Greed Grasps, Generosity Gains

Luke 12:13-21
Rom 4:20-25 / Lk.1

Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for though one may be rich, a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
(Luke 12:15)

All wealth in life is an illusion,
Gold here on earth is in heaven dross;
If your faith lies in your possession
A greater treasure will be your loss.

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator? Then He said to the crowd, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for though one may be rich, a man’s life does not consist of possessions.” And He told them this parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasures for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:13-21)

Reflection

Our Lord’s preaching was rudely interrupted by this man who was more concerned about his worldly wants rather than the eternal lessons that our Lord was teaching. But Jesus always employed any situation as an occasion to impart His wisdom, and in this instance, He warned His listeners to be on guard against the sin of avarice. A man in the grip of greed is usually one who is concerned only of himself, and has little regard for others. The rich fool in Jesus’ parable is talking to himself, and even refers to himself (the words “I” and “my”) eleven times. There is no mention of thanks to God or others for his good fortune, nor even plans to share his bumper crop. In fact, typical of a shrewd Shylock, he even plans to hoard the harvest so that he can wait for a better price, instead of flooding the market to benefit the public.

Against this evil of avarice God gives us the grace of generosity. In our community’s worship assembly one Friday, our prayer leader chose the theme “Generosity”, which is quite fitting for this month of mission, a time when we are to give of ourselves by bringing Christ’s Good News of salvation to others, or by donating money to our missionaries or our seminarians. In the short personal testimonies that followed, we were touched to hear the many creative ways by which the Holy Spirit had led some members to “give without counting the cost.” Our worship leader shared about their sense of gratification in providing scholarship to an indigent youth who later became his mechanic. Another brother in Christ expressed his gratitude for the generosity of friends who helped him in his hospitalization expenses. One senior lady member even rued how frustrated she felt that she could not lend a huge amount of money to a colleague who sought her help. Many more shared about being charitable, but the most moving testimony was not about giving of her resources, but about sharing to a large audience in a mall one sister’s bout with cancer, and how good the Lord was for having healed her completely. What she gave was more valuable than money – to a lot of people suffering from afflictions– she shared her faith, and gave them hope.

Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Lest, having too much I deny You saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or being in want, I steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (Prov. 30: 8-9) Thank You, Lord for everything in my life, especially for a loving family and a prayerful community. Amen.

Blasphemy

Luke 12: 8-12
Rom 4:13,16-18/Ps 105:6-9,42-43

. . . he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
(Luke 12:10)

Those who see only evil in good
Trap themselves forever in their sin;
Like the scribes who never understood,
‘Tis the Holy Spirit they blaspheme.

(Jesus said), “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:8-12)

Reflection

In today’s Gospel passage, our Lord Jesus showed His disciples how the sin of blasphemy can evolve. First, the sinner denies Jesus (as his Lord and Savior) before men. By doing so, he loses the guardianship and protection of God’s angels in heaven. Then, in his defiant state of mind (and heart), the sinner speaks wrongful words against Jesus. Perhaps he starts criticizing the words or actions of the Lord or His followers as in the case of St. Paul, who persecuted the early Church which teachings he considered to be heretical. This sin can still be forgiven, because although we are prone to commit mistakes, we also have the faculty to learn from them. But the hard-core sinner abandons all hope, and blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. This was the case when the Pharisees attributed the power of Jesus in casting out evil spirits to Satan, the prince of demons (Mat.12:22-32).

Why was their sin of blasphemy unforgiveable? This is because the Pharisees refused to accord the goodness that they had witnessed to be the work of the Holy Spirit, and instead gave the credit to Satan, the archenemy of God. By doing so, the Pharisees knew that they were insulting Jesus to His face, but remained proud and unrepentant. The scribes in Jesus’ time were also rightly condemned because they were constantly striving to suppress the truth in Jesus’ teachings, thus driving people away from the Good News. Jesus told them, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Lk.11:52) Thus they were also guilty of offending the Holy Spirit, and were also in danger of falling into the sin of blasphemy for rejecting the Word of God as truth.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews could have been referring to sinners who take the mercy of God for granted: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb.10:26-29) Jesus suffered greatly for our redemption; heaven forbid that we take His blood on the cross lightly by presuming on God’s boundless mercy.

Dear God, we are sorry for all the sins that we had committed in the past, and we are eternally grateful for Your great love, for saving us, unworthy as we are. Grant that we may always seek the help of the Holy Spirit when we are subjected to temptation, and with the intercession of our Blessed Mother, may we always be faithful to Your Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ up to the very end of our life on earth. Amen.

Proclaim from the Rooftops

Luke 12: 1-7
Rom 4: 1-8 / Psa 32

“There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed.”
(Lk.12:2.)

All things in darkness come to light;
No lie can ever be concealed.
Who can hide secrets from God’s sight?
In time the truth will be revealed.

Meanwhile, so many people were crowding together that they were trampling one another underfoot. Jesus began to speak, first of all to His disciples. “Beware of the yeast—that is, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. I tell you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, He is the one to fear. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:1-7)

Reflection

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was what made them contemptible to God, because they thought they could always conceal their duplicity. Their “yeast” was what made them bloat with pride. To their fellow Jews they might have appeared great in piety and spirituality, but Jesus exposed them for what they really were — just full of air.

There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Jesus knew their plots against Him, and these words were directed at them to let them know that He was aware of their evil schemes. At the same time, Jesus was also saying that there is nothing unknown to God, whether it’s the number of our hairs or the countless stars.

There is no secret hidden from the eyes of God. And He cares for all of His creation – even the worthless sparrows. How much more for us, whom He made in His image and likeness? Only one thing He requires of us to be worthy of His love – to be sincere in our faith. And that means being truthful in all our ways. Instead of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees which hides the truth, we must speak out for the truth—“Be honest even if others are not!”– and proclaim the Gospel “from the rooftops.”

Our Lord condemned the scholars of the law, the lawyers, who “withhold the key of knowledge” (Lk.11:5) to keep the masses uninformed and ignorant. St. Paul, on the other hand, stand as the model for us to follow. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek. For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous by faith will live’” (Rom.1:16-17). What we have learned — the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit– obliges us to share with others. Otherwise, we have reason to fear Him “Who has the power to cast into hell.”

Lord, You are the God of justice and truth; in Your sight, hypocrisy and lies writhe and die like worms under the glaring sun. We praise and thank You for keeping us in the shelter of Your Word, the light of our life on earth, and the Promise of everlasting life. Keep us always faithful to the Gospel of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Charged with the Blood of Prophets

Luke 11:47-54
Rom 3: 21-30 / Psa 130

Alas for you lawyers who have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves and have prevented others from going in who wanted to.
(Luke 11:52)

The sins our ancestors committed
The prophets paid for at the stake.
Woe to sinners who take for granted
The blood that they shed for our sake.

Jesus said: “Woe to you! You build the memorials of the prophets whom your ancestors killed! In this way you both witness to what your ancestors did and approve it; they did the killing, you do the building. That is why the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles; some they will slaughter and persecute, so that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the Temple.’ Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to answer for it all. Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves and have prevented others from going in who wanted to.” When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began a furious attack on Him and tried to force answers from Him on innumerable questions, lying in wait to catch Him out in something He might say. (Luke 11:47-54)

Reflection

Being omniscient, Jesus was denouncing the scribes and Pharisees of His generation not only for the prophets that their ancestors had killed, but for the early Christian martyrs, including Himself, that He was prophesying these Jewish religious leaders would eventually persecute. The Pharisees and scribes claimed to be the traditional keepers of God’s laws, but in reality their main concern was to maintain the status quo, whereby the regulations and rules contained in the Talmud (that they themselves crafted) gave them power over the people. Jesus’ immediate concern was to free the people from the burden of these laws, thus earning the enmity of the religious elite of that generation. As Jesus foretold, they would have Him crucified, and His followers persecuted, jailed and murdered. And true to His words, the Jews in turn would be punished, because in the year AD 70, the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Roman forces.

There is a lesson here for some of us who might consider ourselves “on the right path” just because we study the scriptures diligently, and go to mass daily, or hold positions of rank or authority in our church or community. Like the Pharisees who were very zealous in living their life according to a moral code, we can also become proud and self-assured. For instance, do we shun people who are not like us, just because they belong to another denomination, faith or community? Or are we only concerned about our own ‘spiritual growth’, never bothering to share God’s message of salvation to others? Do we make judgments about other people, and telling our associates to steer clear of them, or don’t believe what they are claiming “because they are corrupt” (based only on hearsay) or some such unfounded accusations? Then we are no different from the scribes that our Lord condemned, for “taking away the key of knowledge”. By our prejudice we fail to enter into a deeper understanding of God’s law of love, and we even prevent others from being enlightened. As leaders of our community, we must never forget that we will be held accountable for everything that we teach or reveal to those who are under our care. As our Lord Jesus said, “I tell you that on the day of judgment everyone will have to render an account for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt.12:36-37).

Thank you, Lord for teaching us in today’s Gospel that we have a great responsibility in reaching out to others in spiritual assistance, just as you have been as generous to us in all the lessons that we have learned from You. Thank You for making us understand that our faith is not defined by rules and religious acts, but by Your grace alone. Amen.

Messengers of Hope

Luke 10: 1-9
2 Tm 4:10-17b/Ps 145:10-13,17-18

The harvest is rich, but the workers are few; so you must ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to His harvest.
(Luke 10: 2)

We must be bold heralds willing
To share the Good News of the Lord;
We are all called to bring healing
To where men hunger for His Word.

Jesus appointed 72 other disciples, and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He intended to visit. He told them, “The harvest is rich, but the workers are few; so you must ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to His harvest. Courage! I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace be to this house!’ If a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking at their table, for the worker deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:1-9)

Reflection

The ministry of proclaiming the Good News was never meant only for a select few. This vital part of our Brotherhood’s culture takes on more meaning in this month of mission. All of us are urged to prepare our life testimony for sharing in breakfast meetings of our chapter or in other chapters or outreaches of the BCBP where one or a couple is invited. In this way we imitate the disciples of Christ who were sent to preach the hope of salvation. Whenever we share our spiritual transformation during a breakfast, it is like preparing our listeners for Jesus’ arrival in their lives. The task is not an easy one, and requires fervent prayers that our sharing may touch other brothers and sisters to become “workers” themselves in the Lord’s vineyard.

Ollie and I prayed for courage when we boarded the small aircraft in Cebu that took us on a mission to share God’s Word in Kalibo chapter and its Boracay outreach a few years ago. No problem with provisions, as our brothers and sisters in those communities pampered us with sumptuous meals and first-class accommodation. How true our Lord’s words are even to this day.

God is called the Lord of the harvest because He is the one who sends out workers. He supplies all the speakers in the breakfast meetings of the various chapters and outreaches of BCBP all over the country. Members of our chapter regularly travel by pairs to the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Malaybalay, Tagum, Panabo, Digos, Gen. Santos, Marbel, Butuan, and Iligan to share God’s Word. Many have been guided in their spiritual journey through this unique culture of our brotherhood.

Help us, Father God to travel light in spreading the Good News of Your kingdom, not to be weighed down by temporal concerns, and be bold under Your protection even as we are sent forth like lambs among wolves. Bless our mission, that those who listen to Your message may also become workers in Your vineyard. Amen.

Alms for Atonement

Luke 11: 37-41
Rom 1: 16-25 / Psa 19

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

What rituals in our religion
We seek for our purification,
When all we need is compassion
To the weakest for our salvation.

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

Reflection

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

The Pharisees had become so engrossed in the performance of certain rituals according to their Talmud that they believed being faithful in their observance was enough to keep them righteous before God and in the eyes of men, even if they indulged themselves in greed, envy and malevolent schemes (against Jesus). But our Lord knew their thoughts, and boldly called them “fools!” for failing to see that they cannot hide their plunder and evil from God “Who made the outside (and) inside also”. The best way to cleanse the greed and all forms of evil in their hearts would be to practice charity and almsgiving.

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

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

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