BY THEIR FRUITS WE SHALL KNOW THEM
Readings: 1st- Sirach 27:4-7; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:54-58; Gospel- Lk. 6:39-45
Let us divide the message of the gospel of today into three parts. Let’s call them the three challenges for our Christian life:
1). Leadership and the power of speech
Each of these categories kicks off with an interesting provocative as presented by Jesus in the parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person?” “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye, but not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.”
Beginning with the first reading, the image of the tree is used by Ben Sirach to draw analogy between internal condition and external expressions of what lies within the individual. According to Sirach, “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind” (Sirach 27:6-7). Speech is powerful and can be used to assess a person’s character. Speech flows from inside. It expresses a person’s mind. Sirach reminds us that we are like the tree planted in the orchard whose products tell about the quality of the orchard. Either we produce healthy fruits or rotten fruits.
Saint Paul presents us with the theology of the resurrection which anchors on victory of life over death. The physical is corruptible. The spiritual is incorruptible. As mortal as we are, we are ultimately the fruits of immortality. Recognizing that we transcend mortal flesh provides us with hope in a future life. Death can only threaten our mortality. For St. Paul, the mortally doomed is the sinner because sin cuts us off from eternal life. Sin leads to death. Hence Paul echoes, “The sting of death is sin.” But we belong to immortality through the death and resurrection of Christ. We are victorious over sin because Christ has redeemed us from death. We no longer bear fruits of sin but of righteousness in Christ Jesus. Death has lost its power in us. Saint Paul urges us to be firm and steadfast with the conviction that our labor will not be in vain in the Lord. Our work will bear fruit of eternal life which is the greatest victory over sin and death.
In the gospel, Christ speaks about the blind person’s inability to lead another blind. Literally, we know how true this is. Someone who’s blind cannot guide another blind person like a person with complete sight would, else they trip. Jesus’ image depicts the responsibility bestowed upon those in authority and in leadership positions. For instance, those who teach others must be informed correctly. Those who lead God’s flock must be worthy of emulation. Those who instruct children and the youth must show good examples. Those who govern in politics must be sincere and transparent. If these leaders do not provide exemplary leadership, their followers may dwindle and sink into moral and spiritual darkness.
The second challenge in the parable is about judgment. Christ says, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” This is common with human beings, right from the time of Adam. It is easier to talk about the spirituality of my neighbor than mine. It is easier to talk about my wife/husband’s bad attitude than mine. It is easier to cast blame on others because we are mostly inclined towards judging others. We see other’s fault too quickly. “She does this or that.” “He doesn’t do this or that.” Such is the human way. We condemn. We pick out defects. We examine other people’s consciences. We want to clean others up whereas we carry our dirt in a hidden and protected body. We wouldn’t talk about our filth. Christ calls us “hypocrite!” That’s exactly how the Pharisees behaved. They were very good in calling people out for their sins while living in denial. It is important today to do some self-reflection and find out what we need to clean up inside ourselves, then we can adjust properly to clean others up. The wooden beam blurs your vision to remove what is in the other person’s eyes. Here is what Saint Paul says, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:1-4).
The third challenge is Christ’s remark, “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.” Continuing from the preceding argument, the type of judgment we pass shows how much of who we are. The kind of judgment we pass tells about our inner disposition. Our mouth speaks mercy if our hearts contain mercy. Our mouth proclaims peace if we have peace within us. While growing up, some of us are brought up in unfriendly environments while some are brought up in friendly caring environments. Some individuals grow up not knowing what it means to receive care and support. Some never heard the words, “I love you” from their primary caregivers. Some never knew what it meant to empathize or show compassion. Some never knew what it meant to feel with those in pain. There are some who don’t understand what it means to show mercy. Such individuals will hardly show mercy, compassion, and care to those around them. Their words portray internal brokenness. Individuals who experience disruption usually express same in different ways. Individuals who experience love and mercy usually express love and mercy. Christ says, “For every tree is known by its own fruit.”
Today, as Christians, we are called to bear fruits that show our Christian environment. We are manured each day with the word of God. We take in love, truth, justice, compassion, holiness, and forgiveness. We store up these fruits inside ourselves. We are fed with the Bread of Life in the Blessed Eucharist. We should in turn bear such fruits that bring life to others. Let us not bear rotten fruits of sin and negativity. Let us not be blind leaders in our homes, offices, and relationships. Let us bring life to those around us. The good news is that we are called to the life that transcends the physical. We belong ultimately to immortality. We have the power to conquer sin and death. We bear the fruit of life.
WHEN THE CHRISTIAN STANDARD GETS REALLY TOUGH
Readings: 1st- 1 Sam. 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Gospel- Lk. 6:27-38
We face the very tough demands of the Christian life in today’s readings- the huge call for forgiveness. Recently, I had someone ask me this question, “Father, what does forgiveness mean for you?” I bet you, that could be a hard question especially for someone who is hurting and still having resentments. David helps to unpack that in the first reading, whereas Christ takes it higher in the gospel.
Saul, is a known enemy to David. He vows to kill him. He plans and tries to carry it out. He pursues David all over, sets traps to catch him. In the reading, he follows him into the desert of Ziph. Fortunately, for David, Saul and his military general fall asleep. David comes so close with all the opportunities to revenge. His army general Abishai pushes him so hard. He doesn’t even ask David to commit the act himself, but here he says, “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day. Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I will not need a second thrust!” This can be called “Killing made easy.” Abishai will do it for David, so it’s no big deal for him. What is going on in your mind at this moment? Just hold to your thoughts, but hear David’s reply, “Do not harm him, for who can lay his hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?” Then, David takes only Saul’s spear and water jug and summons him from afar.
The few questions from this encounter include the position of Abishai, the response from David, and the status of Saul. There is no doubt that many of us, I mean, the majority, would take the position of Abishai. We might take the opportunity for revenge if we have such. Let’s not go to the extreme instance of killing someone. But think of someone who used to be your close friend. Or your ex-husband/wife. He/she offends you in some serious way and both of you part ways. You’re no longer friends. You feel disappointed because she’s betrayed you or disappointed you. You are still bearing the hurt. Now you’re the boss in a company. You advertise for an open position in your office and new hires are showing up for interview. Here comes your former friend. You are the one to interview her. You are the one to make the final decision and recommend her for the job. What exactly would you do?
It’s possible to see David as a weakling in this scenario. Why should he spare a known enemy? Why not kill Saul and have the whole thing done with? The question becomes, “Is David really weak?” The answer is found in his statement to Saul when he wakes him up; “The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness. Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:23). David takes the battle to God. He recognizes that God has the power to fight on his behalf. He understands that God’s justice and faithfulness give the persecutor numerous chances to repent. He confirms what we hear in the Psalms, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness” (103:8). God is David’s strength.
The real dilemma in this story is about Saul. And the question to reflect upon is, “Does Saul represent God’s anointed with such an evil mind as his?” We might even go further to ask, “Does he deserve mercy?” Obviously, Saul doesn’t portray the mercy of God. He is brutal and destructive. His intention is clear, to eliminate David. Saul is jealous, unkind, and dangerous. Humanly, speaking, Saul does not deserve David’s mercy. However, Saul still represents God since he occupies the throne. It becomes a recognition of the office he is occupying and the fact that mercy belongs to God and not us. And that’s why David states, “for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed and remain unpunished?” (1 Sam. 26:9). You might want to know what David’s action does to Saul afterwards. Having heard David’s words, Saul says to David, “I have done wrong. Come back, my son David, I will not harm you again, because you have held my life precious today. Indeed, I have been a fool and have made a serious mistake” (1 Sam. 26:21-22). When David hands the spear to Saul, he repeats exactly the same words to him, “The Lord will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness. Today, though the Lord delivered you into my grasp, I would not harm the Lord’s anointed” (v.23-25). Then he adds, “As I valued your life highly today, so may the Lord value my life highly and deliver me from all difficulties” (v.24). Saul then blesses David. Isn’t that an interesting movie to watch?
Jesus breaks it down for us in the gospel with real difficult demands, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:28). How is that possible? The answer is that Jesus wants us to act like God, a very high standard. God sends his rain and sunshine upon everyone, good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad ones act against God and his commandment. Sometimes, they refuse to even believe that God exists despite that He created them. Still, God doesn’t withdraw his favors from such people.
Remember Simon, the Pharisee, who invites Jesus to dine in his house. Scripture tells us that as Jesus enters Simon’s house, “a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee” (Lk. 7:37) stumbles in. She begins to weep and to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. Simon reacts in a human way by expecting Jesus to send that woman away. Jesus reprimands Simon and says to him, “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love” (Lk. 7:47).
Numerous demanding statements stand out in the gospel teaching today (Luke 6):
- “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
- ”If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?”
- “But rather, love your enemies and do good to them.”
- “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
- “Stop judging and you will not be judged.”
- “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.”
- “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
- “Give and gifts will be given to you”
I bet you, Jesus knows how tough these demands are for us as human beings. It goes back to the question that I was asked at the beginning, “What does forgiveness mean to you?” It is always good to bring God into the picture as you struggle. It’s worse when your detractor isn’t repentant or keeps making you feel guilty. You live with the wicked man/woman. He/she is unrepentant and evil. Go back and read the story of David and Saul in 1 Samuel, chapter 26. It could give you some strength. The important thing is how you heal from your pains and hurts. You need to leave resentment behind for complete and effective healing. It might take a while, but that’s the way forward. God can do it for you because He “will reward each man for his justice and faithfulness” (1 Sam. 26:23). I’m not sure that God is going to lower the standard from what it is and what Jesus tells us. Just remember this, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s the golden rule. And Paul says, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:18-19).
THE TWO WAYS: BLESSINGS OR CURSE
Readings: 1st- Jer. 17:5-8; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:12, 16-20; Gospel- Lk. 6:17, 20-26
The beatitudes can be said to be Christ’s punchline in his teaching. The reason is both because of its rich content and the manner of its delivery. In terms of delivery, the beatitudes show one instance where Jesus comes down to stand on the stretch of level ground with his audience. He ministers to a diverse group of people, and teaches a vast number of people “from all parts of Judaea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,” (Lk. 6:17-18). The beatitudes constitute a far-reaching spiritual and theological message for today’s world. They present two consequences for human choices in life: the way of blessedness or the way of curse.
First, Jesus reveals the great conditions of discipleship and salvation to his listeners. That is the positive reward known as blessings: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” That’s the first option.
Different types of blessings exist. Blessings can come directly from God as a reward or favor for good acts performed. When Abraham responded to God’s invitation to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, God said to Abraham, “I swear by myself, that because you have acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore” (Gen. 22:15). Blessings can be given by a priest or an anointed man of God upon someone. When Abraham came back from his victory, he encountered the priest Melchizedek. Scriptures say, “Being a priest of God Most High, Melchizedek blessed Abram with the words, “Blessed be Abram by God most High, the creator of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14: 18-20). Blessings can also come from one individual upon another in the form of prayerful wish. Saint Paul enjoins believers, “Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them” (Rom. 12:15). However, one way to be blessed is to do the will of God. We sing in the Psalms, “O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Ps. 128:1).
The unfortunate alternative to blessings is the way of curse. Jesus states, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.” What we see in these statements is that the present or immediate conditions and actions greatly determine what happens in the future. There is nothing wrong in having a quality life, nothing wrong about being happy. There’s nothing wrong about having a good name. But there is everything wrong in not helping others with one’s riches. There’s everything wrong in being selfish. There’s everything wrong in being a tyrant. Those are precisely what Jesus condemns. The rich have received their consolation here unlike the poor who will be compensated. Those who are filled now, those who laugh, and those spoken well of infamously, will all receive their punishment at the end of time.
People dwell in curses simply because of their lack of understanding of the true meaning of life. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). That’s misery, that’s the reason for woes or curses. Those whose riches lead to neglect of the poor, surely, laugh now. Such persons derive happiness from their possessions. They circle within their fellow rich often times living a compensatory life. They only give favors for favors and have nothing to do with the poor. They laugh and smile now based totally on their riches. They will seize laughing sometime in eternal future like the biblical rich man who laughed at poor Lazarus.
Ordinarily, everyone loves blessings, and would want blessings wished or prayed over him. In the Old Testament, God spoke to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons and say: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. You will say: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his face and bring you peace” (Num. 6:22-26). Jeremiah uses the metaphor of a tree planted beside the waters to describe the meaning of blessedness, “He is like the tree planted besides the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: its leaves stay green.” Certainly, we all would want to be blessed.
Jesus reminds us that blessedness comes from real poverty which involves self-emptying. Real hunger is the desire for God and for supernatural things. The spiritual benefits are far more than any immediate gratification since God is the source of all blessings. Saint Paul recounts, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
We have to work for our blessings. We have to keep trusting God. The way of Blessedness is not a checklist to be marked off on our calendar of events or a duty to be checked off on our Day-Timer. It is a way of life to be constantly lived out which culminates in the eternal reward at the end of time. We are blessed when we empty ourselves of earthly riches and glories. We are blessed when we hunger to do good. We are blessed when we to defend the oppressed. We are blessed when we suffer for the sake of God by speaking up for the weak. We are blessed when we defend the rights of the unborn. We are blessed when we place God at the center of our lives.
One of my friends, each time I asked him, “How are you?” would always respond, “I am blessed.” Sure, we want to stay blessed. Remember these words from Jesus, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Lk. 6:22-23). Work out your blessings here, and enjoy them perpetually in heaven. “We are indeed blessed.”
WHEN EVERYTHING ENDS UP IN LOVE
Readings: 1st- Jer. 1:4-5, 17-19; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13; Gospel- Lk. 4:21-20
The second reading presents us with the famous hymn of love from Saint Paul. “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13: 4-8). Everything, according to St. Paul, will end- prophecies, tongues, knowledge. They will all expire but in the end, love will remain. Then he concludes with the famous statement about the three theological virtues: “faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13:13).
I once attended a wedding where at the end of that reading, the priest asked the groom and the bride to substitute the word love with their names while trying to teach them the importance of this great virtue. Maybe we can try that and see how our names fit or doesn’t fit into the qualities of LOVE as described in the reading. For instance, Vin is patient, Vin is kind. Vin is not jealous… Continue, let's see whether you’ll be able to complete the checkboxes. Of course, you’ll know if it corresponds or if it contradicts who you are. Score yourself at the end of that exercise.
The prophet Jeremiah received the great mandate and motivation to proclaim God’s word in the first reading. God reassures him of his love in his ministry. God reminds him that he knows him from his mother’s womb and did consecrate him for a purpose- To tell the people the mind of God for them. God’s command to Jeremiah is this, “Stand up and tell them all that I command you” (Jer. 1:17). That’s the prophetic mission, a tough one indeed. It is not to make people feel “nice” but to speak words of truth that will guarantee their salvation. God knew that the prophet Jeremiah would be rejected because of this message. He would be antagonized and attacked. God says to him, “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer. 1:19).
The experience of Jeremiah is similar to the experience of Christ in the gospel. Jesus begins by reminding his immediate community about his mission, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” His people are astonished and wonder where he’s got the wealth of his knowledge. They know him as the son of Joseph, from a very poor background. So, what makes him extraordinary? They hear about the miracles he’s done in other places such as Capernaum. Why does he not do them there to prove himself? Jesus reminds them that no prophet is accepted by his own people. He cites the experiences of the prophets of the Old Testament- Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Elisha was sent to Naaman in Syria. The people are upset with him for placing himself in the rank of prophets like Elijah and Elisha. If you can’t perform miracles for us, then why equate yourself with the big prophets? “Get out of here!” Elijah made the rains to fall and made food available for the widow of Zarephath. Elisha healed lepers. Jesus’ people are angry with him and want to throw him down from the top of the hill. Jesus escaped them.
If we ask Jesus’ audience to substitute the word love with their names, I’m not sure how far that exercise would fly. They want to hear good news but they are not patient, not kind. They are envious of Jesus. They are arrogant and proud. But that does not deter Jesus from his prophetic mission.
In the beatitudes Jesus teaches, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). The prophet is one who has experienced God in such an intimate way that his divine Word possesses the person. The first Psalm states, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (Ps. 1:1-3). The prophetic life brings persecution and rejection but in the end love triumphs.
The people of Jeremiah’s time expect soft and kind words. The people of Paul’s community expect gifts and charisms. The people of Jesus’ community expect miracles. All these things do not make meaning if they do not communicate love. That is what the prophet brings, God’s message of salvation anchored on truth. The prophet therefore speaks love to God’s people. He does not rely on feelings. The prophet speaks freedom. The prophet speaks AGAPE the real, sacrificial, redeeming love. He/she is not selfish. Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecy. He sacrificed himself to save us from sin and shame. Jesus invites us to his prophetic ministry.
Are you afraid to speak the AGAPE (to your children, spouse, relatives, colleagues, friends), the authentic language of freedom? Hear the words of God to prophet Jeremiah, “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you.” In the New Testament we read, “And Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Truth speaks the language of love (AGAPE) because in truth everything ends up in LOVE.
“FOR REJOICING IN THE LORD MUST BE YOUR STREGTH” (NEH. 8:10)
Readings: 1st- Neh. 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Gospel- Lk. 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Today, we are going to talk about the power of God’s word in the Scripture. We see two issues raised in the readings: the importance of God’s word in the life of the believer and the value of the community. In the first reading, the priest Ezra speaks to a recovering Israelite community. In the gospel, Christ speaks to his home community in Nazareth. In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks about the community of the body of Christ using the analogy of the human body.
Ezra’s community had lost virtually everything due to their exilic experience: their land is annexed with the Persians, their temple of worship destroyed, and their freedom jeopardized. Scripture says, “all the people are weeping.” Ezra comforts them by referencing to God’s Law transmitted through Moses. He reads from the scroll and interprets God’s word to them. Their sorrow can only be transformed into joy if they anchor on God. Hence, the priest states, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
Jesus Christ performs similar priestly role in the gospel of Luke. He comes into the synagogue, and like Ezra, picks up the scroll. Christ reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk. 4:18).
Jesus communicates to us the power in God’s word. Through God’s word, we are set free from the bondage of sin and darkness. At the end of his teaching, Jesus says to the audience, “Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). This goes back to confirm the transfiguration episode whereby Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus. The images of the Law and the Prophet point to Jesus as fulfilment of the status of the Law and the revelations of the prophets. Saint Paul says, “For he (Jesus)himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).Jesus is everything we know about freedom. He is everything we know about anointing. Jesus is everything we know about recovery and healing. Jesus is everything we know about God’s favorable time for his people. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Scriptures, and for that he says, today, everything is being fulfilled in our hearing of God’s word.
The word of God is proclaimed in the community, the body of Christ that is the Church. Saint Paul presents us with an analogy of the human body. Baptism anoints us. It inserts us into the body of Christ, the community of believers. Each of us is therefore a part of this body. We are like the hand or the leg or the eye or any other part of the human body. Some of us are stronger whereas some are weaker than others. We show those strengths in the things we do and by our involvement in the ministries in the church. But we all form an important part in our uniqueness and singularity. Our gifts reflect God’s richness, they do not deflate the strength of the community. Despite the gifts that we all have individually, functioning as a whole brings out the best in us as a community. Paul remarks, “But as it is, God has placed the parts each one of them, in the body as he intended.” Again, he states, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one is honored, all the parts share its joy.”
Again, we go back to Jesus’ statement, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk. 4:18). Jesus wants us to recognize through the community that we have been anointed to work for the good of the members. Baptism empowers us to seek freedom for captives, help for the needy. Today, baptism empowers us to speak out for the protection of the unborn, weak, innocent child in the womb. Baptism challenges us to speak up against the evil of abortion from the moment of conception. The spirit of the Lord has anointed us to be advocates of life.
The king Nehemiah and the priest Ezra gather the people together to inspire them as one body. And the priest says to them, “for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength.” The Bible is God’s word, the greatest book ever written for use by mankind. It directs us on our relationship with God and on our inter-human relationship. Christ summarizes it in the commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). And Jesus says to us today that this scripture is being fulfilled in him.
Rejoicing in the Lord will be our strength once we realize how much the word of God helps us to function as a community. The Psalm says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119: 105). And in the New Testament we read, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The word of God is our strength and wants us to speak God’s truth. If we join hands in defending the weak and the needy, we live up to the demands of the gospel. It is our responsibility. Let the eye not pretend that it doesn’t need the ear. Let the hand pretend as if it doesn’t need the legs. Let us not pretend that the unborn child that is terminated in New York, in California, or in Ohio, doesn’t concern us. It is human and human life remains inviolable anywhere and everywhere. We must join hands to seek the strength of the Lord to do battle against the evil of abortion.
Realize today, that the joy of the Lord is found in the Scriptures. It is a great tool to support one another, the weak and the suffering. A lot of people have gone through difficult times in life but found the light through God’s word in the Scripture. Families have experienced God’s love in the Scripture at those moments of loss and pain. Scripture helps us form a supportive community- sight to the blind, glad tidings to the poor, freedom to captives. Scripture helps us to value our friendship with God and with one another. Ezra says, “rejoicing in the Lord is your strength”. That joy is found in the Scripture. That is the joy which Jesus came to give: in failure, in sickness, in pain, in loss and in grief. Jesus wants us to form one body to fight for the weak. Speak out to set the unborn free today. They are part of us.
Please, let those who are shy be reminded that the joy of the Lord is your strength.