Daily Reflections by Father Bert

July 18
Lectionary: Exodus 3: 11-20. Psalm 105: 1-5, 8-9, 24-25, 26-27. Matthew 11: 25-30:

Again we have words of revelation about who God is and who Jesus is and how they show us their loving-compassion (hesed). These passages help us to understand both the Mosaic covenant and also the great commandment of love God has given us. Matthew’s Gospel helps us to see Jesus as a new Moses; thus the passages are united under that perspective as well as the nature of the Hebrew word “Hesed” which means loving-kindness, tenderness and love.

In the first reading we learn how Moses attempts to get God to tell him what God’s name is. This story influences us in the relationship we have with God that is revealed in the Bible which we accept as the divinely inspired words of God written in our human language(s).

God does give Moses an insight into the mystery of who God is by telling him I AM WHO I AM. This nomenclature comes from the infinitive of the verb “to be”, “to exist” and is called in biblical studies the “tetragrammaton” or the four letters (consonants ) used in the revelatory expression for God. It comes from the letters y-h-v-h. If you visit synagogues you may find this sign somewhere on the wall of the sanctuary in a prominent place. In our passage God tells Moses “I will be what I will be”—the future and first person is used. This means “my nature will become evident only through my actions.” Exodus is one of the best books for seeing the “Acts of God.”

Psalm 105 fits in well as a prayer that shows God in action or as theologians say, God acting in salvation history. In this Psalm we find the providential care God has for Israel and the word “Hesed” helps us to understand how God is acting. God will always fulfill the promises of the covenant and work prodigies for Israel as they wander forty years in the desert searching for their home in Israel. The Psalm returns to mention the great patriarchs who have guided the faith commitment of the People of God: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph the patriarch is also added in this psalm as part of the history of salvation for Israel.

Jesus’ words are filled with great understanding of what we need as human beings. Jesus shows us the “Hesed” of God in this short revelation of who he is and how he acts towards us. He opens his sacred heart to us as he tells us he is meek and humble of heart and that his burden is not heavy. We will see that the Gospels reveal that his whole life is one of love and tenderness or in a word, love. Hesed implies mercy, kindness, compassion, tenderness, and total self-giving to the beloved ones of God. It is worthwhile for us to believe his words and to base our lives on what he is revealing to us in this very short passage of Matthew’s Gospel. Amen.

July 17
Lectionary: Exodus 3: 1-6. 9-12. Psalm 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7. Matthew 11: 25-27:

Within our three texts today we become aware that direct revelation is occurring that help us enter into the world of contemplation and meditation. It is God and Jesus who are the revealers while the Psalmist reveals the greatest among the attributes of God that are found in the book of Psalms. These texts help us to be sharers in the divinity and speak to our minds as well as our hearts. They are very valuable texts for interior prayer. The Psalms are prayers but this particular psalm gathers the attributes of God as expressed in the Book of Psalms in a hymn of praise to God for who God is. It is a bridge between the reading from Exodus and that the Gospel of Matthew.

Moses experiences his first revelation of God where God speaks to him as a friend to a friend and will continue to do so in his mission of freeing the Israelites from the cruel slavery under Pharaoh. This miraculous event is going to assist Moses as he becomes both prophet and leader for his people. Later, the Exodus will be the greatest historical event for Israel for it will bond their relationship with God through the covenant and through the Promised Land that Joshua, not Moses will lead them into. The first appearance of God is through a burning bush on Mount Horeb. The bush is on fire yet is not consumed by the flames. Moses approaches it and is told to remove his sandals for he is on sacred ground. He receives his commission to be God’s human instrument for the rest of his life. The incident is compressed into the two traditions that we can easily observe through the use of the name of God in the older more human-like tradition called the Yahwist; her Yahweh is the name for God. The other tradition is the Elohist where the word for God is Elohim or El. This is the easiest way to observe these two important traditions found in parts of Genesis and Exodus together at times. Out of reverence we should use the more recent reverence for the divine names by Adonai substituted for Yahweh and God for the more transcendent tradition. In a recent Hebrew copy of the book of Psalms, Ha Shem, which means “The holy Name, is used.

Psalm 103 gives us, in a marvelous way, the verses that contain the important ways of seeing God’s actions. I used a Hebrew book which translates the important words or phrases into English as follows: forgiveness, heals, redeems, loving-kindness, tenderness, mercy, generosity, just, compassionate, gracious, and faithful to covenant promises. These are covenantal words given to Moses and to the Psalmist to help us praise God’s infinite nature.

Jesus is speaking directly to the Father and we are sharers of what he reveals in his communication which is given even to children rather than to the powerful and haughty of this world. Jesus states, “Everything is given over to me by my Father.” Jesus also says he alone knows the Father and reveals who God the Father is to those whom he wishes. We, in turn, by meditating and contemplating this revelation from Jesus are among those who receive the revelation of who God really is. Blessed be God’s holy Name. Amen.

July 16
Lectionary: Exodus 2: 1-15. Psalm 69: 3, 14, 30-31. 33-34. Matthew 11: 20-24:

There are many emotions displayed in the Scriptures for today. I found our Psalm 69 and its reponsorial verse as a prayer that keeps these emotions in a proper perspective. Psalms seem to have that quality about them to help us when we are in need or when we feel out of control. Of course, the Liturgy of the Word, gives us only a number of verses from the Psalm chosen for the day. It often is helpful if we take the time to pray and pause for a few moments after reading the entire Psalm. Our Psalm is a rather lengthy one, but the verses chosen in the in the liturgy are few, nevertheless, they are a prompt to pause, pray, and accept one of the verses offered as a Psalm Response. I like today’s responsorial verse: “Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live.” Yes, the Lord hears the cry of the poor, that is, of those who have no one else to call out for help than God.

We now come to learn of the main character and hero of the Book of Exodus, Moses. We learn most of his origins in today’s selection, namely that he is from a Levitical family, that is those dedicated to God by prayer and offerings of thanksgiving and atonement made in a shrine or sacred place. The Temple will not be built in Jerusalem till 200 years later after the death of Moses. We learn of his being taken from the Nile River by his sister (Miriam is not named) who was a handmaid of the daughter of Pharaoh. The baby is floating in a basket and lodged in the reeds nearby so he is seen. Pharaoh’s daughter has the baby taken by his sister to a woman who would wean him. It happens that Miriam brings him to his own mother! So the life of Moses begins. Later Moses murders an Egyptian where the workforce of the Hebrews was located; the next day he sees the two Hebrews quarreling and hurting each other. They reject his intervention and tell him is he going to kill them as a he killed the Egyptian? Moses then realizes that his deed is known so he flees that area and goes to Midian where he will start his life that helps him to prepare for his mission as a leader and a action-oriented prophet. He does more than just prophesying. All of these happenings are probably during the time of Rameses II (1279-1213 B.C.).

Jesus is reproaching the cities of northern Galilee where he performed most of his miracles. They have not listened to his words about the kingdom which is coming and is already present in Jesus who has come. They refuse to reform and return to their Creator and their Savior. These cities are Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Their judgment will be more severe than that of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. These cities are within the radius of a few miles of each other.

Father Daniel j. Harrington, ends his comments on this passage of Matthew 11: 20-24 in this manner, “ The theological assumption of Matt 11: 20-24 is that Jesus’ miracles were not intended merely as displays but rather the response of repentance in the face of the coming kingdom of God. Those who fail to make the connection are threatened with eschatological punishment.” (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, p. 165-166). Amen.

July 15
Lectionary: Exodus 1: 8-14; 22. Psalm 124: 1-3, 4-6, 7-8. Matthew 10: 34-11:1:

Our Liturgy of the Word presents us with fresh Scripture readings that move us on in our journey of continuing readings in the liturgy. We leave Genesis and move into Exodus; we turn the pages of Matthew from the second discourse to the third discourse in the Gospel that is the most Jewish and has an liking for paralleling with the Torah which has five separate books. Here we move from the Sermon on the Mount found in discourse one, then past discourse two to the third discourse of Jesus’ controversies with his opponents.

Matthew helps us realize each new section of the discourses by using a pattern of transition phrases similar to this, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he left that locality to teach and preach in their towns.”

Matthew writes for converted Jews who need further instruction in what Jesus had taught. This particular section of Matthew treats of Jesus’ controversies in the dialog with his opponents. We have a series of the “hard sayings” of the Lord in what consists in being a disciple. Self- sacrifice and total dedication are required on the part of the follower even to the point of leaving our parents aside and giving our lives as he did back to God. Behind this severe language is the intention of Jesus and the author to help us understand the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus that even lead to the final judgment. This is the cost of discipleship. This is the mission and teaching of the Lord that helps us be one with him.

In our first reading from Exodus, the second book of the Torah (Pentateuch), we learn that the word Exodus means “a way out” of the desert wandering and arrive in the Holy Land. It is a book of freedom centered on the most important event in the history of Israel seen in the light of God’s salvation history. Through this salvific event we learn of God’s promises which are fulfilled and of his compassionate love for the people of Israel. Amen.

July 14
Lectionary: Deuteronomy 30: 10-14. Psalm 69: 14.17. 30-31. 33-34. 36. 37. Colossians 1: 15-20. Luke 10: 25-37:

Love is the greatest commandment of both testaments. This Sunday’s Gospel focuses on love seen in a parable that is given by Jesus to a scholar of the Torah who wishes to test Jesus with a question about the greatest of the commandments. Both he and Jesus already know the answer so we might say that the expert is “begging the question.” Jesus carefully reframes the inquiry and helps the lawyer to learn what the greatest commandment is through a picture parable that has captured the minds and hearts of people for over two thousand years.

We know from the Gospel of John and from his First Epistle that God is Love. Both the Torah brings this out through what we hear from Jesus and from the Jewish tradition that says the same things in Deuteronomy 6: 5 and Leviticus 19:18. An early rabbi comments that these words are the greatest among teachings concerning love. John will make it concrete by telling us that we really do not love God whom we cannot see, if we do not love our neighbor whom we do see. The two commandments are one both in Judaism and in Christianity.

The Torah scribe is asking how he can gain eternal life. The gaining of eternal life is not accomplished through what we do; it is a gift freely given by God who is eternal and by God’s Son Jesus who is one with his Father. “No one comes to the Father except through me”is Jesus’ statement about eternal life. Only Jesus has passed through this life in his resurrection to help us realize that only God can give us eternal life through his Son Jesus.

The scribe-lawyer of the Torah does listen to the parable but still clings to his own opinion as we hear his final answer to Jesus which does not go beyond his own prejudice against the symbolic “Good Samaritan.” He retains his mental reservation about the example of the Samaritan. Here is how he answers Jesus when asked which of the three pilgrims coming down from Jerusalem stopped and actually did help the wounded person by the wayside. He was truly loving and compassionate to the poor man who was severely beaten and robbed by vicious criminals. The lawyer is not able to tell Jesus it was the Samaritan who did these acts of kindness that brought the man back to life through his loving care. He merely says, “I suppose it was the one who did stop and help him.” There is a hidden subconscious prejudice that blinds the expert in that he would not even utter the word Samaritan who did the charitable act and showed his compassion and love to a stranger.

Compassion is perhaps one of the qualities of love that God shows us and that Jesus had as he forgives those who had anything to do with his death. The parable not only helped the keeper of God’s law, but made him see God’s love in what the passerby –a Samaritan did for the unfortunate traveler.

I see in this image-language of Jesus the harmony that exists between what Jesus teaches and what is contained in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6: 5 and Leviticus 19:18). This is the greatest teaching as the rabbi said. It is this kind of love that helps us to be God-like in our own ways of loving our neighbor. Compassion and mercy are essential to such love. Love is the foundation for all that is written in the two testaments and Jesus knew this and taught it first to a lawyer and then to all who read the parable and understand its meaning.

Amy-Jill Levine in her commentary on this parable says this about the request of the lawyer, “What must I DO to gain eternal life. She says, “Eternal life is not a commodity gained by limited action; it is a gift freely given.”

Who are or who is the Samaritan that you and I do not care to recognize? Amen.

July 13
Lectionary: Genesis 49: 29-38; 50: 15-24. Psalm 105: 1-2,3-4,6-7. Matthew 10: 24-33:

Today we conclude our readings from Genesis with the last days of Jacob and with a summary of Joseph’s last days in Genesis chapter 50. Jacob’s desire to return home and to be buried with his ancestors is realized through Joseph’s attentiveness to his father’s wishes. He sees to it that Jacob is laid to rest in his ancestors resting place at Machpelah in Canaan. Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, and Leah were buried there. This confirms the covenant God had made with our ancestors who handed on the faith to us. Joseph will be the final patriarch among them but will be buried elsewhere. The final chapter 50 will focus exclusively on Joseph and tell us of his death at 110 years—the ideal length for a human being in those days!

Joseph confirms his own forgiveness of his brothers, weeps when they feel worried about how he will deal with them. They then realize how much he loves them. In helping them to see the bigger picture, they come to see his slavery and time in Egypt as a saving event for many people through his leadership. Joseph’s bones will eventually be taken to the land where Jacob, Isaac, Abraham and their wives are buried, but he, Joseph would be laid in a tomb at Shechem where Jacob had first sent him to help his brothers who were working in the fields.

Psalm 105 is a covenantal psalm that depicts many of the traditions of how God fulfilled the promises made to Abraham. It fits in with the covenant of God with Israel throughout the Torah.

In the Gospel Jesus says to his disciples: “Do not fear those who deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul.” His words are also a confirmation of the covenant that Jesus has made with his followers; they fit in well with the covenant made by our ancestors in faith who are mentioned in the Genesis passage for today and also in the Psalm. The context of these words of Jesus is the mission narrative of chapter ten. We the disciples may be called to suffer the same sufferings as our teacher, Jesus. Each day we recall in the Eucharist this commission of Jesus since the passion, death, and resurrection are celebrated in the Eucharist and often in the Liturgy of the Word. Amen.

July 12
Lectionary: Genesis 46: 1-7, 28-30. Psalm 37: 3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40. Matthew 10: 16-23:

This Saturday we finish our liturgical readings from the Book of Genesis. The Joseph saga is coming to a joyful and peaceful conclusion with the family being brought to Egypt under Joseph’s leadership in that country. He will make sure they all will return to the Promised Land once all things are settled for him in Egypt. He will listen carefully to the wishes of his father Jacob (Israel) and assure him of being buried with his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham and with Sarah and Jacob’s wives. Final blessings will be given and the story comes to a happy ending.

The Gospel has a different story concerning the sad situations for those who will follow Jesus. They will be persecuted and hated even by their own parents. Some will even be killed for the witness to Jesus and the Gospel message they bring. How will they survive all of this evil that comes upon them? Jesus tells them the Holy Spirit will be in them and they will know what to say and how to handle all of these evils heaped upon them. Jesus summons them and tells them to persevere despite what will happen to them through the hatred and rejection of their own people as well as others. Jesus tells them “whoever holds out to the end will escape death.”

In my praying Psalm 37 and its response, I found that it helped me to understand both of the above readings. The response is “Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live. You descendants of Abraham , his servants, sons of Jacob, his chosen ones. He the Lord is our God and throughout the earth his judgments prevail. Turn to the Lord and you will live.” The final verse of Psalm 37 is a summary of the whole psalm: “And the Lord helps them, and delivers them, from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.” (Psalm 37: 40). Amen.