Ignoring the Signs

Matthew 12: 38-42

An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it . . .
(Matthew 12:39)

Jonah’s obedience to God’s command
Prevented Nineveh’s destruction.
We need no sign to understand:
Repentance is God’s instruction.

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea whale, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here!” (Matthew 12:38-42)

Reflection

One can only wonder why the scribes and pharisees were still asking for a sign from Jesus after He had healed the afflictions of hundreds from Galilee to Syria, including demoniacs, and His fame had spread all over Judea and beyond the Jordan River. There could only be two likely explanations: 1) they wanted to test Jesus in order to accuse Him, such as when they attributed His power to exorcise evil spirits to Satan earlier in the chapter; and/or 2) their prejudice against Jesus showed their hardness of heart, and no amount of evidence could make them change their minds. As Jesus would tell His apostles later, “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted and I heal them’.”

Thus, the obstinacy of pharaoh — in the First Reading– in pursuing the Israelites who had fled from Egypt, only led to the destruction of his own army in the Red Sea. He should have been convinced already after all the signs that Moses and Aaron had shown him that came from Yahweh.

God has already provided us with enough evidence in Scriptures (both in the Old and the New Testament), that should lead to our conversion. No scientist in the world has ever refuted the accuracy of the Bible. It is the best attested historical document that civilization has ever possessed. Composed of 66 books, it was written by more than 40 authors coming from widely differing cultures over a period of 1,500 years. “It could only be by divine inspiration and superintendence that this unity and cohesiveness was achieved.” The Gospel of John, ch. 20: 30-31, says, “Many other signs did Jesus perform in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And that believing, you may have life in His name.”

Dear God, we know that miraculous signs all over the world have been manifested by our Lord Jesus, His Mother Mary, and many saints; and yet millions of people still ignore the evidences available to them. Lord, convert their hearts of stone, and open their eyes and ears to the saving power of Your Gospel. This we pray in Jesus. Amen.

The Gentle Way of Jesus

Matthew 12: 14-21
Mi 2:1-5 / Psa 10:1-4,7-8,14

And in His name the Gentiles will hope.
(Matthew 12: 21)

If we must serve the Prince of Peace
The Word of God we must proclaim;
And if our Lord we aim to please,
Let’s live our lives in Jesus’ Name.

The Pharisees went out and conspired against him to put Him to death. When Jesus became aware of this, He departed from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but He ordered them not to make Him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is My servant, whom I have chosen, My beloved, with whom I am well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until He brings justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.’ (Matthew 12: 14-21)

Reflection

The Gospel of Matthew gives a fitting description of the gentle character of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The evangelist quotes a passage from Isaiah (42:1-4), whose writings prophesied about the Messiah. When Jesus learned that the Pharisees were plotting to put Him to death, He left the place, not because He feared for His life, but because it was not yet His time. And He avoided trouble with the Pharisees. “He would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until He brings justice to victory.” Jesus was always faithful to Scriptures, and as the Scriptures predicted, His own kind would reject Him, and He would simply leave. This was also the reason why “He (would) proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”

“And in His name the Gentiles will hope.” In fulfillment of that prophecy of Isaiah, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is now the standard by which all His “Gentile” followers outside the Judaic world are known –- as Christians.

All true Christians must aspire to follow the ways of our Lord Jesus if we are to believe in His words that “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn.14:6). Let the verses of Isaiah as quoted by St. Matthew in today’s Gospel be our guide and inspiration. First of all, we have to adopt the attitude of a servant if we want to be chosen and beloved of God our Father. We can only be pleasing to Him if we are predisposed to serve His Church and His kingdom rather than ourselves. God, however, knows that carrying our cross to follow Christ would be an impossible feat on our own efforts, so He will put His Spirit upon us. We will then be empowered by His Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel to others who have yet to hear His Good News of salvation.

Following Jesus might require undergoing a radical transformation in our life, especially in the way we conduct ourselves towards others. We began to experience this when we joined the Brotherhood’s Christian Life Program (BCLP). Becoming a man of peace means avoiding arguments, quarreling, or wrangling for a better position or influence, griping, or being loud and obtrusive. It means suppressing our need to be assertive, preferring instead to be incognito. It means helping those who are bruised by the brutalities of life, and giving hope to those who are ‘smoldering’ like a flickering wick. If we can do all these in the spirit of humility, then we can claim to be true Christians, and not only in name, but as true followers of Jesus Christ.

Father God, thank You for the help of Your Holy Spirit, Who has provided the guidance and inspiration we need in order to be faithful in following the ways of Jesus our Master. May all our words and actions be pleasing to You, as we pray for strength in living His Gospel values in our life. Amen.

Honoring the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8
Isa.38:1-8,21-22 / Isa.38:10-12,16

Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the sabbath.
(Matthew 12:2)

We are like chaff apart from grain
If we preach but do not practice
Laws that we craft burden and pain,
Charity weighs more than justice.

At that time Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

Reflection

The reason why the scribes and pharisees were very strict about observing the sabbath was because the destruction of Israel and their ancestors’ exile into Babylon were the consequences of their violations of God’s laws, especially the observance of the Sabbath. The words of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel were vivid in their memory: “If you will not heed the Sabbath day…then I will kindle a fire…and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched” (Jer.17:27); “I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet…they greatly defiled My Sabbaths…They despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths” (Ezek.20:12,13). They were so obsessed with its legalistic observance, however, that they had made the Sabbath oppressive, and burdensome to the people.

God’s will for the Sabbath was to serve mankind as a day of rest and recreation, and to bring blessings and fellowship among relatives and friends. Christ showed the Sabbath’s true intent as a blessing by doing most of His healing on this day. His acts of mercy showed the spirit and purpose of God’s law, which is love.

Sunday is the Christian’s ‘sabbath.’ When my two brothers and I were on a tour in the Middle East many years ago, I prayed that we could find a church in Beirut, as it was a Sunday. Sure enough, we heard the chimes of a nearby church, and when we got there just before the mass started, the first person I approached to inquire about where I could have confession not only spoke English, but turned out to be a priest. God truly favors those who seek to honor His day of rest.

May we always honor Your sabbath, Lord, by praising and adoring You more intensely, and fervently practicing acts of charity and kindness on this day. Amen.

His Love Makes Our Burdens Light

Matthew 11:28-30
Isaiah 26:7-9,12,16-19 / Ps 102

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:29-30)

No burden is too heavy,
In the service of Christ, our Lord.
God makes the job seem easy
With His Kingdom as its reward.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Reflection

When we joined our BCBP community, we were asked to sign a pledge card on Commitment Day, the final day of our initiation to a life of deeper spirituality in the Lord. We were a little apprehensive at first, afraid that the promises we pledged to keep would be restrictions on our free-spirited way of life. Fifteen minutes of daily prayer, fifteen minutes of Scripture reading, Saturday breakfast fellowships, twice monthly group prayer meetings, assemblies and teaching nights seemed too heavy a commitment to make to maintain regular membership. But after a few years in the brotherhood, we never regretted having said yes to the Lord, and have even added more “loads” to our pledge card. Fifteen minutes a day seems too short a time to give to the Maker of time; and reading His Word meditatively and meaningfully easily go beyond 30 minutes on days when the workload is light. The brotherhood showed us that prayer and scripture reading can open up for us the gifts of the Holy Spirit, like wisdom and discernment. We now look forward to our weekly breakfast fellowships and group prayer meetings as well as the teaching nights and prayer assemblies. We even do outreach work. And yes, we’re still composing and sending out reflections on God’s Word daily (except Sundays) by SMS and email too. These activities have not been restrictions on our freedom nor heavy burdens on our schedules at all! In the service of His Word, His yoke is easy, and the work is light. Our Lord said in John, 8:32: “ If you make My Word your home, you will indeed be My disciples; you will learn the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

In the First Book of Kings (19:19-21), we read about Elisha abandoning his temporal responsibility to follow Elijah, the prophet. He used the yoke and plowing equipment to cook his oxen, and gave it as food to his people, then followed Elijah. To the unwise it was foolish that Elisha butchered his oxen and abandoned his field; but to the discerning, Elisha gave a feast to his neighbors because he was chosen for a higher calling. May we also be as bold as Elisha in giving up our yoke of temporal concerns, and taking up the yoke of Christ in proclaiming His Good News to others.

Thank You, Father, for making us see how unimportant our earthly pursuits are, compared to our ministering for Your Word. Increase our faith, Lord, that like Your prophets, we may always be faithful to our commitment of serving You. Amen.

Tragedy of the Wise and Learned

Matthew 11: 25-27
Isa 10: 5-7. 13b-16 / Ps 94: 5-10, 14-15

Father, Lord of heaven and earth. . . you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children.
(Matthew 11: 25)

How do we show our gratitude
For all the blessings God has given?
We simply change our attitude,
And give ourselves like little children.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11: 25-27)

Reflection

Today’s short Gospel passage seems to be telling us that God prefers to reveal His truths to people who have less intelligence, maybe because as the saying goes, intelligent people are too smart for their own good. Come to think of it, most of the atheists and agnostics we know come from the intelligentsia, and are usually writers and philosophers. Most famous of the more tragic ones was Ernest Hemingway, who said, “All thinking men are atheists.” We remember Virginia Wolfe, the famous English novelist, who committed suicide because she was going insane. Too bright for her own good. Then there’s the infamous philosopher, Nietzsche, who said that death was the ultimate liberation. Another agnostic who took his life was Voltaire, who declared that “In one hundred years the Bible will be forgotten and eliminated.” The irony of his life was that shortly after his death, his residence became the headquarters of the Geneva Bible Society, a major distribution center for the Book that he predicted would not last. Not to be forgotten is the famous Mark Twain, who said, ” It is not the parts of the Bible that I cannot understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” How sad that one so brilliant in words could be so blind to the Word of God. Then of course there’s Hitler, the mass murderer who did not spare his own life. All of these brilliant minds were so full of themselves that they found life to be empty and meaningless.

Of course there are probably just as many intelligent people who are blessings to our society, if not to mankind itself. In one web log, I read about a Japanese researcher who developed video games for the Nintendo company’s portable system. For his creation, he was entitled to receive 11 million dollars in royalties. But he donated most of the proceeds for the construction projects in the university where he was working. ‘Not a single yen has gone in my pocket,’ he told the AFP in a recent interview. ‘My hobby is work,’ he said. Everyone in his family was fuming mad at him, but he said, ‘I tell them that if they want money, go out and earn it.’ There was also the case of a Manila teacher who discovered more than two million Pesos in her ATM bank account (a computer glitch, according to the bank’s manager), when she knew she only had a balance of less than Ten Thousand Pesos. She reported the discrepancy to the bank, much to the consternation of her siblings, who mistakenly thought the honest teacher had gone out of her mind.

The families of that Japanese researcher and the Manila teacher thought that their actions were unwise, not to have kept the fortune that had literally dropped into their laps. But they were gravely mistaken. On the contrary, these two were gifted with something more valuable than the wealth of this world, simple but lasting values like honesty and hard work.

We thank You, Lord Jesus, for the lessons that we have learned from Your teachings in the Gospel, lessons that the worldly and the wise of this world ignore in their pursuit of temporal things, but precious to us who believe that they will help us to gain eternal life. Amen.

Warning to the Unrepentant

Matthew 11: 20-24
Isa 7:1-9 / Psa 48:2-8

. . . if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
(Matthew 11: 23)

Let us heed the words of Jesus:
The worse will come without remorse;
We know that there is no excuse,
Repentance is our sole recourse.

Then Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they refused to repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)

Reflection

After leaving His boyhood village of Nazareth, Jesus travelled north to the towns and villages along the coasts of the Sea of Galilee, where He spent most of his three-year ministry. He made His base in Capernaum, where He stayed in the house of Simon Peter. Jesus never travelled more than fifty miles from His base, preferring to preach the kingdom of God and repentance in the cities of Capernaum, where He performed many miracles, Chorazin, and Bethsaida, the birthplace of Peter, Andrew and Philip, where Jesus fed a multitude of five thousand. These three cities or towns were known as the “triangle of evangelization”, since Jesus concentrated His ministry in these Jewish towns rather than in the other Gentile and Samaritan areas.

Why did our Lord curse these three cities where He had spent such considerable time in His short ministry of three years? It makes one wonder how these places could be worse than the wicked cities of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon. Sodom and its twin city of Gomorrha were Old Testament cities that were destroyed by fire and brimstone for their people’s corruption. Tyre was a powerful Phoenician city that oppressed Israel. Ezekiel (Ez.26:3) and Amos (Am 1:9-10) prophesied that Tyre would be attacked and destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Then later, Alexander the Great would conquer it and bring an end to the Phoenician Empire. Sidon was a pagan city that worshipped Baal, also known as Satan. These three cities were cursed because of their wickedness, but Jesus was saying if he had performed His miracles there, they could have repented and been saved. This was the case in the city of Nineveh, where the whole country repented and were converted when the prophet Jonah came to their city and warned them of God’s impending wrath (Jonah, ch.3).

In spite of all the signs and wonders that Jesus performed in Capernaum, the people there remained impassive and unrepentant, and even resented and opposed Him. They witnessed Jesus’ miracles, and heard His words of wisdom, and yet they refused to repent and believe. Thus, Capernaum sealed its own fate, and like Sodom before it, as our Lord had predicted, it disappeared into the dustbin of history. Its fate and that of Chorazin and Bethsaida serve as a lesson to us that impenitence and rejection of Christ’s teachings can only lead to physical and spiritual destruction. Those with political power today flaunt their authority with impunity, but the Word of God never fails – they will get their just desserts. And it may be sooner than later.

Thank You, dear God for making us realize the damnation we would face without repentance. May the most precious blood of Jesus wash away all our sins. Amen.