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INTERCESSION IS THE CHARACTERISTIC OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP

INTERCESSION IS THE CHARACTERISTIC OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP

Every one knows, who has any knowledge of the Gospel, that Prayer is one of its special ordinances; but not every one, perhaps, has noticed what kind of prayer its inspired teachers most carefully enjoin… Yet it is observable, that though prayer for self is the first and plainest of Christian duties, the Apostles especially insist on another kind of prayer; prayer for others, for ourselves with others, for the Church, and the world, that it may be brought into the Church. Intercession is the characteristic of Christian worship.

– St John Henry Newman; In prayer we show our love for others and their needs. P. S. III, 350

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE RANSOM FOR MANY

The Gospel according to Mark, chapter 10

WHAT MOTIVE COULD EXPLAIN THIS SEEMINGLY FOOLISH RESOLVE?

“Caiphas and the enemies of Jesus had resolved to put Jesus to death. The feast of the Pasch was approaching, and Jesus expected to attend the feast at Jerusalem. To avoid the plot of Caiphas, after restoring life to Lazarus at Bethany, Jesus withdrew to Ephraim, a village twenty miles north of Jerusalem. He remained there until it was time to start the journey to Jerusalem for the Pasch.

When Jesus started on the road to Jerusalem the Apostles were both puzzled and frightened. They knew of the enmity of Caiphas for Jesus; they had taken the sojourn of Jesus at Ephraim to mean that Jesus was seeking to avoid the traps of Caiphas. Now Jesus seemed determined to walk into the clutches of His enemies. What motive could explain this seemingly foolish resolve?

Jesus, knowing their fears, said to them, ‘Behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes; and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and put him to death; and on the third day he will rise again’ (Mark 10:33-34).

THE APOSTLES SEEMED TO HOPE IN A GLORIOUS MESSIAS

Jesus knew that His time had come, the time appointed by His Father for Him to die. He foretold it to His Apostles and disciples. He also told them that He would come back to life again on the third day after His death. Both of these predictions were mystifying to the Apostles. They understood neither of them. Their minds were so filled with visions of Jesus as a glorious, triumphant Messias, that they could not perceive any significance in the picture of a suffering, defeated Messias, even if He were to rise again.

‘YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ASKING FOR’

That the minds of the Apostles were blinded by their own hopes for a glorious Messias is shown by the incident which immediately followed the prediction of the death of Jesus. The mother of the two sons of Zebedee, John and James, came to Jesus and asked Him, ‘Command that these, my two sons may sit, one at Thy right hand, and one at Thy left hand, in Thy kingdom.’ Jesus, addressing John and James, said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink of the cup of which I drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I am to be baptised?’ Believing that Jesus would lead them to a glorious triumph, the sons of Zebedee answered, ‘We can’ (Mark 10: 35-40; Matthew 20:23).

Jesus knew that they misunderstood Him. They had not seen that Jesus was to enter His own glory only after passing through death. Hence He asked them if they were ready to drink of the chalice which He Himself had to drink, that is, the cup of misfortune and death. Even though they did not understand, their loyalty to Jesus remained firm and they answered that they were ready to drink the same cup. Jesus then told them, ‘Of my cup you shall indeed drink; but as for sitting at my right hand and at my left, that is not mine to give you, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father’ (Matthew 20:23).

The other Apostles who had followed the conversation became indignant at the ambition of the two brothers. Jesus took the occasion to enlighten all the Apostles on the true nature of His mission. ‘You know,’ He said to them, ‘that the rulers of the Gentiles lord over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. Not so is it among you. On the contrary, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; even as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:25-28).

THE PRICE TO BE PAID TO GOD FOR THE RESTORATION OF DIVINE LIFE TO MEN, THE SALVATION OF MEN

In these words Jesus gently rebuked all the Apostles for their worldly dreams of power. If they were to be His faithful disciples, they must not seek to lord it over their fellowmen, but rather to serve them. Jesus Himself has not come into this world to rule an earthly kingdom, but rather to serve mankind. In fact, He is to give up His life as a ransom for all men. Jesus had already predicted His death three times, the last time just before the ambitious request of the sons of Zebedee. Now, for the first time, He says clearly that His suffering and death will be offered as a ransom for men. He had already hinted at this aspect of His death when He compared Himself to a Good Shepherd and said that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. A ransom is the price paid to liberate someone, and the Good Shepherd lays down His life to save the lives of His sheep. Jesus, therefore, is saying that His life is the price which will be paid for the salvation of men. It is the price to be paid to God for the restoration of divine life to men, the salvation of men, the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men.

‘LORD, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON US’

The Apostles probably did not understand the words of Jesus, but they followed Him on His way to Jerusalem. As they drew near to Jericho, they were met by two blind men. When the blind men heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by, they cried out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.’ Though some would have prevented them from disturbing Jesus, He commanded that they be brought to Him. He asked them what they wished of Him. When they asked Him to restore their sight, Jesus, moved by compassion, touched their eyes, and immediately their sight was given to them.

Shortly afterwards, as they were passing through Jericho, a great crowd filled the street to see Jesus. One of the townspeople, a certain Zacchaeus, a rich publican, climbed a sycamore tree to be able to see Jesus. Now publicans, tax gatherers, were regarded by the people as sinners, as extortioners. It was therefore surprising to the crowd when Jesus, seeing Zacchaeus in the tree, called to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay in thy house today’ (Luke 19:5). Zacchaeus, sinner that he was, was overjoyed at the thought that the Wonderworker, Jesus of Nazareth, condescended to accept the hospitality of his house. But some of the people, probably those opposed to Jesus, murmured that Jesus did not hesitate to be the guest of a sinner. This gesture of Jesus, however, moved Zacchaeus to repentance, and he said, ‘Behold, Lord, I give one half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold’ (Luke 19:8).

THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS

Tax gatherers, publicans, worked for the Roman authorities, gathering taxes for them. For that reason, they appeared to the people as traitors of Israel. The gesture of Zacchaeus in returning the monies he had gained by his trade showed his sincere repentance. Jesus recognised this and said, ‘Today salvation has come to this house since he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luke 19:9-10).

In these last words Jesus repeats the lesson He had already given His Apostles. He has come, not to establish an earthly kingdom but to save the souls of sinners. He will give His life for the salvation of men.

Either during or after the meal in the house of Zacchaeus, Jesus told the parable of the talents or the gold pieces. The people were looking on Jesus as a political Messias, who would restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus knew that their hopes would be disappointed when He died an ignominious death at Jerusalem. He tried, in this parable, to correct their false hopes and lead them to a better hope.

A nobleman, He told them, went to a far country to obtain a kingdom for himself. This would probably recall to the people the history of Herod, who went to Rome to obtain from the Romans the title of King of Judea. The nobleman, before leaving, sent for his servants and gave each of them some gold pieces which they were to use to gain profit for their master. But his enemies sent a delegation after him that they did not desire him to be their king. On his return as king he sent for his servants and demanded an accounting of the gold pieces. One servant had gained ten gold pieces, another five. He rewarded them by giving them positions of power and influence. But one of the servants had been afraid to hazard the piece given him, and so he returned only this piece, without any interest whatsoever. The king took even this piece away from him because he had been a useless servant. The citizens who had opposed him he put to death.

THE MEANING

In this parable Jesus was trying to describe the relations between Himself and His own people. He was the Messias, seeking to establish His own kingdom in the world. But he was to do so only by dying, by leaving His people for a time. In His absence His enemies will work to keep His kingdom from Him. But He gives His Apostles and disciples gold pieces, the means of building up His kingdom for Him. They must work for Him, even in His absence, to build up His kingdom. Even though He Himself is absent from them, they must persevere in His interests with hope and courage.

THE OINTMENT OF GREAT VALUE

After this warning Jesus continued on His journey to Jerusalem. Six days before the Pasch Jesus arrived in Bethany. Here He met Simon the Leper, Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. While they were reclining at table, Mary took a pound of ointment, spikenard, an ointment of great value. She anointed the head of Jesus with the spikenard, and then, since there was some left over, she anointed His feet also. Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles, the treasurer of the band of Apostles, objected to this waste. The ointment, he claimed, could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.

St John tells us that Judas said this, not because he had any great love for the poor but rather because he was avaricious and sought money for himself. It is possible that Judas, of all the Apostles, was the most interested in the establishment by Jesus of an earthly kingdom, a kingdom in which Judas himself would become rich and powerful. He may, at this time, have become discouraged at the refusal of Jesus to seek to establish such a kingdom. In such case the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, the stronghold of His enemies, would have seemed to Judas to be madness, and so he was already prepared to betray the ‘madman’ who disappointed his hopes.”

– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (GALATIANS 2:1-2, 7-14)

(Week 27 of the year: Wednesday)

THEY RECOGNISED THE GRACE GOD HAD GIVEN TO ME.

Then, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus with me.

And I went up according to revelation; and communicated to them the gospel, which I preach among the Gentiles, but apart to them who seemed to be some thing: lest perhaps I should run, or had run in vain.

But contrariwise, when they had seen that to me was committed the gospel of the uncircumcision, as to Peter was that of the circumcision.[*]

(For he who wrought in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, wrought in me also among the Gentiles.

And when they had known the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship: that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision:

Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do.

But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision.

And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation.

But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

[*] “The gospel of the uncircumcision”. The preaching of the gospel to the uncircumcised, that is, to the Gentiles. St Paul was called in an extraordinary manner to be the apostle of the Gentiles; St Peter, besides his general commission over the whole flock (John 21:15 etc.) had a peculiar charge of the people of circumcision, that is, of the Jews.

 
 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (LUKE 9:1-6)

(Week 25 of the year: Wednesday)

JESUS SENT THEM OUT TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND TO HEAL.

Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.” So they set out and went from village to village proclaimed the Good News and healing everywhere.

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Prayers for Ordinary Time

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11)

(Week 24 of the year: Thursday)

I PREACHED AND YOU BELIEVED.

Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;

By which also you are saved, if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain.

For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures:

And that he was seen by Cephas; and after that by the eleven.

Then was he seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep.

After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time.

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me:

For whether I, or they, so we preach, and so you have believed.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Prayers for Ordinary Time

 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (MATTHEW 18:15-20)

(23. Sunday in Ordinary Time)

IF HE LISTENS TO YOU, YOU HAVE WON BACK YOUR BROTHER.

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

“I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

“I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 
 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (MATTHEW 10:1-7)

GO TO THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: “Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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THE MYSTERY OF THE SUFFERING MESSIAH

JESUS ‘STRICTLY CHARGED HIS DISCIPLES TO TELL NO ONE THAT HE WAS JESUS THE CHRIST’ (Mt 16:20) – WHY?

“Peter had acknowledged openly that Jesus is the Christ [Mt 16:15-19], the Messias. Immediately after this acknowledgement Jesus promised to make Peter the rock on which He would found His kingdom. This remarkable series of events must have brought great joy to the disciples of Jesus. Now at last they knew: Jesus was the long-awaited Messias, the Christ who would rescue His people; Jesus was the Christ Who would establish the kingdom of God on earth, and He had already chosen Peter to be the foundation stone of that kingdom. Surely they must have thought the Kingdom of God is at last at hand; this is the moment when God will begin to bring to pass the triumph of His people in the world.

WHY THIS SECRECY?

But at this moment, when they were confidently expecting Jesus to prepare His triumph as the Christ, He ‘strictly charged his disciples to tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ’ (Matthew 16:20). But why this secrecy? If Jesus is the Christ, why not publish this news abroad as swiftly as possible, from village to village, from town to city, from the plains to the mountain-tops? The sooner God’s Chosen People knew the Christ was come, the sooner would they rally to His banner and expel the hated Roman legions which kept them in subjection.

GOD’S PLAN, AND NOT OF HUMAN DEVISING

The reason which Jesus gave for secrecy must have mystified the disciples even more.

‘The Son of Man,’ He told them, ‘must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and Scribes, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again’ (Luke 9:22).

Could the Messias sent by God to establish the triumph of His people be rejected by the chief spiritual leaders of the people? If the Christ is to suffer and die, where then is His triumph? Jesus, it is true, also said that He would rise from death on the third day, and if that were true, no doubt His resurrection would be a triumphant vindication of His message to men. But such a resurrection was in itself a mysterious thing and, besides, Jesus did not enlighten them at once on the meaning of His resurrection. Peter with his usual impetuousness refused to accept the idea that the Christ would suffer and die.

‘Far be it from thee, O Lord,’ he said, ‘this will never happen to thee’ (Matthew 16:22).

If he had known or been able to recall the mysterious words of Isaias [Isaiah] about the Suffering Servant of Jahweh, if he had the spiritual insight necessary to identify the glorious King-Messias with the Suffering Servant, he might not have been so impetuous. But his mind was still filled with dreams of the glory of the Messias and he could not reconcile this picture of suffering, rejection and death with his dreams. Jesus, however, rebuked him in strong terms:

‘Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men’ (Matthew 16:23).

In God’s plan, mysterious though it may be, the triumphant Christ must also be a rejected, suffering Christ. Peter, preoccupied with visions of an earthly triumph, did not see the depths of the divine plan. The stern rebuke of Jesus reminds him that the plan is God’s and not of human devising.

‘LET HIM DENY HIMSELF, AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME’ (Mk 8:34)

Turning from Peter to the rest of His disciples and the crowd, Jesus tells them that all men must follow Him in His suffering if they would be saved. ‘If anyone wishes to come after me,’ He says, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Of what value are earthly glories in comparison with the salvation of one’s own soul? ‘For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?’ (Mark 8:36). A man must be prepared to lose his earthly life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel of salvation which He brings to men. If he is ashamed of a suffering Messias, ashamed of the words of Jesus, when Jesus returns as the Son of Man to judge all men then Jesus will be ashamed of him. Lest this reference to the last judgement by the Son of Man seem too remote to a people so accustomed to expect a glorious Messias, Jesus goes on to say, ‘Amen I say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God coming in power’ (Mark 8:39). In these words Jesus foretold what later came to pass, that within thirty or forty years His kingdom had been established throughout the Roman Empire; not a worldly Kingdom, but the Kingdom of God in the hearts of those who had accepted Jesus as the Christ.

THE TRANSFIGURATION

Peter and the disciples did not understand the words of Jesus, but they remained with Him. Six days later Jesus took three of His Apostles, Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There, perhaps to reassure their faith in Him, He allowed His glory to be manifested to them. His face became radiant and His garments began to shine, white as snow. Then Elias [Elijah] and Moses appeared there and began to talk with Him about His suffering and death at Jerusalem.

‘THIS IS MY BELOVED SON…’ (Mt 17:5)

Now Jesus had already told the Jews that Moses had spoken of Him, and the Jews were expecting Elias to come as the forerunner of the Christ. Their appearance here, then, on the occasion of the transfiguration of Jesus was a sign from heaven that Jesus was the expected Messias. Peter, not quite knowing what he was doing but anxious to keep these heavenly visitors here with the Christ, said,

‘If thou wilt, let us set up three tents here, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias’ (Matthew 17:4).

But just then a radiant cloud enveloped them all in its midst, and they heard the voice of God from heaven saying to them,

‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him’ (Matthew 17:5).

And looking round they saw no one but Jesus.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop could have been pregnant with meaning for the Apostles. They had accepted Jesus as the Christ, and there on the mountain in the radiant countenance and garments of Jesus they had been allowed to see the glory of the Christ. Moreover, Moses and Elias, two great prophets and heroes of their people, had come to give testimony to the identity of Jesus as the Christ. But the mystery of Jesus still remained, for though He appeared to them in glory, still Moses and Elias spoke to Him of His approaching suffering and death. How could glory and humiliation be reconciled?

And what about Elias? Was he not to be the forerunner of the Christ? Why then did he leave? Why were they asked to listen only to Jesus, God’s beloved Son? Filled with a sense of awe, but still wondering, they asked Jesus about Elias. Jesus replied to them that Elias had already come in the person of John the Baptist. Elias would not come in person; he was only the prototype of John the Baptist. And the Baptist had already been put to death for preaching the gospel of repentance. So also would Jesus, the Son of Man, be put to death.

MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE POWER

On the following day, after they had come down from the mountain, the crowd brought to Jesus a boy who was possessed by a devil. Apparently the father of the boy had asked the disciples of Jesus to expel the demon. But they had failed to do so. Jesus spoke to the father of the boy, saying,

‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him who believes’ (Mark 9:22).

The father cried out, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:23). Thereupon Jesus rebuked the devil and left the boy.

The disciples, who had been unsuccessful in their attempt to relieve the boy, asked Jesus why they had not been able to expel the demon. Jesus told them that it was due to their lack of faith and to the fact that this demon could be cast out only by prayer and fasting.

This further manifestation of divine power must have strengthened the faith of the disciples in Jesus. But Jesus, for His part, cautioned His disciples once again that He must suffer and die and rise again on the third day. But they, believing in Him as they did and faced with these displays of His power, did not understand what He meant.

THE GREATEST IN HIS KINGDOM

Following this miracle Jesus went with His disciples to a house in Capharnaum where He continued instructing them in the nature of His kingdom. While on their way there the disciples had been discussing with one another which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Their discussion of this topic shows that they were still thinking of the kingdom of Jesus as a worldly kingdom. Jesus had already said that He would make Simon Peter the rock of His kingdom [Mt 16:17-19]. Perhaps some of the other Apostles were wondering why he should have been chosen for this honour in preference to someone else. Certainly they were all wondering what position each should occupy.

Jesus took this occasion to teach them that humility would be one of the characteristics of the members of His kingdom. Taking a little child into His arms, He said to them,

‘Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me’ (Matthew 18:3-5).

HUMILITY IS ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM

The lesson is given affectionately buy clearly. In the kingdom of Christ the Apostles must be like little children, not priding themselves on position or power, but humbly serving others, ready to see the Christ Himself in all the ‘little’ ones of the world and receiving in love all the ‘little’ ones of the earth as if they were Christ Himself.

‘DO NOT FORBID HIM’

John, still remembering that Jesus had just cast a devil out of a boy, interrupted and said: ‘Master, we saw a man casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us’ (Luke 9:49).

Jesus replied, ‘Do not forbid him, because there is no one who shall work a miracle in my name, and forthwith be able to speak ill of me. For he who is not against you is for you’ (Mark 9:38-39).

In these words Jesus taught the Apostles the lesson of tolerance. Even though a man might not yet be a member of the kingdom, following openly after Christ and Peter as did the other disciples, if he had enough faith to invoke the name of Jesus to work miracles, he was already on the right road; he would not speak evil of the Christ.

‘FLEE FROM SIN’

After this reply to John Jesus went on to speak of the evils of scandal. Those who give scandal, that is, those who by their words or actions lead others into sin, will be severely punished; it were better for such a one ‘if a great millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea’ (Mark 9:41).

As for the disciples themselves, they must flee from scandal in the actions of others. If they would enter into everlasting life with God, they must flee from sin. On this point the language of Jesus is very strong. If a hand or a foot or an eye should be to them an occasion of sin, He tells them, they must rather cut it off or pluck it out, rather than fall into sin. It is better to enter into life with God maimed or blind rather than to descend into the everlasting fires of hell.

THE SON OF MAN HAS COME INTO THIS WORLD TO SAVE ALL MEN FROM SIN

This thought of the final end of man, either heaven or hell, leads Jesus to emphasise once again the nature of His mission. He has come into this world to save what was lost, that is, all mankind. Speaking again of the ‘little’ ones of the world, He says,

‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven. For the Son of Man came to save what is lost. What do you think? If a man have hundred sheep, and one of them stray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the mountains, and go in search of the one that has strayed? And if he happens to find it, amen I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that a single one of these little ones should perish’ (Matthew 13:10-14).

The Son of Man has come into this world to save all men from sin.

THE POWER TO FORGIVE SIN

This in turn leads Jesus on to the thought of the forgiveness of sin. He has already claimed to have the power to forgive sin. If any of your brethren sin, He tells His Apostles, go to him and try to correct him. If he will not listen, then take one or two more with you and try again. If he still will not listen, let the Church speak to him; and if he will not hear the Church, then let him be put out of the Church. Then Jesus speaks the words which give to all His Apostles the power to forgive sin, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’ (Matthew 18:18).

In this way Jesus gives to the other Apostles a share in the power which He has already promised to Peter.

The power to forgive sin is a tremendous power indeed, but Jesus goes on to say that the prayer of His kingdom or Church will be able to accomplish anything.

‘I say to you further, that if two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:19-20). Though Jesus speaks only of two or three, He means by those words to speak of His Church. For He is speaking in the context of His discourses to His Apostles on the nature of His kingdom. In that kingdom or Church, of which Peter is to be the head, and in which all the Apostles will possess the power to forgive sins, then whenever the members are gathered together in the name and for the sake of Christ, God in heaven will hear their prayers. The prayer of the Church, that is, of all those who profess allegiance to the Christ under Peter and the Apostles, will be all powerful.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD THEY FORGIVE SOMEBODY THEIR SINS?

Peter, meanwhile, had been intrigued by the question of the forgiveness of sin. How often, he was wondering, should they forgive a man his sins. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Clearly to Peter seven was an upper limit to the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus replied that he must forgive his brother even to seventy times seven, thus intimating that God placed no upper limit on the forgiveness of sins; a man was to be forgiven as often as he would listen to the Church and repent of his sins.

THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT

To enforce this point Jesus then told the parable of the unmerciful servant. The kingdom of heaven, He said, is like a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. It was discovered that one of his servants, that is, one of his more important ministers, had defrauded him of ten thousand talents, that is, over several million dollars. Since he had not enough money to pay back this enormous debt, the king ordered him, his wife and children to be sold as payment. The minister begged for mercy, and the king not only released him but forgave him the debt. Sin is as enormous in its moral guilt as the sum stolen by the king’s minister was financially great. But God forgives sin as generously as the king forgave his servant.

But the parable does not end here. Jesus goes on to say that the servant who had been forgiven went out and found another servant who owed him an insignificant amount of money. Instead of extending to his fellow servant the kind mercy he has himself received from the king, the unmerciful servant had him thrown into prison until the debt was paid. On hearing of this ungenerous act the king then handed the first servant over to the torturers until the debt was paid. Sternly Jesus points out the lesson: ‘So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive your brothers from your heart’ (Matthew 18:25). As God’s mercy and generosity to sinners is infinite, so also the mercy of His Church must be infinite.

THE MERCY OF GOD’S CHURCH MUST BE INFINITE

If we couple this point with the injunction of Jesus to cast out of the Church the unrepentant sinner, the meaning becomes clear. In the kingdom of heaven, in the Church of the Christ, no one is to be a scandal, a cause of sin to another; no one is to be scandalised, that is, led into sin by another; all must avoid sin to save their souls and enter life everlasting. But if anyone sin, then he must repent; if he repents, the mercy of God is infinite. But if he will not repent, he must be cast out so that his sinfulness will not be a scandal to others. This does not mean that the unrepentant one may never be forgiven. It does mean that he cannot be forgiven or readmitted until he has repented.

JESUS HAD EMPHASISED THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF HIS KINGDOM

In these discourses with His Apostes Jesus had emphasised the spiritual nature of His kingdom. The goal of His kingdom is entrance into the everlasting life of God. To enter the kingdom men must accept Jesus as the Christ, the Messias, the beloved Son of God. They must believe His words. They must believe in His glory, but they must also believe in His suffering and death and in His resurrection. They must accept the mystery of a Messias Who is both triumphant and humiliated. To remain in His kingdom they must avoid all sin. Peter will be the ruler, the key-bearer of the kingdom, but the Apostles will share in his power under him. Especially will they be able to forgive the sins of men, thus admitting them or, as the case may be, re-admitting them to the Kingdom of God.

THEIR FAITH IN HIM PERSEVERED

The Apostles did not comprehend the full meaning of all that Jesus told them. They were still in need of further instruction from Him. In fact they would not reconcile their dream of a triumphant Christ with Jesus’ prophecy of the suffering Christ until after Jesus had suffered and died. But for the moment their faith in Him persevered and so they continued to follow Him, in darkness, it is true, but still in hope.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (ST BARNABAS, APOSTLE)

(Matthew 10:7-13)

YOU RECEIVED WITHOUT CHARGE, GIVE WITHOUT CHARGE.

Jesus said to his apostles, “As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge. Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep.

“Whatever town or village you go into, ask for someone trustworthy and stay with him until you leave. As you enter his house, salute it, and if the house deserves it, let your peace descend upon it; if it does not, let your peace come back to you.”

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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“MY FATHER WORKS EVEN UNTIL NOW, AND I WORK” (Jn 5:17)

THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE FORMATION OF THE DISCIPLES

“The first year of the public ministry of Jesus ended in failure. Most of those who had followed Him deserted Him. His miracles had excited their admiration and raised their hopes of deliverance from Roman rule. But His refusal to conform to their idea of a triumphant political Messias had alienated their allegiance to Him. He had offered Himself to them as the ‘Bread of Life,’ but they had refused to accept Him.

SOME FEW REMAINED FAITHFUL TO JESUS

Some few remained faithful to Him, especially the Apostles. They refused to leave Him, saying, ‘To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ By so acting they cut themselves off from the majority of their fellow-countrymen. Jesus Himself knew, as He had indeed said, that He would be rejected by His own countrymen. From this time on He would continue to preach His message of salvation in the spiritual Kingdom of God. Only now He would seek to increase in His faithful Apostles and disciples the true understanding of the kingdom which He was to establish. He would show them how different was this kingdom from the earthly kingdom and domination sought by His countrymen.

A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM

Some time after the discourse on the ‘Bread of Life,’ Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Almost at once He came into conflict with His enemies. At the pool called Bethsaida, near the Sheepgate in Jerusalem, Jesus cured a man who had been a paralytic for thirty-eight years. He told the man to pick up the pallet on which he had been lying and to walk home. Now He did this on a Sabbath day. The Jews, on learning that He had done this, were angry. In their eyes Jesus had broken the law of the Sabbath-day rest. He had Himself worked the miracle and He had even ordered the cured man to carry his pallet. When they objected to this, Jesus replied, ‘My Father works even until now, and I work’ (John 5:17).

The Jews understood Him to mean that He was equal to God. Since they perceived Him only a man, they regarded His claim as blasphemy. Hence they determined to oppose Him.

THE JEWS DETERMINED TO OPPOSE JESUS

Jesus, for His part, was kind to them and He tried to explain His position clearly. ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever he does, this the Son also does in like manner’ (John 5:19).

By saying that He can do nothing of Himself but only what He sees His Father doing, Jesus attempted to soften for the Jews who did not believe in Him or His claims His right to be accepted by them as one sent from God.

JESUS EXPLAINS TO THE PEOPLE THAT GOD HAS SENT HIM TO RESTORE LIFE

But He goes on to explain that God has sent Him to restore life, spiritual life, to men who are dead in their sins. As God the Father has power to give this life to men who are dead, so also has He, the Son, the same power. And because He has this power, He has also from His Father the right and power to judge men. Those who hear Him and believe the Father who has sent Him will rise to life on the last day; but those who do not hear Him and accept Him will rise to judgement.

‘IF YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT MOSES, HOW WILL YOU ACCEPT ME?

Then Jesus tried to show the Jews the justice of His claim to be sent to them by God. Since this mission of Jesus from God is a fact, and indeed a divine fact, it is not susceptible of ordinary means of proof.

Only witnesses can testify to the truth of such a fact. Jesus calls upon the witnesses known to the Jews. John the Baptist, He says, gave testimony to Me and to My mission. If you accept John as a man of God, then you should accept Me to Whom he has given witness. But Jesus was not content to adduce only the testimony of John. There is a greater testimony to Me, the testimony of God Himself.

‘For the works which the Father has given me to accomplish, these very works that I do bear witness to me that the Father has sent me. And the Father himself, who has sent me, has borne witness to me’ (John 5:36-37).

The works to which Jesus refers are the miracles which He has performed. These miracles are the divine seal placed upon His message and His claims. Through the miracles God Himself has testified that Jesus is the Son sent by the Father to establish the Kingdom of God among men. Lastly Jesus refers His hearers to the Scriptures. Moses, He says, has written of Me. If you read Moses rightly you would see that I am what I claim to be. But if you will not accept Moses, how will you accept Me?

JESUS EXPLAINS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LAW OF MOSES WHICH HE HAS COME TO FULFIL

But the people would not believe Him. Knowing their enmity Jesus, for the time, left Jerusalem and Judea and returned to Galilee. But His enemies pursued Him. Scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem came and reproached Him because His disciples were not keeping the Mosaic Law as they interpreted that Law. The disciples of Jesus, they claimed, were at fault because they did not wash their hands before they ate food.

Jesus made this complaint of the Pharisees and occasion to instruct His disciples and the people. God, He told them, is not so much interested in external observance which may cover an inner impurity and evil; rather He desires an internal goodness and purity of heart. The aim of external observances of the Law of Moses was to preserve internal purity of heart. To interpret the Law (and in this instance there was question of the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law) in such wise as to render it impossible to preserve real purity of heart was to act like a hypocrite. Hence Jesus applied to the Scribes and Pharisees the words of Isaias [Isaiah]:

‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; but in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines precepts of men’ (Matthew 15:8-9).

Jesus then summed up His teaching in the words:

‘What goes into the mouth does not defile a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, that defiles a man’ (Matthew 15:11).

The Pharisees took offence at this statement and their attitude alarmed the disciples of Jesus. But He told them that the Pharisees were blind leaders of blind men. Then, at the request of Peter, He explained His meaning to them.

‘Do you not realise that nothing from outside, by entering a man, can defile him? For it does not enter his heart, but his belly, and passes out into the drain. And the things that come out of a man are what defile a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil thoughts, adulteries, immorality, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, shamelessness, jealousy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile a man’ (Mark 7:18-23).

In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus adds the words, ‘but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man’ (Matthew 15:20).

EVEN THE PAGANS GAVE GLORY TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL

After this instruction to His disciples He left Galilee and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. While there He expelled a demon from the daughter of a Syro-Phenician woman. Then He went to the district of Decapolis. There He restored hearing and speech to a deaf-mute. As a result great crowds came to Him, bringing their sick, the blind, the lame, the dumb and the maimed. Jesus cured them and the pagan inhabitants of that district gave glory to the God of Israel. Also, on one occasion, Jesus repeated the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, feeding over four thousand with only seven loaves of bread and a few fishes.

MORE UNWELCOME AND HOSTILE ATTENTION

This renewed activity brought upon Him again the unwelcome and hostile attention of the Pharisees. They came to Him and demanded from Him a sign from heaven. But Jesus, knowing that signs would not really convince them, replied:

‘Why does this generation demand a sign? Amen I say to you, a sign shall not be given to this generation’ (Mark 8:12).

Jesus and His disciples then entered a boat and went to the western side of the Lake of Tiberias. During the journey Jesus cautioned His disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

When they came to Bethsaida Jesus restored sight to a blind man. But He forbade the man to publish abroad what had happened.

‘WHO DO MEN SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?’ (Mt 16:13)

Some time later, when they had come to the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus questioned His disciples, asking them, ‘Who do men say the Son of Man is?’ (Matthew 15:13). The disciples replied that some took Him for John the Baptist, some for Elias, some for Jeremias or one of the prophets. Jesus then asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16:15).

Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus then said to him:

‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19).

TWO FACTS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE

This incident contains two facts of great importance. First of all, in this dialogue with His disciples Jesus acknowledges to them that He is both the Messias, the Christ sent by God, and that He is the natural Son of God, equal to God the Father in divinity. Secondly, acting as the Christ and as the natural Son of God Jesus makes Simon Peter the rock or foundation on which He will build the Church, the Kingdom of God.

When the crowd would have accepted Jesus as a king who would lead them to earthly glory, a political Messias, Jesus refused to play the role and left them. But on this occasion Jesus allows Himself to be called the Christ, the Messias and the Son of God.

Why does Jesus allow to Peter what He had already refused to crowds of His countrymen?

The answer is clear. The crowds had wanted a Messias modelled after their own desires, a Messias who would lead them to world power. But this was not God’s plan, and so it was not the mission of Jesus. The crowds, stubbornly bound to their own desires, deserted Jesus.

But the Apostles and a few disciples, still believing in Jesus, even though they did not completely understand Him, remained faithful to Him. In their sight, and for their benefit, Jesus continued to do His works, to work the miracles which were a sign of the divine power He possessed. And while their wonder and admiration grew Jesus emphasised to them the spiritual nature of His kingdom and contrasted it sharply with the views of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Now Jesus would carry His disciples a bit further; He would initiate them even more into the understanding of His plans for the kingdom.
First, however, it was fitting that they should recognise Him for what He really is. He questions them gently, not asking them at first Who they think He really is, but asking them Who men say that He is. They reply: His countrymen see in Him surely someone remarkable; perhaps Elias, who is to come before the Messias; perhaps Jeremias, who also might be a forerunner of the Messias; perhaps John the Baptist, the recent martyr for God’s law, come again to herald the Messias; or at least a prophet. Then Jesus leads them on. ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Spontaneously Peter speaks. ‘Thou art the Christ,’ he says, ‘the Son of the living God.’ At last it is said openly by those to whom Jesus has come to preach the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Messias. Even more, He is the true, the natural Son of God, equal to the Father in His Godhood. When the crowd would make Him king, Jesus refused. But when Peter declares that He is the Messias and, indeed, the Son of God, Jesus does not deny it. Rather, He confirms it. Flesh and blood, He says, have not revealed this to Peter. Rather it is God Himself Who has revealed this to Peter, and Peter, in faith and love, through this divine enlightenment, accepts Christ Jesus as the Son of God.

GOD REVEALED JESUS’ TRUE IDENTITY TO SIMON PETER

This moment then is a most solemn one. In it the little band of followers which Jesus has drawn to Himself acknowledges Him as the Anointed One of God, even as the true Son of God, God Himself. With this acknowledgement made openly Jesus goes on to reveal to them His plans for the future.

JESUS REVEALS TO SIMON PETER AND THE APOSTLES HIS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

It is Simon, speaking under divine enlightenment, who has made this declaration of belief in the Messiahship and divine Sonship of Jesus. Speaking to Him in the presence of all Jesus tells him that He will make him the foundation of his kingdom, the Church.

When Simon first met Jesus, Jesus had told him that his name would be changed to Cephas, that is, to Peter (John 1:42). Now Jesus reveals the reason for the change. The name Cephas (or Peter) means rock. Simon is to be the rock on which Jesus will build His kingdom. ‘Thou art Rock (Peter),’ He says, ‘and upon this Rock (on you, Peter) I will build my Church.’ Simon Peter then is to be the foundation rock of the Church of Christ, the strong rock which will give the stability of truth and love to the kingdom. The ‘gates of Hell,’ that is, the kingdom of the devil, will be arrayed against the Church, but the strength of Peter, of the Rock which is Peter, will prevail against the power against the power of the devil.

To make His meaning even clearer Jesus goes on to say that He will give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Now the possessor of the keys of a house is the master of the house; he can admit whom he pleases and exclude whom he will. The goods of the house are his to dispose of as he will. The kingdom of heaven is Christ’s own kingdom; He is the master of it. But at some future time, not yet clearly determined, Jesus will make Peter the faithful steward of this kingdom, this household of God; He will give to Peter the keys which control this kingdom. The authority to rule this kingdom will be entrusted by Christ to Peter.

And as if even this were not enough to make clear that Peter was to rule the kingdom for Christ, Jesus adds, ‘whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ The decisions that Peter shall make, acting as the steward or vicar of Christ, will be ratified in heaven. God Himself, Christ Himself will ratify Peter’s decision, Peter’s rule of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Jesus refused to accept the title of Messias from the crowds who wished to make Him an earthly king. But He accepted this title from Peter, even the title of ‘Son of God.’

In return for Peter’s faith and love He made (or here He promises to make) Peter His vice regent in the Kingdom of God on earth. Since He would not accept and earthly kingship from the people, it is clear that Jesus accepts Peter’s homage only because Peter and, through him, the disciples are willing to believe in and accept the spiritual kingdom which Jesus has come to establish. This willingness on their part need not at this moment mean that they perceive clearly the essentially spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom. The subsequent actions of the Apostles seem to show that they had not yet reached that full understanding of the kingdom which they were later to possess. But they had not deserted Jesus when He refused to become an earthly king. They had not left Him when He offered men His own flesh, spiritually received, as the life of the world. Now, in Peter they accepted Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. They were men of faith and good will. This was enough, for the moment; Christ responded to their faith with a new revelation of the nature of His kingdom.

THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST

The kingdom of Christ is in its inner essence spiritual. But it is also to be ‘Church,’ a community of men called to membership in the kingdom. They will enter this kingdom by faith in Christ, by hearing His word and accepting it, especially by accepting Jesus as their life, their spiritual life, the source of their spiritual life. But as a community of men in this world, they will have to contend with the powers of darkness, the kingdom of the devil. To ensure the firmness of their faith, the stability in this community of the God-given truth which Christ brings to them, Jesus establishes (or will establish) Simon Peter as the head of the community of believers in Christ. Thus, though the kingdom is in its inner essence spiritual, it is also in this visible, tangible world a visible and tangible reality. By making Peter the head, the ruler and keybearer of the community of the Kingdom of God, Jesus will make His Church a visible recognisable reality in the world. Those who wish to come to Christ will submit to Peter, the Rock of the Church of Christ, the keybearer of the kingdom. From heaven Christ will ratify the rule, the decisions of Peter, His vice regent on earth. As we shall see later, the actions of the Apostles and of the first Christian community show that this was their understanding of Christ’s words and intention. The Kingdom of God on earth will be a spiritual kingdom, but it will also be a visible kingdom. The spiritual authority of Peter will be the visible rock on which the kingdom will be built.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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