Bring the Children to Jesus

Matthew 19:13-15
Ez 18:1-10,13b,30-32/Ps 51

Let the children come to me, do not prevent them; it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
(Matthew 19:14)

To choose the path of obedience,
Like a little child let me be;
Let me not lose this innocence,
Which is a wisdom gained from Thee.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When He had placed His hands on them, Jesus went on from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)

Reflection

As if on cue, after Jesus had finished giving a discourse on marriage and divorce, children were brought to Him for His blessing. His disciples tried to prevent them from interrupting His preaching, but the Lord rebuked them. Clearly, our Lord Jesus here revealed His favor for the weak, the small, the innocent and powerless. The last shall be the first, the least the greatest of all. Today’s Gospel passage of Matthew brings to light lessons that we can learn even from the weakest members of society — children. First of all, it is their inno-cence and simplicity that endear children to God. Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). In the process of our growth, as we discard the inno-cence of our youth in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding the world, we inevitably acquire a taste for material pleasures, and their concomitant evils of avarice and greed. The more we gain in know-ledge, power or wealth, the more we may grow in pride and self-reliance, and the danger of drifting farther away from the Father.

Secondly, children’s total dependence on their parents or elders seem to equip them with the capacity to believe and trust that they have nothing to fear even in their state of weakness or vulnerability. In the family’s climate of love and caring, children have an uncanny sense of faith that everything in life will turn out right, and there is nothing to fear or worry about. Have you ever seen a child worry about his future? If we believe in our Lord Jesus’ teaching, and learn to trust His words as a child its own father, “though we walk in the valley of darkness, we will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4). We will believe His every word in Matthew 6:25-34, and be completely dependent on God’s Divine Providence.

Finally, Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel that even at their earliest age, we must bring our children to Him, regardless of whether they want to or not. Their moral formation is in our hands; we are responsible for their spiritual growth. It touches us to see our brothers and sisters in our community bring their children to join our fellowship breakfasts and other activities, together as one prayerful family. It is also a joy for us whenever we go to Sunday Mass to see so many little children in church, notwithstanding the racket that some of them make. Who are we to complain? After all, it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.

Thank You for the little children, dear Lord, who teach us the simple joys in life; whose innocence and total dependence remind us of what our Lord Jesus said, that in order to be worthy of Your kingdom, we must be like little children. Amen.

Divorce, the Worst Option

Matthew 19:3-12
Ez 16:1-15, 60,63 / Ps 12

What God has joined together, no human being must separate.
(Matthew 19:6)

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

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus 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 flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one 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 sexual immorality, 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 there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:3-12)

Reflection

Under normal circumstances, there can never be any justification for, nor any good that can be said about divorce. The often 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.

Whatever the differences a husband and wife may have, no matter if their personali-ties 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. To this our couple sharers from Cagayan de Oro testified in one of our breakfast fellowships. The husband comes from a well-known family, wealthy and very refined, while the wife, according to her, from a working-class family which could hardly afford to send all the siblings to college. She had to quit college and work as an airline stewardess to help her parents. Aside from their social and economic disparities, their personalities go in opposite directions: he, with the serious and unassuming mien, and she with the flamboyant and often funny disposition that didn’t quite agree with the decorum of her husband’s family. Relatives and acquaintances said their marriage would not last a few years, but after recently celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, this loving couple proved all their detractors wrong. Despite all odds, their faith in Jesus has made their marriage a covenant made in heaven.

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.

The Power of Forgiveness

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

When a friend kept putting off or simply forgot to send an information that he promised to give me by text message, I told him with an edge in my voice that I never take anyone for granted, so I didn’t want to be taken for granted as well. His reaction was totally unexpected, as he started cursing me and even threatened me bodily harm, because he said he was under a lot of stress. Even as his cursing words stung me, I had to compose myself and calmly told him that I did not mean to hurt him, and was merely reminding him of his overdue promise. After a while, he calmed down and explained the reasons why he was so agitated. But even though he didn’t apologize for cursing me unnecessarily, I decided in my heart to forgive him.

Our Lord gave us this practical advice on forgiveness to spare us from the emotional baggage (and the disease that may result from it) of refusing to forgive. Besides, good relationships can take years to develop, so why lose it in a moment of anger? Lifting up our grievances to God will make us feel better, knowing that God’s justice never fails. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom.12:19). Harboring a resentment can be toxic if allowed to fester. If someone has done us a grave offense, his or her fault should not “contaminate” our feelings.

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 the wrong inflicted on us, because unless we do, we will always feel the bitterness that Satan plants 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 Jesus 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 us, dear God, when we are inclined to hate our neighbors for the injuries that they may have inflicted upon us. Make us realize that their offenses 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 power of forgiveness. Amen.

The Humblest are the Greatest

Matthew 18: 1-5,10,12-14
Ez 2:8—3:4 / Psa 119

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18:4)

If like a child we seek God’s embrace,
Empty our hearts of the sin of pride;
And if we want it filled with His grace,
Let Christ’s humility there reside.

One time, the disciples approached Jesus and asked Him, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom He put in their midst, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, their angels in heaven continually look upon the face of my heavenly Father. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14)

Reflection

Our Lord Jesus could not have emphasized the importance of humility more than in the first lesson of the Beatitudes, His first sermon in His public ministry: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:3). The “Poor in spirit” are those who choose to be small in God’s eyes even if they are great among their peers; they empty themselves of worldly things in order to be filled with God’s grace. Jesus was the Incarnation of humility, first by becoming man, and secondly, by His passion and death on the cross, the most humiliating form of torture known to man.

Among the great saints and Doctors of the Church, one who heard the call of God in the voice of a child was St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). As he wrote in his famous Confessions, “I was speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of a boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, ‘Take up and read; Take up and read.’ ” The passage he read was St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and debauchery, not in rivalry and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:13-14). That child’s voice freed him from his life of debauchery, and soon he was converted. After his conversion, he sold all of his possessions and gave the money to charity, retaining only his house which became his monastery.

Here are some of St. Augustine’s thoughts on humility: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” … “There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.” … “To know Jesus is to know His humility, for He is the archetype and master of humility.” … “There would have been no salvation for us, after all, if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes.” … “Thus the Wisdom of God, setting out to cure men, applied Himself to cure them, being at once the Physician and the Medicine. Because man fell through pride, he applied humility as a cure.” How lucidly St. Augustine explained how God’s humility and generosity were the keys to our salvation.

If God had not sought out and saved that one lost sheep (St. Augustine), think of how many thousands of Christians in North Africa would have gone astray through the influence of the Manichaeans, Jansenists and Donatists, who provoked schisms in the early Church at the time. “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14).

The humility of Jesus teaches us not to be judgmental in our attitude towards others who do not share our faith or righteousness. Instead of treating them with prejudice, we must instead strive to bring them to the fold of Christ. Why not invite one to your breakfast fellowship, bible study or prayer meeting today?

We are humbled, Lord God, when we read how our Savior Jesus Christ “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil.2:8). May we always follow His ways even on a smaller scale. Amen.

Paying Our Own Temple Tax

Matthew 17:22-27
Ezk 1:2-5, 24-28 / Ps 148

What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?
(Matthew 17:25)

Jesus went to all the trouble--
A miracle to show what is right;
Paying taxes in the temple,
Was His example for paying tithes.

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” He 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 children or from others?” Peter answered, “From others.” Jesus said, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and you.” (Matthew 17:24-27)

Reflection

The temple tax was an old Mosaic practice that 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. The amount was quite small, intended to be affordable to the general population. But how ironic (and insulting) that the sinless Son of God would be taxed (to atone for what?) for the upkeep of His own dwelling. And yet, in His divine wisdom and great humility, Jesus told Peter, ‘but that we may not offend them…’ and He complied peaceably to the indignity and humiliation by these petty tax collectors with an appropriate miracle of producing the exact amount from the mouth of a fish!

It is interesting to note that among the Synoptic Gospel writers, it is only in the version of Matthew that we find this incident about the payment of the temple tax. Being a former tax collector himself, surely 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. At the same time, this incident was intended to be lessons in obedience, humility and the practice of tithing. If Jesus Himself would willingly comply with ‘petty’ man-made laws, then no one was exempted from paying all dues, whether required by the state or by the church.

Our Lord employed every event and circumstance that He encountered in His brief life on earth to impart an important lesson, including the devious schemes that His detractors and enemies used to entrap Him. By submitting to the temple tax, He showed that no one is exempt from supporting His church in the giving of tithes. ‘That we may not offend,’ He said, using the plural to mean that it must be imitated by all His followers. As the old saw goes, may we put our money where our mouth is.

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

A Matter of Faith

Matthew 17:14-20
Hab 1:12-2:4 / Psa 9:8-13

“O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you?
(Matthew 17:17)

No mountain is an obstacle,
No power on earth is as great,
When we pray for God’s miracle
With a mustard-sized seed of faith.

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” Jesus said, “O you people, faithless and misled, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:14-20)

Reflection

If we have enough faith, no mountain is insurmountable. But if we lack faith, we can see mountains out of molehills. Daily we encounter ‘mountains’ in our life: financial problems, physical illness or disability, a failed business venture, a lost opportunity, a problem child, or a traffic accident. Most of the time, these ‘mountains’ may seem so steep and formidable, impossible to conquer. But our Lord Jesus is telling us that all we need is to have a little faith – not in our own capabilities – but in His power, and we can overcome what seems at first impossible or impassable. Faith in the power of God can make the impossible become doable.

Why did Jesus use a mustard seed as His example for the kind of faith that is enough to make a huge difference? For two reasons: 1) A mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, yet when full grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches (Mt.13:32). Jesus likened the mustard seed to the kingdom of heaven in one of His parables. No matter how little our faith is, it will grow and eventually lead us to God’s kingdom.

More importantly, 2) Jesus is telling us that it is not the size of our faith that matters, but our belief – however small– in the compassion of God, for Whom nothing is impossible. By the power of our loving God, we can move the greatest mountain. St. Paul put it best: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

Thank You, Father for Your gift of faith, and for Your Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who showed us its power in Your Word. Amen.