Monday in the First Week of Lent
Matthew 25:31-46 - World English Bible
Jesus told his followers:
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me."
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?"
40 "The King will answer them, "Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers' , you did it to me." 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you didn"t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you didn"t take me in; naked, and you didn"t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn"t visit me."
44 "Then they will also answer, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn"t help you?"
45 "Then he will answer them, saying, "Most certainly I tell you, because you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me." 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
We can divide the Final Judgment scene in Matthew into two parts: 1) the arrival and call of the Son of Man and 2) the judgment itself. Jesus portrayed the Son of Man coming like a conquering king with his army (angels) and taking the judgment seat to settle accounts. He would call the faithful who mingled among the wicked to his right (the sheep); those remaining stood on his left (the goats). Like a shepherd's whistle to his flock, the king's call beckoned loyal subjects to move toward his blessing.
Once he separated those to be judged, the king proclaimed his sentence. The charitable and hospitable would receive honor and blessing; the selfish would receive shame and curse. Notice Jesus did not address the question of faith; he spoke of welcome; the stranger given help or ignored symbolized the Christ. What a change of meaning! Contemporaries of the Nazarene saw the Christ as a powerful, larger than life figure. How could the least (a vagabond missionary, destitute widow or orphan, familiar servant in the Church) be the Messiah? The moral of the parable was simple: charity trumped any other virtue in the Kingdom.
How have you welcomed strangers this week?Top of the page
Tuesday in the First Week of Lent
Matthew 6:7-15 - World English Bible
Jesus told his disciples:
7 "In praying, don"t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. 8 Therefore don"t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him. 9 Pray like this: "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. 13 Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.]"
14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don"t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples the Our Father, a set of petitions influenced by the berakah style of praying. The berakah addressed God first ("Blessed are you, Lord God, king of the universe..."); the prayer of Jesus replaced that formal address with a simple "Our Father," denoting the same intimacy Jesus had with his Father in heaven. Berakah blessed the Lord for his his activity in the world; the Lord's Prayer anticipated such action in the coming Kingdom. Beyond the petition for daily needs (6:11), the prayer encapsulated the message of the Lord (deliverance from the Tribulation in 6:13 and forgiveness at the Final Judgment in 6:12). This translation added the glory ending to the prayer (not in the best transcripts, but most likely added by a Christian scribe to complete it), thus giving it a Jewish flavor; Jewish prayers began with God, came down to the human level and, logically, returned to God.
Jesus added two more details to the subject of prayer: repetition and forgiveness. Notice Jesus did not object to the number of prayers, but the way they were used. Gentiles prayed in vain repetitions, thinking they could control deities by the precise use of their names and the concise number of their invocations. They wanted control, not for contemplative purposes (like the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer).
Also notice how Jesus linked prayer with forgiveness. The entire exercise of Christianity hinged on the belief that God would come to judge the world and show the followers of the Christ mercy, but that mercy was contingent on the mercy Christians showed to others. In essence, the Our Father and the faith of the petitioner depended upon the virtue of forgiveness.
Who do you have to forgive this week?Top of the page
Wednesday in the First Week of Lent
Luke 11:29-32 - World English Bible
29 When the multitudes were gathering together to him, Jesus began to say, "This is an evil generation. It seeks after a sign. No sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah, the prophet. 30 For even as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will also the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and will condemn them: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, one greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, one greater than Jonah is here."
In Luke 11, Jesus addressed an evil generation that sought a sign, a people that do not look to God but toward an event, a show of power, that would wow them. He said the sign would be preaching repentance, just as Jonah did among the Ninevites. The Queen of the South (a ruler from the coast of the Red Sea around Yemen or Ethiopia; 1 Kings 10:1-13) who brought tribute to Solomon for his wisdom would rise to condemn the present culture for its lack of that virtue. The Ninevites themselves would stand up to judge the evil ones for their lack of repentance. Notice the explicit and implicit themes. The "one greater than Jonah" was the Christ (and, by extension, the one who preached the Good News just as the Lord did); the content of the message was the Good News, repentance with a view to the coming Kingdom. In his judgment on the evil generation, Jesus implied resurrection; the Queen of the South would rise to condemn, the Ninevites would "stand up" (another code phrase for resurrection) to judge. In the context of the gospel, the Lord chided his listeners for their failure to listen with two images: the sign of Jonah and the rising of biblical figures to damn the unbelievers at the Last Judgment.
How have "listened" to the Good News today?Top of the page
Thursday in the First Week of Lent
Matthew 7:7-12 - World English Bible
Jesus said to his disciples:
7 "Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or who is there among you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets."
Matthew's gospel contains five discourses (akin to the five books of the Law); his comments on "seeking and finding" lie towards the end of the first discourse (Matthew 5-7). In context, the subject matter referred to relations between Christians in the community. The setting echoed living in a clan compound, where the seeker knocked on the doors of relatives for a desired object (7:7-8). The one receiving the request would not trick a his son, substituting a rock for a barley loaf (similar in size and color) or a serpent for a fish (eel). No, a parent naturally wanted to give good gifts to children, so did the Father in heaven (prayer had a seek-request nature). Jesus ended this passage with a vague reference to the Golden Rule as the summation of Scripture ("the law and the prophets"). In other words, the give and take, request and reply of the community itself fulfilled the Torah, for it was analogous to prayer.
How do you treat your family and friends? Can that treatment be prayerful?Top of the page
Friday in the First Week of Lent
Matthew 5:20-26 - World English Bible
Jesus told his disciples:
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
21 "You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, "You shall not murder;"and "Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment." 22 But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause § will be in danger of the judgment; and whoever says to his brother, "Raca!" will be in danger of the council; and whoever says, "You fool!" will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.
23 "If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him on the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. 26 Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny."
In Matthew 5, Jesus commented on the Law, specifically the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:13). His interpretation can be divided into two parts:1) application of the commandment to everyday affairs and 2) settling accounts before sin against the commandment got out of hand.
Jesus applied the commandment to everyday judgments people make. To modern Westerners, the insult "Raca" (meaning "empty-headed") and "fool" might not seem especially derogatory, but in the time of Jesus, they had that possibility. "Fool" meant "godless" (Psalm 14:1); "raca" could refer to those with severe mental disability (for example, Downs syndrome). Such insults were not to be taken lightly. Even if given in jest, Matthew's gospel used extreme language to make a point. Insults could be taken the wrong way, or given to maximize shame. Either way, the one who was the object of the insult became the victim.
How could one repair the damage of the insult? Jesus used the image of the debtor prison to make his point. Act quickly to minimize the damage, otherwise the damage will fester and grow. In the end, the shame might return to the one giving the insult.
People make judgments against others, people tease each other. This is natural. But the results of judging and teasing can be misunderstood or even worse. Sensitivity and wisdom are required when "name calling." Such results can be deadly to the soul.
How do you tease others or make judgments over them? How have you followed the advice of Jesus and apologized quickly when damage is done?Top of the page
Saturday in the First Week of Lent
Matthew 5:43-48 - World English Bible
Jesus said to his disciples:
43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don"t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don"t even the tax collectors do the same? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
What does it mean to be perfect?
Many people envision perfection in Greek terms as stasis, the quality of being unmoved and dispassionate, like a statue. For example, the Greek philosopher Aristotle saw God as the "Unmoved Mover," a self contained being without beginning or end or blemish of any type. This notion of perfection has slipped into Western culture with the myth of the self-sufficient individual, the person who doesn't need anyone to make him fulfilled. Perfection, then, is more than existence without flaw; it is the power to be complete, by one's self.
Notice, Jesus did not address that sense of perfection; he defined perfection within a relationship. Love others, even enemies, the same way God loves you. For Jesus, that stood as a principle, not as a means to an end. What does one gain by being charitable to family and friends? Everyone, even sinners, treat loved ones with deference; nothing was really gained by that behavior. No, Jesus defined perfection as universal charity; the only goal gained by such action was a seat in the Kingdom, as a child of God.
By teaching this way, Jesus swam against popular opinion. The proverb "Love your neighbor, hate your enemy" combined Leviticus 19:18 and the Qumran "Manual of Discipline" IX 21-26. So the preference of insider over outsider had some cache at his time. Yet, the Lord stood against the mentality of "us vs. them," but not in some "pie in the sky" notion of universal love and peace. No, he recognized the problems a Christian might face with persecution; he was concerned with the response of the believer.
So, what does it mean to be perfect? Respond with charity.
How have you been perfect today?Top of the page