The Evil Sown Among Us

Matthew 13: 36-43
Ex 33:7-11,34:5b-9,28/Ps 103:6-13

The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
(Matthew 13:38-39)

No evil seeds sown will prevail,
God’s Word exposed the greatest liar,
His scheming deeds are known to fail,
His destiny’s eternal fire.

Then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are the angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43)

Reflection

Jesus had given the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat to shed light on the seeming prevalence of the forces of evil in the world, simultaneous with the growth of Christianity throughout the ages. Only the assurance of our Lord gives us hope that in the end, good will prevail, and evil will be consigned to eternal fire.

On a smaller scale, we can apply this parable to the situation in some of our renewal communities. It is here where the Word of God has been sown and nurtured, and the love among brothers and sisters makes everyone comfortable and complacent. But then the devil comes to sow ill will and intrigues in the community, and soon the enmities fester. Some of the members want to take drastic action, such as alienating or ostracizing the mavericks in the group. Fortunately, prudence and cooler heads prevail, realizing that it is better to wait and clarify issues than to hurt anyone and destroy good relationships. Soon, opposing parties come to accept their differences, and conclude that the issues involved are petty and far outweighed by love and understanding in the group. Everyone involved is enriched by the experience, and the bonds of true friendship are restored again in the community.

There is an important lesson that we can learn from this parable. It is this: that Satan is a consummate destroyer. St. Paul’s letter warns us: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12) St. Peter also wrote: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1Pet 5:8) In our efforts to serve the Lord and win souls for His kingdom, we can’t expect the devil to sit around and do nothing. He is doing everything to derail God’s plan in our lives. He will try to hamper our ministry for the Lord by attacking our vulnerable flanks. He will try to discourage and demoralize us to counter the urgings and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He will even try to convince us that sinners are in a hopeless situation. The devil’s mission is to destroy our fellowship with Jesus.

Help us, Lord to stand firm amidst all the false religions sprouting all around us. We know that we need to be well grounded in Your truth; inspire us to make reading the Bible and meditating on Your Word a daily habit, and to receive our Lord Jesus Christ constantly in the Holy Eucharist for our nourishment and strength. Amen.

Misplaced Ambitions

Matthew 20: 20-28
2 Cor 4: 7-15 / Ps 126: 1-6

“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup . . .”
(Matthew 20: 22-23)

Lord, take away all my ambition,
Desire for prominence, my pride...
If serving You be my commission,
I leave it all for You to decide.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20: 20-28)

Reflection

It was obvious that the sons of Zebedee put up their mother to make this personal request from Jesus to seat them at His right and at His left in His kingdom. Earlier, they had heard the Lord declare, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on 12 thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt.19:28). Being the first cousins of the Lord, (Mrs. Zebedee was the sister of the Blessed Mother), they must have felt that they had the right of first priority. And indeed, St. James, whose feast we commemorate today, was given the first priority of martyrdom among the twelve apostles.

How interesting it is to note that the ambition of the brothers James and John provided the opening for Jesus to prophesy their destiny. Jesus asked them: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Perhaps without pondering what the Master meant, without hesitation they answered, “We can.” And Jesus told them, “My cup you will indeed drink.,,” (Mt. 20: 22-23). The brothers did taste the cup of Jesus’ suffering, albeit in different circumstances. According to St. Luke’s account, St. James was the first apostle to die of martyrdom at the hands of King Herod Agrippa, who had him arrested and beheaded (Acts 12:2). On the other hand (no pun intended here), St. John’s cup of agony took a much longer period of time to consume. For the next eighty years or so, according to Church history, he travelled across pagan territories, and founded churches in Smyrna, Pergamos, Philadelphia, Sardis, Laodicia and Thyatira. He was imprisoned in Ephesus and sent to Rome, where he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, but miraculously survived without any injuries. In the end he was exiled by Emperor Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Unlike his brother James who was the first martyr, this apostle that Jesus loved the most was the only one among the twelve who did not suffer a violent death. He died in Ephesus at the age of ninety-five years, the last survivor among the apostles.

We have heard it said before, “Be careful what you pray for.” Ambition is not wrong, provided that we do not forget that we are merely “vessels of clay, and the surpassing power we hold comes from God, and not from us” (2Cor.4:7). If we must aspire for the highest let us follow the lead of the saints, like St. James and St. John, who finally realized that the greatest in God’s kingdom are those who make themselves the last and the least here on earth. Those who give their best to the least in God’s eyes are the greatest.

Grant us the grace, Lord God, to see that the only way to prominence in Your sight is to give of ourselves in humble service. May this be our sole ambition in this short life that we live, so that we may be assured of an eternal place in Your kingdom. Amen.

Abundance in Sowing God’s Word

Matthew 13: 18-23
Ex 20:1-17 / Ps 19:8-11

The man who hears the word and understands it — he produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
(Matthew 13: 23)

The seed of God’s Word has been sown
And has taken root in my heart...
Christ’s teachings now that I have known
To others I’ll also impart.

(Jesus said:) “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Reflection

Our Lord Jesus used ordinary events (such as sowing and reaping, as much of Galilee and Judea were agricultural regions) to represent His spiritual messages to the people. Remarkably, His parables are still applicable to present-day human events or circumstances. We can see the allegories of the seeds sown in four kinds of people.

The seed that fell on the pathway is the Word of God preached to people who live in the “fast lane”. They simply have no time to listen to Gospel values that they find to be antiquated, and “cramps their lifestyle”. Sharing the sacred message with this kind is just a waste of time, and is like “throwing your pearls before swine” (Mt.7:6).

Then there are those that receive the seed with excitement, and at first it may seem that a conversion has begun. But soon we discover that their faith is superficial, like a thin layer of soil above hard limestone. Just as easily as they were excited by their “new-found faith”, just as easily do they get discouraged and fade away when they experience trials, or are disappointed by some Church doctrine, or biased against a member of the clergy, or a member of our religious community. These are typical candidates for “born again” or new-age communities.

Finally, we meet Christians who may have been receptive to God’s Word, but their commitment is overwhelmed by concerns in their businesses or professional careers, or by the material success of their enterprises. These are like the seed that fell among the thorns. So many of this kind have passed through the doors of our nine-week Christian Life Programs, stayed for a while, and then disappeared, never to be seen again. It seemed as if our efforts in bringing the values of Christian living into their lives had been in vain. But, as St. Paul said, we are not discouraged. Because out of the 28 “seeds” that are now sown in our Christian Life Program this year, if only seven brothers or sisters become active members of our brotherhood, we believe that they will produce “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Thank You, Lord for Your parable of the Sower, which has made us understand that numbers do not matter to You; even just a little will suffice to spread Your Gospel message to the world. We only need to persevere, and believe, that in Your time there will be a great harvest, and we will also reap our reward in heaven. Amen.

The Purpose of Parables

Matthew 13: 10-17
Jer 2: 1-3. 7-8. 12-13 / Ps 36: 6-11

To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
(Matthew 13:11)

Come Holy Spirit as I write,
Guide this hand that Your Word be told;
Dispel this darkness, be my light,
Let this bear fruit a hundredfold.

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13: 10-17)

Reflection

Why indeed did Jesus deliver His messages in parables? Well, first of all, our Lord was a great storyteller, and He knew that His listeners would easily retain the lessons they learned if they heard them in stories that they could relate to. Like the Parable of the Sower was as interesting as it was instructive, and one could glean fruits of wisdom in its illustrations. The other practical reason why Jesus spoke in parables was to avoid a direct confrontation with His critics, the religious authorities, who were always ready to pounce on Him if He so much as made a derogatory remark about their Mosaic laws and rituals. That was why Jesus told His apostles, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” They were favored because they were like innocent children, trusting in Jesus’ words even if they were confused at first. But not the Jewish authorities and their followers, who were constantly skeptical about the works and words of Jesus.

“To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt.13:12). These words referred to the fertile soil – it had the capacity to produce, so it yielded an abundant harvest. The other soils that lacked nutrients, were rocky, or overgrown with weeds lost even the few seeds that were sown on them. These types of soil refer to people who reject the teachings of Jesus because they have little or no knowledge of Scriptures, and/or are more preoccupied with the pursuits and pleasures of this world.

What our Lord is telling us in today’s Gospel is that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who hear and live the Word of God in their lives, and those who never bother to listen, and so lose the opportunity to reform their lives and be saved. In our community, after we end a bible sharing, we decide on what action word we could apply relative to what we have learned in our Gospel sharing. Acting immediately on the Word of God is a sure way of retaining it in our hearts, never to be lost again. May we act on all the lessons that we learn daily from the Lord, as we read His Word in the Gospel.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the lessons You impart to us in the Bible. In it are hidden great and marvelous truths which so many have never grasped and which all mankind desperately need to know. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for helping us understand its secret treasures. Amen.

The Apostle to the Apostles

John 20: 1-2, 11-18
Songs 3:1-4b / Ps 63:2-6,8-9

‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that He had said these things to her.
(John 20:18)

Let us honor Mary Magdalene,
And pray for her intercession;
She was the first saint on the scene
At Jesus Christ’s Resurrection.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ … Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that He had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-2, 11-18)

Reflection

Today, July 22, is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. Her sainthood was an unofficial yet ecclesial canonization, in recognition of the privilege that God gave her as the first witness of Christ’s Resurrection. In fact, as the bearer of this good news to the disciples, she was even referred to in early Christian writings as “the apostle to the apostles.”

The 12th century saw a widespread devotion to St. Mary Magdalene in the Western Church. St. Theresa of Avila wrote in her personal journal that it was the story of Mary of Magdala which played an important role in her conversion from spiritual indifference. St. Bridget of Sweden wrote: “There are three saints I love above all: Mary the mother of Jesus, St.John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene.” We do not know how many saints and martyrs shared the same sentiments about the influence this mystical woman played in their lives, but we do know that she has become the most controversial female saint in the New Testament, and even up to the present time. Many Gnostics believe that she wrote the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” and even claim that she and Jesus were married. This became the basis for the controversial book of Dan Brown, the “Da Vinci Code”.

There seems to be some confusion in the Gospel accounts on whether the Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) was the same “sinful woman” who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:37-38), and the “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom seven devils were gone forth” who was also one of the women of means who provided material help and assistance to the Lord and His apostles (Luke 8:2). But there is no question in all the four Gospel writers that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to Christ’s Resurrection. For this honor is she revered as one of the greatest saints.

Father God, we honor St. Mary Magdalene on her feast day today, and we pray that through her and our Blessed Mother’s intercession we may also draw nearer to our Lord Jesus Christ by serving those who serve You, and by complete devotion to Your Word. Amen.

Family in the Father’s Will

Matthew 12: 46-50
Ex 14:21–15:1 / Ex 15:8-17

Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.
(Mt.12:50)

To be Christ’s brother or sister,
This we must follow willingly -
God’s will: to love one another,
To be one in God’s family.

While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, His mother and His brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with Him. Someone told Him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Reflection

Jesus did not let the interruption that His mother and brothers had arrived disrupt His discourse with the crowds. Instead, He used the occasion to 1) express His deep affection to His disciples, who had left everything to follow Him, and 2) to emphasize that our spiritual relationship (with His eternal Father) is more important than our intimate but temporal kinships here on earth.

Our Lord was not exaggerating on the first point. After all, how much more proof of His love can One Who died on the cross for our sins show for His followers? On the second point, the writer of Hebrews said of Him, “He who sanctifies, and those who are being sanctified all have one Father. Therefore He is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers’, saying, I will proclaim Your Name to my brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” (Heb.2:11-12)

However, kinship with Jesus by following the will of God in our lives is never as easy as being born into a human family and being obedient to our parents. To be a member of Jesus’ family is to imbibe all the lessons He has been teaching us in the Scriptures. Following the will of God means submitting to the doctrines of our Church, against the more popular (and modern) teachings of the secular world. Developing a spiritual relationship means seeking and seeing a spiritual meaning in the ordinary day-to-day events in our life, as we are guided by the Holy Spirit. But what an enormous privilege it is to belong to Christ’s family! What blessings! What grace! “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, ‘Father!’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, suffering with Him, so that we may also share in His glory.” (Rom.8:14-17)

On a personal note, although I belong to a large, close-knit family, it is with mixed feelings of sadness and joy that I feel a closer affinity with most of my brothers and sisters in our praying community than I do with two of my ten siblings, who do not share the same zeal for our God and our Church. Nevertheless, I still keep praying for them, that one day they too will join the more important, eternal family of Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Father God, for our large, close-knit clan, for my wife, my 89-year old mother-in-law, for our children and grandchildren, for our siblings and their families, and for giving us a loving community (BCBP), where brothers and sisters truly care for each other, constantly growing in Your love. Amen.