Category Archives: BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS 2020



(A biblical reflection on the Feast of THE HOLY FAMILY – Sunday, 27 December 2020)

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

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3 Psalms: Psalm 103:1-6,8-9; Second Reading: Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19; 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)

The Church makes this Sunday the Feast of the Holy Family, She wants all Christians families to look to that special family for inspiration, example and encouragement. We find all three in today’s Gospel. Their humble, unquestionable obedience to the Mosaic Law, a law to which they were not really bound, is an example and an encouragement for us to keep the laws of God which are binding on us. Mary, because of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus, did not need legal purification. Jesus, being the Son of God, did not have to be redeemed from the service of God. His whole life on earth was to be a complete and devoted service of God. Joseph, as father of that family, quietly and humbly accompanied Mary and her Child to Jerusalem.

They then returned to Nazareth to live a life of obscurity and poverty for the next thirty years. They were probably often short of the necessities of life – the earnings of a carpenter in the small village of Nazareth would be meager. Human nature being what it is, there probably were times when Joseph was not paid even what was due to him. Poverty, however, did not mean misery for them. They willingly accepted their lot and thanked God for the little they had.

It is true that Mary and Joseph were helped by the limited knowledge they had of the role of Jesus in the salvation of the world. It helped them to be docile to God’s will and ever ready to suffer for the cause of God. But we have even a more comprehensive knowledge of Christ’s role in our regard, and of God’s plan for our real eternal happiness. Therefore, we should be ready to bear our lot, and carry whatever cross is sent us. We know that this life is but a stepping-stone to the next life. It is not the difficulty or case of our lot here below that matters, but rather the use we make of the few years allotted us.

Mothers of families: make Mary your model. Keep the love of God alive and active in your home. The love of neighbor, peace and harmony among the members of the family will follow automatically. Fathers: you have the patient Saint Joseph as your model. He labored, day in and day out, often without any temporal reward, often regretting that he could not provide better for his beloved wife and dearly loved adopted son. But he too accepted God’s plan. He was glad to suffer as God’s chosen associate in the preparation of the human nature of Jesus for the messianic ask that lay ahead. Children: love, honor and obey your parents, as Jesus loved, honored and obeyed Mary and Joseph. He, the Son of God, the Creator and Lord of all things, was subject to His parents, to Mary His Mother and to Joseph His foster-father.

Let us try to make the holy home of Nazareth the model of our homes and imitate the Holy Family in our daily lives. Then when the time comes to bid adieu to this world, we shall be able, like  Simeon and Anna, to thank God from our hearts for having been given a vision of the Messiah, not only in our last days, but all through life. We shall be able to say, “Now, Master, You may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your word” (Luke 2:29). We shall be ready to face our Judge, because we will have obeyed and loved Him all through our lives. So may it be.

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, 26 December 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year B], 13 December 2020)

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)

John keeps declaring “I am not” in order to point to the one who can say “I am”. The identity of the one coming after John is unknown, but John is clear in his own mind that he is not the light. John must make way for the light, create a space for the light, create a space for the light to shine through. And when people see the light, his own task is finished.

John the Baptist’s role can be appreciated fully only when the light does come in the person of Jesus. Only then can people realize the true measure of John’s worth and the unique place this enigmatic man has in the Christian tradition. It is interesting to recall that John’s stature among his own people was so great that many of them came to believe that he was the Messiah. Indeed when Jesus comes to ask His own followers who people think He is, the apostles tell Him that some hold Him to be John the Baptist come back to life (Matthew 16:14; Mark 8:28; Luke 9:19). Even in the early Church, some time after the completion of Jesus’ ministry, a sectarian Baptist group still holds on to the belief that John, not Jesus, is the Christ. And that is why the fourth Gospel is so emphatic about John’s role: it stresses that John is a ‘witness’ to the light.

Like John the Baptist, we are asked to make way for the light. None of us is the light: our role is to let the light through the chunks of solid darkness that litter our human landscape. That appears a mountainous task besides which our own abilities and commitment look so small. Who are we to compete against such large darkness?

Advent calls on us to make what contribution we can. To look first at ourselves and work quietly on the darkness that hide s within us – the selfishness, the unforgiveness, and the lack of love that keep the light of good news from so many people. On the larger of a caring community, we are challenged by the Gospel to work ‘together’. Our work may appear fruitless or just odd to those who look at our efforts, but the space we create is significant. Holiness is the constant struggle of letting Christ be the light that shines through everything we do. So let our work puzzle people. Who cares, when the light gets through.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, 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. By Your Holy Spirit, You have anointed generation upon generation to bring good news to the world. Through His work in me today, help me give glory to Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

Jakarta, 12 December 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT [YEAR B], 6 December 2020)

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)

John the Baptist is a waiting figure, God’s watchman, but his waiting is anything but passive. He does not go into the wilderness to sit in solitude and wait for the one who is to come; rather, the word of God invades his whole being, calling the people of Israel to a radical change of heart in readiness for the approach of the Lord. From the wilderness his voice has a powerful reach: it attracts a people who have grown accustomed to the silence of God, a people who are hungry to be nourished again by the word which they recognize to be God’s own word.

It is worth noting that since the death of the last of the writing prophets, the voice of God had not been heard in the land. It was believed that the spirit of prophecy had been quenched and that God spoke only through “the echo of His voice”. That long silence is broken when John the Baptist speaks, and this is what gives John his unique authority. Through him the silence of God is ended: the spirit of prophecy is alive again as it was in the days of old. That is why, as Mark says, all Judaea and all Jerusalem make their way to John: in him the people discern the living word of God.

People respond to the revivalist preaching of John by confessing their sins to him and undergoing a baptism of repentance. To the word of God spoken through John, people give their own word to change their lives. Their change of heart is shown in their public baptism, which would have taken place at one of the fords in the river Jordan. John’s baptism marks a new beginning for them a time of personal spiritual renewal, when they would aim themselves again at a life of fidelity to God.

The purpose of this energetic renewal movement is to prepare for the one who is to come. And we know that “one” to be Jesus of Nazareth. Although John the Baptist has his own group of disciples, he does not claim that he is way, the truth and the life. “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful that I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals.” John understands his own powerful place within the larger content of God’s plan and this frees him to defer to the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ greatness does not diminish John’s importance; John is important precisely because of who Jesus is.

John’s way is a challenge to all of us: to foster the greatness in others without feeling threatened about the value of our own contribution; to be free to celebrate the importance of other because we have a sense of own worth and value before God. John manages to do all this, and, not surprisingly, Jesus will return the compliment when He speaks about John to the crowds, telling them that there is no greater mother’s son that John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:11).

As the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus teaches us, the generosity in recognizing the goodness in others can help them call out the good that is in ourselves. When that happens, there are no losers.

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, 5 December 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year B] – 29 November 2020)

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)

The end of the world is known only to God. It is His secret. He has not told us for some very good reason. But we do know that the end of this world for each one of us is at the moment of her/his death. When I breathe my last I shall have ended my stay in this world. I shall enter the new future world which I know exists. However, the knowledge of the moment is also hidden from me, and again for very good reasons. If many Christians knew the day and hour of their death, they would postpone their conversion until that last moment. This, of course, would be extreme foolishness, but the world is full of folly. What guarantee have such “unfaithful servants” that they will be given the grace of conversion at that last moment? What reward could such a selfish servant expect of the good Lord? There have been death-bed conversions – the good thief of the cross is an example – but such converts di not willingly postpone their conversion.

The moment of our death is kept secret from us so that the naturally lazy and dilatory amongst us will see the need for being ever on the alert. When we realize what God the Father and Christ have done for us we should feel ashamed at our lack of generosity in God’s service. We are expected to serve God willingly and faithfully every moment of our lives. But God knows the clay of which we are made, hence Christ’s words of warning to all of us. Most of us do what we should out of a sense of gratitude to God, at least for our own self-interest. We all wish to get to heaven, and to do so we must be found worthy at the moment of death. That all-important moment is hidden from us and the only way to make sure of being found worthy then is to strive to be worthy always.

“Watch!” then, is Christ’s advice and command. We know not the year or the day or the hour when our master will call us. That year, day and hour will be unexpected, even if we are advanced in years or have been suffering from prolonged illness. We shall not be unprepared for it if we have tried all our lives to be faithful to Christ and to our Christian faith.

This holy season of Advent is an opportune time for each one of us to look into her/his life and see how she/he stands with God. Christmas should remind us of the second coming of Christ, which will be very soon for all of us. Let us ask today: how would I fare if I were called from this world today? Could I expect to get honors, or even a pass, in my examination? Would I meet Christ as a loving brother and Savior or as a stern judge who would be forced to condemn me? If, in all honesty, most of us would find much lacking in our preparedness, we have still time to put things right. While we are in this world, God is not a stern judge but a merciful Father. He is ever ready to welcome the prodigal son provided the prodigal returns home. Today is the day to return to God. Today is the day in which to decide our future eternal state. There may be no tomorrow.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I want to keep watch for You! Help me to keep my eyes fixed on You so that I will be ready for Your action in my life, in the Church, and in the world! Come Lord Jesus! Amen.

Jakarta, 28 November 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on the SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING [YEAR A] – Sunday, 22 November 2020)

Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17; Psalms: Psalm 23:1-3,5-6; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28

The Scripture Text

“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will say to those at His left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me,  naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee? Then He will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(Matthew 25:31-46 RSV)

In today’s Gospel Matthew gives us an apocalyptic vision of the last judgement, when all the nations – without distinction between Jew and Gentile, without discrimination between priest and people – are assembled before the King. It would be a pity to limit the value of the passage to a last judgement scene, because what it offers is a picture of the kind of community where Jesus sees Himself to be recognized, the kind of community where Jesus sees Himself to be at home.

The presence of Jesus is hidden among the poor and the vulnerable: where their needs are recognized, Jesus is acknowledged. When the hungry are fed, when those who thirst are offered drink, when strangers are offered hospitality, when the naked are covered in dignity, when the sick are seen to, when prisoners are visited, Jesus Himself is touched by mercy. Their vulnerability is His vulnerability; He is present where human need is greatest.

According to this vision, if an alien came from outer space and asked us where our Jesus lived, we might have to take him to strange sanctuaries: refugee camps, back alleys, hospitals, prisons, and tell him that Jesus is to be found somewhere in these places. And tell him, too, that the blessed of God are to be found there, feeding, welcoming, clothing, visiting, paying attention.

In Matthew’s vision we have a list of human needs and appropriate responses by a caring community None of the needs is specifically religious: they are human needs as wide as the human heart. To those ordinary human needs there is the response of the Kingdom. That response is an authentically human one, and therefore, a profoundly religious one; it is honored by the title “blessed of My Father” (Matthew 25:34).

The blessed are praised for the simplest actions – and they are all actions not attitudes – to those who experience simple human needs. There are no records of great heroism, no stories of conquest, no great trials or sufferings, no marvellous triumphs over disaster, no feats of imaginative daring. The requirements are simple and don’t go beyond the capacity of any human being. There is no training required, no academic qualifications necessary. The actions are the simple response of those who pay attention to what happens in the world of the familiar and who move to answer the needs which confront them.

For Jesus, what happens in the world of the familiar has an eternity of importance about it: little acts of kindness have eternal significance; human graciousness and charity are ground enough for welcome into the fullness of the Kingdom.

The thought now is that Jesus looks upon every kindness done to a person in need, however lowly, as a kindness done to Himself. Those who are cursed bring the doom upon themselves because they failed to respond to simple human needs. They are no44)t accused of violent crimes, or offences on a grand scale – any more that the blessed were praised for heroic virtue; rather, they are accused because they failed to act on the human need they saw before them.

The shared problem of the blessed and the cursed is: “When did we see Thee …” (Matthew 25:37, 44). That may be our question too, for all we see is the legion of those in need. But the Gospel asks us to interpret what we see. The Gospel challenges us to see the broken body of Christ in the brokenness and the woundedness of those we see around us. Christ still suffers in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. To pay attention to them is to pay attention to the broken body of Christ. And to do that is to be welcomed as blessed of God, because it is to live as a community of mercy.

Note: Adapted from F. Denis McBride, CSsR, SEASONS OF THE WORD – Reflections on the Sunday Readings.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I adore You as my King! I am thankful that You protect me, care for me, and hear me when I call You. Grant me Your goodness and mercy all the days of my life, so that I’ll be able to be merciful to others all the time. May I dwell with You in Your Community of Mercy Amen.

Jakarta, 21 November 2020

A Christian Pilgrim

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Posted by on November 21, 2020 in BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS 2020


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 (A biblical reflection on the 33rd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 15 November 2020)

Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:14-30

First Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Psalms: Psalm 128:1-5; Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 5:1-6

The Scripture Text

“For is will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talent made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’(Matthew 25:14-30 RSV)

The servant who dug a hole to hide his talent offers a very true to life picture of how undeveloped talent makes a person very negative. Not alone does he return no profit to the master but he manages to shift the blame from himself to the master. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man ……” He so twists the situation about that he forgets how the master trusted in him and invested in him: all he chooses to remember are the bad things that others were saying about him.

We dig a hole and try to bury part of ourselves whenever we do not come to terms with our failings, or accept our experiences truthfully or when bitterness distorts our memories. The repressed or buried part of us turns foul and comes up in various forms of negativity.

One common form of negative energy is the tendency to offload our personal responsibility by shifting the blame to others; like that servant trying to blame the master for his own lack of profit.

Another form of negative energy is cynicism. Cynicism flows out of a stagnant pool of life. Waters stagnate when there is no fresh inflow and no corresponding outflow. A stagnant life results when there is no healthy intellectual stimulation or spiritual inspiration. Yet there can be hours spent every day in television passivity or waste of brain power on useless curiosities and vapid reading. The master rightly accused his unprofitable servant of laziness. The unproductive life and stagnant mind have already begun to experience that hell where all is dark ad there are tears of frustration and the angry sound of grinding teeth.

This darkened mind is unreceptive to new initiatives or words of light but it avidly absorbs every tatty little detail of scandal just like the way the unprofitable servant latched on to the bad things that were being said about his master. As we have noted more than once, light hurts the sore eye and goodness is very threatening to those who are insecure in their identity.

You will hear the grinding of teeth in that voice which acquires new energy only to scoff at the efforts of others or to gloat over any failure or departure from the ministry. The angry mind digs a hole which becomes a cesspool of stagnant water, Not only does it do no good itself but it will poison all that drink of it. But whenever the lake of life is stimulated by a healthy inflow and expressed in a productive outflow, the waters are life-giving. Good investments produce more. “to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance” (Matthew 25:29).

That’s the way it is in life. The batteries of life are charged by being used: they lose the charge if the generator is not switched on. Physical exercise increases our capacity to take on more. The jogger is prepared to suffer momentary tiredness for he knows that by this effort he is generating more energy. By contrast, lack of physical exercise causes muscular atrophy, principally of the vital heart muscle.

Intellectual stimulation does not exhaust the mind but produces a person who is alert and attentive in all spheres of life. The stimulated mind never experience the heavy hand of boredom which is an off-shoot of television passivity. The same principle of growth applies to the spiritual life.

God invests in us, not to see His talent buried, not to hear us off-loading our own responsibility by blaming others, not to see us cringe helplessly and uselessly in fear. His desire is to be able one day to con gratulate us on a job well done and reward us with the happiness of heaven.

(Main Source: Silvester O’Flynn OFMCap., The Good News of Matthew’s Year, pages 264-268.)

Short Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for all the gifts You have given me. Help me to be aware of these gifts, that I may surrender them to You and use them cheerfully and generously to build up Your Kingdom. Amen.

Jakarta, 14 November 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on the 32nd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 8 November 2020)

Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalms: Psalm 63:2-8 Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 4:13-17

The Scripture Text

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”(Matthew 25:1-13)

When it comes to wisdom, many people shy away from the subject in the belief that it is the proper concern of philosophers or poets. But wisdom is about knowing what to do next, it clearly concerns all of us. And the parable of the ten bridesmaids and their oil lamps confirms this view. The Gospel story tells us of five bridesmaids who are accounted foolish precisely because they weren’t prepared for what happened next.

In the story it would seem that the bride awaits the arrival of the bridegroom at her own home. Her friends, acting as bridesmaids, are to meet the bridegroom when he comes with his friends, then join in escorting the couple back to the bridegroom’s house, where the wedding-feast will be celebrated. But, as happens at many weddings, there is a hitch; and, as happens at few of our weddings, it is the bridegroom who is late. All ten bridesmaids have lamps and all he lamps have oil. Five of the bridesmaids, however, have no reserve supply of oil. They are unprepared for any delay.

When the bridegroom fails to make his expected appearance, the bridesmaids, weary with waiting, doze off to sleep. At midnight a cry goes up to announce the arrival, and the foolish bridesmaids appeal to the wise for oil from their reserve stock. But the wise need the oil they have to make the lighted escort for the couple. So, the wedding procession, minus five bridesmaids, goes into the feast and the door is shut. When the foolish bridesmaids arrive later, they are refused admission. They were not ready when it mattered; they were not prepared with lamp burning brightly when the bridegroom appeared.

The wisdom of the five wise bridesmaids consisted in doing what was expected of them, in being prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Their wisdom wasn’t extraordinary, but eminently practical. Their wisdom consisted not so much in knowing what to do in the ultimate as in knowing what to do next.

The bible often uses a wedding as an image for the reign of God. In the parable in today’s Gospel, just as no one knows the time of the bridegroom’s arrival, so no one knows the day or the hour Jesus Christ will return to the earth to establish the reign of God. It could be today, tomorrow, next year, or ten years from now. Since no one knows when Jesus Christ will return, everyone should always be prepared and should not be caught sleeping like the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel parable.

The message of today’s Gospel is simple: if we do what we have to do conscientiously, we have no reason to fear the unexpected coming of Jesus Christ. There is a blessing in doing the ordinary with sensitivity, in doing the sane and sensible things, in acting with common sense and prudence.

Short Prayer: Thank You, God the Holy Spirit, for dwelling in me! Enkindle in me the fire of Your love. Refresh me, so that I may be ready to meet Jesus when He returns! Amen.

Jakarta, 7 November 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on the Solemnity OF ALL SAINTS – Sunday, 1 November 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

First Reading: Revelation 7:2-4,9-14; Psalms: Psalm 24:1-6; Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3

The Scripture Text

Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12 RSV)

Since the Jews in Jesus’ day considered the laws in Scripture and in the oral traditions (the 613 man-made Jewish laws) guidelines to holiness, anyone who wanted to be holy had to follow all these laws. The problem was that the rich had time to study the laws and learn what they meant, but the average person could not do this because he was too busy working long hours just to provide the basic necessities for his family. Therefore, only the rich could be holy. Some Jews considered the way God blessed the rich with wealth and happiness proof that He favored them because of their observance of the laws. This favored status supposedly guaranteed them a place of honor in the Kingdom of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus surprises a lot of people by saying the rich do not have a monopoly on holiness and therefore are not necessarily guaranteed the choicest spots in the Kingdom. Holiness, according to Jesus, is within the reach of even the poor and the powerless.

Jesus promises the reign of God to the poor in spirit and “the land” (a popular way of referring to the Kingdom of God) to the lowly. The persecuted, Jesus says, will receive a great reward and peacemakers will be known as God’s sons, a title the Jews used to describe the righteous who would occupy places of honor in the Kingdom of God. The people who Jesus said were holy and prominent in the kingdom were the poor and the weak, the same people who were considered sinners because they did not follow all the laws.

Sometimes we fall into the same trap the Jews in Jesus’ day fell into and think holiness is just for a certain few like priests, ministers, and those who are “professionally religious”. We are afraid to picture ourselves as holy because we do not understand what holiness really is.

Everyone who has a relationship with God is holy and as that relationship becomes stronger, the person becomes holier. Therefore, holiness is like a spiritual yardstick, measuring one’s relationship with God. This means that you, me, the person sitting next to us in the church, the neighbor who worships at the church down the street, and even the obnoxious kid who is always getting on your nerves may be holy. As Christians, we should all be working on developing a closer relationship with our God and, therefore, should be growing in holiness each day of our lives.

If saints are holy and if you are holy because you have a relationship with God, then you must be a saint. Therefore, rejoice because today the Church celebrates your feast day too!

(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 362-363.)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, the saints in heaven behold Your glory and know the rewards of Your life. Fill me with hope in Your promise of eternal life. May we all share the joy of Your saints in heaven. Amen.

Jakarta, 31 October 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on the 30th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 25 October 2020)

Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:34-40

First Reading: Exodus 22:21-27; Psalms: Psalm 18:2-4,47,51; Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10

The Scripture Text

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”(Matthew 22:34-40 RSV)

The Pharisees may not have had evil intentions when asking Jesus the question as to the greatest commandment. But they have done us a good service by getting this crystal clear answer from Him. In this answer He tells us that the person who loves God and neighbor fulfills all her/his obligations, and carries out all the duties that God’s self-revelation in “the law and the prophets” imposes on her/him. God revealed Himself to us in the Old Testament as our Creator and divine benefactor. He had no need of us, since He is infinitely perfect in Himself, but out of His infinite goodness He wished to share His eternal Kingdom of happiness with mankind and so He created us. That we should love such a benefactor and be grateful to Him is not asking much of us; such love should surely be the spontaneous reaction of a rational being, and yet there were and there are many who fail to acknowledge any such obligation.

No Christian, worthy of the name, can ever be among such thoughtless and thankless people. We have greater proofs of God’s love for us than “the law and he prophets” gave to the Israelites. We have the added proofs of God’s infinite interest in us brought to us by the Incarnation. We have been raised to the sublime status of adopted children of God.

Where Christians can, and too often do fail, is in their true love of neighbor. Yet Jesus says that this commandment is like the first. Love of neighbor is an essential part of our obligations toward God. If we fail in this we fail in our love for God, for we refuse to carry out this sacred duty. If we do not recognize our neighbor as our sister or brother we do not recognize God as our Father and we do not love Him. As Saint John puts it: “anyone who says: ‘I love God’ and hates (does not love) his neighbor is a liar” (1 John 3:20).

Let each one of us ask her/himself today how seriously she/he takes this law of fraternal charity and how faithfully she/he carries it out. Not all of us may be able to give material help to a neighbor in need but the poorest of us can spare a kindly word, an encouraging word, for a neighbor weighed down with care and troubles. All of us can pray for a neighbor who needs spiritual and temporal help. Most of us can deny ourselves some unnecessary luxuries in order to give a needed loaf of bread to a hungry fellowman, while those who have an abundance of this world’s goods need not look far afield to find cases and causes worthy of their Christian charity.

Remember that whatever spiritual or material help is given out of true charity to a neighbor in need, is given to God, and whatever is given to God is soundly invested in heaven, and heaven pays handsome dividends.

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe on me! Empower me to live the law of love! Apart from You, I am powerless, but with You, I can fulfil the command to love. Make me realize that I cannot love others if I do not love myself first. Open my heart to the passionate love of the Father and help me to come to Him everyday as His child and good disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jakarta, 24 October 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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(A biblical reflection on the 29th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 18 October 2020)

Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:15-21

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1,4-6; Psalms: Psalm 96:1,3-5,7-10; Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 1:1-5b

The Scripture Text

Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle Him in His talk. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for You do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put Me to the test, you hypocrites? Show Me the money for the tax.” And they brought Him a coin. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”(Matthew 22:15-21 RSV)

In today’s Gospel the issue is about Caesar’s right to have his hand in Jewish pockets. Two groups come to confront Jesus with the question; they are the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees resented paying taxes to a foreign king as an infringement of the divine right of God. The Herodians, on the other hand, were supporters of king Herod the Great and his family, so favoring collaboration with the Romans and paying taxes to Caesar. These two groups were unnatural associates. The Pharisees and the Herodians are united in their common desire to eliminate Jesus.

Matthew has already developed the story of conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, who now appear committed to bringing about the downfall of the rabbi from Nazareth. Fearing for their own reputation, which has already suffered in open debate with Jesus, they now try to entrap Him. Jesus has already shown that He is not intimidated by the religious authorities into a necessary agreement with their practices; they now test Him to see if Caesar’s imposed rule has intimidated Him into agreeing to pay the annual poll tax.

The delegation tries to lay the ground for the charge of treason: if Jesus denies the need to pay tax to Caesar, He could be charged with treason before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Failing that, if Jesus answers affirmatively, He will alienate the majority of His fellow countrymen. Either way, it appears that Jesus has to lose.

As a preface to their question, the spies flatter Jesus by addressing Him as “Teacher or Master” and profess their admiration for His impartial teaching of the ways of God. Only then do they ask the question – whether it is lawful for God’s people to pay tribute to Caesar – a question which they have loaded in favor of a negative reply. The tax they refer to is the annual poll tax of one denarius, which was payable to the imperial exchequer by everyone in the land, from the age of puberty to the age of sixty-five. When the tax was first introduced it was the cause of riots and bloodshed. As an annual reminder of Israel’s subjugation to Rome, it still caused grievance among the people.

Matthew mentions that Jesus is aware of His questioners’ malice. He asks to be shown the money for the tax. They hand Him a denarius, the silver coin which bore the image and the inscription of the emperor Tiberius. The fact that Jesus’ questioners can produce the Roman coin might suggest that they recognize the rule of Caesar: many pious Jews refused to use the denarius because it violated the Mosaic prohibition against images.

In His reply Jesus does not answer the original question, but makes an announcement which seems engagingly vague: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It is tempting to interpret the reply as a teaching on temporal and religious obligations, and argue that Jesus is acknowledging the need to pay taxes to Caesar, while stressing one’s primary duty to God: one must pay tribute to Caesar and God, in recognition of one’s dual citizenship.

Jesus, however, does not specify the things that belong to Caesar, for Caesar does not possess anything independently of God; He does not need to specify the things that belong to God, since everything does. Jesus is hardly arguing to two independent spheres of power and obligation, that of Caesar and that of God, with parallel sets of obligation. Since God has dominion over the whole of creation, “Caesar’s relative power is subservient to the ultimate power of God”.

All authority and power have to be evaluated in the light of God’s plan. Jesus’ questioners could hardly have marvelled at His reply if the only thing He did was to avoid a question by a debating trick. In his reply Jesus gives a teaching: it is for the people to evaluate whether in demanding tribute, Caesar is reflecting the things of God. This evaluation continues in every political community. The political arena is not a territory protected from religious evaluation and criticism. If Caesar is subservient to God, then his laws are open to Christian evaluation. In the world of politics nothing is sacred.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, God, may Your breath blow through the halls of governments everywhere. Send me out to transform my own community. Move world leaders to place Your concerns first, so that every nation on earth will be free to adore You. Amen.

Jakarta, 17 October 2020

A Christian Pilgrim


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