. Amen.

Mary and Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-56
Rv 11:19a;12:1-6a,10ab / Psa 45

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
(Luke 1:42)

When we encounter difficulty
In our mission to bring the Good News;

Mary’s trials and humility
Should lead us to her Son, Christ Jesus.

Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and filled with the Holy Spirit, she cried out in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:39-56)

Reflection

Apparently, her cousin Elizabeth was the only person whom Mary could share her feelings with, having learned from the messenger Gabriel that God had likewise blessed her with a miracle (becoming pregnant well past the child-bearing age). Certainly Mary could not reveal what had happened to her even to her own parents or close friends because the idea of being impregnated by the Holy Spirit was simply too mind-boggling to be believable. Only another woman who had also become pregnant under mysterious circumstances would understand and celebrate with her. And Mary was not mistaken. The spontaneous greeting of Elizabeth immediately put her heart at ease. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Elizabeth already knew about her condition; she had no need to explain.

Like Elizabeth, Mary was also filled with the Holy Spirit, as she exclaimed, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” How beautiful are the exaltations of these two devoted women, divinely inspired and prophetic. For indeed generations of Christians for thousands of years have been calling her “blessed” every time we pray for her intercession.

The Visitation was a great blessing for both Mary and Elizabeth. And today’s Gospel passage also blesses us with the inspiration that all of us can be both a “Mary” or an “Elizabeth” to others who come into our lives. Whether we are confused, anxious, or need to share our joy, we should, like Mary, seek the company and counsel of those who share our predicament or blessing. We can also follow the example of Elizabeth, who, like her humble son, John the Baptist, set aside her own importance (as an elder) to compliment or give moral support to those who seek our counsel or merely our company. As we are edified by the characters of Mary and Elizabeth, let us then follow their example by also being a blessing to others.

Dear God, loving Father, thank You for giving us our Mother Mary, whom we believe intercedes for us in heaven. May we follow her example of faith, service, and great humility: full of trust in Your will, willingness to give our time and effort for others, and acknowledging that we are all Your stewards and handmaids, and must be willing to accept all circumstances in our life to serve You. Amen.

From the Mouth of a Fish

Matthew 17: 22-27
Dt 10: 12-22 / Psa 147

“From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”
(Matthew 17:25)

Jesus endured the indignity
Of submitting to all human laws
But showed His divine sovereignty
Paying the tax from a creature’s jaws.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief. After Jesus and His disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Peter replied, “Yes, He does.” When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” He asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?” Peter answered, “From others.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:22-27)

Reflection

Jesus kept reminding His apostles about His impending passion and death in Jerusalem, and His resurrection after three days. This news saddened the apostles deeply, but none of them found the courage to question the Lord. They continued to follow Him to Capernaum. In Capernaum, the Jewish tax collectors approached Peter for his and the Lord’s payment of the temple tax. This levy was an old Mosaic practice wherein all Jews were required to pay as atonement for sins (Exodus 30:11–16). The collections of this tax were used for the maintenance of the temple in Jerusalem. How ironic that the sinless Son of God would be taxed for the upkeep of His own dwelling. And to atone for what? And yet, in His divine wisdom and great humility, He complied with this indignity. However, with an appropriate miracle, Jesus demonstrated His sovereignty over creation by producing the exact amount from the mouth of a fish! This demonstration was clearly for the benefit of St. Peter, whom the Lord was priming to become His foremost fisher of men.

Among the four Gospel writers, it is only in the version of Matthew that we find this incident about the payment of the temple tax. Perhaps being a former tax collector himself, Matthew could not let this incident pass unrecorded. For the benefit of his Jewish readers, he probably wanted to show that the Messiah, true to His word, was always faithful in observing the law in all respects. Recall another time in another Gospel when Jesus said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25). These incidents in our Lord’s life were all intended to be lessons in obedience, humility and the practice of fulfilling our obligations. If Jesus Himself willingly complied with ‘petty’ man-made laws, then no one was exempted from paying all dues, whether required by the state or for the support of our local church and community.

May the Gospel passage today be a lesson to us, that we should obey the laws and customs of our city and country so that like Jesus we may set an example to unbelievers as well as violators who profess and call themselves Christians. To be a good Christian is to be a good citizen, to live in the world and be subject to all its legal and ethical regulations. Although our Lord did not belong to the world, He submitted to its rules as a good citizen. Although He was sinless, He paid the temple tax, which was for atonement of sins. He would soon pay for the greater atonement of all our sins, a payment that He Himself would provide, and at the cost that mankind could never repay.

Timeless lessons from our timeless God, grant that we may follow them faithfully in our lives, so that we will always give You the glory, loving Father. Amen.