Daily Reflections by Father Bert
Lectionary: Exodus 32: 15-24. 30-34. Psalm 106: 19-20. 21-22.23. Matthew 13: 31-35
Today we hear of a serious rupture between Israel and God. It is the sound of revelry not war as Moses comes down from the mountain bringing the Ten
Words on two tablets. The Israelites lost patience with Moses and God. Where are they? They slide back into idolatry in creating a golden calf from their precious jewelry and gold items. Moses had already made it clear that there is no God beside Yahweh who is their God. The people wanted to see God and Moses and did not until they realized that Moses was in contact with the Creator who was giving them the ethical and religious principles for obeying God in the tablets that Moses broke when he entered the camp where they had been celebrating a god made of gold that took the form of a calf. They knew God was a jealous God but they still sought the gods that could be seen and invoked through worshipping a visible image.
Aaron, the brother of Moses, was their priest but he gave in to their wishes and therefore participated in their sin. Moses expressed the anger of God in breaking what had been prepared for them and a celebration of their covenant through the Ten Words of the commandments. We see the pattern of falling out of the covenant relationship happening several times during their wandering in the desert and here it is happening again. Atonement is needed and they will be held accountable and will be punished. God is not to be made a fool! Moses, again and again, needs to plead on their behalf and ultimately gets through to them.
Our Psalm 106 is a call for a national reconciliation with God and God’s chosen people. God’s pardon will be given, but will they ever learn from this terrible act of blasphemy and infidelity to the covenant of loving-kindness that God had made with them? Moses again as the mediator between them and God comes to help them out of the mess they have created. The text reads, “But Moses, his chosen one, withstood him (God) in the breach to turn back God’s destructive wrath.” The acts of atonement and reconciliation are made as we read verses 16-23 of our psalm. The crooked lines of the history of salvation of falling from a good relationship through the covenant to failure and then once again through the mercy of God coming back to the God of love and mercy in this predictable pattern as we move through the book of Exodus and pray the psalms that reflect this great Event.
Jesus continues to speak in parables. These are not said in one specific day but are chosen from oral tradition and presented to us in the orderly outline of Matthew’s Gospel who is giving us enough examples to see the riddles and the hyperbole within these gems of Jesus’ words to us. They are also often humorous and Jesus himself must have smiled as he heard the crowd laughing and applauding!
I like the two parables we have today about the mustard seed and the yeast put in the dough. They fit the pattern of similitudes by using the word “like” and by being so short. They also have the quality of riddles that can be figured out. It is too bad that we often fail to see the humor in Jesus’ use of parables; they were “social media” in the first century. In meditating on them today, I see them connected to the great increase in time of the harvest of one hundred, sixty, and thirty fold in the parables about the seeds falling on good soil. The mustard seed was among the smallest of seeds for that time. Surprisingly, it grew to a height of five feet and resulted in becoming a bush. Small things seem to be hidden in these parables but the end result is a hundredfold, a sixty, or thirtyfold. The woman using the yeast for making the dough rise and eventually be a loaf of bread would have been an enjoyable experience for the crowd that listened to Jesus give this parable. Such growth is slowly happening to those who truly have ears to hear what Jesus is saying and they are surprised when they see the hidden graces suddenly become monumental in our lives. Amen.
Lectionary for 17th Sunday: II Kings 4: 42-44. Psalm 145: 10-11, 15-16, 17-18. Ephesians 4: 1-6. John 6: 1-15:
“There was some left over, as the Lord had said.” Our opening reading from the second book of Kings gives us a glimpse into the prophet Elisha who succeeded Elijah, his model prophet and mentor. He had asked God to give him a twofold gift of Elijah so that the prophetic call would be fully realized in himself as a disciple of Elijah. From our readings about him we realize that his prayer and wish came true. The selection from II Kings has a resemblance to the Gospel where Jesus feeds five thousand with two dried fish and five barley loaves of bread. This is done in the area where most of Jesus’ miracles were done, namely, in Galilee. Miracles happened then and some six hundred or more years later we see Jesus performing a similar miracle with feeding a huge crowd. In John there is such a “sign” that leads us to think about the miracle of each day in the Eucharist where the words at Consecration are taken from the Gospels that give us words about taking the bread and fish, blessing them, thanking God, and distributing more than enough for the “vast crowd” of 5000!
Psalm 145 has a verse which helps continue the theme of bread or food being multiplied: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” (v. 14). Our Psalm acts as a hinge for passing from Book Five of the Book of Psalms to the last five great Hallelujah Psalms 146-150. These psalms are all songs of praise and are filled with joy and peace. Psalm 145 is rich in motivating us to be positive in our daily living. It teaches us through such prayer to be happy. It is an alphabetical psalm and is the only psalm that is directly addressed as a prayer. This gives rise to naming the whole Psalter of 150 psalms as Tehillim in Hebrew. It is the plural of the introduction of our Psalm 145 that has the word Tehillim in the singular, Tehillah which means “a prayer.” God is extolled fourteen times in this psalm and the word “all’ appears in it signifying its universality of the call to pray to it. Interesting is the fact that the verse with the letter for N is missing in the Hebrew but through the Greek translation and also the Psalm manuscript found at the Dead Sea caves has the N verse: “Faithful is God in his words, and merciful in all his deeds.” The Qumran or Dead Sea Scroll adds this response: “Blessed be Yahweh and blessed be his name forever.” One unnamed rabbi says, “Who ever recites this psalm thrice daily may be assured he or she is a son or daughter is a child in the world to come.”
The Epistle to the Ephesians is one of the most ecclesial and universal in the letters of Paul. It is a good follow-up scripture after the psalm 145 mentioned above. : There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism and Father of all, and works through all, and is in all.” (Ephesians 4:6).
One of the most famous chapters in John’s Gospel is chapter six. The first fifteen lines of it narrate the feeding episode in the hills of Galilee not from the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is addressing a crowd of five thousand and realizes they are in need of nourishment. He asks and sends two of his disciples to search the crowd and see how much food is available—just two dried fish and five barley loaves is all that Philip and Andrew could find. They bring them to Jesus and then takes them, gives thanks, and has them distributed to the crowd. Miraculously, not only is there enough but there are twelve baskets full after the people have been fed. This creates the problem of the crowd wanting him to be their king, but he will have none of that for he is not a kingly or royal king but rather the suffering servant similar to what Isaiah says of the servant leader-priest in the line of David.
John has no Last Supper Scene as is found in the Synoptic Gospels. We learn from the rest of chapter six how Jesus is the true manna come down from heaven and that he would give his life for his followers. Amen.
Lectionary: Exodus 24: 3-8. Psalm 50: 1-2, 5-6, 14-15. Matthew 13: 24-30:
After all of the events that Israel has gone through we now learn of their giving their yes to the Lord in the covenant that Moses proposes to them. Their answer is clearly stated twice in this first Reading for today. The whole congregation (Kahal Yahweh, Assembly of God) cry out, “We will do everything the Lord has told us.” Moses proceeds then with the ceremony of the covenant by building an altar at the foot of the mountain then sets in place twelve pillars which represent the twelve tribes belonging to Israel. Each is named after one of Jacob’s sons. We remember how Jacob is called Israel and now this applied to the nation and the people of God who are finishing their journey. Israel means the “Strength of God” for Jacob had wrestled through the night with God’s messenger and prevailed except for his separated hip. He now would limp from the encounter with a spirit or an angel.
Psalm 50 follows the covenant language and in its response sings out, “Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.(Psalm 50: 14). The spirit of this hymn reflects what is said in Deuteronomy 33:2 which describes the covenant God makes with Israel through Moses. Thi Psalm was written by the Asaph Levites who are among the most gifted of the Psalm composers. Psalms 50, 73-83 belong to the collection of this Guild of singers within the Levites. Their ancestor may have been the one who composed and sang psalms for David. (See I Chronicles 16:5). The theme and spirit of this Psalm centers on the Exodus event and speaks of the encounter Israel has with God’s special people.
In Chapter thirteen of Matthew we continue with the second parable of the kingdom among the eight given in this chapter. The weeds are mysteriously sown in the night by an enemy of the sower and grow together till harvest time. The harvest clearly puts this psalm into the perspective of Matthew for the judgment time for whether one enters or does not enter the kingdom of God. Many of the Kingdom Parables thus shed light on Jesus' teaching and Matthew’s eschatological perspective (on heaven, Sheol, and judgment). The good and the bad are separated at the end time. Chapter 25 of Matthew will develop this thought very thoroughly.
If we read ahead we will see that Jesus himself interprets this parable of the wheat and the weeds by allegorizing the development of the seeds of wheat planted were fruitful and the weeds were simply thrown away and burned. ( See Matthew 13: 36-43).
Since Matthew is writing for a divided community or church the growing and waiting till harvest gives the members a chance to repent and return to walking in the way of the commandments and in following Jesus in doing the will of the Father. Scholars have seen the symbolic image of a New Israel in this Gospel. Matthew had the task of keeping those who belonged to the Church from returning to the synagogue across the street. Matthew strives to keep the community together while supporting the converted Jewish members by writing in a way that they would understand by imitating the structure of the Torah and using the prophets in carefully selected passages. Amen.
Let me end with a concluding thought from Donald Senior, an excellent Catholic scholar of the Gospel of Matthew:
This section’s emphasis on perception and action,, on hearing and doing, bears Matthew’s unmistakable brand. For the evangelist there is no genuine faith unless it is translated into decisive action. Do we agree?
Invitation to Matthew, p. 137.
Lectionary: Exodus 20: 1-17. Psalm 19: 184.108.40.206. Matthew 13:18-23:
God gives Moses the two stone tablets containing the Ten Words (the text in Hebrew calls them words not commandments) that are to be the ethical part of the covenant that has been confirmed by God to Moses which are based on the covenant made with the ancestors in faith of the Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). In my reflection on the text from Exodus, I focused on the more descriptive statement God makes in the first of these words or commandments. The essential of the first commandment is that we are to give our whole mind, heart, spirit, and body to the Lord in a permanent manner. It is more than a contract or a law; it is a revealed divine state of being learned from the beginning for the Israelites who were made in the image and likeness of God. No human image is to be substituted for the Person of God; images are of human making and they lead to idolatry. Often this word idolatry is connected with “sacred prostitution” which is a ritual that attracts many to enter into idolatry during this epoch in the life of Israel. The Israelites are to WORSHIP GOD ALONE.
The second commandment is a call to reverence the holy name of God (Ha Shem is a way of expressing Yahweh, the sacred name of God in the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Ha Shem is what is used in speaking about God without saying the revealed Name Yahweh except as we know only the high priest could declare for once the Temple is founded. Today most Jewish people will use this word “THE NAME (Ha Shem) for God. Most of us are familiar with the blessing “Baruch ha Shem” or ``Blessed be God’s Name!”. The Divine Praises in the Catholic devotion of Benediction or adoration gives us the full expression of what Ha Shem means when it focuses on God and worshipping God.
The third commandment shows us the magnanimous gift of reverence to be given to the Sabbath. We are called to worship God alone by abstaining from servile work and enjoying family life and relaxation for God rested on the seventh day, hence, on the Sabbath.
The fourth commandment is very reasonable and fulfills justice and filial love for our parents; honoring them and obeying them.
The other commandments are how we are to relate in unselfish love to our neighbor and respect for his or her possessions.
Israel was led to understand through these Ten Words that love of God, love of neighbor and proper love of self is considered the way God wants us to love others which should be similar to our love of God.
Psalm 19 is a song of great depth in wisdom that protects and instructs us about the importance of the commandments. It will be amplified and made practical by Psalm 119 which is based on several of the words of Psalm 19. Psalm 119 is a wisdom psalm that gives us eight key thematic words that protect what the Laws of the Ten Words mean. These words are : precepts or principles of a righteous life; testimonies that show us fulfilling the will of God; rules of a religious living of our lives; engraved laws that are meant for public life and community living; Mitzvot or the doing of good deeds; rules of appropriate conduct in our relationships; “Word” in the sense of the reality of God’s love and will for us; and promises that God expects us to keep just as God has kept in the covenant made with Abraham and Moses.
The Gospel for today is the Parable of the Seeds. I saw the good seed falling on ground as the keeping of all that has been said in Psalm 19 and in the Ten Words or Ten Commandments. These laws of the Lord are perfect and we learn the Lord gives us the words which lead to everlasting life (John 6: 69).
“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.”
Nota Bene: In the most recent issue of Bible Today, May/June 2021, the meaning of the law was featured in four articles which centered on the Law in the Bible. I found this helpful to share with you. It was written in the introduction to The Bible Today: “The Hebrew word torah, the equivalent for “law” used in the Scriptures , has the basic meaning of “instruction” or “teaching” is what characterizes the law in the Scriptures.” Donald Senior, General Editor, p.144 continuous reading of the pages.
Lectionary: Exodus 19: 1-2,8-11, 16-20. Psalm response is taken from Daniel 3, 52,53, 54, 55, 56. Matthew 13: 10-17:
Exodus narrates the journey of Israel through the desert of Sinai during the third month of their “exodus” from Egypt. During this period Moses is in contact with God and speaks to God as a “friend to a friend.” It was at Mount Sinai that he first had a vision of God in the burning bush and we learned that he was given the name of God as Yahweh which has its word root in the verb “to live, to cause to live.” We remember Jesus says God is a living God; this removed the followers of both Moses and Jesus from any form of idolatry. In today’s reading Moses experiences God in the heavy dark cloud above Mount Sinai and then in the theophany of wind, sound, fire, lightning and thunder surrounding him with Yahweh’s presence What an awesome and overwhelming scene that was for him. Certainly, this was an event that confirmed Moses as God’s prophet and the leader of Israel who then accepted Moses.
Like you, I was surprised that six blessings from the Book of Daniel were chosen as the responsorial with verses. Then I realized this was an excellent way of illuminating the first reading with blessings. Blessings are very consoling and helpful in our own journey. We know the expression, “Count your blessings!”
We learn more about the purpose of the parables presented in Matthew in the selection for today. All of us are puzzled that Jesus says that he uses parables that some may not know what they mean. This, too, is a paradoxical way of sharing them with his disciples and explaining them to him. Matthew perhaps is showing this as a way of using a similar thought taken from Isaiah that is used for today. Isaiah says, “Listen as you will, you shall not understand, look intently as you will, you will not see. Sluggish indeed is this people’s heart. They have scarcely heard with their ears, they have firmly closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn back to me, and I should heal them.” (Isaiah 6: 9-10). Scripture scholars and we struggle to understand what Jesus is saying here and the word “that” causes the most difficulty in this pericope (paragraph). Does it mean they will not understand? The context leads us to say that it refers to those who are not hard of hearing but hard of heart in listening. For the believing disciples Jesus gives them depth in their comprehending the mysteries of the kingdom of God here on earth. We, too, become one with the disciples when we struggle with the riddles, images, and stories found in the parables. Searching for meaning is no easy task. Our cracking open a parable often comes after prayer and pondering over what the Lord is specifically telling us. Year after year spiritual writers try to explain the parable they are looking at by telling us that others have not understood it as they do! I know that a parable is meant to instruct us and Jesus is our teacher in giving us many parables so that we slowly learn how to get meaning from them and improve our own attitudes and feelings by taking the instruction seriously that we find in the parables. We must be fully alert when reading and praying them to discover their meaning. As we learn from the world of sport, “Never give up!” Amen.
Lectionary: Exodus 16: 1-5, 9-15. Psalm 78: 18-19, 23-24. 25-26, 27-28. Matthew 13: 1-9:
Even in their most difficult times in the desert of Sin near Elim, the Israelites are God’s people. They grumble and complain against Moses, God’s representative for them and their leader. Today’s event described in Exodus is the gift of the manna from heaven and the quail that will satisfy them up to a point; they will again complain and Moses and Aaron take the brunt of it. But God still is faithful to the promises made to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God’s gifts are without repentance which means they are always there for us when we just like the Israelites come to realize no one else but God can lead us through the hardships of life that last even forty years…or more!
God gives the whole congregation of Israel precise instructions about the manna and the quail and in the beginning these rules are observed especially the rule about taking a double portion on a Friday so that there will be no work of baking and preparing the food on the Sabbath a sacred day dedicated to worship and praise of God for all that has been done for them and a day of rest for God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath. For observance of this they were granted the grace of seeing the presence of God above the dwelling place of the tent with a pillar of fire and then the glory above seeing the cloud of God’s presence. They were certainly within the protective power of Yahweh’s divine guidance.
We are helped greatly to pray and ponder over this event by the Psalm that serves as a response of praise and thanksgiving for the miracle of the manna and the quail with which they were nourished. This psalm recalls the “mighty acts of God” wrought upon the whole assembly of Israel while they were in the desert. The psalm is a historical psalm revealing to us a glimpse in the ongoing history of salvation that continues even today and till the end time. The psalm describes the era of 1200-1000 B.C.E. leading from the Exodus to the reign of King David. This Psalm is a long composition that captures the history of the time in the desert in poetic form and gives us a clear recollection of what happened during the forty years in the desert. We learn and experience the pedagogy of God in this remarkable remembrance of the composer Asaph, one of the most skilled musicians among the Levites. Fr. Charles Dolen in his book The Prayer Book of the King, p.131 states, “Yet, God being merciful, forgave their sin and destroyed them not; often he turned back his anger and let none of His wrath be roused.” (Dolen, p. 95.”
In Matthew we enter a new teaching through texts set in this chapter nine that will nourish us with eight or nine parables of the kingdom. Mark had given us the first look at the parable of the seeds (better named that of the sower). The harvest will be great in comparison with the seeds that fell on other soils. Matthew reverses Mark’s numbering of the abundance by starting with the largest yield and helps us to focus on the seeds. In Matthew the term word is a technical term for the Gospel or Good News about Jesus. Matthew always has the image of Jesus the Teacher before our eyes who teaches the parables of God’s kingdom, realm, or heaven. Again we see the pedagogy of God through Jesus’ teaching in these picture stories and riddles which we call parables. There are at least forty of them in the Gospels, but most of the kingdom parables are found in Matthew. Amen.
Note about Psalm 78. The psalm is in the middle of the words of the entire book of Psalms in its total number of words which is 5,896. The precise verse where this is contained is in Psalm verse 38.
Lectionary: Exodus 16:21-15:1. Exodus 15: 8-9. 10.12. 17. Matthew 12: 46-50:
Some from the crowd that was following Jesus on one occasion bring to his attention that his mother and his brethren are outside waiting to see and meet with him. Jesus answers with a paradoxical response in a question he poses: “Who is my mother,who are my brothers and sisters?” We already are familiar with this incident in his life and also how it is a teaching moment for him. They are asking about normal relationships and he is responding on a higher level concerning his true family as well as giving them an answer to the paradox he puts before them. We are aware of the wisdom of Jesus in posing questions and then leading one to understand what the answer is. Jesus leads us so that we may share in his wisdom and teachings.
In our selection from Matthew (12: 46-50) Jesus points to the listeners who are in front of him; In Mark’s Gospel we learn they are seated around him. Either way the question remains and those around and those in front realize they need him to solve their puzzle about what he means. Jesus, on this occasion, goes straight to the answer: “Whoever does the will of my Father is brother and sister and mother to me.” Jesus gives us the answer by his own example in word and deed. He has come to do God’s will. And those listening and we by learning from him what it means to do God’s will become members of his family –brothers, sisters, and mother. We through our faith in what he has said and our eagerness to do God’s will become members of his family. It is Jesus’ great and expansive love that makes us members of his family. Doing God’s will involves our willingness to have and find a sense of belonging to and in the family of Jesus.
The Exodus narrative is now at its greatest moment when the actual deliverance of Israel from Egypt is taking place. It is presented in prose and poetry. The insertion of the response from Exodus is the victory song of Moses and Miriam and Aaron. When we hear or read this response taken from the song we are reminded of Easter Saturday when it is sung or recited at the reading of Exodus as one of the prophetic selections. The repetitive nature of this response helps us to experience the marvelous liberation the Israelites had in crossing the split Reed Sea. It reminds us of our own baptism where we are separated from whatever is evil and we become free through God’s mighty and powerful outstretched arm. So, “Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.” (Exodus 15:8). Amen.