Healing on a Sabbath

Luke 14: 1-6
Phil 1: 1-11 / Psa 111

Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern would not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?
(Luke 14:5)

Work is holier on the sabbath day
If it’s for the sake of love.
Not by our power do we work or pray,
But God’s Spirit from above.

On a Sabbath, Jesus was invited to dine in the home of a leading Pharisee, and the people there were observing Him carefully. In front of Him there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the scholars of the law and the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to cure on a Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent, so He took the man, and after healing hinm dismissed him. Then He said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern would not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer His question. (Luke 14)

Reflection

For us Christians, going to mass on Sundays has become such a regular schedule that we cannot imagine spending a Sunday without this mandate. We go to mass on this last day of the week because it is the holiest day, and we need to give a portion of our time to God. That is why we do not work on a Sunday. If we do work on this day, however, out of love for those who depend on us, it does not mean we are making God’s day less holy. In fact, we are making it more special for Him. Nothing we do, after all, can make any day more or less holier. Only God can make it so.

Jesus discarded the laws of the Sabbath when He saw a need to be charitable. It is always best to err on the side of compassion and generosity. As St. Paul said to the Philippians (first reading), “It is my prayer that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…” (Phil.1:9-10). In fact, God would even be pleased if we missed Sunday mass because we practiced corporal works of mercy like visiting the imprisoned or ministering to those who seek God.

My cousin Nilo invited us to his new-found ministry of visiting the inmates of our city jail one Sunday, where we distributed books, and had the opportunity to bring cheer to the imprisoned. We saw the miserable condition of the more than 700 souls incarcerated there, in quarters built for half their number. The warden showed us a nearby site where the Couples for Christ would build GK housing units for the women and juvenile inmates. He said the site needed 250 truckloads of landfill before the housing units could be constructed. My friends and I committed to raise the needed funds ASAP to help decongest the rehabilitation center. This was a need that had to be addressed far more than our obligation to go to mass that day, which, fortunately, we were still able to attend at 6:00 pm. Somehow, deep within us, we felt God’s call, which had manifested itself in our lives that beautiful Sunday morning.

You make our Sabbath day more special, Father, when You send us to those who are in need, for as our Lord Jesus said, You desire mercy more than sacrifice. Amen.

The Paradox of Jerusalem

Luke 13: 31-35
Eph 6:10-20 / Psa 144

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.
(Lk.13:34-35)

As our Lord Jesus had predicted,
Jerusalem remains divided.
But by His death and resurrection,
We have been saved from perdition.

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:31-35)

Reflection

What’s this, the Pharisees all of a sudden concerned for the safety of Jesus? Or were they simply trying to scare Him away? But our Lord easily saw through their ploy, and even dared them to “tell that fox” to try and stop Him from performing His good works. Of course Jesus knew (being omniscient) that His final days would happen in Jerusalem, and no power on earth could prevent Him from reaching His goal.

Jesus naturally loved Jerusalem, the city of His fond memories. And yet He could not save it from its own destruction as the people refused to accept Him as the Messiah, even as He knew (being God) that this city would for the next thousands of years be torn by strife, as we see it still happening today in the war between the Jews and the Palestinians.

It is a great paradox in human history that in spite of God’s fondness for Jerusalem, it has been left by time (“Your house is left to you desolate”) because of its people’s intransigence. (“The first shall be the last.”) On the other hand, the whole world has been saved, because the Messiah has resurrected and His Good News has spread to the rest of the world. Satan was wrong again, because he thought that Jerusalem was the only place that mattered, as it was here that our Lord would be crucified.

Here, Jesus demonstrates His divine nature as a loving God, because even as He indicts Jerusalem for its sins, “You kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,” He still shows His great love, saying, “How many times I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” Still, the Jews did not accept Him as the Savior of the world. We are saved because we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Redeemer. As He promised to all who consider themselves true Christians, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We praise and thank You, Lord Jesus for loving us, even though at first we rejected You in our sinfulness. You never gave up on us, but showed us how much You loved us when You died on the cross for our salvation. May we live the rest of our lives in a way worthy of Your great love. Amen.

The Narrow Gate

Luke 13: 22-30
Eph 6:1-9 / Psa 145

Strive to enter through the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be strong enough.
(Luke 13:24)

“Enter by the narrow gate”,
The road to Life is hard and narrow.
Repent before it’s too late,
Don’t wait for death’s surprise tomorrow.

Jesus went through towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be strong enough. After the owner of the house has arisen and shut the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ In reply He will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out. Then people will come from the east and from the west, from the north and the south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Reflection

Definitely, when one is fat or spiritually flabby, he or she will not find it easy to enter through a narrow gate. Aware of the need to take long brisk walks every morning (to counter the appetizing fare served in BCBP group meetings), my wife Ollie and I do this routine at the nearby SM mall. At the early hours of dawn, the gates of the mall are still closed, but we can just slip through between the posts of the gate and the fence to get inside. This narrow passage has become the yardstick of how our battle of the bulge is faring, and so far our efforts have not been in vain.

In today’s Gospel passage, our Lord was warning the Jews that the gate was closing in on them, and only those who were strong enough in their faith would be able to gain access. The opportunity for salvation was limited and becoming narrower as the Jews persisted in rejecting His teachings. That was why Jesus kept telling them that “Indeed, some are last who will be first (the Gentiles), and some are first (the Jews, considered God’s Chosen People) who will be last.” This people had become fat and complacent in their antiquated traditions and practices.

Jesus said, “Many will try to enter but will not be strong enough.” This is fair warning that we need to be spiritually strong to enter the “narrow gate”. Jesus is the Gate (Jn.10:9). No one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn.14:6). But salvation is not for the weak and the half-hearted. Spiritual strength is needed to carry our cross and follow Him. Just as we need a regular work-out in the gym or aerobic walk on the road to build physical strength and stamina, we also need to have a regular spiritual exercise to build up the muscles of our soul. These exercises are: prayers, bible reading and meditation, and attending the Eucharistic celebration more than once a week. The Holy Mass is just as important because it provides the spiritual nourishment that comes from Jesus Christ Himself. No supplement is more powerful.

Lord God, thank You for making us understand the importance of spiritual strength and fitness that we must develop in order to withstand the temptations of the world and be prepared to enter into a closer relationship with Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. May the gifts of the Holy Spirit build up our strength, as we strive to enter the narrow gate to Your kingdom. Amen.

Prayer, Community and Ministry

Luke 6: 12-16
Eph 2:19-22 / Psa 19

In those days Jesus departed to the mountains to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Himself, and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles….
(Luke 6:12-13)

We learned the power of prayer
And the love of community;
But the purpose of our Maker
Was revealed in our ministry.

In those days, Jesus departed to the mountains to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, He called His disciples to Himself and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles: Simon (whom He named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16)

Reflection

We read in today’s Gospel the three important things that Christians can relate with very well in their renewed life in the Spirit. The first is prayer. Our Lord spent the whole night in prayer. Our Lord has shown us the value of praying hard and long. He wanted to be sure that His choice of leaders would turn out according to the will of his Father, so He spent the whole night in prayer. Why do we find it hard to spend more time in prayer, even when we are pleading for God’s help in times of troubles or difficulties? It is because the devil tries his best to distract us from this vital source of life. He knows better than we do that prayer is good for our soul. And whatever is good for our soul is hateful to him. We have learned the efficacy of prayers especially before starting important projects or missions, like opening a new outreach, conducting a Christian Life Program, or just embarking on a long journey. Each time our chapter was tasked to host the BCBP’s National Anniversary, the first important activity we held was a 9-day novena before deciding on the appointments of the various committee chairmanships. Prayer never fails. With God’s help, our chapter has been able to host 2 successful national anniversaries of the Brotherhood.

The second important lesson that we read in today’s Gospel is about community. Our Lord needed to establish His own community to carry out His mission. Out of the hundreds of disciples who followed Him to learn and believe, He chose 12, whom He commissioned as His apostles. Jesus shows us that we can never be as effective in carrying out our calling or vocation in life unless we belong to a community. No such thing as a “Lone Ranger” in bringing others to Christ. All of us in the renewal agree that there is no substitute to community. It is our support group, our prayer intercessors, our ‘critical mass’ needed to make an impact in the marketplace. Alone in the meadow, a solitary tree is vulnerable to strong winds, but in the forest, a tree can grow straight, tall and strong. Such is the value of our spiritual community.

With prayers and a loving community, we can now boldly face the third aspect of our renewal: our ministry. This is the true purpose of being in the renewal: to fight the good fight for Christ, to win the battle for souls. In meditation we are empowered, and in numbers we have the confidence and strength to fulfill our mission. On this we have no reason to doubt or fear. Jesus has shown us this lesson today.

Father God, we thank You for giving us our community, and empowering us each time we come to You for strength and guidance. May we live up to Your great love by seeking out others who are still searching for Your Light, and bringing them to Your Beloved Son, Jesus, Who has shown us the Way. Amen.

Honoring the Weaker Sex

Luke 13: 10-17
Eph 4:32 – 5: 8/ Ps 1:1- 4,6

Shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be set free from what bound her?
(Luke 13:16)

Of women, this all men must learn:
In numbers they showed more concern
To Jesus, bent by our sins’ weight,
Was urged on by their steadfast faith.

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on a Sabbath, and a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by an evil spirit. She was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. Taking compassion on her, Jesus called her forward and said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” He laid His hands on her, and all at once she stood up straight and started praising God. The synagogue ruler was indignant that Jesus had healed on a Sabbath, and said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” But Jesus told him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then, shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When He said this, all His adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds that Jesus had done. (Luke 13:10-17)

Reflection

For the strict synagogue ruler, Jesus had violated all the rules of protocol. He had interrupted His teaching and called an infirm woman to the front of the synagogue, when women’s places were always at the back. Disregarding His station as a rabbi, He had touched the impure woman, and then desecrated the Sabbath by healing her! But for his outburst, Jesus rebuked the synagogue ruler and his kind as hypocrites. How rich in lessons this incident in the synagogue brings to us today.

There were a number of things in Jewish society that needed to be straightened out, and Jesus saw the opportunity to do it when a woman bent with a crippling disease entered the synagogue that Sabbath day. First, by calling the woman to the front of the synagogue, and calling her a “daughter of Abraham”, He elevated the status of women to the same level of men. After all, they were also children of God, and co-heirs of His kingdom. By touching her, Jesus showed the Jews that her affliction was not the result of sin; she was not impure, and therefore could not defile Him. He had to humiliate His adversaries by calling them hypocrites to expose them for what they were, and to open their eyes to the fact that their man-made laws had made them blind to God’s compassion and mercy.

In some ways we might also be guilty of hypocrisy like the synagogue officials if we are only concerned about the legal observance of the Sabbath, or Sunday Mass. How do we keep God’s day of rest holy? Is an hour spent in church sufficient? Did we show a little concern for that bent woman begging at the church entrance as Jesus did? Or was our money for her decent meal too much of a sacrifice? Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Mt.12:7). It is not in sacrifice or in the observance of laws or rites that sanctifies our day or our life. It is by showing compassion and mercy to the weakest of God’s children. Women have always been abused because physically they are at a disadvantage. We hear and read of rapes and muggings, of abused and battered wives. Amnesty International, in its campaign to stop violence against women, said, “From the battlefield to the bedroom, women are at risk.” We must all do our share to stop “bending” women’s lives, whether at home or in the marketplace. As we end this month dedicated to Mary, Jesus’ Mother, let us pledge to honor her by treating all women like our own mother or sister.

Dear God, our prejudices against women may have caused our values to be crippled. Thank You for making us realize how important it is to honor all women, just as our Lord Jesus showed respect and compassion to all of them. Amen.

God’s Purpose for Planting Me

Luke 13: 1-9
Eph 4: 7-16 / Psa 122

For three years now I have been looking for figs on this tree and I have found none. Cut it down, why should it use up the ground?
(Luke 13:7)

May the Lord show us how to serve
With compassion and true leadership;
With His Spirit help us to deserve
The Commission of His Stewardship.

Some people came and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this He said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? By no means; but I tell you, unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — Do you suppose they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? By no means, but I tell you, unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’ He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree, but have found none. Cut it down. Why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:1-9)

Reflection

For three years, during our stint as Mission Head couple of our Brotherhood, my wife and I gave much of our time and energies in going to our BCBP outreach in Gen. Santos city to attend the twice monthly breakfast fellowships there as well as the weekly afternoon seminars called Christian Life Programs that were held for building up the membership of the community. The CLPs ran for nine weeks, and normally the mission team would be heading back home on the two-hour trip when it was already dark. During those three years, we were able to hold five Christian Life Programs which ‘harvested’ a total of 100 new graduates for the outreach, half of whom are now active members of the community.

All of us who are called to go on mission for the Lord experience a vigorous spiritual purpose in our lives. There is a strong feeling that we are at the cutting edge of what Christian renewal is all about.

Many in the community think that attending seminars, group meetings and worship assemblies are enough to be considered active members. But these are just part of the growth and maturity of our commitment. What is the sense in raising a healthy tree if it does not bear fruits? It is better to cut it down than have it using up the fertility of the earth. If we have received a commission from the Lord, and our formation is complete, then it is time to step out and share our new life with others who are still searching for some meaning in their lives. And one does not have to go to far-flung outreaches to serve God and His community. He or she can invite at least one first-timer to the brotherhood’s weekly breakfasts. Or he/she can give witness to God’s goodness in his/her life by sharing their life testimonial in a BCBP breakfast fellowship. These too are mission works.

May we always cling to You, Lord Jesus, our True Vine, for You nourish us with Your Word and make us produce fruit that is pleasing to the Father. Amen.