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20 January, 2021, Wednesday, 2nd Week in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2021

FINDING PEACE THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [HEB 7:1-3,15-17PSALM 110:1-4MARK 3:1-6 ]

In the first reading, the author of Hebrews underscores the priesthood of our Lord as higher than that of the High Priest, Melchizedek, whose origin is unknown.  He came mysteriously and disappeared mysteriously as well, as recorded in the book of Genesis.  (cf Gn 14:18-20) Abram regarded him as superior to himself for he gave him a tithe of 10% of his booty.  Foreshadowing Christ the High Priest, Melchizedek took bread and wine, blessed and gave praise to God.  Jesus, before His death on the cross, instituted the Eucharist as a memorial of His passion, death and resurrection which brings about the forgiveness of sins and our reconciliation with God.

Hence, the early Christians regarded Jesus as the High Priest, “a second Melchizedek, who is a priest not by virtue of a law about physical descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.”  As the author remarked, that Jesus is the High Priest was also prophesied by King David.  “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  (Ps 110:4) Our Lord in His controversy with His enemies cited this text to justify that the Messiah is the son of David.  “David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” (Mk 12:36f)

Jesus therefore is the High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek because He is both King of Peace and also our Supreme High Priestnot by physical descent from the priestly tribe of Aaron but from God.  Jesus as the King of Peace brings righteousness among the nations through His sacrificial death on the cross and this still continues today whenever bread and wine are offered at Mass, transformed into His body and blood as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.  For this is what the Lord said in the Eucharist, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”  (Mt 26:26-28)

In the gospel, we read how the Lord showed Himself to be the King of Peace by restoring justice and showing the way for us to live a life of integrity.  In His confrontation with the Pharisees, He showed Himself to be upright and righteous before them.  Jesus was not afraid of acting justly and compassionately in the face of opposition.  Indeed, for many people, escapism is the price they pay for peace. Instead of looking at the issue, they run away from their problems.  They pretend that the problems do not exist.  They go for “escape” holidays only to return to find that their problems have become even worse.  They try to drown their unhappiness through drinking, merry-making and going for adventures.  Escapism does not solve the problem but only allows the problems to brew further.  Jesus was no escapist.  He was courageous enough to take His opponents face on.  He confronted the Pharisees for their narrow application of the Sabbath Law and challenged them to rethink how the Sabbath Law should be kept, not just in the letter but the true spirit of it all.

If not by escapism, some try to find peace by evasion.  We try to find ways not to deal with our problems by pushing it to someone else.  We blame others for the wrongs we have committed.  We try to look for scapegoats.  We look for people to take our blame.  This was the case of the Pharisees.  When the Lord confronted them with the question on life and death, they were quiet.  Jesus said to them, “‘Is it against the law on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?’  But they said nothing.”  They did not want to answer the question because they knew the answer too well.  Certainly, there is no reason for anyone not to do good on Sabbath, especially if it was to save lives.  Even the strict Jewish interpretation on the Sabbath have some provisions when the Sabbath Law could be bent in order to save life.  Cases were drawn up as to when such assistance could be rendered.

Again, some try to find peace by making false compromises.  This is what is happening in the world today because of relativism.  Everyone is right and is entitled to his or her views.  No one is wrong because all moral positions are relative.  So there is a certain tension in society today even though compromises are made.  No one is really happy but everyone is simply tolerating one another.  But if something goes wrong and gets blown out of proportion, it could result in violence, demonstrations and unrest.  So everyone is careful of what to say or not to say in public lest what is said goes viral and causes those who are not in agreement to react strongly and even hostilely on social media.  This explains why there is much angst in society because people no longer feel free to speak even the truth, for fear of retaliation.

But peace can only be achieved through righteousness and justice.  Peace can only come about when there is a more just world, when the dignity of the human person is respected.  Most of the causes of war and division are due to economic disparity between the rich and the poor and the violations of justice due to discrimination.  All these come from envy, pride and selfishness.  What is said between persons is also true on the international level where we see the richer countries seeking to dominate the world and compete unfairly by using pressure, psychological warfare, indoctrination, lies, slander and economic threats and manipulation.  So long as nations do not collaborate for the common good of all but only think of themselves and compete at the expense of weaker nations, there will be division.

Jesus as the Prince of Peace came to establish righteousness and restore justice.  In His inauguration address, He cited from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Lk 4:18f) Jesus as the eschatological prophet sought to proclaim Jubilee Year, when all debts would be set free.  He came to reconcile man with God through the forgiveness of sins.  He is our High Priest who offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice in atonement for the sins of the world.  Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are set free from our sins and given the Spirit to live a life of peace and love.

Jesus is ready to stand up for us.  He stood up for the healing of the man despite the opposition of the Jewish leaders.  He was not afraid to speak the truth and challenge the Pharisees for being hypocritical in the way they kept the Sabbath Law.  He would not be cowed simply because they were powerful members of the religious institution watching Him closely to see whether “he would cure him on the Sabbath day, hoping for something to use against him.”  In spite of their hardheartedness, as far as the Lord was concerned, healing and giving life to others cannot wait.  Sabbath Law is made for man, not for God!

But it is important to remember that grace demands our cooperation.  The man was asked to stand up in the middle of the assembly.  He himself had to be ready to stand up for life.  Jesus then asked him to stretch out his hand.  Again, he had to desire to be healed. The man cooperated with the Lord and he was healed.  Unfortunately, the Jewish leaders refused to open their hearts to the Lord and see the truth.  On the contrary, instead of advocating healing and life, they stooped so low as to plot with the Herodians, their political enemies to destroy our Lord. Jesus was grieved because He had come to set us all free, including the stubborn and proud Jewish religious leaders.  He was angry at their obstinacy.  Indeed, He purposely entered the Synagogue because He sought to save us all regardless who we are.  He is our High Priest that makes it possible for us to access God freely.  He broke down all barriers that prevent us from encountering God directly.  But we must cooperate with His grace, accept His forgiveness and go through Him for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.

19 January, 2021, Tuesday, 2nd Week in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2021

PERSEVERE IN HOPE THROUGH FAITH AND LOVE


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [HEB 6:10-20PS 111:1-2,4-5,9,10MK 2:23-28]

Hope is what motivates us in life.  We all live in hope of greater things to come.  Otherwise, there is no reason to continue struggling in this life, sacrificing the present enjoyment for the future, or worse still, sacrificing ourselves for the future generation.  But what is the anchor of our hope?  Wealth, we know, cannot bring real happiness.  Power and position cannot last.  Even relationships are fragile.   This is why our ultimate hope must be in God.  Only God can satisfy us.  Only God is eternal.  However, to arrive at this ultimate hope, we have to go through a process, like Abraham.

Indeed, it is this hope that sustained Abraham and the People of God.  Of course, this hope to be with God was gradually clarified in the course of salvation history.  Initially, Abraham was simply promised an unknown land. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  (Gn 12:1f) Then came the promise of many descendants. “No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.”  (Gn 17:5f) However, as if it was not enough for God to make a promise to Abraham, the letter of Hebrews says, “he swore by his own self, since it was impossible for him to swear by anyone greater: I will shower blessings on you and give you many descendants. Because of that, Abraham persevered and saw the promise fulfilled.”  (cf Gn 22:16-18) This promise is now doubly binding because God’s word should be more than sufficient since God is truth, but to reiterate His fidelity, He swore an oath.

This hope eventually was fulfilled in Christ.  The descendants of Abraham who would be blessed would be the new People of God.  The true Israel and the seed of Abraham would be the multitude of nations, going beyond Israel.  But only Christ could fulfill this role since He was the descendant of David and the Eternal High Priest of the New Covenant.  In psalm 110, God renewed His oath to David. To the son of David, the psalmist said that Lord had sworn and would not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  (Ps 110:4) It is in this context that the letter to the Hebrews introduced the theme of Jesus as the High Priest of the New Covenant.  He is the One who makes it possible for us to gain access to God. “Here we have an anchor for our soul, as sure as it is firm, and reaching right through beyond the veil where Jesus has entered before us and on our behalf, to become a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.”

How, then, can we persevere in this hope like Abraham?  He believed without seeing.  Abraham exercised great patience in waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, and even that was only partially fulfilled during his life time.  He had to wait for another 25 years before Isaac was born.  But he never wavered in his hope.  He believed because God said so.  He trusted in His word even though he did not know how it was possible because he was already 75 years old and Sarah was barren and had passed her child-bearing age.  However, eventually, it would be through Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel that they entered the Promised Land.  Nevertheless, Jesus would be the ultimate fulfillment for He said to the Jews, “Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.”  (Jn 8:56) So faith is what continues to sustain our hope.  Those without faith in God cannot persevere in hope for eternity.  At most, if there is any hope, it is for this world only.  That is why St Paul said for Christians even, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Cor 15:19f)

But faith is more than just belief.  It is expressed in love and charity.  It is charity that sustains our hope.  The author of Hebrews, after sternly warning his readers of disobedience that could leave them out of the Promised Land of rest, sought to give encouragement to the Christians.  He said, “God would not be so unjust as to forget all you have done, the love that you have for his name or the services you have done, and are still doing, for the saints.”  They should continue to support each other in good works and in charity because those who experienced love and support in their lives will have their hope in God enkindled.  As St James wrote, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  Good works is more than just an expression of our faith in God, but it also sustains the faith of our recipients.  This is always the case for the Church in her missionary activities.  The proclamation of the gospel is more than just doctrines alone but must be expressed in works of mercy and charity.

This is what Jesus sought to underscore in today’s gospel.  When the Pharisees found fault with Him for allowing His disciples to pick the ears of corn on the Sabbath, the Lord cited the example of David who, during “his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went in the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?” (cf 1 Sm 21:1-6) Whilst it was a law that the holy Bread of the Presence could only be eaten by the priests alone (Lev 24:9), yet in time of need, David took the bread to eat.  By citing this example, Jesus demonstrated that human need takes precedence over human and even divine law.   Jesus concluded, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.”

Laws are enacted for the common good of man.  They are not meant to enslave us or make our life miserable.  Rather, they are for our good.  They must not be applied blindly and slavishly.  We cannot place rituals and even worship of God when there is someone crying out for need.  Religion should not take us away from the suffering of our fellowmen, or keep us apart from them.  They should bring us closer to them and lead us to help them regardless of race, language or religion.  In fact, even sacred things are not just reserved for God only, but they must serve our need to grow in charity and love.  We must enter to worship and depart to serve.  The measure of true Christian faith is when we abound in generosity and charity to the poor.   Everything we do must serve the Kingdom of God.

This is why in Jesus’ view, even the Sabbath Law is subordinated to the coming of the kingdom of God, unlike the Pharisees who thought that only when we fulfill the laws perfectly, could the Kingdom of God come.  Jesus was saying that as the Son of Man who is the Master of the Sabbath, it is the rule of the Kingdom that must determine all our laws.  The Kingdom is a kingdom of love.  It is love that determines all that we do.   As the Son of Man, an allusion to the vision of the prophet Daniel of the heavenly Son of Man (cf Dn 7:14f) who have been given authority to rule over all nations, so too, the Sabbath Law, even though held sacred by the Jews, is subjected to change when charity demands it or when the rule of the Kingdom requires it.  So, keeping the Sabbath Law is important for us to keep life in perspective, giving us proper rest and also to focus on the essentials of life, namely, relationship with God and with our loved ones.   But when there is a greater need, we might have to break the Sabbath for a greater good.

So, with faith and love, we must now journey towards the end without looking back.  “God would not be so unjust as to forget all you have done, the love that you have for his name or the services you have done, and are still doing, for the saints. Our one desire is that every one of you should go on showing the same earnestness to the end, to the perfect fulfilment of our hopes, never growing careless, but imitating those who have the faith and the perseverance to inherit the promises.”  Even when we feel tired, and faith is dimmed, worship is meaningless, prayer is dull and weak because of trials in life, we must continue to persevere with diligence and patience.  Then after some time, the light will come back again.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.

18 January, 2021, Monday, 2nd Week in Ordinary Time

January 18, 2021

OBEDIENCE AS THE CAUSE OF OUR SALVATION


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [HEB 5:1-10PS 110:1-4MARK 2:18-22]

In the bible there are different theories as to the cause of our salvation in Christ’s death on the cross.  The most common is the expiation theory that Christ needs to die to pay for our sins.  This is to satisfy the justice of God.  Man’s sins have caused irreparable damage to God’s dignity and hence only the sacrifice and death of Christ, the God-man could redeem us.  This analogy was useful in olden days when there was a strong sense of justice and paying for our sins.  But today, the sacrificial death of our Lord is seen not so much as a payment to an angry Father but rather it is the expression of the Father’s unconditional love and mercy for humanity so that looking at God’s love in Christ, man would be brought to repentance and come back to His love.   So it was not so much a repayment of a debt owed to God but an appeal of love and mercy.

Today, the scripture readings provide another dimension to the cause of our salvation through the obedience of Christ.  The first reading underscores that is it the obedience of Christ that saves us. “Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the order of Melchizedek.”  St Paul reiterates this point in his letter to the Romans.  He wrote, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  (Rom 5:18f) In his letter to the Philippians, he cited from an ancient hymn, that says, Christ “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”  (Phil 2:8)

Indeed, the cause of humanity’s downfall springs from pride that led to disobedience.  Adam and Eve were disobedient to God.  The history of Israel was one of infidelity after infidelity.  They were a stubborn race.  Earlier on in the letter of Hebrews, two incidents were cited, namely, the disobedience of the Israelites at Massah and Meribah when they rebelled against Moses because they did not have water.  (cf Ex 17:1-7) So much so, Moses was angry with the people and went against the Lord’s command by striking the rock twice with his staff instead of just commanding the water to bring forth water.  (cf Num 20: 2-13) Another incident cited by the author of Hebrews was their refusal to seize the Promised Land given to them because they feared the inhabitants living there.  Because of their rebellion against Moses and God, the Lord said, “none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors.”  (cf Heb 3:7-11Num 13,14)

To lead man back to God, Jesus came to show us that obedience to God is possible.  It is not humanly impossible to obey the divine will of God.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with His human will seeking to obey the divine will of God.  It was not easy for Jesus as a man to face not just death but the sufferings ahead of Him.  Indeed, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was not like Himself, confident and strong.  He was in bewilderment, in fear and in great agony.  As the gospel said, “In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Lk 22:44) But theologians reflected that His agony was not simply because of the physical torture He had to undergo but the spiritual darkness of His soul that would be part of the process of dying.  He would be separated from His Father and allowed to carry the full reality of the suffering and torments of sin in His body even though He knew no sin.  This was necessary so that in Christ, we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Cor 5:21)

Obedience is the price that Jesus had to pay to save us from our sins because He, as our leader in salvation, must show us the way.  “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”  (Heb 2:10) What is significant is that this obedience rendered to God was through His human will.  This is why Hebrews underscores that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters.  (cf Heb 2:11) And today’s reading makes it clear that Jesus was appointed high priest.  “Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness.”

Today, we too are called to render obedience to God and His appointed leaders simply because obedience is the antidote to pride, the cause of disobedience.   All rebellions come from pride, thinking that we know better than others.   Isn’t it true that many people reject the bible because they think the bible is irrelevant in today’s world because it does not agree with them?  Once again, the warning of St Augustine with regard to such arrogance is timely, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”  Today man thinks they know best and the bible they read must agree with them and not that they agree with the bible.

For obedience to grow and strengthen, we need to master our will.  In this sense, the question of fasting in today’s gospel becomes relevant.  The primary reason for fasting, according to Jesus, is when the bridegroom is taken away.  In other words, fasting is associated with periods of mourning.  Fasting is to help us to recognize the absence of God in our lives, the absence of joy and peace in our hearts, so that we become conscious of our sins and then turn to God.  From another perspective, fasting helps a person to strengthen his will against temptations of the flesh.  It is a form of self-discipline over our body and will.  Unfortunately, sometimes, like the Pharisees, people fast for the wrong reasons, for vanity, pride and for gaining attention.  So long as we are clear of the motives of fasting, as in the case when the Bridegroom, that is, God, is absent in our lives, then that fasting will benefit us.  Routine and perfunctory fasting or even for vanity reasons like beauty makes us proud.

Obedience also requires humility to adapt to new situations in life.  When we insist on doing the same old things and refuse to change, it would be a sign of pride and disobedience.  Sometimes, people think obedience means being faithful to the past traditions that they have inherited.  Obedience is not given to the traditions but the spirit of the traditions.  We must maintain the same spirit but not necessarily the letter of the law.  This is what the Lord is asking of us.  We cannot be straight-jackets like the Pharisees, and even some traditional Catholics today.  Doctrines like traditions are not carved in stone but they can grow and develop, not to something that is entirely different, but organically, remaining the same like the human person even though the form might be different.  This is what the Lord seeks to teach us in the parable of the unshrunken cloth sewn on an old cloak or new wine being stored in old wineskins.  “If he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse; the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!”

Obedience requires not just discipline and perseverance, but the grace of God through intense personal prayer.  We read that “during his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard.”  In what sense was His prayer heard, since He had to go through the passion still?  It was heard because God gave Him the strength to say “Yes” to the Divine Will of God.  And by so doing, “he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.”   We too will find salvation not by changing God’s will to suit ours but by aligning ourselves with His divine will.  Through suffering and obedience, we find peace!


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.

Bible

If you love, you will keep my commandments.