Daily Reflections by Father Bert

Aug 21
Lectionary: Judges 9: 6-13. Psalm 21: 2-3,4-5, 6-7. Matthew 20: 1-16:

Our selection from Judges contains a parable about the transition in leadership from judges to kings in the history of Israel. Then in Matthew we have a parable about the workers in a vineyard.

Parables were a favorite way of teaching people about life and God’s role within them as well as those who chose to live without God and did evil. Both the Old Testament readings and the New Testament readings have parables. Parables were certainly one of Jesus’ favorite method of bringing the Gospel and God to the listeners; in most Old Testament parables this was the same They always have a message and they help us learn much about the mores, customs, and ownership and government of the time in which they were written. The rabbis carried on this form of teaching in their writings and conveyed their ethical instruction through them. We may have lost the art of parable telling in the times in which we live except by making a film that may be so complicated that it does not have the “punch” that a parable of the Bible has.

In Judges we have Abimelech proclaiming through a parable how the next form of leadership would come about. We are in a time between the Judges and the Kings. Israel had no king until after the failure of the Judges. Samuel would be the one who anoints the first King of Israel who is named Saul. He also will anoint the greatest of the kings, David who will unify the twelve tribes during his reign. In Judges we have different forms of plants or trees representing possible leaders through their imagery of the olive tree with its oil, the fig tree with its fruit and the vine with its wine for drink and healing. The fourth plant is a buckhorn, a wild brush bush which could easily catch fire and be destroyed and was worth nothing in comparison to the other forms of life in the wine, oil, and fig. The fourth element in such a parable is the climactic one that gives us the guiding point of the teaching. Things were in such chaos in leadership during the time of the Judges that this latter would be able to rule in place of the more abundant and rich trees. Eventually in the history of this troubled form of leadership, the idea of king comes to be preferred by the people of Israel. They wanted what the other nations had, namely, a king.

Psalm 21 is a praise of the kingship that Israel had and thus provides us with another key to seeing what the transition will be in the future after the judges are no longer the leaders.

When we listen to the parable found in Matthew’s Gospel for today we are somewhat disturbed or angry. It is the parable about the workers in the vineyard who are all given the same pay. We are upset for it does not seem fair to our western mindset. However, the point is that the owner of the vineyard was a just person who paid each one according to what he had set as the price agreeable to all of them, no matter what time they came. Naturally, they all expected to get more when he gave a larger pay to those that came at the last hour and worked for him. The owner tells his workers, “I do you no injustice. You all agreed on the usual wage. Take your pay and go home.” Justice does not pay favorites; however, generosity comes from the owner who can dispense his money as he wishes. I mused over this and have gotten beyond my western way of thinking about the parable. Then I had the nasty thought that some people can do in one hour of work what it would take others eight or twelve hours. Another thought that came to me was that no one can be more generous than God is and it is up to us to see where that generosity is so much greater than we can imagine. Another final thought is that we cannot equate justice with generosity if we wish to understand the parable of Jesus. A parable is meant to confront our ordinary manner of thinking and acting. This one unnerves most western minded persons. Amen.

Aug 20
Lectionary: Judges 6: 11-24. Psalm 85: 9.11-12. 13-14. Matthew 19: 23-30

Most of us may have become acquainted with Gideon through the fact that in most hotels we visit we could find a copy of the Bible called Gideon Bible. The Bibles are provided by interdenominational Christian Churches especially the Church of Christ. In the Bible, Gideon is the fifth judge in Israel. He issues from the tribe of Manasseh and is a strong man who worked for his father thrashing the wheat products of the harvest. The Bible has two parts to the stories about Gideon and they are called the Gideon Cycle of stories about this valiant judge. The first section deals mostly with the presence of God in his life and has more miraculous elements within the text. This is part one (6:1-7:23); the second part is more the human victory of Gideon over the Midianites. His name means the one who cuts down or we may compare him to the baseball player phenome of the Cincinnati Reds called the “Punisher.” Gideon is mentioned in Hebrews among those strong in faith and also in some cases victors over evil forces. He made great efforts to rid Israel of idols especially those of Baal. What I found very interesting was his dedication to God as Yahweh-Shalom or Lord of Peace (well being).

Psalm 85 has verses in the Responsorial that fit the scene of Gideon in cycle one. This is one of the Korahite Collection of Psalms 42, 44-49 and 85, 87 which are among the most personal and devout among the other collections. I always enjoy these psalms especially this one and Psalm 87. Eleven psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah who were probably Levites serving in the Temple and composing music for the congregation.

Now that the disciples have been with Jesus for some time and know some of demands and requirements that Jesus demands of them, they begin to ask questions about their future. So Peter takes the initiative as he does in the Gospel of Matthew and asks “What is in it for us in following you?” Especially when you call for such detachment from the good things God has given us—all of our possessions, success in our work, our good wives and children? What do we get from you that can at least compare with these gifts from God? Moreover, our tradition tells us we are blessed when these are among our dearest treasures. Jesus uses the very gifts that Peter mentions and says that by following him they will come to understand they will receive even more which are comparable to the gifts they have or have had. The reality of Peter’s question makes us aware of the good relationship he had with Jesus to even bring them up these difficult demands of Jesus. We learn that they do continue to follow Jesus despite their failings and that they have received so much more as the move on in their life as apostles who build up the community of followers of Jesus. Their relationships become of a different order and are more in keeping with their initial call of making disciples. Now their call will be to make disciples of all nations. Is it difficult for them to accept this? Perhaps, with what Jesus also said is important, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Amen.

Aug 19
Lectionary for : Judges 2: 11-19. Psalm 106: 34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43, 44. Matthew 19: 16-22:

After entrance into the Promised Land the history of Israel is one of turmoil. They rely on Judges who are appointed from the twelve tribes, but they are not the leaders of old like Moses, Aaron, Miriam and Joshua, son of Nun. This crisis will continue to put before us through our coming readings from the Book of Judges and will end with the appearance of Samuel, a great prophet and mediator for the people. Judges 21:25ff is a summary of this crisis: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” There are 12 judges whose names we have in the Book of Judges; six major ones: Othniel, Jehud, Barak (with Deborah), Gideon (with his son Abimelech), Jepthah, and Samson. The minor judges are Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Rabbinic tradition has Samuel as the author of the Book of Judges.

The major problem the nation was facing was idolatry. Those nations who formerly were in the Land practiced idolatry which led to Israel embracing pure and strict monotheism or belief in one God. Among the strongest gods were Baal and Astarte. The evil they conveyed was that of ritual orgiastic promiscuity, human sacrifice, necromancy, magic and divination. This was the great temptation to which Israel was exposed until its complete removal at the time of the Babylonian Exile in 586- 516 B.C.

In their turning to the other gods, Israel failed in keeping the covenant, then they repented, and later fell again. A cycle of being good then turning to evil by worshipping the false gods, then repenting and renewing the covenant again seemed to be the regular pattern in this irregularity in salvation history. God is writing this history with crooked lines!

Our Psalm repeats the evil caused by idolatry and calls upon God for help in getting rid of this form of apostasy from the revealed Mosaic covenant. The words of the Psalm are a crying out to God so thatGod may help them return to God and observe the covenant.

Our Psalm ends book four of the Book of Psalms and entails many of the acts of God and the failures of the Israelites during their time in the desert. We are aware of this history after having followed excerpts from Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in the readings of the past few weeks.

The man who approaches Jesus and asks him what is he to do to really be certain of following the Lord. He knows and observes the Mosaic laws and has the spirit of the covenant. Jesus asks him to risk all and let go of his possessions. He is unable to do this and goes away sad. The cost of following Jesus as one of his disciples is difficult and many may hear and admire the call but choose not to follow Jesus usque ad mortem (up to the time of his death and crucifixion). Many are called but few choose or are chosen. I ask myself each day, can I make the Lord Jesus the center of my life today? Am I too attached to my comfort zones and my particular friends that I neglect many others? I pray, Lord, give me the grace to follow you more closely this day and help me to be aware of your presence by paying attention to you and not to my wandering thoughts and distractions. Amen.

Aug 18
Lectionary: Sunday C cycle: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10. Psalm 40: Hebrews 12: 1-4: Luke 12: 48-53:

One of the phrases of importance for me is the biblical expression “strong in faith.” I learned it from a Marianist medal inscription in Latin with that same phrase “Fortes in Fide!” and realized after my years of formation that this was one of the leading Scripture expressions of our founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade. It is found in the prophet Habakkuk and also in St. Paul as well as the First Epistle of Peter. “Fratres, sobrii estote, Fortes in Fide!” (Brothers and Sisters, be strong in faith. I think this is the glue that leads us through our readings for this Sunday. It made sense to me after reading the text several times and researching the other texts for this Sunday.

Jeremiah, the prophet, the psalm response, the passage from Hebrews and the Gospel seemed to come together through the gift of faith in these words of God found in the Liturgy of the Word.

Jeremiah is one of the most compelling of the prophets because of his sufferings and his persistence of being an authentic prophet who challenged the leaders of Israel especially Zedekiah the King of Judea and his courtiers and the priests and Levites who had difficulty with Jeremiah’s prophetic words. I see Jeremiah as a pre-cursor of what happens to Jesus in his life during the final week of his life here on earth. In some ways, the Jeremiah is also similar to Joseph the Patriarch who was thrown into a dry cistern or well just as Jeremiah some hundreds of years later will be dealt with by the ones who were leaders and friends of the weak king Zedekiah. Jeremiah was very strong in his faith and fidelity to God.

In our Psalm we cry out in faith, “Lord, come to our aid.” Our faith prompts us to pray when we are in times of suffering, or being threatened by others. Most often in these realms the only one who can really help us is God and we are not afraid to cry out for help.

The Epistle to the Hebrews was probably written for those priests who had converted to following Jesus but were now wavering in their faith. They are reminded of their saintly ancestors in the faith in chapter twelve of this biblical treatise on priesthood and faith. A listing of these heroes and heroines helps us to live our faith by modelling it on the faith and trust of these ancestors who were saints. Jesus, however, is our greatest model and mediator before God who shows us how to suffer trials and temptations for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ words like those of the prophet Jeremiah are had to take. They refer to the judgment made at the end time when belief in Jesus will separate even members within the same family. Jesus seems to be wishing a fire that he brings will happen quickly. He has a baptism with which to be baptized, namely, the doing the will of the Father which will lead to his death on the Cross. Perhaps, it is also the fire of the Holy Spirit that moves Jesus to hasten the salvation of all by his own sufferings and death. The theme of baptism is always connected with faith and the decision to continue to believe in Jesus even when we hear harsh words such as those in this passage. Faith leads us through the challenge to decide to believe in Jesus despite the sufferings and death he and we will undergo on the Cross. In these difficult times that we face, we all must be strong in faith, Fortes in Fide. Amen.

Aug 16
Lectionary: Joshua 24: 1-3. Psalm 136: 1-3, 16-18, 21-22.24. Matthew 19: 3-12:

Our Psalm 136 is called the Great Hallel. It is celebrated on the major festivals of the Jewish worship calendar: Pesach, Succoth, Shavuoth, and also on Purim (not a pilgrim festival as the other Hallel psalms from Psalm 113-118. These Psalms, especially the Great Hallel praise God for all the wonders done for Israel from the beginning—even from creation, to redemption or liberation through the Exodus into the Promised Land, and to the providential care of God for the People of Israel.

Joshua’ gives us his first great address to the people after having been chosen as leader in place of Moses and after settling in the Land. It is a call to remember all of God’s marvelous works among the Israelites during the Exodus. In a sense, Joshua is recalling the covenant of Exodus by giving us what are the salvific events in their history. With the above Psalm 136 we have both the memory of the great acts of God as well as the singing of God’s praises through the litany-like hymn, the Great Hallel. It is a great psalm that has the thematic word of the covenant in every one of its verses, the word Hesed or covenantal love best expressed by “loving-kindness.” The words “God’s Hesed endures forever and his love is everlasting.”

In turning to the Gospel, we find Jesus discussing and answering the question of the Pharisees whether it is lawful to divorce one’s wife. Jesus replies while helping them to understand how God in the Creation Narrative of Genesis made them male and female and intended them to remain united as husband and wife from the beginning. We know that this was the ideal and it soon changed into exceptions, many of which were at the whim and desire of the husband. Often no questions asked. “Let no one separate what God has joined.”

Both the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus have difficulties with what Jesus is saying. The Pharisees had the rules governing the divorce and the disciples of Jesus retorted that it is better not to marry. This gives rise to a consideration of the question of those who choose and live as celibates for a number of reasons. The ones we have here are nature, free choice, and especially for the disciples of Jesus, for the sake of the kingdom of God. This is a burning issue for our days concerning marriage, divorce, and single life. Often in coming to a decision people look at marriage as a contract not a covenant of love, others are struggling with making a choice for marriage and still others do opt for the celibate state. Ethics, science, psychology, religious thinking, Church rules and many other factors are involved in the difficult question that this passage raises for the “world in front of the text.” Commentaries on Scripture are founded on the “world behind the text” which would take us back to the customs, religious groups, and the people who choose among the states of life during the time of Jesus. This question posed by the Pharisees was much easier to answer during the time of Jesus than in today’s world (“in front of the text”) Amen.

Aug 14
Lectionary for the Feast and Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption: Revelation 11: 19- 12:1- 6, 10. Psalm 45: 10.11.12. 16. I Corinthians 15: 20-26. Luke 1: 39-56:

This Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption is one of the great celebrations of Mary in the Church. The Scriptures for this feast are helpful for meditating on this mystery in the life of Mary. It is also the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary.

I personally think the choice of the reading from Revelation 11:19-12:1-6.10 is helpful for the believer who develops a deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The scene of the visionary of Patmos who is named John presents the heavens opening and the glory of the Ark of the Covenant is seen. We know that the Ark was hovered over by God’s Presence and is close to the Jewish sacred presence of God seen in the word Shekinah. The Ark is immediately linked to a woman clothed with the sun and twelve stars are surrounding her head. Fortunately, we are aware of the twelve tribes of Israel and also of the twelve apostles. The visionary explains later that this is the symbolism of the twelve stars. There is also a rather clear reference to a Messianic figure in connection with this woman who is pregnant with one “who will rule the world with an iron rod” and who will be taken into heaven as well. The Psalm referred to in Revelation is Psalm 2: 5, “who is to rule the nations with an iron rod.”

This text throughout the centuries has been seen both as an image of the Church and as an image of Mary. Early church theologians associated Mary with the Church and even recently Pope Francis said, “Mary is the Mother of the Church” and she is to be celebrated as such on the Monday after Pentecost. The great scholar Alois Mueller wrote about this union of Mary with the Church in his work called Mary and the Church.

Psalm 45 is a Wedding Psalm that first extols the King (David or Solomon) and then the Queen (or Queen Mother). The author is very proud of his composition of this psalm and tells us that even in his first verse. This Psalm is used in many of the Church’s Masses dedicated to Mary including those before the Marian Lectionary that contains 46 of her feasts.

Christ the Messiah is the victor over evil as we see in our second reading from I Corinthians. I liked this verse: “Christ (Messiah) must reign until God has put all enemies under his feet.” This verse is also taken from a Psalm 110:1.

Then Gospel is well chosen for it gives us two important events in Mary’s earthly life; her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth done with prudent haste and her Magnificat. Mary’s song is another Psalm praising God and showing the holiness of Mary in her response to God and to whatever would happen to her afterwards. The song of Mary has much in common with that of Hanna, the mother of Samuel, yet it has to be seen within the context of what Luke is presenting as his portrait of Mary in chapters 1 and 2 of his Gospel—a Gospel of the Holy Spirit and of Mary.

I share with you a meditative prayer that is focused on Mary the Woman Clothed with the Sun (Book of Revelation) that I composed ten years ago:

Mary, we are very familiar with your image on the tilma of Guadalupe, where on the cloak of Juan Diego, you are surrounded , vested, and clothed with the rays of the sun. We believe this is the light and warmth of the Creator, God, our Father, who so adorns and encompasses you with protective love.

As we contemplate the Woman of Revelation, we see similarities in so many of the images that reflect the culture, the arts, and devotion to you which undoubtedly spring from this prototype of who you are in the mind and imagination of the visionary John of Patmos.

You are the Mother of the Messiah (Christ), just like the Woman in Revelation gives birth to the Messiah. In your real historical existence you were surrounded by the twelve apostles, just as twelve stars surround the head of the Woman of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation 12: 1-6).

You are our spiritual mother of the Church, just as the Woman is said to be the new Israel, the Church. Although our minds often make distinctions, through our faith and love for you, we see you, too, as that same Woman of Revelation—the New Eve, the woman who has vanquished the serpent after escaping to the desert on the wings of an eagle (which is a sign not of the Roman Empire, but of the Torah—the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms. We have always kept you as a treasure in our hearts as the Promised Woman for all generations to come.

Yes, Blessed are you among women, for you are the Woman of Revelation, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. He is the Messiah, the child brought forth by the Woman of the Apocalypse, the living image and person of another Ark of the Covenant containing the presence of God in the baby in her baby. Amen.

Aug 13
Lectionary: Deuteronomy 31: 1-8. Response also from Deuteronomy 32: 3-4, 7-8. 9. 12. Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 12-14:

There is no doubt that God brought Israel out of the land of Egypt and out of the desert into what had been promised to Abraham, our ancestor in faith. The text is clear on this point but, as is its custom, it shows its point of view by adding a historical fact about Joshua (“It is Joshua who will cross before you (the Israelites not Moses) as the Lord promised) This additional parenthetical textt confirms the fact that salvation history is orchestrated by God by bringing the divine mystery of God into human events in time. In Exodus, “Moses performed God’s own work.” (Deuteronomy 34:12).

A summary of the last chapters that we finish tomorrow is this one taken from the Harper’s Study Bible: “With Moses’ death immediately in view, the narrative conjoins the provisions for transition in leadership and preservation of the Mosaic legacy of covenantal love.” (Harpers Study Bible, p. 316).

In our Gospel (Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 12-14) we learn from Jesus that only the humble of heart and mind—the childlike traits we need—will enter the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words are true, kind, and consoling. We all have the possibility of becoming child-like in our behavior to be welcomed into the kingdom of God. It would be harder to enter that kingdom if we have the idea that our own efforts, our knowledge and power, and our ambitions are guiding us towards Jesus. Being childlike in the way he is calling us to be is possible for everyone who wants to do as Jesus tells them to be. Jesus makes sense to us by telling us to be lowly, humble of heart, and attentive to his words. We may want to think about how his mother Mary who was present every day of his childhood taught him how to be meek and humble of heart. Amen.