Keeping the Sabbath Holy

Mark 2: 23-28
Heb 6:10-20/ Psa 111

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28)

True worship lies within the heart,
Not in a special day or place;
We cannot set prayer apart.
In every breath let’s give Him praise!

One Sabbath Jesus was going through a field of grain, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

Reflection

God, in His goodness and mercy consecrated one day of the week for man to abstain from temporal or material pursuits, and give rest to his body while nourishing his soul. “The Sabbath was made for man…” God knew that man needed to rest and take time to meditate on His relationship with Him, to praise and worship his Creator for his own good. God knew that if He did not command man to set aside one day for worshipping Him, man would become enslaved to the concerns of the world, and drift away from Him. This is the main reason for the 3rd commandment, “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8). But how many Christians, though they take time out from work on Sunday, remember to keep it holy? The cockpits are filled to the rafters with gamblers screaming to place their bets. The casinos and the massage parlours are doing brisk business on Sundays, and so are the malls and other places of recreation. Is this the way God intended for us to keep His day holy?

Perhaps God’s commandment to Moses in the book of Leviticus might show us the real meaning of the Sabbath. God said, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, let the land too keep a sabbath for the Lord. For 6 years you may sow your field, and for 6 years prune your vineyard, gathering in their produce. But during the seventh year the land shall have a complete rest, a sabbath for the Lord, when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. The aftergrowth of your harvest you shall not reap, nor shall you pick the untrimmed vines in this year of sabbath rest for the land. All its produce will be food equally for you yourself and for your male and female slaves, for your hired help and the tenants who live with you, and likewise for your livestock and for the wild animals on your land” (Lev.25:2-7). This means that if the land can have a sabbath rest wherein it will yield food for all, then man must also observe the Sabbath rest by providing food and other necessities to those who are in need.

There are many ways by which we can make our Sabbath (Sunday) holy, in praise and worship of the Lord. Many organizations and parishes hold their blood-letting with the assistance of the Red Cross or the DOH on Sundays. Donating blood is one of the highest forms of generosity, because it is giving an ounce of life itself. Others do their medical missions of mercy on this holy day. And it is not a walk on a field of grain, but real hard work. Are they violating the Sabbath? Of course not. ThGospel Reflectioney are in fact doing what is most pleasing to the Lord of the Sabbath. Let us spend our rest day by extending a helping hand or giving a part of our resources to our destitute neighbors, especially those who are victims of calamities like typhoons or floods.

Grant us, dear God to devote our Sundays and other holidays to worship You, give You thanks and praise, contemplate on Your Word, and to bring others to You through our good works. Amen.

Old Ways, New Ways

Mark 2:18-22
Heb 5:1-10 / Psa 110

. . . no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
(Mark 2:22)

Everything has its time and place,
And with new eyes must life be viewed.
We can’t go back to our old ways
Now that our life has been renewed.

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

Reflection

Fasting during the time of our Lord was associated with mourning, or for repentance of sins and/or supplication, as in the case of King David who pleaded for the life of his illegitimate son with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:16). But contrary to the belief of the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptist, Jesus did fast (Luke 4:2), and even more than their prescribed period; He fasted for 40 days. And unlike the Pharisees who fasted for show, He did it in secret, going to the desert by Himself. And for a different purpose: to prepare Himself for His ministry.

The lesson that Jesus taught the Jews then still applies to the present generation: that all things must be applicable to or compatible with the present need. Mourning during a wedding is as incongruous as patching a tattered garment with a new cloth, or filling an old wineskin with new wine that will expand and burst it. Practices of the past are no longer appropriate or relevant to modern situations.

Yesterday, our BCBP Davao West community celebrated the transition of leadership “from the old to the new” in the induction of our chapter’s 2017-2019 Governance Team at the Waterfront Hotel. Our new chapter head and his team of servant-leaders did not have to fast in order to prepare for the challenges of ministry in the next three years. On the contrary, our chapter gave out a feast to commemorate the occasion. When the emcee asked me, as “my last official act” as outgoing chapter head to say the opening prayer for the installation rites, I asked our Lord God to give us a joyful celebration, full of love, fun, fellowship and good food. And He gave them all in abundance. First, the holy mass that preceded the formal installation was concelebrated by a bishop and a Jesuit priest, solemn, with an angelic-like music ministry. All the speeches were appropriate and inspiring. The feast included fresh tuna sashimi, roasted calf, lechon, and overflowing draft beer (thank God nobody got drunk). The audio visual was a work of wonder to behold. And the music and dancing that followed everybody wished would not end. All our members and guests witnessed the goodness of our loving Father, Who provides more than what we ask for when the occasion calls for it.

Father God, it is not our sacrifices that are pleasing to You, but our obedience to Your covenant of love. Help us Lord to imitate our Savior Jesus, Who showed us the importance of discipline, and the example of complete obedience to Your will. Amen.

Calling the Sinners

Mark 2:13-17
Heb 4:12-16 / Psa 19

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
(Mark 2:17)

We sometimes give a false excuse
When the occasion doesn’t suit us;
Take heed, this call you can’t refuse,
The invitation is from Jesus.

Jesus went out along the sea. A large crowd came to Him, and He taught them. As He walked along, He saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed Him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)

Reflection

Levi had probably reached the limit of his tolerance, and wanted out from this hated position as a lackey of Rome, and the object of taxpayers’ derision. Sure, he was making a lot of money, but he was sick of being an outcast jn his own country, and longed to be in the company of real friends, and be a follower of a real leader, like Jesus of Nazareth. But how could he even think of being invited into such an exalted company? The chasm between him and this Man of God was like earth and the sky. And then a miracle happened. The Messiah came up to his post one day and invited him, saying simply, “Follow me.” Levi got up, left everything, and pursued a new life.

A known sinner like Levi would never have had the courage to enlist himself as one of the disciples of Jesus. Nor would any of the Lord’s company dare to sponsor him. In the eyes of the Jewish world at that time of the Roman occupation, the publicans, (or tax collectors of King Herod and the Roman conquerors) were worse than lepers, being in cahoots with Gentiles and their tainted money. Like the paralytic, they would never be able to rise up again from their unforgiveable sins, because, like the demoniac, they were possessed by an insatiable greed for money.

But Levi changed his ways, and his transformation did not come from his own initiative. It was Jesus Who chose him. When we are chosen to serve a ministry such as the Eucharistic lay ministers of our parish, or the chapter head of our community, we tend to resist at first – perhaps because of our misplaced feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy. But as our former parish priest told my friend Molly, when he invited him to become a lay minister, “Why don’t you let the Lord be the judge of that, and allow Him to change your heart?” It was the same case with his friend Ning, who for years had kept putting off the opportunity to move up in service, only to realize later on that he had been missing the opportunity to follow the Lord fully as chapter head. He will be inducted tonight, and friend Molly tomorrow evening in another chapter.

Lord, You came to earth to invite sinners, and not the righteous. Your mercy pardons the greatest sins; Your grace transforms the greatest sinners. Help us to follow You faithfully in service. Amen.

Friends of Faith

Mark 2: 1-12
Heb 4:1-5,11 / Psa 78

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
(Mark 2:5)

What many may not realize
Forgiveness is what we all need;
While sin can trap and paralyze,
In Penance we are healed and freed.

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that He had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and He preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in His spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and He said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2: 1-12)

Reflection

The healing of the paralytic must be one of the best known miracles in the life of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Narrative versions are also found in the other synoptic Gospels of Matthew (9:1-8), and Luke (5:17-26) that confirm the veracity of this event.

The story must have proceeded as follows: Four friends decide to help their paralytic buddy by bringing him to Jesus whom they learned had just returned to Capernaum, performing wonders in many places. They firmly believed that this Jesus must be a prophet of God if not the Messiah Himself, and decided that they would bring their paralyzed friend to Him by all means possible. As they neared the house where Jesus was teaching, they saw that a huge crowd had jammed the entrance and it was virtually impossible to bring their sick friend to Jesus. They figured that the only way that they could achieve their purpose was to open a big hole in the roof directly above where Jesus was, and lower their paralyzed friend down to where Jesus could minister to him. Our Lord must have admired their resourcefulness, determination, and deep affection for their paralytic friend. But above all, He was moved by their strong faith. And for these, He not only healed the paralytic, but more importantly, He forgave him all his sins. But His act of love could only evoke resentment from His critics, the teachers of the law, who silently accused Him of blasphemy. He proved them wrong by telling the paralytic to “get up, take your mat and go home.”

Today’s Gospel of Mark tells us how important it is to have friends of strong faith. They are the ones who bring us closer to Jesus. They are the ones who help us get back on our feet. Unlike the scribes who do nothing but criticize and judge others, true friends take the initiative, go out of their way to help, even if they have to face up to the damages incurred to solve the problem (like repairing the roof). Thank God if you belong to a charismatic community, for there you have found a good number of friends of strong faith. And I am sure you are one yourself.

Lord Jesus, thank You for making us realize that it is our sins that paralyze us, and render us helpless when we are in dire straits and in need of help. Thank You for the grace of Penance, which reconciles us back to You and the Father. And thank You for our “friends of faith” who help us when we are far from You. Bless them for their kind hearts and help them in their determination to beat the odds. Amen.

The Compassion of Jesus

Mark 1: 40-45
Heb 3: 7-14 / Psa 95

Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!”
(Mark 1:41)

The “leprosies” that plague us
Are the consequence of sin.
Our hope and healing comes from Jesus,
Who said, “I do will it, be made clean.”

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged Him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a stern warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45)

Reflection

How ironic that by restoring the leper back to his community, our Lord found Himself instead unable to mix freely in any town or village, and had become the “outsider” that the former leper had been. This was because the healed man did not obey the instructions of Jesus, telling everyone he met about his miraculous healing. Now everyone wanted to see who this ‘miracle worker’ was, and Jesus could no longer enter the towns or villages, but had to confine Himself to deserted places.

A study of the leper’s character reveals both good and bad qualities. He had boldness of faith, breaking traditional norms of keeping distance from people by approaching Jesus for healing. He was a humble man, begging on his knees, pleading for the Lord’s will, and not presuming on His kindness. And yet he also lacked a sense of gratitude for disregarding Jesus’ stern warning not to tell anyone about his healing.

Disobedience has always gotten man into trouble ever since God created him. If only Adam and Eve had not disobeyed the simple rules laid down by their Maker, life for all of mankind would still be a paradise on earth. And yet God did not allow the leprosy of sin to bring mankind to perdition. To bring man back to a clean slate, God would end up thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem, ostracized and tortured in a way worse than any leper.

Our disobedience and wayward ways do not affect the compassion of God whenever we come to Him in humble supplication. He is always moved with pity by our various afflictions. Although Jesus is no longer with us physically, I believe he still manifests His love and compassion for the sick through His servants who are called to minister to those who are in need of healing. A brother in our community requested a few of our members yesterday to pray over a relative in the i.c.u. who had a severe blood infection. His doctor advised his wife that only prayers could save him now. His name is Roy. He is 45 years old and has four young children. Fortunately, the doctors in the hospital allowed four of us to visit him in his small cubicle and pray for his healing. We continue to pray for Roy and ask you, dear reader to join us in praying to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, You can cleanse the blood of Roy. Amen.”

We were all unclean, Lord, in our sinfulness; but You touched us with your Word, and You have made us clean. Grant that we may never disobey Your statutes and decrees again. Amen.

Taking Time to Pray

Mark 1: 29-39
Heb 2:14-18 / Psa 105

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray.
(Mark 1:35)

We always rush, we have no time,
So much in mind of work to do;
Lest we forget things more sublime,
What if in turn, God forgets you?

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So He went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was. Rising very early before dawn, Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray. Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:29-39)

Reflection

The writing style of St. Mark in his Gospel narration gives the reader the impression that our Lord’s life was fast-paced and packed full of activities – he was healing the sick, exorcising demons, preaching, and rebuking His critics. As soon as He had organized His core group, He immediately launched His ministry (even on a Sabbath), curing a demoniac in the synagogue, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then attending to the problems of the whole town who had massed at Peter’s door — well into the night. But as much as He showed His love and concern for His people, Jesus never missed the opportunity to pause and find the time and place to pray to the Father.

Our Lord shows us what it means to be a man for others – one who is sensitive to society’s ills, gives his time and energy generously and lovingly to promote love, peace and justice, restore health and order – but at the same time also finds time and space for the Source of these blessings. Jesus displayed this balance in His life not only for the benefit of His followers, but especially for us today, who place too much importance in achieving the most in life in the soonest time possible. In the hyper-speed technology of our age, how easily we lose sight of the necessity of slowing down to spend quality time with the Maker of time.

If our Lord Jesus saw it fit to ‘recharge His batteries’ in meditation with the Father, how much more for us, who sorely lack the spirit and enthusiasm that our Lord possessed? Just as our body needs the nourishment of food, so does our soul, which needs to come before God “as an empty pitcher before a flowing fountain.”

At times it is for lack of prayers that we become sick or even stricken with a deadly disease. Being possessed by an evil spirit is certainly the result of a lack of spiritual guidance and nurturing. Quite often, people only find time to pray intensely to God when they or their loved ones are already in the throes of a serious ailment. If only they had made daily prayers as much an important part of their schedule as taking care of their bodily needs, they would have had a more balanced, healthy life.

I must confess to being guilty of what I am preaching about. My wife and I have long maintained a regular schedule of prayers and daily masses. But when the Christmas holidays took us on a two-week vacation to Manila and Laguna last month, the reunions with our kids, grandkids and in-laws disrupted our schedule of masses. We sorely missed receiving the Lord in our daily masses. Thank God we were spared of any illness. Being away from God too long can be dangerous to your health.

Father, thank You for all the blessings that You have given to me and my family, and our community. Remind us always to give more time to listen to Your bidding in our prayer and meditation, so that all the things that we do in the days to come may be pleasing to You. Amen.