The Fulfillment of a Covenant

John 11: 45-56
Ez 37: 21-28/ Jer 31: 10-13

…it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may be saved.
(John 11: 50)

Many things may not be understood,
Such is the mystery of God’s plan;
But all things will work out for the good,
The reason why Jesus became man.

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs,’ they said, ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take our land and our nation.’ One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not speak in his own person, but as high priest of that year he was prophesying that Jesus was to die for the nation- and not for the nation only, but also to gather together into one the scattered children of God. From that day onwards they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples. The Jewish Passover was drawing near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves were looking out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’ The chief priests and Pharisees had by now given their orders: anyone who knew where he was must inform them so that they could arrest him.

Reflections

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this news was brought to the Pharisees, who, together with the chief priests convened the Sanhedrin. This was the last straw. “What are we going to do?” they asked. The motive of the religious leaders was political, and for them even noble, but without realizing it, their evil plot was actually working into the Divine Plan.

The Jewish leaders were so short-sighted. They were so worried about their positions of authority they failed to see that Jesus, Who raised a man from the dead could only be God Himself walking in their midst. Instead, they took matters into their own hands and plotted to kill the Messiah that their Scriptures had been prophesying all along. Caiaphas, the high priest, predicted that Jesus had to die for the nation, but the death of Jesus did not prevent the Romans from eventually destroying Jerusalem. It did however fulfill the prophecy of the prophet Ezekiel (first reading). “Thus says the Lord God: I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation” (Ezek.37:21). It also brought about the prophecy of Jeremiah, (Resp. Ps.) who said, “He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock” (Jer.31:10). Jesus Himself said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32). All of these predictions fulfilled the covenant that Yahweh God gave to His people. No greater covenant of love was accomplished than the death of His own Beloved Son on the cross in Calvary.

As we prepare for Palm Sunday tomorrow, and the coming Passion of our Lord Jesus, let us reflect on the covenant that we have made with Him. Realizing the depth of His love, Who willingly accepted pain and death for our sins, let us ask ourselves if we have willingly sacrificed our own comforts for the sake of those in need.

Lord, may we always be ready to set aside our comfortable lives to follow Your will, to willingly suffer for others, that we may also share in Your victory and glory. Amen.

The Divine Trait of Man

John 10: 31-42
Jer 20:10-13 / Psa 18:2-7

Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?
(John 10:34)

To everyone reverence is due,
As each person is truly divine.
All our actions and words must be true,
According to God’s will and design.

Again the opponents of Jesus picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If He called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the One whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize Him, but He escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There He stayed, and many people came to Him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus. (John 10:31-42)

Reflection

How ironic it seems that in their fidelity to One God, Yahweh, the Jews rejected the divinity of His Only Son, Jesus Christ. In their one-track minds Jesus the Nazarene had committed one of the most grievous of crimes – blasphemy – attributing to Himself the qualities that belong only to God. And yet, how many times had Jesus proven to them the truthfulness of His words? How could a mere man, or even a prophet have a complete grasp of the Holy Scriptures – unless He Himself was the one who inspired their writing? What man could change the hearts and minds of pagans and Samaritans as easily as He could change water into wine? Who could wield such authority in cleansing the temple of money changers as He did evil spirits from the possessed? Or who could possess such power over nature to calm a storm, wilt a tree, and even bring the dead back to life? And how many times had they tried to arrest Him or stone Him, but they could not, simply because He could transform Himself into a spirit? No man could do the things Jesus did unless he was also divine.

Jesus said, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? Every person has God within him, because we are not only made in His image and likeness, but by Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been made one with Him as children of God, and inheritors of His kingdom in heaven. What an awesome thought! And yet, if we ponder deeply on the matter, we are truly gods in the way God designed our existence. As Scripture says, God made us “a little less than a god, …crowned with glory and splendour, …made lord over the work of His hands, …set all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-6). In fact, Jesus assured us, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn.14:12). If God did not endow us with such reverence, would He have taken all the trouble to humble Himself, be shamed and tortured and die for our sake? That’s how precious we are in God’s eyes. So how come we can’t accord the same kind of respect, or even just simple regard for our fellow human beings? Perhaps because we still do not see Jesus in others.

Lord Jesus, help us to be able to see You in others, because all of God’s children are made in Your image and likeness. By Your grace, dear God, may we accord all the people in our life with the same kind of respect and compassion that You showed in Your life, even to the least and the lost. Amen.

The Word of Jesus is Life

John 8: 51-59
Gen 17:3-9 / Psa 105:4-9

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.
(John 8:51)

Life here is but a drop of water
In the ocean of eternity.
If we want to live forever,
Let God’s Word guide our life’s destiny.

(Jesus said), Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” At this, the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!” Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:51-59)

Reflection

I suppose it was practically impossible for the Jews to accept the claim of Jesus that Yahweh God was His Father, and that He existed long before Abraham was born. The Judaic religion had always been monotheistic, upholding the belief that there is only one God, in contrast to the pagans who believed in the existence of several gods. Most of them had regarded Jesus as perhaps one of the prophets, because it was common knowledge that God could empower His prophets to perform miracles. For them, therefore, Jesus’ claim that He was God was tantamount to blasphemy, and according to Jewish law, deserved to be meted the ultimate punishment of death.

One of the great mysteries in our Christian faith is why God had to undergo a complicated process of establishing His Church among a people who could not understand Him, and who even condemned Him for seemingly contravening their established tradition and belief. But the Messiah did not come just to solve a political problem of the Jews. And if God could make a supreme sacrifice — as Abraham was asked to prove his faith– to save mankind, surely the Israelite nation could have made that leap of faith (as the disciples did) in believing the words of Jesus that He was indeed Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Now we know that the message our Lord was trying to convey was not only for the Jews of His time, who might as well be deaf because they were taking His words literally; Jesus was speaking in the Gospel of St. John for all of His followers – Christians of all generations up to the present time. He was saying that His Word is eternal, and His Word is life for all who believe in Him. It is His promise, as God, that whoever heeds His words in the Bible and take them as a rule in his life will never experience death – in the sense that he will inherit eternal life. Jesus is the Word of God and the Giver of life, as He plainly demonstrated in many instances in His brief life on earth. During this season of Lent, let us meditate on the words and life of our Lord in the Gospel, and ask ourselves, “Do I believe and accept the words of Jesus, and accept Him as my Lord and Savior?” Then I should no longer fear the sting of death, because He is the Giver of life.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, not only for giving me this life that I live, but more importantly, for offering me the gift of eternal life in the Father’s kingdom through Your precious Word. I accept Your offer, and pray that my life will be a fitting sacrifice to be worthy of it. Amen.

The Feast of the Annunciation

Luke 1: 26-38
Is 7: 10-14; 8: 10 / Ps 40: 7-11 / Heb 10: 4-10

‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’
(Luke 1:38)

Her virtues that we emulate
Will shield us from all tribulation;
Today let’s pause to meditate
Her ‘Yes’ that led to our redemption

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, highly favoured one! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.” Mary asked the angel, “How will this be, since I have no relations with a man?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary answered, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Reflection

In the sixth month of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce her role in God’s plan of salvation. Pledged to be married soon to Joseph, Mary knew she would be placed in great danger if she was discovered to be with child. But this awesome news that she would become the mother of “the Most High, Who would reign over the house of Jacob forever” was a divine privilege that a simple village girl like her could hardly refuse. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” After hearing these revelations, Mary could only reply in total submission, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The Church celebrates this day as the Feast of the Annunciation. It is a special day worth commemorating because this day in human history marks the Incarnation of the promised Redeemer, Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) It was in relation to the date of the Savior’s birth on December 25 that the Church selected March 25 (exactly nine months before) as the day when the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took place, the same day that the great news was announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We do not know if Mary was well versed with the prophetic writings, particularly the words of Isaiah in the first reading: “. . . the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isa 7:14) But her canticle in vs. 46 to 55 revealed her ecstatic feelings to her cousin Elizabeth, knowing that she occupied a unique place in the history of mankind, because she was now bearing the Son of God. And yet this special honor in no way affected her humble disposition. She even took pains riding a donkey to visit her aged cousin, and stayed to serve her for three months until Elizabeth delivered her own baby.

The Annunciation highlights what we admire most in our Mother Mary: her humility, submission, and obedience to God’s will. Her example clearly defines the meaning of discipleship, which all followers of her Son should strive to emulate.

We thank You, Father for the example of our Mother Mary, providing a beacon for us in times of darkness and trials, for no woman ever felt the pains that she had in life. Amen.

Look Up to the Cross of Jesus

John 8:21-30
Num 21:4-9 / Psa 102

You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
(John 8:23-24)

We need resistance to get across
Life’s trials, problems and pressures;
Better to bear the weight of the Cross
Than the fat of the world’s pleasures.

Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am He, you will indeed die in your sins.” They asked, “Who are you?” Jesus replied, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say in judgment of you. But He who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from Him I tell the world.” They did not understand that He was telling them about His Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am He and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The One Who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him. (John 8:21-30)

Reflection

Jesus told his listeners: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM He…” (8:28). Earlier (in John 3:15), He had told them: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

The followers of Jesus did not understand that He was predicting His own crucifixion, being “lifted up” on the cross in Calvary. Even when He cited the bronze serpent that Moses made for the Israelites to gaze up to in order to be saved from snake bites (Numbers 21:4-9), His words remained a mystery to them. It was only after the apostles had been enlightened by the Holy Spirit in Pentecost that they would see the powerful significance of the cross of Jesus in their lives.

The souls of those who do not look up to the cross of Jesus, the symbol of our salvation, are truly in danger of dying in the poison of sin.

I used to wonder about the significance of the saraph — the symbol of a snake coiled around a cup that is seen in the signboards of pharmacies. Someone once told me it symbolized the venom from the snake which is the only antidote for snake bites. Now I believe the symbol more appropriately recalls the salvation of the Israelites in the desert, who were bitten by poisonous snakes because of their complaints against God and Moses. Ironically, from the deadly poison also comes the healing antidote.

Pharmacies provide the medicines that heal our physical ailments. (“Pharmacy” comes from the Greek word pharmakon, which means “poison”.) In the same way, the cross, which many regard as punishment for sins, is actually the source of spiritual healing and salvation. Those who prefer to “belong in the world” do not want to have anything to do with the cross, because they do not want to face up to their sins. They do not know that without the cross they have no hope of salvation.

Thank You, Jesus for giving us the inspiration and the wisdom to persevere in the hope of eternal life with you. These make our crosses in life easier to bear.

A Woman Caught in Adultery

John 8: 1-11
Dan 13:1-9,15-62 / Psa 23

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
(John 8:7)

God alone can make us virtuous;
No good we do can we claim our own.
Jesus tells those who feel righteous:
“Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the elders first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she replied. (John 8: 1-11)

Reflection

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” This verse has been quoted so casually that it has become a universal indictment against those who dare to stand in moral judgment over the faults or misbehaviors of others. And yet, through ages past, the wisdom of these words still remain as potent as when they were first addressed to the accusers of the adulterous woman. For all of us are sinners, and no one can judge others for their wrongdoings, except perhaps those who have been officially condemned by the bar of justice. And even these judges must be prepared to answer to their Greater Judge at the proper time for their decisions. This was why Jesus cautioned, “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” (Matt.7:1-2).

Still, there are some unscrupulous individuals who use this verse to cover up their own crimes or malfeasances. In our own city where two known politicians have been rivals in many elections, the people were intrigued by big billboards upon which were boldly printed the words “Let him without sin cast the first stone. –John 8:7” Whoever was responsible in putting up those billboards — the well-informed citizens know who it was—only succeeded in showing his lack of tact by unwittingly admitting his malpractices in office, and then shame-facedly using biblical scripture as a smokescreen in hitting back at his accusers. What gave him the authority to use the very words of our Lord against his critics who have every legal right to question his use of the city’s funds? By using this verse in John 8:7, he only compared himself to the woman caught in adultery– guilty as charged.

Our Lord forbids us to judge the character of our neighbor, for He alone knows his true nature. However, as His Word in Scripture tells us, we must not tolerate wrongful or immoral acts, and in fact it is our duty to point out what is wrong or evil. St. James said, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (Jam 5:20). In fact, even our spiritual leaders whom we believe are in the wrong must be corrected, as St. Paul wrote: “But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning” (1Tim 5:20). In our zeal to stand for the truth, however, let us be guided by the words of a certain wise man who said, “It is more prudent to be kind than to be right.” Finally, Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Lk.17:3).

Father God, grant us the grace of discernment, so that we may be guided accordingly in our dealings with our brothers and sisters, to stand firmly for the truth of the Gospel, but being considerate of their feelings when correcting the error of their ways. Amen.