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Category Archives: BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS 2017

THE HOLY FAMILY OF NAZARETH: JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

THE HOLY FAMILY OF NAZARETH: JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

(A biblical reflection on the Feast of THE HOLY FAMILY – Sunday, 31 December 2017)

 

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22,39-40 (shorter version) 

First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6,12-14; Psalms: Psalm 128:1-5; Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21; Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40 (longer version) 

The Scripture Text

And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. 

And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:22,39-40 RSV)

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s first recorded family outing had a religious purpose. Today’s Gospel talks about two important Jewish religious practices – the purification of a woman after childbirth and the presentation of a male baby in the Temple. Because these two Jewish rituals play an important role in today’s Gospel, we must take a closer look at each of them.

The Purification: The ancient Jewish people believed God was the source of life, using blood as a vehicle to communicate that life to human beings. Therefore, a person who came in contact with blood came in contact with God’s creative power. Since this experience of God set the person apart from the ordinary world, this individual had to undergo a purification before returning to everyday life. This purification, usually a ritual bath, restored the person to “normalcy” before offering sacrifices to God or taking part in religious services.

Jewish women, therefore, underwent a ritual bath after each monthly period. After childbirth, the woman also offered a year old lamb and a pair of pigeons or turtledoves at her purification. However, if the woman was poor, she offered only the birds. This explain Mary’s offering in today’s Gospel.

The Presentation: When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, God appeared to Moses and told him to lead His people to freedom. When the pharaoh refused to let the Jews go, God punished the Egyptian people with ten plagues, the last being the death of the first born Egyptian male in each family. Because God spared the Jews from this catastrophe, they believed their firstborn sons belonged to God (Exodus 13:11-16) and “ransomed” these sons back with an offering of five shekels (coins). In today’s Gospel, Joseph and Mary fulfill this Jewish laws when they visit the Temple for Mary’s purification.

Today’s Gospel concludes with Joseph and Mary returning with Jesus to Nazareth in Galilee. Galilee, a region within the land of Palestine where most of Jesus’ ministry took place, was a relatively small area, only about forty-five miles long from north to south.

Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 130-131.)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, to me the Holy Family is a model of religious observance, in prayerfulness and fidelity to God through light and darkness, joy, and sorrow, breaking and growing. Let Your Holy Spirit keep guiding me to become a good disciple of Christ, and to spread His Good News to others I meet. Amen.

Jakarta, 29 December 2017 

A Christian Pilgrim

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GOD BECAME MAN AND LIVED AMONG US

GOD BECAME MAN AND LIVED AMONG US

(A biblical reflection on CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT MASS – Monday, 25 December 2017) 

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-14

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalms: Psalm 96:1-3,11-13; Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14 

The Scripture Text

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:1-14 RSV) 

The Gospel according to Luke tells us the shepherds were guarding their flocks at night when the angels appeared to them to announce the birth of the Messiah. This little detail tells us Jesus could not have been born in December, a month during which the Palestinian nights are too cold for sheep and shepherds to be out in the fields. Most likely, Jesus was born in the early spring because that was the birthing season for the sheep, a time when the shepherds would be in the fields with their sheep throughout the night just in case one of the sheep experienced a difficult delivery.

Why, then, do we celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25? Strangely, the answer to this question lies in a pagan feast.

Some pagan peoples viewed the world as a battleground for a struggle between the powers of darkness (the evil gods) and the powers of light (the good gods). These pagans became alarmed in early December because they noticed the days getting shorter, a situation they interpreted to mean the evil gods were overcoming the good gods. Therefore, these people held a feast at which they partied and made lots of noise in an attempt to rouse the good gods from their sleep and encourage them to fight back. They celebrated this feast on December 25.

As the days began getting longer, the pagans concluded their strategy apparently worked. For them, more daylight was an indication the good gods, the powers of light, were defeating the powers of darkness. Of course, today we know longer days had nothing to do with their feast but with the winter solstice which occurs on December 22.

Some of the early Christians were once pagans who celebrated this feast with their neighbors. After they converted, they believed in one God instead of many gods who were fighting, but they were reluctant to give up the partying that they once did on the occasion. What were they to do? They solved this dilemma by giving the pagan feast a Christian meaning. This was easy to do since Jesus is the light who came into the world to overcome the darkness of sin. By adapting the feast of Christianity, the followers of Jesus were able to celebrate with their pagan neighbors without giving up their faith in the one true God.

The exact day Jesus was born is really not important. In fact, Jesus’ birth was even celebrated in the early days of the Church (Easter was and still is the most important Christian feast). What does matter, however, is that God became man and lived among us.

Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 10-11.)

Prayer: O Holy Spirit, open our minds and let our hearts be melted by the consideration of God assuming a tiny, fail human form, and being laid in a manger. May our faith in Christ then reborn this Christmas day, because only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of those things which at present remain hidden from our view. Amen.

Jakarta, 23 December 2017  

A Christian Pilgrim 

 

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MARY DID PUT HER TOTAL TRUST IN GOD’S CARE

MARY DID PUT HER TOTAL TRUST IN GOD’S CARE

(A biblical reflection on THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT [YEAR B], 24 December 2017)

 

Gospel Reading: Luke 1:26-38 

First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16; Psalms: Psalm 89:2-5,27,29; Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27 

The Scripture Text

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father  David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38 RSV)

The word “Messiah” never appears in today’s Gospel; however, the author implies it throughout. The Jews expected the Messiah to be a descendant of David, whom Luke refers to in today’s Gospel and whom we hear about in today’s first reading. David was, at one time, the king of the Jews and a great military leader.

According to 2 Samuel 7, David felt guilty that has lived in a luxurious palace while the Ark of the Covenant (the box containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments) was kept in a tent. Because the Jews believed God was present wherever the ark was, David wanted to build a house (Temple) for both the Ark and the Lord. David abandoned his plans after the Lord revealed to the prophet Nathan in a dream, that He, the Lord, would build a house for David instead, God said this would not be a physical house but a royal household of people. David’s kingdom, according to God, would endure forever and His throne would always be firm. The Jewish people believed this meant one of David’s descendants would always govern them.

Long after David’s death, one enemy after another conquered the Jews, killing their kings and then ruling over them. Since God would not lie and was always faithful, many Jews concluded they had misunderstood the promises He made to David. They reasoned that God would one day fulfil His promises through one of David’s descendants. This person would be the Messiah.

That is why Luke carefully tells us that Mary was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of David, and that Mary’s child would one day occupy David’s throne. With these references, Luke shows us that legally (through Joseph), Jesus was a descendent of David and was also the Messiah. Jesus would rule over the house of Jacob (also called Israel; his twelve sons’ descendants make up the twelve tribes of Israel), a rule that will never end.

When Mary agreed to God’s request to be the mother of the Messiah, God didn’t tell her of all the sufferings and disappointments she would experience. Rather, she put her total trust in God’s care.

Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 126-127.) 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, by Your Holy Spirit make me willing and able to quiet myself before You as Mary did. Open my heart to Your grace, so that through the angel’s message to Mary I can learn to believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Your only begotten Son. Lead me to be a faithful disciple of Christ, by always saying “yes” to Your will. Amen. 

Jakarta, 22 December 2017 

A Christian Pilgrim

 
 

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2 CORINTHIANS 5:7

Jakarta, 20 December 2017

A Christian Pilgrim

 

 

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ONLY THROUGH JESUS CAN WE ESTABLISH A VERY CLOSE AND LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR HEAVENLY FATHER

ONLY THROUGH JESUS CAN WE ESTABLISH A VERY CLOSE AND LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR HEAVENLY FATHER

(A biblical reflection on THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year B], 17 December 2017) 

Gospel Reading: John 1:6-8,19-28 

First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11; Psalms: Luke 1:46-50,53-54; Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 5:15-24 

The Scripture Text

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you a prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you?” Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands One whom you do not know, even He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:6-8,19-28 RSV)

In today’s Gospel, priests and Levites went to ask John the Baptist who he was. Unlike our modern day priests, the Jewish priests were not chosen for the job because they were specially trained or because they were particularly holy but because they were descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron. In Exodus 28:1, God commanded Moses to consecrate Aaron and Aaron’s sons as priests of the Jewish people. From that day on, only Aaron’s descendants were to represent the Jewish people when offering sacrifices in the Temple.

The Levites were descendants of a man named Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, whose descendants make up the twelve tribes of Israel. Because God gave the Levites the special honor of assisting the priests in the Temple, some of the more menial tasks (e.g., cleaning up and filling the lamps with oil) were their responsibility.

As you probably remember from last week’s reading, some of the Jewish people expected the prophet Elijah to return to the world to help prepare for the coming of the Messiah, a political/military leader through whom God would rule the world and establish His Kingdom. John emphatically said that he was neither the Messiah nor Elijah.

John also denied being the Prophet. Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18, says that one day God will send the Jewish people another prophet like Moses. Since Moses talked directly to God (Exodus 34:27-35), many of the Jews considered him the greatest prophet who ever lived. The Prophet, like Moses, would be a very special person.

If John the Baptist wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, then who was he? Today’s Gospel describes him as a man God sent to point to the light. This light was Jesus.

The first five books of our Bible make up the Jewish Torah. The rabbis sometimes called the Torah a light because the laws found in the Torah illuminated the way to holiness. Anyone who observed all these laws was close to God and, therefore, holy. By identifying Jesus as the light, John says that it is Jesus who lights the way to holiness, not the Jewish laws. Only through Jesus can we establish a very close and loving relationship with our Father in heaven.

Sometimes we consider ourselves good Christians because we do what the Church tells us. Church laws are good but they cannot replace Jesus. If we want to be holy, we must have a close and loving relationship with Jesus. There’s no other way.

Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 124-125.)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, our Lord God, thank You for sending us Jesus Christ, Your only begotten Son, as the fulfilment of all our hopes. Thank You for Your healing and restoration through His death and resurrection. Amen. 

Jakarta, 15 December 2017 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

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TO PREPARE FOR JESUS’ COMING

TO PREPARE FOR JESUS’ COMING 

(A biblical reflection on THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT [YEAR B], 10 December 2017) 

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8 

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalms: Psalm 85:9-14; Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14 

The Scripture Text

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, who prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8 RSV)

In 2 Kings, we find Elijah, one of the most important figures in the Old Testament, clothed in the traditional garb of a prophet, a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Because 2 Kings 9 tells us that God took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, some of the Jewish people believed God was saving Elijah for a special mission and that one day God would send him back to the earth to prepare the way for the Messiah.

The author of Mark’s Gospel begins today’s reading by quoting a passage from the prophet Isaiah that the Jews often understood as referring to Elijah’s return and he also informs us that John the Baptist dressed the same way Elijah dressed. In this subtle way, the author tells us that John the Baptist fulfilled the role of Elijah. He was the one God sent to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah.

In the first sentence of the first chapter of Mark, the author calls his work a Gospel about Jesus, who is both the Christ and the Son of God. The word “gospel” means “good news”, and Mark is the only one of the four evangelists to refer to his writing in this way.

The word “Christ” means “Anointed One”, a title the Jews used for the Messiah. This reference to Jesus’ being both the Christ and the Son of God indicates the Gospel is not an unbiased account of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. It is clear that Mark is a person of faith who wants to share that faith with others. This type of writing is called “salvation history”, a term biblical scholars use to describe an account of how God is working in the world.

Finally, some Jewish people went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. For many Jews, baptism was a sign of sorrow for one’s sins and an indication the person would try harder not to offend God. It was not a requirement for being a member of the Jewish faith.

Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 122-123.)

Short Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for sending John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah, Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who came to the world for our eternal salvation. Amen.

Jakarta, 8 December 2017 

A Christian Pilgrim 

 

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WE DO NOT KNOW THE DAY OR THE HOUR WHEN HE WILL RETURN TO THE EARTH

WE DO NOT KNOW THE DAY OR THE HOUR WHEN HE WILL RETURN TO THE EARTH

(A biblical reflection on THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year B], 3 Deeember 2017) 

Gospel Reading: Mark 13:33-37 

First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17,19;64:1,3-8; Psalms: Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 

The Scripture Text

“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.” (Mark 13:33-37 RSV) 

As the Advent season begins, Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that we must always be ready because we do not know the day or the hour when He will return to the earth. In Greek, the original language of the Gospels, parousia is the word for the second coming of Jesus.

The early Christians believed that parousia would occur within their own lifetime. Jesus would return to conquer the world and the world as we know it would end. With Jesus in complete control, the reign of God would begin and there would be no more wars, hunger, or suffering. God would then transform the earth into a new garden of Eden, just as it was before the first sin.

This belief in Jesus’ imminent return caused a problem for the early Church. Some Christians who concluded there wasn’t much sense in working if the world was going to end some time soon, relied on others to support them while they spent their time praying and waiting for the parousia. This led the author of the second letter to the Thessalonians to lay down the rule that anyone who would not work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

The belief in Jesus’ quick return also delayed the writing of the Gospel stories. Instead of recording what Jesus said and did, the early Christians verbally passed on stories about Jesus. They were not afraid that Jesus’ teachings would get distorted because they expected the parousia to occur before the apostles and other eyewitnesses were all dead. One of them would always be around to insure the accuracy of what was being said.

Only after it was clear that the parousia was not going to occur as soon as they first thought, did the early Christians finally begin writing the Gospels. Because of this, the first Gospel (Mark) was not written until about 65-70 A.D. That’s thirty-five to forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus!d

The early Christians went to an extreme by believing the parousia would occur at any minute but most modern Christians act as if the world cannot  end in our own lifetime. Today’s Gospel reading warns that this isn’t necessarily true. 

Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 120-121.) 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, especially for this Advent send Your Holy Spirit to help us prepare our hearts by welcoming Jesus into our lives as we begin each day during this holy season. By knowing and experiencing Jesus and His love for us more closely, we can know the joy of awaiting His second coming (parousia). Amen. 

Jakarta, 1 December 2017 

A Christian Pilgrim

 

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