The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance. Applying exegesis should make our reflection on the readings of the Sunday Liturgy more fruitful and helpful.
Some Greeks said: “We want to see Jesus?”
Why? Because they heard he was a wonder-worker and wanted to see him perform a
miracle? Because they heard he was a rabbi and wanted him to answer a question?
Do you also wish to see Jesus? Is it because
you want to ask him for a favor? Perhaps you are a teacher and is about to take
the LET exams at the end of the month. So you are praying to pass that board
exams. Is it because there is something you can’t understand and you want him
to explain it to you? Perhaps you have a problem child and you want to ask him,
“Lord, saan ako nagkamali?” Perhaps you lost a loved one and you want to ask
him, “Why did you allow this to happen?” Do you want to see Jesus? Someone may
answer, “No.” “Why not?” “Kasi wala naman akong kailangan.” O kaya, “Hindi ako
interesado sa kanya.” How about you? Do you want to see Jesus?
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be
glorified.” Is it not strange that Jesus calls his passion and death on the
cross a glorification? It is a glorification if we keep in mind that his
crucifixion was the triumph of love. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans said:
“Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps
for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love
for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Mahirap
mangyaring ialay ninuman ang kanyang buhay alang-alang sa isang taong matuwid,
kahit na maaaring may mangahas na gumawa nito alang-alang sa isang taong
mabuti. Ngunit ipinadama ng Diyos ang kanyang pag-ibig sa atin nang mamatay si
Cristo para sa atin noong tayo'y makasalanan pa.)” (Rom 5:7-8).
Any act of love is a glorification, especially
if it is done at a cost of great sacrifice. A crew member who survived the
sinking of Princess of the Orient on September 18, 1998 tells this story: “I
saw my captain and Judge German Lee still on the listing ship in the process of
distributing life jackets to the passengers and then in one huge splash, the
ship keeled on its side. It was the last time I saw them.” They could have
taken the life jackets for themselves and left the sinking ship. But they did
not. Instead, they gave out life jackets to the other passengers and in so
doing, sealed their fate. Their death is sad. But it is also a glorification
because their death was the triumph of love for their fellow human beings.
The Parable of the Grain of Wheat. Unless a
grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit. This is a parable explaining the
importance of the death of Jesus on the Cross. His death produced much fruit,
the salvation of all. In your life what needs to die? What needs to be buried? Baka
kailangan mong ibaon sa limot and mga mapapait na pangyayari sa iyong buhay
para maka-move on ka na.
St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Put to
death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion,
evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry and put on the new man/self which
is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator (ang mga
pagnanasang makalaman, ang pakikiapid, kahalayan, mahalay na simbuyo ng
damdamin, masasamang nasa, at ang kasakiman na isang uri ng pagsamba sa
diyus-diyosan. Isinuot ninyo ang bagong pagkatao na patuloy na nababago at
nagiging kalarawan ng Diyos na lumikha sa inyo.)” (Col 3:5.10). One young woman
shared this with me. Her younger brother does not have a job. He is not looking
for one. So he depends on her for money. She doesn’t have the heart to refuse
him. What does he need to put to death? Laziness. What does she need to put to
death? Courage to not tolerate his laziness.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to
this hour. Father, glorify your name.” This is St. John’s version of the agony
in the garden. All three Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk and LK) narrate the agony of
Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. John’s Gospel does not. However, the words
of Jesus (I am troubled now…) is his version of the prayer of Jesus in the
garden: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I
will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).
Jesus saw the suffering that was going to
come upon him: the scourging at the pillar, the three times he would fall under
the weight of the cross, the crucifixion and the three hours of agony on the
cross. But Jesus did not run away. He faced it manfully. What do you usually do
when trials or problems or pain come to you? Are you in the habit of facing
them bravely? Or do you run away from them? Some people seek escape in drugs or
in alcohol. How do you build up the courage to face and overcome the pain, the
sorrow, and the trials that come your way? First, have faith. Believe that you
are not alone. Jesus is with you. Remind yourselves often the words of the
bible: “It is I. Do not be afraid.” And the answer of Jesus to St. Paul’s
prayer, “My grace is enough for you (Ang pagpapala ko ay sapat sa lahat ng
pangangailangan mo.)” (2 Cor 12:9). Second, seek support also from those who
care about you. It is easier to face pain and problems when you know you are
not alone. And you are not alone because God and those who care about you are
by your side, supporting you.
I shall take up four topics from the Gospel of this 4th Sunday of Lent: 1. The Cross, 2. The Gospel, 3. Hell and 4. Light and Darkness.
What is the symbol of Christianity? The
cross. Why? Because Jesus died on the cross for us. Why is the death of Jesus
on the cross so important to Christianity? Because the death of Jesus on the
cross brought us eternal life. What is eternal life? Life that has no end. Is
that all? No. More important than life without end, eternal life means the life
that is given to a human being at Baptism. What is this life? Baptism gives us
a new kind of life, the life of a child of God. God becomes our Father. We
become his children. Does this mean that we don’t have to die first in order to
gain eternal life? Yes, we don’t have to die to gain eternal life. We can
already possess eternal life even while alive on earth. But is there any
difference between eternal life on earth and eternal life in heaven? Yes, there
is. We will use a mango as a comparison. The mango begins as a small flower.
Then it develops into a small mango. As weeks pass, it grows bigger and bigger.
Then it slowly turns from green to yellow. And then one day, the mango ripens
and is ready to be eaten. Eternal life on earth is like the mango that is
developing from a flower to fruit that is turning from green to yellow. Eternal
life in heaven is like the mango that has already ripened and is ready to be
Gospel is the modern English word for the
Old English word, Godspell. Godspell and Gospel are the English translation for
the Greek ‘euangelion’ which means good news or glad tidings. Someone suggested
a more dynamic translation for euangelion, ‘gladdening news’, that is, a news
that makes people glad. What is the gospel message that can gladden people? We
have it in today’s gospel passage: “God so loved the world that in the fullness
of time he sent his only Son so that those who believe in him may not perish
but have eternal life.”
Remember the words for the imposition of
ashes on Ash Wednesday? “Turn away from your sins and believe in the gospel.” To
believe in the gospel means to accept as true the message that God loves us and
wants to save us. And it was for this reason that he sent Jesus, his only Son,
to be our Savior.
Have we allowed Jesus to save us? What does
it mean to allow Jesus to save us?
Imagine yourself swimming in a pool or at
the beach. Supposed you had cramps. You are unable to swim. You begin to sink. You
are in danger of drowning. Now Jesus is the lifeguard. He comes to you and
offers you his hand. “Take my hand,” he tells you. You grasp his hand and he
brings you to safety. You have allowed him to save you.
We allow Jesus to save us when we go to him
and surrender to him ALL our sins, big and small. It is in confession that we
perform the ritual of surrendering to him our sins.
Does God send people to hell?
The Gospel this Sunday seems to say that
God is not the one who sends people to hell. “Those who do not believe are
condemned already.” In other words, our evil deeds which come from unbelief
condemn us to hell already.
LIGHT AND DARKNESS
Light and darkness are symbols of good and
evil. Now Jesus Christ is the light of the world. We can choose to live in his
light. We can also choose to live away from his light and to live in the
shadows. That is, we can choose to good or to be bad; to live in the state of
grace or to live in sin. The Lenten season is a call to leave the shadows and
come into the light. On Ash Wednesday we heard the words, “Turn away from your
sins.” To turn away from sin is in fact the same as to leave the shadows and
come into the light.
Yesterday, Fr. B came and invited me to
join him to exorcise evil spirits from a house. The evil spirits were
disturbing a family that was living there. The day before, Fr. B had already
exorcised the evil spirit that had possessed a 17-yr. old girl who lived in
that house. At first I refused to go because I was afraid that the evil spirit
might jump from the house into me. But he assured me that that only happens in
the movies. In real life, the evil spirit can not possess a priest because he
is protected by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Priesthood. I asked
him why he needed me. He said that he needed the presence of another priest as support
against the evil spirits occupying the house. He used blessed oil, holy water
and blessed salt and prayers of exorcism to drive away the evil spirits. He told
me that evil spirits are fond of occupying bodegas and storerooms that are dirty,
in disorder and dark. That was why he instructed the owners to clean up the
storeroom and install a bulb.
Take note of what the gospel says: “The
light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because
their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and
does not come toward the light.”
This Lenten season let us clean up the
house of our soul, let us put in order our consciences and approach Jesus the
light of the world in the sacrament of confession.
The title of this episode is the “Cleansing
of the Temple”. Jesus drove the sellers out of the Temple area. There would
have been no problem had they been outside. So the question is: how did the
sellers manage to sneak into the Temple area? Probably the temple authorities
permitted them. And it is entirely possible that the sellers were paying them
for this privilege. And this explains the angry reaction of the Temple
authorities. The action of Jesus was an affront to them, to their authority and
to their source of income.
The animals that were being sold were
sheep, oxen and doves. These were for sacrificial offerings. Only in the Temple
were sacrifices offered. The synagogues only had prayer services for the
There were also money changers. The coins
in circulation were minted by the Romans. These contained images of the
emperor. Consequently, they could not be used in the Temple. The money changers
exchanged these coins for coins that had no images in them.
We are used to a Jesus who is kind and
gentle. But here for the first time we are confronted by a Jesus who is angry
and who uses force!
To capture the full significance of this
event, we need to look into what happened before this. The Cleansing of the
Temple was preceded by the Miracle at Cana where at the request of Mary, Jesus
performed his first sign. There he turned water into wine. In St. John’s
gospel, he does not use the word “miracle”. Instead, he used the word “sign”.
And this is because the miracles of Jesus are like signs in that they
communicate a message.
Let us compare the Cleansing of the Temple with the
Miracle at Cana. At Cana there was faith in Jesus. In the Cleansing of the
Temple, there was none. In both places, a sign was given to the people. At
Cana, a miracle was performed. In the Temple, a mysterious statement was given.
“Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This statement was
in response to the challenge of the Temple authorities: “What sign can you show
us for doing this?” St. John explained that Jesus was talking about the temple
of his body. He was talking about his death and eventual resurrection.
What can the Cleansing of the Temple teach
us about our churches?
Our churches are the house of God. It is
reserved for worshiping God. There we celebrate the Sacraments. Therefore, we
must exhibit a respectful behavior. When we enter the church, we must make the
sign of the cross. If there is holy water, we make the sign of the cross with
the holy water. We genuflect or bow towards the Blessed Sacrament.
Jesus cleansed the Temple of sellers. We
need to keep our churches clean of dust and dirt. Some churches have writings
on the pews. That is vandalism and is disrespectful.
Jesus teaches us that there is such a thing
as righteous anger. It is anger you feel in front of something wrong. This is
the kind of anger that is NOT sinful. For instance, when I read that 31 Coptic
Christians were beheaded by Muslim terrorists in Libya, I felt anger. When one
no longer feels angry in the face of evil, it is a bad sign. It means that he
has become at home with evil.
There is also such a thing as unrighteous
anger. For example, a student is scolded by his mother because he has not been
doing his homework. He gets angry and answers back. This is unrighteous anger.
It is sinful.
It is also important to examine what we do
when we are angry. Sometimes a basketball game or a football match becomes
heated. For example, the forward is tackled by the defense, causing both of
them to fall to the ground. The forward loses his temper and hits the defense.
Not only will the forward receive a red card and thrown out of the game. He
also commits sin.
When I was principal, a student disobeyed me. I told him to
return the plastic bowl he used for the morning break. I found that bowl on the
table. He did not return it. I got very mad. I felt my ears burning. But Don
Bosco said that we should not punish when we are angry. So I told the boy to
see me at lunch break. There was a happy ending to that story. Because when he
entered my office, the first words that came out of his mouth were: “Father, I’m
sorry.” So I replied: “OK. All is forgiven. Enjoy your lunch!”
Jesus cleansed the Temple. Lent is a
special time of spiritual cleansing.
Some flagellants say that they do what they
do because of a vow. It is, however, not uncommon to hear this particular reason:
mabawasan ang kasalanan.
We don’t have to join the flagellants to be
spiritually cleansed. In fact it is all very easy. Here are three lines of action:
Line of action number 1: Make a good confession. Line of action number 2: Do penance
in order to strengthen your will power. A strong will power is needed to say “no”
to temptation. For example, give up smoking for Lent and give what you save to the
poor. A second example, for the entire season of Lent, our viand for supper is only
vegetables. And third, every year a young Salesian gives up Facebook during the
Lent. And finally, line of action number 3: Replace sins with virtues. If you tend
to engage in gossip, replace it at least with silence. Do not add to the gossip.
Do not spread the gossip.
Last Ash Wednesday we heard the words, “Turn
away from your sins!” Our task for Lent is spiritual cleansing. Let us approach
Jesus to help us succeed in this spiritual cleansing.
Jesus asked his disciple, “Who do you say
that I am?” Peter answers for all of them, “You are the Christ.” Then Jesus
reveals to them his destiny. He would suffer and die in the hands of sinful men,
but rise again on the third day. That he would suffer and die shocked them so
much that they did not hear the rest of his statement—that he would rise again
on the third day. But to cushion the blow of the prediction of his passion and to
make them remember that the cross would not be the end of his story, Jesus made
Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration.
The Transfiguration took place on a
mountain. Tradition identifies Mt. Tabor as this mountain. Why did it take
place on a mountain. In the OT mountains were the place of encounter with God.
Moses, for example, received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Elijah
experienced the presence of God on Mt. Horeb in the form of a soft breeze.
Moses and Elijah appeared conversing with
Jesus. Moses represented the Law; Elijah, the Prophets. Together the Law and
the Prophets make up the Old Testament. That they appeared together with Jesus
meant that the mission of Jesus was the fulfillment of the OT promises.
Peter wanted to build three tents. If he
was thinking of the Tent of Meeting, he may have in the mind the building of a
shrine. If he was thinking of the tent as a dwelling place, then it would mean
that he wanted to stay there and prolong this extraordinary experience. But it
was not to be because Jesus brought them down from the mountain.
As they were coming down, Jesus commanded
them not to speak about this experience until after the Son of Man had been
raised from the dead. They did not understand what he meant by rising from the
dead in the same way that they did not understand his prediction of the
passion. For the Jews expected the resurrection to happen only on the last day.
And for the Messiah to suffer and die was unthinkable.
In Mk’s gospel, nothing is said about the
brightness of the face of Jesus. He only mentions his clothing turning dazzlingly
white. This transformation was meant to be a preview of the transformation of
Jesus at his resurrection.
THE STORY OF THE TRANSFIGURATION AND LENT
Why was the Transfiguration chosen as the
gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent?
First, the Church wants to remind us even this
early during the Lenten season that the culmination of Lent will be the
celebration of Easter. The Lenten season is a forty-day period of meditating on
the passion and death of Jesus. But it will not end there. It will end with the
triumphant celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Secondly, the Church also wants to remind
us of the work that we must do for Lent. What work must we do? We must repent
and turn away from our sins. If we do this during the Lenten season, the result
will be a change, a transformation into better Christians.
Why do we have to undergo change or
transformation into better Christians? Because the purpose of Easter is not
only to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and but also to celebrate the
change, the transformation into better Christians that happened during Lent.
We can use the mythical bird called the Phoenix
as a reminder of the work we have to do for Lent.
When the Phoenix reaches 500 years old
(some say 2,000), it is ready to die. It prepares a nest of cinnamon twigs
which it turns into a funeral pyre. It burns itself in that pyre. When
everything turns into ashes, something wonderful happens--a newly hatched
Remember the ashes we received on Ash
Wednesday? Do you remember the words that accompanied the giving of ashes? “Turn
away from your sins and believe in Gospel.” If we take seriously this work of
turning away from our sins, then what happened to the Phoenix can happen to us.
From the ashes of Ash Wednesday, we can emerge as changed Christians ready to
celebrate Easter Sunday with the Risen Christ.