Daily Reflections by Father Bert

Aug 6
Lectionary for the Feast and Solemnity of the Transfiguration of Jesus: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14. Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6. 9. II Peter 1: 16-19. Matthew 17: 1-9:

Our text from Daniel is used in today’s liturgy because of the similarity in the imaging of an apocalyptical vision had by Daniel in the first of his visionary experiences of which there are four in chapters 7-12. The title given to one appearing before the throne of the Ancient of Days, is described as a “son of man” who is pictured as between heaven and earth. The text is written in Hebrew for most part, but there are few chapters that are in Aramaic. This book is among the first in the Hebrew Scriptures to mention there is an after-life for the righteous. The book was written by different author than Daniel and is dated in the first 300 B.C. and the second 165 B.C. The scene we have today is chosen by the liturgists because of its similarity to the Transfiguration of Jesus which was seen by Peter, James, and John on the traditional sight of Mount Tabor. We also learn from Daniel of the existence of angels and guardians for each country; Michael is the guardian angel of Israel.

Psalm 97 is an enthronement psalm in which God is King of all the nations. The first six verses are a splendid theophany in which God is praised. This, too, fits the liturgy for this day of the Transfiguration. “The Lord is king, the most high above all the earth.” (vv.1,9).

Second Peter is important as a witness to the Transfiguration where the witnesses are mentioned as to having seen Jesus transfigured before them. The writer speaks for the persons who were there. II Peter was written almost one hundred years after the Resurrection. It is the last chronological work of the New Testament.

The Transfiguration in Matthew is based on what Mark had heard first and recorded in his Gospel the first among the four. There is a long tradition that Mark listened and followed Peter and thus had an eye-witness for his Gospel source. Luke also has a Transfiguration narrative in which he sees Jesus as living through the image of the Exodus; in fact, he calls the event as an exodus of Jesus from this world to the next prefiguring by the resurrection. How is Matthew different from the other narratives and the probable hidden reference to it in St. John’s Gospel? Matthew sees it as a vision that anticipates the glorification of Jesus after his resurrection. Matthew also has Peter calling Jesus, “Lord” instead of rabbi. Moses is listed before Elijah and thus Matthew’s own appreciation of Judaism and the Torah are important in his Gospel. The word transfigured is not an internal or nor the Greek idea of a metamorphosis. “Rather the disciples receive a preview of glory that will belong to Jesus in the eschaton and the fullness of God’s kingdom. “ (Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Sacra Pagina, p. 253. I personally was impressed with the realism of Jesus in telling his three disciples who were almost in a trance or a sleep, “Get up; do not be afraid!” The reality of Jesus’ humanity comes through in all of the events in the Gospels. Jesus is alarming present with us through his humanity. The Transfiguration shows us who he is in his everlasting union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Transfiguration references: Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17: 1-9; Luke 9:28-34; John 12: 27-33. II Peter 1, 16-19.


Aug 5
Lectionary: Jeremiah 28:1-17. Psalm 119: 29, 43,79,80,85, 102. Matthew 14: 13-21:

Most of the prophetic sayings and happenings of Jeremiah are dramatic and come at a time when Israel was in real danger from being destroyed with its survivors being taken as slaves into Babylon. There is mention of the last king of Judah in this reading, so we can reasonably calculate that this prophetic event happened just before the Exile to Babylon in 587 B.C. Zedekiah ruled from 597-587 B.C. He was blinded on his way to Babylon and died before reaching it.

During this same time Hananiah preached and prophesied that Judah and Jerusalem would be safe and at peace; victory would be theirs if there were war; Jeremiah declared God’s word saying the opposite would happen. The Babylonian captivity of Judah was imminent and Jeremiah proved he was right as the very voice of God. Hananiah died within seven months after his false prophesying.

Psalm 119 in verse 68 has these words, “Remove from me the way of falsehood and favor me with your law (Torah); teach me, O Lord, your laws.” The spirit of the verses used this day in our Liturgy is that of Jeremiah.

In the selection from the Gospel of Matthew we have the same Gospel as that of the past Sunday. Jesus, after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, moves to a deserted place as he mourns the martyrdom of the Baptist who was most upright and fearlessly preached the coming of the Messiah as well as the great need for repentance. As the precursor of Jesus he prepared the way for him. Jesus upon returning to the shore people gather to listen to him in great numbers. More than five thousand are mentioned. Jesus’ profound pity for them to have something to eat leads him to perform the greatest of his nature miracles which will result in an enduring sacramental meaning, that of the Eucharist. He takes the bread and fish and looking up to heaven blesses his Father and then breaks it into fragments for the disciples to distribute to the crowd. They then gather twelve baskets full of fragments representing all of the tribes of Israel. These words “Bless, Break, Give” appear in what we call the institution of the Eucharist which will take place before Jesus’ death on Holy Thursday in his last Passover meal with his disciples (apostles). Matthew recorded the words used at the two multiplications of the loaves found in Mark; John and Luke have only one multiplication of the loaves. I am led to hearken back to one of the earliest of the Church documents that we have, that of the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It is dated as early as 95 A.D. and as late as 150. It precedes all of the apocryphal gospels and was meant for the catechesis that Christians were to receive before they could be baptized and then receive the Eucharist. These beautiful words helped me to deepen my appreciation of the multiplication stories in the four gospels. I cite them : “As this broken bread was scattered on the mountains, but brought together was made one, so gather your Church from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For yours is the power and the glory through Jesus Christ forever.”


Aug 4
Lectionary: Aug.4 Tuesday: Jeremiah 30: 1-2. 12-15. 18-22. Psalm 102: 16-18. 19.21. 29. 22-23. Matthew 14: 22-26:

Even though Jeremiah is God’s voice for Israel-Judah, they do not listen to his words that call for a response of repentance and turning back to the Lord. Their sins are wounds upon the whole nation and Jeremiah and God open their hearts to calling them back again and again. Jeremiah is not a prophet of pessimism nor is he a prophet of doom for he is so close to God that he,too, is grieving and praying for the people, their priests, and leaders to return. The first part of the reading deals with this call to return to the covenant God made with them.

The second part of this selection from Jeremiah we learn how optimistic Jeremiah is as he spells out what will eventually happen in restoring their land, their temple and even multiplying their numbers. True, the captivity weighs upon them as a proximate consequence of their sins, but Jeremiah keeps telling them there is a “future to hope in.” His entire lamentation in chapter 3: 21-26 spells this out in a stanza dedicated to hope in God.

God tells the people through Jeremiah,”You shall be my people, and I shall be your God.” This is very assuring and consoling. God is always present to deliver them and restore to them all the promises God has made through the covenant with them. “Passages such as this demonstrate the falsity of the popular conception of Jeremiah as a pessimist. On the contrary, he was a realistic optimist clearly seeing the doom which the Judeans were bringing upon themselves, and yet, Jeremiah certain of their ultimate recovery.” (Jeremiah, Soncino Commentary, p.197).

Psalm 103 is both an individual and community lamentation with prayers of thanksgiving. We hear in the verse chosen for the responsorial refrain after each of the other verses used in the Liturgy of Word: “The Lord will rebuild Zion again, and appear in all his glory!” (v.17) . God is central to this psalm and is mentioned seven times within it assuring the people of God’s perpetual and everlasting divine providence.

After Jesus again gets into the boat he leaves them on another landing to go to the mountains and pray alone to the Father. He is still mourning the death of the Baptist. Then he returns walking on the Lake of Galilee while the apostles are in the boat being flooded by a mighty storm. They see Jesus walking on the water and are convinced it is a ghost. Jesus assures them it is he their master. He calms the storm and entering the boat continues to the shoreline. They are in awe and fear and cry out, “You are the Son of God.” Amen.


Aug 2
Lectionary: ISAIAH 55 : 1-3; 17-18. PSALM 145: 8-9. 15-16.17-18. ROMANS 8: 35. 37-39. MATTHEW 14:13-21: DEAR READER, MY COMPUTER GOT STUCK ON JUST THE CAPITALS . SORRY!

WE ARE GREETED WITH A BEAUTIFUL MESSAGE OF II ISAIAH THIS SUNDAY AND ARE INVITED BY GOD TO DRINK OF THE CLEAR WATERS TILL WE ARE SATIATED. THEN WE ARE TO DELIGHT IN THE FRUIT OF THE GRAIN PLANTED AND EVENTUALLY BECOMING OUR FOOD FOR THE DAY. THERE IS NO CHARGE FOR THE WATER AND THERE ARE NO BOTTLED WATERS. WE DO NOT NEED THEM FOR THIS KIND OF NOURISHMENT FOR THIRST AND WELL BEING. THIS LEADS US TO RESPOND POSITIVELY TO GOD THROUGH A NEW COVENANT OF LOVE, RENEWAL, AND JOY. JEREMIAH HAS TOLD US THIS IN CHAPTER 31 AND NOW SECOND ISAIAH DOES THE SAME.

OUR ENERGETIC RESPONSE PSALM 145 A REMARKABLE HYMN OF PRAISE AND IS AMONG THE BEST IN THE PSALTER. IT IS SIMPLY CALLED A “PRAYER’ AND THAT IT IS! IT IS THE ONLY PSALM AMONG THE 150 THAT USES THE INSCRIPTION A “TEHILLA” WHICH IS THE ORDINARY WORD FOR PSALM ITSELF; MOREOVER, IT IS AN ALPHABETICAL PSALM (AN ACROSTIC PRAYER USING EACH LETTER OF THE HEBREW ALPHABET (22 OF THEM) TO BRING HOME ITS BEAUTIFUL PRAYERFUL MESSAGE. OTHER SUCH ACROSTIC PSALMS ARE 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, AND 119.

PAUL IN HIS MOST PRAYERFUL CHAPTER IN ROMANS—CHAPTER 8 HOW INTIMATE GOD’S LOVE FOR US IS THAT NO ONE IS ABLE TO TAKE IT FROM US ONCE WE REALLY EXPERIENCE IT. THIS SACRED ACTION HAPPENS EVERYDAY IN SO MANY WAYS, BUT ESPECIALLY IN THE EUCHARIST AND OUR PRAYERS FROM GOD’S WORDS IN THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS. ABSOLUTELY, NOTHING OR NO ONE CAN TAKE THIS ABUNDANT AND EXHUBERANT LOVE OF GOD. JESUS BRINGS THIS TO US IN SHOWING US HIS REDEMPTIVE AND EVERLASTING LOVE.

WE READ THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW THROUGHOUT THIS LITURGICAL SEASON AFTER PENTECOST ON EVERY SUNDAY. TODAY WE HAVE THE MULITIPLICATION OF THE LOAVES AND FISH THAT ALL FOUR GOSPELS HAVE FROM A DIFFERENT “SLANT” DESIGNED FOR THEIR AUDIENCES AND COMMUNITIES OR FAITH CHURCHES. MATTHEW DIFFERS FROM THE OTHERS IN THAT IT EMPHASIZES THE MINISTERIAL GRACES OF THE EUCHARIST SINCE THE WORDS ARE VERY SIMILAR TO WHAT JESUS SAYS AT THE LAST SUPPER: HE GIVES THE BREAD TO THE DISCIPLES AND HAS THEM DISTRIBUTING IT AND THEN COLLECTING THE FRAGMENTS LEFT OVER IN TWELVE BASKETS. SYMBOLIS IS KEY TO THIS PASSAGE AND THE GIVING AND TAKING TO THE APOSTLES OPENS UP THE MEANING FOR THE CHURCH OF MATTHEW. THE OTHER GOSPELS HAVE THEIR PARTICULAR MANNER OF SPEAKING TO US ABOUT THE SACRAMENTAL DIMENSION OF THIS GIFT FROM ABOVE. WHAT IS BEHIND THIS IS THE SAME LOVE THAT PAUL WAS SPEAKING ABOUT IN ROMANS 8. IN MATTHEW COMMUNITY (CHURCH OR ECCLESIOLOGY IS MOST IMPORTANT). FROM THIS SUPERABUNDANCE WE ARE NOURISHED WITH FOOD FOR OUR JOURNEY TOWARD THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. MATTHEW WRITES: “AND TAKING THE FIVE LOAVES AND THE TWO FISH HE LOOKED UP TO HEAVEN, AND BLESSED, AND BROKE, AND GAVE THE LOAVES TO THE DISCIPLES, AND THE DISCIPLES GAVE THEM TO THE CROWD.” AND WE JOIN THE CROWD AND SAY “ MY LORD AND MY GOD.” AMEN.


Aug 1
Lectionary: Jeremiah 26: 11-16. 24. Psalm 69: 15-16.30-31. 33-34. Matthew 14: 1-12:

Our readings are sad today for they are about the threat to Jeremiah’s life by almost all of the people, their leaders, and the princes and even the King. Fortunately, he gets shelter and protection from Ahikam who listens to him and prevents his death from the above mentioned peoples. Then in the Gospel we have the horrible account of John the Baptist’s beheading under Herod because of a stupid oath of promising Salome who danced for his birthday party with other leaders present and pleased Herod so much that he would give her anything she would ask of him even up to half of his territory!

This story is well known and covered by Josephus in this book of Antiquities and also by Mark, Matthew, and Luke. John does not record this event. The Herod we mention lived during the whole life time of Jesus as a tetrarch under the Romans. Herod Antipas had a long reign as tetrarch of Galilee from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D.

Herod harbored a hatred for the Baptist but did not dare to kill him because of the people who held John as a prophet. However, his saving face and human respect along with his lust and a foolish promise led him to allow Salome, the daughter of Herodias, to ask for whatever she wanted. She consulted her mother who had a hatred for John who declared her marriage with Herod unlawful, maybe even scandalous because of the relationship she had as wife to Herod Antipas. Her revenge led her through her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Her only good act recorded in Josephus is that she accompanied her husband to Rome as he was hoping the Romans would appoint him King of Galilee.

The inner drive for pleasure and power led both Herod and his wife Herodias to stop at nothing to feed these needs. We see how strong and blatant sin can be in this story. Envy, lust, lude dancing before other power seekers, a terrible and foolish promise leading to the death of John the Baptist are among the other sins of revenge and murder.

The Psalmist gives us hope to overcome any of our thoughts that could lead to such sins mentioned above. Images of torrents of water and sinking into mud are the way in which the psalmist prays to be delivered from. The Psalmist gives us reason to hope: “I will praise and glorify God with thanksgiving, for the Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

This led me to reflect on the importance of a well -formed conscience that helps us to avoid the near occasions of sin. Here is the way Abraham Joshua Heschel defines conscience:

We are exposed to the challenge of a power that, not born of our will nor installed by it, robs us of independence by its judgment of the rectitude or depravity of our actions, by its gnawing at our heart when we offend against its injunctions. It is as if there were no privacy within ourselves, no possibility of either retreat or escape, no place in us in which to bury the remains of guilt-feelings. There is a voice that reaches everywhere, knowing no mercy, digging in the burial-places of charitable forgetfulness. p.181. Amen.


July 31
Lectionary: Jeremiah 26: 1-9. Psalm 69: 5.8-10.14. Matthew 13: 54-58:

Jeremiah’s intimate relationship to God includes his feeling the very pathos of God who is continually bringing back God’s People to the covenant they had made under Moses. We see the back and forth struggle that he endures with God time and time again. Jeremiah is in the Temple where the Divine Presence is hovering over the Ark of the Covenant. This adds the serious nature of his telling how God feels about their turning away from God. They, in turn, only become more infuriated against Jeremiah and thus against God; so much so that they wish to kill him. They all gather around him saying, “You must be put to death.” Jeremiah is not alone. God is with him more than being present in the Temple! Here human intimacy is involved with Divine pathos.

Again the Psalm fits the scene above and I have mentioned how much influence Jeremiah had on the psalms where emotions and sacred language are wedded. The psalmist is able to express his deepest heartfelt agony in relating to God’s love and divine mercy. Jeremiah could equally cry out, “Lord, in your great love, answer me.” (v.14). Zeal for God’s house and the People of God are the wounds he feels as God’s mournful prophet. He puts up with the insults, feels the pain they inflict on him both body pain and soul sufferings. God and Jeremiah are one in this outcry of our psalm. Jeremiah is most faithful to his vocation as a true prophet of God. He remains courageous in his faith as he continually shares in the pathos of God. Again he and God are one in what is happening during the reign of a new King after Josiah. This is a psalm often cited in the New Testament and it takes on a messianic perspective. It fits Jeremiah who has “fire in his belly” for confronting Israel with its faults; they have offended God who loves them extravagantly. The psalmist and,in my opinion, Jeremiah, is a devout and zealous man who weeps, prays, and fasts. In verses 14 and 17 we are at the core of his prayer as he calls upon the hesed (loving-kindness) of God) and the abundant mercy and compassion of (rehem) and truth of God’s salvation (emet :the truth of salvation). God is good and compassionate in an overwhelming manner. Cohen, in the Soncino Psalms states, “This psalm should be read throughout with Jeremiah in mind; whether he wrote it or not, his history gives the key to its meaning).” (Cohen, 216).

The passage from the close of chapter 13 of Matthew is a transition from the parables of the kingdom to the moving into the synagogue where the texts of the Torah and a prophet are read. Jesus is at home in his native place of Nazareth. Those who listen are asking one another, “Where did he get all this knowledge? We know his parents who live here. Who does he think he is in teaching us?” They know half of the answer for his parents actually are his normal teachers in the home and what they do not know that Jesus’ authority to teach (exousia)comes from his Father in Heaven (Matthew’s expression for God). This is the other part of the answer that they cannot grasp since they do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God and have difficulty with him as one of their own! Amen.


July 30
Lectionary: Jeremiah 18: 1-6. Psalm 146: 1-2, 2-4, 5-6. Matthew 13: 47-53:

We return to another parable in Matthew’s Gospel that ends a group of three and also completes a set of 9 parables if we include the two that were made into allegories by Matthew or Jesus. We will be entering into a great amount of material from Matthew that treats of who Jesus is (Christology) and Matthew’s Church (remember he is the only Evangelist who uses the word for Church two times in his Gospel in chapter 16 and 18. The koine Greek for Church is (ekklesia from which we get the word ecclesial, and ecclesiastical and ecclesiology. Thus the longer part of Matthew that is soon to be read runs from 13:53-18: 35 and treats of Ecclesiology together with the Christology of Matthew. We remember that during the time of Matthew’s Gospel the church and the synagogue separated and a long period of strife and misunderstanding would begin between the mother of Christianity, Judaism, and her daughter Christianity or the Church. Matthew writes within the eighties of the first century (80-90).

I found a helpful insight offered by Father Matthew Bowie who is a well- known pastor and preacher/homilist in England at the Church of All Saints Margaret Street. He cited this beautiful poem that is easily applied to parables as a genre of literature and speech:

TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT

Tell all the truth but tell it slant ----

Success in Circuit it lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind ---

Luke used a long journey in his Gospel to present Jesus as teaching and forming his followers into disciples and eventually the Twelve into apostles. Matthew uses his parables (Jesus’) to form them into disciples and members of the Church of Matthew. Those who understand his parables become scribes for the sake of the kingdom. Each parable develops their search for who Jesus is and what his words mean in relationship to being with Jesus in the kingdom.

In Jeremiah we find God comparing himself to a potter who forms people into what he finally wants. We are like clay in God’s hands and slowly formed into what God wants us to be when we are at our very best. (See Jeremiah 18:6). Amen.