The Most Precious Name

Matthew 1:18-25
Jer 23:5-8 / Ps 72:1-2,12-13,18-19

“You are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:21)

Lord Jesus, we glorify Your Name
In every place and at every hour;
May we never mention it in vain,
But only for its saving power.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took Mary as his wife into his home. (Matthew 1: 18-24)

Reflection

Jesus.” Whenever I close my eyes in meditation of that beloved Name, the power of its most gentle sound seems to wash away all tensions and anxieties of the day. The oriental religions have their “mantras” when they meditate. Did you know that we too can meditate like them to attain inner peace? But our one-word mantra is far more powerful than all their mantras combined. The Name of our Lord is just so wonderful because it signifies salvation. (Breathe deeply, say: “Jesus, I love you.”)

“God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…” (Phil. 2:9-10) And yet how casually many people use His name as if cursing when they are frustrated or ill-tempered. Or even as a joke, (coming from a priest at that in his homily!): A teacher asked her students where Jesus lived, and little Tommy said “In the toilet.” Asked how come, the boy answered, “When daddy wants to go in, he shouts, “Jesus! How long are you going to stay there?!” This is surely the work of the enemy in order to diminish the importance of Jesus in our lives. If only these people would realize that in faith that holy Name can bring about solutions even to the most trivial problems. I have read many personal testimonies in “blogs” about computers working, cars starting, lost keys being found, etc. when people simply prayed “in Jesus’ Name”. St. Paul advises us that, “whatever you do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col. 3:17) Let us always honor His Name, never taking it in vain, but blessing each other by it.

“Blessed forever be His glorious Name; may the whole earth be filled with His glory.” (Psalm 72:19) Dear Lord Jesus, may Your Name be ever in my lips, in my mind and in my heart, so that my days and nights will always be filled with love and gladness, and my life be made holy. Amen.

Genealogy of Our Savior

Matthew 1: 1-17
Gn 49:2.8-10 / Ps 72

Of her was born Jesus, Who is called the Messiah.
(Matthew 1:17)

Forty-two generations are but
A short span to the Maker of time.
And although sinful scions begot
The God-man, ‘twas part of His design.

In today’s Gospel of Matthew, he outlines the genealogy of our Lord, Jesus Christ in the lineage of King David, starting from Abraham down to His father Joseph, the husband of Mary. The Gospel writer divides this genealogy of forty-two generations into three spans: from Abraham to David, from David to the exile in Babylon, and from the exile to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. (Read Matthew 1:1-17)

Reflection

In writing the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew wanted to prove to the Jews that Jesus was truly the Messiah, and the descendant of King David (Isa 11:1-2). For the Jews, genealogies were important, to trace one’s lineage as well as tribal affiliation. In this way, Matthew was able to show the genuine “royal pedigree” of the Messiah. But it must have been a long and tedious effort for St. Matthew to trace the lineage of our Lord. Why did he go to so much trouble? One reason perhaps was because Matthew wanted to show that time was of no consequence to the Maker of time. Jesus had already existed as far back as the time of Abraham (“Before Abraham was, I am” – John 8:58). God had made a covenant with Abraham and the fulfillment of that promise would come in God’s good time. There is something profound in the way God made 42 lifetimes elapse before the realization of His divine plans. In the context of God’s infinite nature, generations of man’s earthly history are but a few days. God wants us to understand that this single lifetime is but a very short passage that we shouldn’t take too seriously—including the things here that we treasure. Instead, we must always keep our focus on the eternal. Time is gold? Only when spent with God.

It is also strange to note that along the genealogical tree, Matthew included the names of four controversial women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. And even stranger still, after naming forty generations of fathers, Matthew ends his genealogy with a mother, the Virgin Mary. “Of her was born Jesus, called the Messiah.” (1:17)

Who was Tamar? We encounter her in the book of Genesis ch.38. She was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of Jacob’s children. She was given in marriage to two of Judah’s sons, Er and Onan, who both died because they offended Yahweh. As Judah was afraid that his third son might befall the same fate, he did not allow him to marry Tamar. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah, her father-in-law in order to have an heir by him. She bore the twins Perez and Zerah.

“Salmon begot Boaz, whose mother was Rahab…” (1:5). In the book of Joshua (ch.2), we meet Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho. As a Canaanite, she was considered unclean, an outcast. In order to save herself and her family from the invading armies of Israel, she made a treasonous pact with the spies of Joshua, whom she hid in her house in Jericho. And yet this prostitute bore Boaz, who was a God-fearing man. Boaz married Ruth, who was another Gentile from the tribe of Moab. Although Ruth was known for her fidelity, piety and moral integrity, (Book of Ruth), nonetheless, she was a Moabite, the descendants of the incestuous relationship of Lot with his daughters. “The elder daughter bore a son, who was named Moab” (Gen. 19:37). Finally, who doesn’t know Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah, one of the generals of King David? He lusted for her when he spotted her bathing from his rooftop, and because of her, King David committed two great sins of murder and covetousness. He caused the death of her husband in order to have her. From her came the great and wise King Solomon, who, in spite of his great wisdom also fell from God’s favor.

So the Messiah was descended from two prostitutes, one from a tribe produced from incest, and from an adulteress. What does this tell us? Simply this: that Jesus Christ, the King of kings in heaven and on earth, was truly human, and the friend of sinners. He Himself said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt.9:13). And being also sinless, He was born of a sinless Mother, by the grace of God, His Father.

Thank You, Father God, for giving us Mary, the sinless Mother of Your Son, to be our Mother. May our generations be blessed through her loving intercession. Amen.

Testimony of Love

John 5:33-36
Isa 56:1-3a,6-8 / Psa 67

For the works that the Father has given me to finish— the very works that I am doing— testify that the Father has sent me.
(John 5:36)

Let good works testify to His love,
And herald that Christmas is near;
May we learn the true message of
God’s Gift Who brings Yuletide cheer.

“You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:33-36)

Reflection

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah (56:1-2) reminded God’s Chosen People: “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, and my justice about to be revealed. Happy is the man who does this, the son of man who holds to it; who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” These words may be intended for us today as well. Observing what is right and doing what is just do not simply mean avoiding sin or wrongdoing, but actively performing our Christian duties towards the least and the lost among God’s children whenever and wherever we encounter them. As our “Salvation (Christ) is about to come”, how well have we prepared ourselves to welcome Him?

We all know the significance of Christmas. It is a season of giving. Never mind the gifts that are perfunctorily given to our loved ones and inaanaks every year. Anyway, Christmas is still more than a week away. What is more important is what we are giving to our Lord Jesus, Who is the Birthday Celebrant, after all.
What we can give to Jesus this Christmas are our good works, especially in giving joy to those who need it most, the sick and dying, like the helpless who have been abandoned by their families. Our community received this privilege of sharing our time, talent and treasure last Saturday (after our breakfast meeting) in our “Bucket Challenge” Christmas project. Some of our young, creative members raised funds to buy plastic buckets full of grocery items that we gave as gifts to more than 40 indigent and aged residents of an old folks’ home. We fed them, danced and sang with them, and shared with them the spirit of Christmas. We gave them a party. As Jesus said, “When you give a party, do not invite your friends or relatives, or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you have a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk.14:12-14). “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed” (Prov.19:17). “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb.13:16). “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Truly, it is the good works that we perform for the least of His children that testify to our love for Jesus, and the best gift that we can give Him this Christmas.

You have blessed us, Lord, more than we can ever be a blessing to others. You have shown us how we can be adopted children of Your Father by sharing with the least of Your children the joy of the Christmas season. Amen.

Only For His Children

Matthew 21:23-27
Nm 24:2-7,15-17 / Ps 25

Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.
(Matthew 21:27)

To gain wisdom, Lord, we have found
Faith and trust are what You require.
The crafty and smart You confound,
The humble of heart You inspire.

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while He was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Matthew 21:23-27)

Reflection

The chief priests and elders of the Jews remained skeptical of Jesus’ divinity because they refused to open their hearts to His teachings for fear of losing their exalted status among the Jews. They could not even accept the miracles that He was performing as solid proof of His divinity.

People who are wise in the ways of the world are guilty of the same kind of cynicism because they do not read the Word of God and meditate on His Gospel lessons as often as they should. This lack of interest in God’s Word is what makes them question the authority of God. And the more they doubt His power and love, the least likely their prayers will be answered. God loves a trusting heart, and manifests His loving ways to the man of faith who has confidence in His compassion and mercy.

We must never question the things in life which we cannot understand, however unfair it might appear to us. We must never doubt the goodness of our Lord, even in the midst of poverty and hardships. Human minds are too limited to understand the designs of the Creator. Like the ants that labor below us who can never begin to comprehend the mysteries of man, neither can we fathom God’s plans. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). We must never ask the Lord why. We just have to trust Him in all things, against all doubts and fears.

God is under no obligation to reveal to man the mysteries in His creation, just as it is His prerogative to grant His gifts of wisdom and discernment to whoever He pleases to give. And most of the time, the wise and the learned are not so favored; it is to the little ones that the Father chooses to reveal His mysteries (Mt. 11:25). As the psalmist wrote, “Good and upright is the Lord… He guides the humble to justice, He teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).

We praise and thank You, Father God, for revealing to us in the Bible everything that our limited intelligence can understand, fortifying our faith in You and in our Lord, Jesus Christ. By the grace and power of Your Holy Spirit, may we grow in wisdom in order to share the Gospel, and for the glory of Your kingdom. Amen.

Preparing for the Lord’s Coming

Matthew 17:9a,10-13
Sir 48:1-4,9-11 / Psa 80

…taken up in the whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses; designated in the prophecies of doom to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks, to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
(Sirach 48:9-10)

Make straight our ways, repent from sin!
Else how can we recognize Him?
He has come “to restore all things,”
Our Lord and Saviour, King of kings.

As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He was speaking to them about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:9a,10-13)

Reflection

St. John the Baptist was the last herald of God before His Word finally became flesh. Elijah was the first of the great prophets of the Old Testament who singlehandedly faced 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah in Mt. Carmel to show the people of Israel their folly in following these false gods of King Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings, 18:19-40). Elijah was taken up alive by a flaming chariot into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). The Jews believed that he would return to herald the coming of the Messiah.

Elijah had indeed returned—in the person of St. John the Baptizer. Have you noticed how in every season of Advent he has always been playing an important role? That’s because he was commissioned by God since conception to prepare the people for their redemption. Once again he cries: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” Note that when our Lord said, “So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands,” He was also referring to us whenever we fall into grievous sin. Let us not forget that He had already done everything that any man or God could give to redeem us. Sin is indeed a great insult to God because the sinner takes for granted the great sacrifice and death that God had gone through to save him in His boundless love for mankind.

Repentance cleans us of our sins and makes us whole again so that we can recognize the importance of Advent in our lives. Our God is a God of compassion, and forgives us for not having prepared ourselves well for His coming. We failed to “recognize Him” in the faces of hungry and needy people who seem to be more persistent in begging during the Yuletide season. Or perhaps we were just too preoccupied with decorating our Christmas tree, hanging yuletide decors in the house, and going to the malls for the gifts of our numerous godchildren. In our “busy-ness” we have forgotten to give proper honor to the Celebrant, and significance to our celebration.

Preparing ourselves for Christ’s coming not only involves being more charitable, but also in making commitments to the Lord for the coming new year. That’s why this is the time of the year when we start making our so-called “New Year’s Resolutions”. May we give more weight to our resolutions for the coming year, and may all of them lead us to grow more prayerful, more charitable, more forgiving, and more conscious of our responsibilities at home, in our place of work, and in our community.

As we prepare ourselves for Your Son’s coming, Lord God, inspire us to become more involved in acts of kindness, as much as in making commitments for the coming new year. As this is the time of the year when we start making our “New Year’s Resolutions”, may we resolve above everything to be faithful to Him. Amen.

Neither Dancing Nor Mourning

Matthew 11:16-19
Isa 48:17-19 / Psa 1

But wisdom is vindicated by her works.
(Matthew 11:19)

Who judges by appearances
Will not see the fruits the wise discern;
Work to resolve our differences,
And God’s wisdom is the prize we’ll earn.

Jesus said, “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” (Matthew 11:16-19)

Reflection

The Pharisees and their cohorts were always quick to find fault with Jesus and John the Baptist, who also condemned them (Mt.3:7). Both Jesus and the Baptist were preaching repentance, but the Jewish religious leaders saw themselves as righteous. Jesus and John refused to conform to their structured forms of worship, and the Pharisees were too proud to abandon them and submit to Jesus’ wisdom. In spite of the many miracles that Jesus performed in their midst, and the irrefutable truth of His words, they still remained as stubborn as the undisciplined children in the marketplace, who only wanted others to follow them in their foolish charades.

At times we can be like foolish children too, when we refuse to trust the wisdom of God’s hand in the midst of difficult circumstances. We only believe after God has manifested His miracle. We still doubt, even if time and time again in biblical history, God has shown us that faith is more important than knowledge.

Why are we always skeptical about things done outside our conventional ways of doing things? Jesus exhorts us to be creative, to get out of our comfort zones, to be bold and look beyond our normal routine, tobe more dynamic in our outlook in life.

People who are creative and willing to face challenges everyday live longer and fuller lives than those who prefer to remain in the “safe side” of life. The latter eventually become lethargic or bored with their static lifestyle and fall victims to depression, stroke, cancer, or other maladies of the inactive.

Friends of the Missionaries of Charity were helping the Sisters distribute foodstuff to the poor residents of Babak in Samal Island one day. They were very impressed with the methodical way the Sisters were able to draw out the poorest to be served. They simply went from house to house days before, distributing claim stubs to selected beneficiaries. More than six hundred people filled the church before the gift-giving. After celebrating holy Mass, the numbers were called, and the people queued up to receive the donations of mercy. The helpers were worried that the truckload of foodstuff (rice, noodles, plastic water pails, soap, towels, and snacks would not be able to satisfy the big number who attended. As it turned out, it was their faith that was lacking. There was even enough left over for those who came without stubs!

Teach us, Lord, to be more discerning, instead of harbouring doubts; to be more trusting, rather than be sceptical in the face of trying circumstances. Let no negative feelings toss us in waves of uncertainty, so that our faith in Your promises will never falter, but will grow stronger and be useful in following Your holy will. Amen.