Sharing the Grace of Faith

Matthew 10: 7-15
Gn 44:18-21.23-29; 45:1-5 / Ps 105

Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.
(Matthew 10: 8)

We shall not lack for provision
In our mission to serve the Lord;
Nor should we seek compensation,
Being chosen is enough reward.

“As you go, make this proclamation: `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his keep. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor’rah than it will be for the people of that town.” (Matthew 10:7-15)

Reflection

In his letter to the Romans (10:13), St. Paul said, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can anyone invoke the name of the Lord if he or she has only scant knowledge about Him? So many nominal Catholics hardly even go to mass regularly, much less spend some time reading the Scriptures. So, how can they be expected to develop an intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus unless His dedicated followers introduce Him and God’s plan of salvation to them?

We consider ourselves fortunate that “without cost we have received” the grace of faith in Jesus Christ, which sustains us in times of hardship, and engenders peace of mind in times of conflict. But how much of this faith have we shared with others without counting the cost? I used to admire Johnny, a brother in our community who consistently invited colleagues and even strangers to our Saturday morning fellowships, and paying for their first breakfasts. He once told me, “Money is no consideration when it comes to the mission of bringing others to Christ.” What motivated him? It was simply his love for Jesus, and his way of showing his gratitude for having received the “pearl of great price” of faith from the Lord. From a Christian perspective, when you have found a great treasure, your joy is doubled when you share it with others. After all, it did not cost you anything; it was a gift from the Lord. So why not share it? God wants all His children to receive the Good News of salvation, and so it is incumbent upon all who have seen God’s light to be involved in this mission of winning souls. Johnny has gone ahead of us to receive his reward in heaven. So good to know that he will be sponsoring us to a livelier and happier fellowship in heaven.

Lord, may we never forget that the work of evangelization is Your work, not ours, just as the inspiration, strength and conviction involved are not ours, but come from Your Holy Spirit. With this knowledge, may we never tire nor be discouraged in bringing the Gospel values and Your Good News of salvation to others. Amen.

To Be Christ’s Messenger

Matthew 10: 1-7
Hos 10:1-3,7-8,12 / Ps 105:2-7

. . . go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
(Matthew 10:7)

Being sent, it is our duty
To share what we have been given;
That in this we may be worthy
To receive the prize of heaven.

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zeb’edee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no Samaritan town, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10:1-7)

Reflection

The bible tells us that everything in life has a purpose, and we are all born on earth to pursue a mission. In the book of Genesis, Joseph, the closest precursor of the Messiah, was sold to slavery in Egypt. But in the divine scheme of things, he turned out to be the savior of the Israelite nation (and even the whole world). Little did Joseph and his brothers know that he was hand-picked by the Lord and given the gift of interpreting dreams for the mission of saving his people from starvation and extinction.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus also hand-picked His twelve apostles for the mission of healing the sick and setting free those possessed by evil spirits. He empowered them for this mission of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. Like Joseph the patriarch, the apostles were just common folk who did not know what their mission in life was going to be. They had no special qualifications, and even lost heart and abandoned their Master when the authorities arrested Him. But in the end, all of them, except one, proved their worth in building the Church of Christ on earth.

The word “apostle” means “one who is sent”. All of us who feel that we have been called by Christ to this renewal are also being sent to accomplish God’s purpose in our life. As renewed Christians, our ultimate goal is the kingdom of heaven, and our way to that destination is to be one with Jesus, the only Begotten Son of God. To be one with Him is to imitate His life on earth — not necessarily to be crucified — but to practice and proclaim His Good News of love, God’s mercy and salvation. We do not have to possess special skills to become Christ’s apostles. All that is required is our ‘yes!’, our willingness to be sent, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

As we have received, Lord God, so we must give. Come, Holy Spirit, lead us where we must be sent so that we may bring the Word of God to those who are still ‘lost’, and that Jesus’ saving grace may also come to dwell in their hearts. Amen.

Wanted: Help for the Lord’s Vineyard

Matthew 9: 32-38
Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13 / Ps 115:3-10

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. . .
(Matthew 9:37)

The laborers are still few
In the vineyard of the Lord.
Who knows but Christ may be calling you
To spread the Good News of His Word.

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:32-38)

Reflection

As He told His apostles then, Jesus may well be telling us today, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he may send laborers for His harvest,” because perhaps the greatest challenge facing our Church today is the dwindling number of priests and religious in proportion to the burgeoning population, the scarcity of shepherds to pasture the sheep, the lack of laborers for the ripened grain that must be reaped.

The vocation to the priesthood or religious life seems to have become irrelevant in this present age. In modern man’s preoccupation with his fast-changing world, a religious vocation is like a relic of the past, which bears little attraction compared to the pursuit of scientific or material achievement. Among the lower classes, the prime consideration in entering the seminary or convent seems to be either to avail of the free education and have hope for future opportunities, or simply to escape the grinding miseries of poverty. Either that or going abroad to work as domestic helper. Now more than ever, economic considerations prevail over vocational inclinations.

The shortage of priests in many parishes has resulted in the ‘clericalization’ of the laity for support of their church in spreading God’s Word, and in bringing the Holy Eucharist to those who cannot attend the celebration of the Holy Mass. Eucharistic lay ministers and the PSLs (Pangulo sa Liturhiya, or Leaders for the Liturgy) have been a big help to their parish priests in augmenting their ministry to the faithful.

There are other laborers in the vineyard as well who may not be as active in church activities, but also heed the call of the Lord of the harvest in harvesting souls for the kingdom. They may be businessmen or professionals, or even simple housewives, who have made a commitment to win souls by spreading the Word of God. For their contribution to the kingdom Jesus addresses His statement too. If more of their kind would only stand up to declare themselves for Jesus, the work of evangelization will no longer be as heavy for our priests and religious people.

Perhaps the lack of laborers in the Church could be due to the fact that not enough prayers are being sent to the Lord of the harvest for them.

Father God, touch the hearts of your faithful so that more of us will heed Your Son’s call to volunteer in mission work in our workplaces and outreaches. Amen.

The Touch of Faith

Matthew 9: 18-26
Hos 2:16-18,21-22/Ps 145:2-9

If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.”
(Matthew 9:21)

Reach out and touch God in prayer
As the bleeding woman had done,
When we put our faith in His power
That’s when our healing has begun.

While (Jesus was speaking to the crowd), a synagogue leader came and knelt before Him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did His disciples. Just then a woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” He said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, He said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him. After the crowd had been put outside, He went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region. (Matthew 9:18-26)

Reflection

A person of weaker character would have despaired. But to a person of faith, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation. She had suffered this debilitating illness for 12 long years, and had exhausted all her wealth on various doctors who were unable to cure her malady (Luke 8:43). Still she held on to the hope that one day she would be cured, and restored to a normal life. So when she learned that Jesus was passing by that place, she resolved to brave the crowd even in her weakened state, believing that “If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.” She believed that Jesus was her last hope. For her faith and brave spirit, Jesus granted her desire, and she was healed.

It was the same case with the synagogue leader, who came to Jesus as his last resort for his daughter’s life. In the other versions of this Gospel passage, the man’s 12-year old daughter was “at the point of death” (see Mark 5:23 and Luke 8:42). Nevertheless, both the woman with a bleeding condition and the father of the dead or dying girl sought the help of Jesus, with the full confidence and faith that He was their only hope for healing and salvation.

Jesus always affirmed the importance of one’s faith for the miracle of healing and restoration to happen. Thus He told the woman with the hemorrhage, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.” In the longer version of Luke, when someone from the synagogue leader’s house came to inform him that his daughter had died, Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith and she will be saved” (Lk.8:49). Jesus could not perform His miracles in the midst of people who did not have faith in Him. This was probably the reason why the crowd who had mocked and laughed at Him “had been put outside” before He raised the dead girl back to life.

Life or death makes no difference to our loving God; only our faith matters to Him. He saves us from death or harm in order to show His love for us and to increase our faith in Him. The Old Testament writer of Psalm 91 was inspired by God to write this “oracle of salvation” promised to those who have faith, and trust in His protection. God’s promise: “I rescue all who cling to me, I protect whoever knows my name. I answer everyone who invokes me; I am with them when they are in trouble; I bring them safety and honor. I give them life, long and full, and show them how I can save” (Psa 91:14-16). Be touched by God in prayer.

Loving Father, our faith is sustained by the wonders that You perform in our life. In our prayers we implore You to please heal our sick brothers and sisters in our community, for their family’s sake as well as for the sake of our faith in You. Amen.

Old Wineskins

Matthew 9:14-17
Amos 9:11-15 / Psa 85:9-14

“People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
(Matthew 9:17)

Death on the cross was the price
That Jesus paid for our sins . . .
Now that we’re renewed in Christ
“Why put new wine into old wineskins?”

Then the disciples of John approached Jesus and said, `Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9: 14-17)

Reflection

Even the disciples of John the Baptist felt uncomfortable with the disregard the apostles of Jesus were showing towards traditional Jewish practices, like washing, observing the Sabbath, and fasting as required by their Torah. They asked the Master one day, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we and the Pharisees do?” But our Lord answered them with another question that they could not understand: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Prophesying His death, He told them: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Then our Lord added two more riddles: “No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. . .”

Our Lord was not disparaging the practice of fasting, nor trying to justify the ‘negligence’ of His disciples in this traditional belief of self-purification. What He was trying to point out to the followers of John the Baptist was that there was a proper time for everything. Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 states: “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven… a time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing…”

Had His disciples been concerned with such routine religious rituals that the Pharisees, Scribes and some followers of John were more preoccupied about, they would doubtless not be able to comprehend the parables and divine lessons that the Messiah was imparting to them day by day. It was hard enough understanding His words on a full stomach. Besides, our Lord knew that His disciples needed all the nourishment and strength for the initial mission that He was going to give to them. In the next chapter, we read about Jesus summoning His 12 apostles, and “… gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness” (Mt. 10:1). Clearly, this was not the time for fasting and meditation, but for concrete action.

It is interesting to note here that our Lord referred to Himself as “the bridegroom”. This is perhaps the reason why the Church is referred to as the “bride” of Christ. He also indicated to His listeners that their traditional religious mores were now “old torn cloak” and “old wineskin”. And His new teachings certainly could not be applied to their old beliefs. That was why they were puzzled by His preaching of “turning the other cheek” instead of “an eye for an eye”. Or forgiving one’s enemies seven times seventy-seven times instead of only seven. Or how the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourner, the hungry and thirsty and those who are persecuted could be happy and blessed.

As for us who now know these things, and have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, are we to “put new wine into old wineskins?” Can we still feel comfortable in the old haunts we used to frequent? Or put in another way, now that we have become new wineskins in Christ, can we let old ways back into our life again, now that Christ has already renewed our life?

Mercy Not Sacrifice

Matthew 9: 9-13
Amos 8:4-6,9-12 / Ps 119

Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
(Matthew 9:12-13)

Without love all acts of piety
Are self-serving schemes in disguise;
Not our sacrifice, but our mercy
Can justify us in God’s eyes.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

Reflection

Sacrifice is more about self-discipline, but mercy is about love shown to others. Sacrifice without mercy is empty, but even without sacrifice, mercy wins points in heaven because it is by itself also a form of sacrifice. Mercy shown to the sick and helpless is sweeter to the Lord than sacrifice for one’s own fortification. Sacrifice comes from a firm will, but mercy springs from the tenderness of one’s heart.

We discovered the power of group intercessory prayers in the brotherhood when my brother-in-law contracted a severe illness (viral meningitis) in Atlanta, Georgia. Many of our members prayed with us for his healing, and for him to be able to come and stay with us in Davao for his complete recovery. We believe our concerted prayers in the brotherhood made it possible for him to make the long flight safely without incident, considering the risk high altitude posed for sufferers of this rare disease. He stayed with us for six months or so, and the slower pace of life in Davao truly helped him regain his strength and balance on the way to his recovery.

Little sacrifice is involved when we extend a favor like prayer for somebody in need. And none at all when we do it out of love. Thanks to the wonder of SMS, or text messaging, friends and relatives can now pray together even if they are far apart for someone in need of such intercessions. And with the number of people suffering from various ailments and problems, there is now a greater need for more merciful intercessors.

God’s mercy is like flowing water that seeks the lowest level. In His great love, He invites us to be like Him, to be merciful and compassionate to those who are down with illnesses, problems or are in distress. Say a prayer for someone you know who needs it most today.

May the mercy of God always dwell in our hearts, so that the sacrifices we endure in our life be more for the benefit of others than for ourselves, in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who showed us the real meaning of mercy and sacrifice.