The Compassion of Jesus

Mark 1: 40-45

1 Sm 4:1-11/ Ps 44:10-11,14-15,24-25

Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!”
Mark 1:41

The “leprosies” that plague us

Are the consequence of sin.

Our hope and healing comes from Jesus,

Who said, “I do will it, be made clean.”

A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged Him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a stern warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45)

Reflection

How ironic that by restoring the leper back to his community, our Lord found Himself instead unable to mix freely in any town or village, and had become the “outsider” that the former leprose man was. This was because the healed man did not obey the instructions of Jesus, telling everyone he met about his miraculous healing. Now everyone wanted to see who this ‘miracle worker’ was, and Jesus could no longer enter the towns or villages, but had to confine Himself to deserted places.

A study of the leper’s character reveals both good and bad qualities. He had boldness of faith, breaking traditional norms of keeping distance from people by approaching Jesus for healing. He was a humble man, begging on his knees, pleading for the Lord’s will, and not presuming on His kindness. And yet he also lacked a sense of gratitude for disregarding Jesus’ stern warning not to tell anyone about his healing.

Disobedience has always gotten man into trouble ever since God created him. If only Adam and Eve had not disobeyed the simple rules laid down by their Maker, life for all of mankind would still be a paradise on earth. And yet God did not allow the leprosy of sin to bring mankind to perdition. To bring man back to a clean slate, God would end up thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem, ostracized and tortured in a way worse than any leper.

Our disobedience and wayward ways do not affect the compassion of God whenever we come to Him in humble supplication. He is always moved with pity by our various afflictions. Although Jesus is no longer with us physically, I believe he still manifests His love and compassion for the sick through His servants who are called to minister to those who are in need of healing. A brother in our community requested a few of our members to pray over a relative in the i.c.u. who had a severe blood infection. His doctor advised his wife that only prayers could save him now. His name is Roy. He is 45 years old and has four young children. Fortunately, the doctors in the hospital allowed four of us to visit him in his small cubicle and we prayed for his healing. We continue to pray for Roy and ask you, dear reader to join us in praying to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, You can cleanse the blood of Roy. Amen.”

We were all unclean, Lord, in our sinfulness; but You touched us with your Word, and You have made us clean. Grant that we may never disobey Your statutes and decrees again. Amen.

Taking Time to Pray

Mark 1: 29-39

1Sm 3:1-10,19-20 / Ps 40

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus went off to a lonely place to pray.
(Mark 1:35)

We always rush, we have no time,

So much in mind of work to do;

Lest we forget things more sublime,

What if in turn, God forgets you?

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So He went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was. Rising very early before dawn, Jesus went off to a lonely place to pray. Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:29-39)

Reflection

The writing style of St. Mark in his Gospel narration gives the reader the impression that our Lord’s life was fast-paced and packed full of activities – he was healing the sick, exorcising demons, preaching, and rebuking His critics. As soon as He had organized His core group, He immediately launched His ministry (even on a Sabbath), curing a demoniac in the synagogue, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, then attending to the problems of the whole town who had massed at Peter’s door — well into the night. But as much as He showed His love and concern for His people, Jesus never missed the opportunity to pause and find the time and place to pray to the Father.

Our Lord shows us what it means to be a man for others – one who is sensitive to society’s ills, gives his time and energy generously and lovingly to promote love, peace and justice, restore health and order – but at the same time also finds time and space for the Source of these blessings. Jesus displayed this balance in His life not only for the benefit of His followers, but especially for us today, who place too much importance in achieving the most in life in the soonest time possible. In the warp-speed technology of our age, how easily we lose sight of the necessity of pausing and spending quality time with the Maker of time.

If our Lord Jesus saw it fit to ‘recharge His batteries’ in meditation with the Father, how much more for us, who sorely lack the spirit and enthusiasm that our Lord possessed? Just as our body needs the nourishment of food, so does our soul, which needs to come before God “as an empty pitcher before a full fountain.”

At times it is for lack of prayers that we become sick or even stricken with a deadly disease. Being possessed by an evil spirit is certainly the result of a lack of spiritual guidance and nurturing. Quite often, people only find time to pray intensely to God when they or their loved ones are already in the throes of a serious ailment. If only they had made daily prayers as much an important part of their schedule as taking care of their bodily needs, they would have had a more balanced, healthy life.

I must confess to being guilty of what I am preaching about. My wife and I have long maintained a regular schedule of prayers and daily masses. But when the Christmas holidays took us on a two-week vacation to Manila, the flurry of events and activities disrupted our schedule of masses and prayers, and soon after we got back home from the Christmas break, we both remained tired and disoriented. Lying late in bed one morning, I could only thank God that we did not have any serious ailments while we were away on the trip, and the brief “confinement” at home was an opportunity to meditate on His graces in my life, and to plan how to serve Him better in this new year. Being away from God too long can be dangerous to your health.

Father, thank You for all the blessings that You have given to me and my family, and our community. Remind us always to give more time to listen to Your bidding in our prayer and meditation, so that all the things that we do in the days to come may be pleasing to You. Amen.

The Authority of Jesus

Mark 1: 21-28

1 Sm 1:9-20 / 1 Sm 2: 1,4-8

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
(Mark 1:24)

No evil spirits can prevail

Against the power of God’s Word;

Read it daily, it will not fail

To help our faith in Christ restored.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1: 21-28)

Reflection

The Jewish synagogue was the most important place for the people of God to learn about the Hebrew Scriptures; to hear the Word of God as it was written, preserved and taught by the recognized scholars of the law at the time, called the scribes. They prided themselves in being the authority in interpreting the Judaic laws handed down by their ancestors. Along with the Jews, they were truly amazed how Jesus, the son of a common carpenter could so easily displace them by the authority of His teaching.

They were even more surprised when a man possessed by an evil spirit addressed Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Note that the evil spirit referred to himself in the plural form: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Was this a question (or a statement) that the dominion of Satan and his fallen angels over men had now come to an end? Or was the evil spirit in fact referring to the destruction of the old Jewish social order as taught by the scribes and Pharisees? Thus were the people so amazed by this “new teaching” of Jesus, because He taught with authority.

We know that Jesus’ teachings on Scriptures had authority simply because being God, He was the Author of all the inspired writings of the prophets and patriarchs. And He backed His words with action. Only God could expel evil spirits. The demon had immediately recognized Jesus (“I know who you are – the Holy One of God”) and wanted to make His identity known – perhaps to derail His divine mission. But Jesus ordered him to shut up and be cast out of the possessed man. Reading the Gospel accounts about the life of our Lord Jesus, we have seen that no evil spirits could overcome or withstand the power and authority He wielded. His mere words could cast them out of their captive souls just as easily as they could heal all ailments. The power of His words in Holy Scriptures continue to conquer evil in this world up to the present time. We have His authority and power in our hands, in the Holy Bible. The Bible contains all the powerful words of God that we can employ against the forces of darkness. Read your Bible every day, and the Holy Spirit will guide and protect you.

Come, Holy Spirit, possess our hearts and minds, that we may always desire to read the Word of God. May it inspire us and fill us with Your wisdom, and with the power and authority of Jesus, may we never fall under the influence of the evil one again. Amen.

The Baptism of Jesus

Mark 1: 7-11

Isa 55:1-11 /Is 12 /1Jn 5:1-9

All you who are thirsty, come to the water.
(Isaiah 55:1)

In Baptism we were transformed

Into a new life of creation;

In Christ our life must now conform

To assure our soul’s salvation.

This was what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:7-11)

Reflection

In our last reflection on the Gospel of John last Saturday, we talked about water as one of the most common elements of nature, signifying life. Jesus also used water for ceremonial washing in His first miracle, changing it into wine. In today’s Gospel of Mark, he begins his narrative with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river. Water in the sacrament of Baptism, as we know, is used for the cleansing of original sin. But Jesus was born without this stain of Adam’s disobedience, so what was our Lord’s purpose in asking John the Baptist to baptize Him?

First of all, Jesus wanted to show the people that He was in solidarity with them, sharing in their repentance for mankind’s common sin. We recall the scene in the Last Supper when Peter initially refused to have Jesus wash his feet, and Jesus told him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8). Secondly, our Lord wanted to show that the “one mightier than John” must also be the humblest. When John tried to object, Jesus told him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented (Mat.3:15). Finally, it was in fulfillment of the Scriptures that Jesus had to be baptized, as Isaiah had prophesied: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him, and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isa 42:1). His baptism marked the beginning of His public ministry, as testified by none other than the voice of the Father Himself coming from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending on Him.

This episode in Mark’s Gospel conveys to us the significance of the Sacrament of Baptism in the life of every Christian, as we identify with our Lord Jesus Christ, Who first initiated this Sacrament in the river Jordan. In every baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon the child, and the Father claims it as His beloved one. We all know the day we were born, our birthday, which we celebrate every year. But how many of us remember the day we were baptized? Our baptismal date is actually more important than our birthday, because it was the day that we became a child of God, and one with our Lord Jesus in His own baptism. It was the day that we truly became a Christian. But it doesn’t matter if we do not know the date when we were baptized, as long as we affirm our baptism as God’s child in all our words and actions, and we live our lives in imitation of our Lord Jesus, making His mission on earth our own.

Lord, I believe that the Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ has washed away my sins, and His Word now nourishes my spirit. Thank You dear God for making me a new creation, transformed by His great sacrifice on the cross. Amen.

One with Christ in Baptism

Mark 1: 7-11

1 Jn 3: 11-21/ Ps 100:1-5

I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
(Mark 1:8)

Our sin had been cleansed with water,

We received God’s Spirit from above,

We were baptized by the Father,

And now bear the mark of His love.

And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit.” At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:7-11)

Reflection

The life of our Lord Jesus as related in the Gospel of Mark begins differently from the other synoptic Gospels. Matthew began his Gospel with a genealogy of our Lord, while Luke gave detailed birth narratives of both Jesus and John the Baptist. Even the Gospel of John, which, like Mark also started with a prologue of John the Baptist, made no mention of Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan. It was as if Mark alone wanted to emphasize that the ministry of the Messiah started at the moment when He rose from the waters of the Jordan to be anointed by the life-giving Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and to be affirmed by His Heavenly Father (“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”) And yet we also see that Jesus submitted Himself first to St. John’s baptism of repentance (Mt.3:13-16), not only as a sign of His humility as a man, but in identifying with the people of Israel who came to John to be baptized. He came for sinners, so His baptism was an act of solidarity with them.

The sacrament of Baptism is not merely a ritual that signifies death and rebirth. It is a sacred anointing into one’s membership in the Church of Christ, and as heir of the Father’s kingdom. It is in imitation of our Lord’s own immersion in the river Jordan, an act always pleasing to God our Father. More than any other element on earth, water is the most symbolic of life. The Bible is replete with so many references to water as nourishment and cleansing agent. In the very first book of the Bible (Genesis), in the first line of the first chapter, when the world was still a wasteland, there was already water. The first chapter of Psalms talks about nourishing streams of water. And in the last chapter of the last book, Revelation, we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.” (Rev.22:17)

Yes, we are all connected to water. Our bodies are 96% water. We cannot survive after a few days without it. As water is the nourishment of our physical body, so the Spirit of God is the nourishment of our soul. We cannot live without Him. In this light do we understand why Jesus as man was baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan, and was at the same time baptized by the Father with the Holy Spirit.

Water from the side of Christ wash away my sins, and nourish my spirit, that I may be a new creation, purified by Your great sacrifice on the cross. Amen.

The Example of St. John Neumann

John 1: 43-51

1 Jn 3: 11-21 / Ps 100:1-5

Can anything good come from Nazareth?
(John 1:46)

Let us walk in humility,

Not be blinded by prejudice;

When we hear God’s call, “Follow me”

‘We shall see greater things than this.’

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Peter and Andrew. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip answered, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than this.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

Reflection

Prejudice is one of the most common flaws of human nature. Our orientation or social upbringing often influences us to pre-judge certain individuals based on their race, color of skin, educational background or place of origin. The apostle Nathanael was an upright and intelligent man, and yet, on impulse, his immediate response to Philip when informed about Jesus was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” To counter this bias, Jesus promised him, “You shall see greater things than this.”

Today is the feast day of St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia (1852-60) and the first American bishop to be canonized. Perhaps it was also prejudice on the part of the bishops of his native Bohemia, as well as all the other bishops in Europe who refused his request to be ordained to the priesthood that St. John Neumann decided to migrate to the United States where he was ordained in 1836. In 1842 he joined the Redemptorist order, and after six years of hard but fruitful work, he was appointed the order’s provincial superior in America. In 1852, John Neumann was consecrated Bishop of Philadelphia in Baltimore, Pennsylvania. He was able to organize a Catholic diocesan school system that increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from one to two hundred. He also established many parishes.

St. John Neumann heeded our Lord’s words, “Follow Me” and “Go, and teach all nations.” If the bishops in Europe had asked, “Can anything good come from Bohemia?” St. John Neumann might have answered, “Come and see the hundreds of schools and churches that the Lord had made possible for me to establish.”

St. John Neumann’s life exemplifies what our Lord meant when He said, “You shall see greater things than this.” God does not send His disciples on a mission without supplying the means to accomplish it. Just as He gave John Neumann his exceptional organizational skills, God will also grant us the talents to use in spreading the Good News. All that is needed is to trust Him when we hear the call, “Come and see.”

Thank You, Father God, for the exemplary life of Your saints, including St. John Neumann whom we honor today. May their example inspire us to be bold in helping build Your kingdom here on earth, and never to be discouraged by any odds. Amen.