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.
What is the greatest commandment? That
question seems strange. But it becomes understandable when we realize that that
there were at least 613 rules that were developed to implement the Law of
Moses. It’s like today’s legal system. When the legislature makes a bill and
the President signs it into law, there is the still need of making what is
called IRR or implementing rules and regulations. Now some rabbis taught that
all of them were of equal importance while others say that some were more
important than the others. The question put to Jesus (what is the greatest
commandment) was meant to ask Jesus to which side he belongs: to those who say
all are of equal importance or to those who say some are more important than
Jesus replied that the greatest commandment
was the Law of love: to love God AND to love one’s neighbor. Both
have to be obeyed. Moreover, he said that it is from this Law of love that all
the other rules flow. In other words, all the other rules were just ways of practicing
the Law of love in daily life.
PHARISEES. The Pharisees were the ones who
posed this question to Jesus. The name “Pharisee” means “separated”. They were
separated from others by their strict observance of the Law of God. It was a
way of expressing their fidelity to God. They were held in high esteem by the
people because they were hard working and yet found the time to study and
meditate on God’s Law. But if there was one great defect of the Pharisees, it
was not hypocrisy but their great reliance on what they do for God than
on God himself. In other words, they were BSS (mga bilib sa sarili). Perhaps,
we can imitate the work ethic of the Pharisees. We can call it “sipag at tiyaga”.
NEIGHBOR. In Old Testament times, neighbor
was understood as the one who belongs to my family, or my clan, or my people. In
the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us to widen our understanding of
neighbor. Anyone who needs my help, even if he were an enemy, is my neighbor.
And as a Christian, it is my duty to be a neighbor to him. I have to help him.
We have heard the expression, “charity
begins at home”. There is nothing wrong with that. But charity should not end
at home. It must expand outside the home. For example, an alumnus treated to
coffee at Starbucks in Sydney. At the counter, I was pleasantly surprised to
read this sign: “We have already forwarded your donations for the victims of Haiyan.”
Haiyan was the international name for typhoon, “Yolanda”. Australia is so far
from the Philippines, yet these Australians behaved like our neighbors.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. When Jesus
said: “"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, what he
meant was that loving one’s neighbor is as important as loving God.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” has an
important implication. We can rephrase it this way: “Love your neighbor as you love
yourself.” That means that loving oneself is alright. What is wrong is
to love only oneself. Charity begins at home is alright. What is wrong
is for charity to begin and end at home.
Another important point. Jesus did not say
that our love for our neighbor and our love for ourselves should be equal.
What he said was that we should love them in the same way that we love
ourselves. You do good to yourself; you should also do good to others. You don’t
want bad things to happen to yourself; you also do not wish bad things to
happen to others.
Maybe I should add a small note. The Tagalog
translation of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is “Ibigin mo ang iyong kapwa
gaya ng pag-ibig mo sa iyong sarili.” Neighbor is not kapit-bahay but kapwa
tao. Nevertheless, let us remember that when we said that charity
begins at home but should not end there, the nearest people to receive our
charity outside our home is--our kapit-bahay! Remember further
the question posed by Jesus at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which
of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands
of robbers?” We can re-phrase it this way: “Which of these three behaved
like a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Applying this
teaching of Jesus to what he said about loving your neighbor as yourself, it will
come out like this: “Love your kapit-bahay as yourself by
behaving like a good kapit-bahay to them.”
The Cross is the symbol of Christianity.
The first reason is that Jesus redeemed us by dying on the cross. But maybe we
add a second reason. The vertical bar represents love of God. The horizontal
bar represents love of neighbor. The cross cannot be a cross if the vertical bar
and horizontal bar are separated. They have to be together. The second reason
why the cross is a symbol of Christianity is because Jesus gave us the law of
love: love God AND love your neighbor. That is the way Christians love.
To understand the context of today’s gospel
we need to look into the taxation system in Palestine in the time of Jesus. It
is said that half of the family income went to taxes. Some of the taxes people
paid were the following:
1.Men and women, from 12 years
old to 65 years old were taxed 20% of their income.
2.Commercial transaction was 1%.
It was 2% when slaves were bought and sold.
3.There was a salt tax. Salt used
by fishermen to salt fish was taxed.
4.Professional tax. A shoemaker
had to pay 1 denarius a month. 1 denarius was the average daily wage.
5.There was a road tax. You had
to pay a tax to move merchandise from one place to another.
6.Anyone could be forced to
render service to the State for 5 years without pay.
7.Subsidy to the armed forces.
People were obliged to offer hospitality to soldiers. They had to pay a certain
amount for the support of the troops.
8.There was also religious taxes.
a.The shekalim was used for the
maintenance of the Temple.
b.The tithe (1/10) was for the
support of the priests serving at the Temple.
c.First fruits was a tax to pay
for the worship at the Temple.
It is, therefore, easy to see why the
question of the Pharisees and the Herodians was a trap. Jesus would lose the
support of the people if he were to declare that it was the duty of the Jews to
pay taxes to the Romans. Of course, he would get into trouble with the Romans
if he were to declare openly that taxes should not be paid to the government. He
would be considered a leader of a rebellion.
There is something strange also about the
alliance between the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees were
nationalists and anti-Roman. The Herodians were Roman collaborators. It is
strange that they would join forces. Perhaps, it is a case of “The enemy of my
enemy is my friend”, that is, they look at Jesus as a common enemy and
therefore, their working together was something of a marriage of convenience.
To the Pharisees, Jesus by his teachings was a threat to the Jewish religion.
To the Herodians, Jesus was a potential leader against the Romans. Remember
that in the multiplication of the bread, the people wanted to make him king.
What was the meaning of Jesus’ response:
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”? They
paid to Caesar what belonged to Caesar by using the coins that the Roman
government issued. But they have not paid to God what belongs to God because of
their hypocrisy. They have not practiced honesty and justice as demanded by the
Law of God.
Giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and
to God what belongs to God is called justice. Justice is a virtue, a good
habit, which makes us give to everyone, God and man, what they have a right to.
And because virtue is a habit, it means that someone, who possesses this
virtue, constantly gives to everyone what they have a right to, constantly and
not once in a while.
How is this virtue practiced in daily life?
Parents work to send their children to
school. This is not only a matter of love but a matter of justice. Children
take their studies seriously. This is not only a matter of gratitude, but a
matter of justice.
Government officials do not overprice the
purchase of medicine. This is not only a matter of honesty. It is a matter of
Government contractors do not build
substandard roads. This is not only a matter of honesty. It is a matter of
When vendors in the market sell you 3 kilos
of meat, you really receive 3 kilos of meat. It is not only a matter of
honesty. It is a matter of justice.
Employees do not take home coupon bond from
the office for the school reports of their children. It is not only a matter of
honesty. It is a matter of justice.
Employers remit the SSS contribution of
their employees together with their own. It is not only a matter of honesty and
charity. It is a matter of justice.
We go to Mass on Sundays not only because
it is the third commandment but because God has a right to our worship.
When we receive blessings from God, we
should thank him not only because it is a matter of gratitude but because it is
a matter of justice. God has a right to receive thanks from us.
Obedience to God’s commandments is justice.
God has a right to receive obedience from his creatures. But as Christians, our
obedience to God’s commandments goes one step further. Because God is also our
Father in heaven, our obedience to his commandments is above all, an act of
love. In other words, for us Christians the practice of justice is the basic
step. Justice must always be followed. But it does not stop there; it must be
made perfect by love.
We do not have the right to be forgiven by
God after so many sins he has forgiven. But he forgives us all the same.
Because he loves us.
A daughter, who had been a black sheep of
the family, went one step further. She got pregnant while in college. She was
already 5 years in college and she had been either shifting courses or
transferring from one college to another. Her mother suffered in silence. Hindi siya sinumbatan. Was it because of
justice on the part of her mother? Certainly not! It was because of a mother’s love.
Today’s teaching: christians practice
justice that is perfected by love.
The parable is about a father and his two
sons. He went to the first and told him to go and work in the vineyard. He
refused to, but then changed his mind and went. The father, therefore, went to
his other son who said he would go and work, but did not.
Take note that Jesus addressed the parable
to chief priests and elders of the people. The parable, therefore, is about
them. What was Jesus telling them through the parable?
They are like the second son who accepted
the Law of Moses but rejected Jesus and his message. The first son is the sinners
who disobeyed God’s Law, but on hearing the preaching of Jesus, repented.
What lesson can we learn from this parable,
we who are living about two thousand years later?
The first son disobeyed but repented. We
may disobey God’s Law. We may commit sin. But repentance is always possible.
Remember St. Peter. He denied Jesus not only once but three times. But after
the Resurrection, Jesus gave him the opportunity to repent by asking him three
times: “Do you love me?” The thief, Hestas, was sinner. But at the end of his
life, he repented. And Jesus accepted his repentance. It was only to him that
Jesus ever said: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The second son was about to obey but
disobeyed in the end. Even if we have been trying to be good and perhaps, have
been successful, we should not be too sure about ourselves. We might find
ourselves giving in to temptation later.
Let us go deeper and examine the issue of “sin”
which is to say “no” to God, like the first son who said “no” to his father.
Sin is also committed when we disobey God’s commandments, like the second son
who after saying “yes” to his father’s command, disobeyed by not working in the
Question 1: Do we commit sin because we
disobey a commandment?
Answer: No. We commit sin when we do
Consider this. A doctor was commanded by
the hospital director to perform an abortion. He refuses. Did he commit sin by
disobeying the command of the director? Of course, not.
But take note. God commands us to avoid
certain things precisely because those things are bad. For example, to steal is
sinful because taking what belongs to someone else is bad. That is why he
commands us: do not steal.
Question 2: Someone says: “I will lead a sinful
life. But before I die, I will repent so that I will go to heaven.” Will he be
Answer: Probably not. Why? Because someone
who says that is not sincerely sorry. Now how can you be forgiven if you are
not really sorry?
Question 3: There are some bad people who
seem to escape punishment. Isn’t that unfair?
Answer: God rewards the good and punishes the
wicked. If someone does not get punished here on earth, then he will surely
receive punishment in the next life. Remember that God sees everything. There
is no secret that can be kept from God. And no one can bribe God.
Question 4: Suppose you know someone who
seems to be far from God. Is there hope that he will be converted?
Answer: Yes. St. Monica prayed for the conversion
of her son. He did not change. But St. Monica persevered in prayer. Not only
did her son become good, but he also become a Christian, then a priest, then a
bishop and then a Saint, St. Augustine.
One Salesian shared this story. His father
was far from God. When he entered the seminary, he prayed to God for the
conversion of his father. He continued to pray for him until he became a
priest. One day his father was hospitalized. In the ICU he asked his wife to
call for a priest. He died at peace with God.
So, is there hope for someone who has been
living far from God to be converted? Yes, there is. But we might have to pray
for years to obtain his conversion.
1. We commit sin when we do
2. If someone says that he will live
a life of sin and then repent before he dies, he will probably be not forgiven
because he is not sincere.
3.Someone who escapes punishment
in this life for his sins will not escape it in the next life.
4.There is always hope that bad person
will change and be converted. Our prayers will help. But sometimes we may have
to pray very long for that conversion to happen.
I DON'T EXACTLY REMEMBER WHERE I GOT THIS TOUCHING STORY. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN FROM READER'S DIGEST.
The incessant drizzle outside the Ming Yang
Correctional High School makes the reception room even more cold and empty. Lin
Meiyun sits and waits at one end of a long table.
The silence in the room of the juvenile
detention centre in Taiwan is amplified by the sound of her heartbeat. Lin
tells herself, “Calm down. No matter what happens, don’t get angry.” At last,
the door opens. A teenage boy, escorted by a counsellor, appears. His name is
Yang. The scrawny little boy she saw years ago has grown into a tall, young
man. The honest and bashful look on his face reminds her of her only son, Teng
Looking at the boy in front of her, tears
well up in Lin’s eyes. This is the person who had killed her son three years
ago, stabbing him in the chest with a knife. No words are exchanged as they
stare at each other in silence, their emotions frozen in the frigid air.
Breaking the silence, Yang stammers, “Mrs
You,” referring to Lin’s married name. With tears streaming down his face, he
continues, “Can I hug you?”
Lin nods. Yang hugs her tightly as pent up
emotions give way to uncontrollable sobbing. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I am
sorry,” Yang says over and over again. His words unlock the chains of hatred
and misery that have bound Lin’s heart for so long. At that very moment, her
shackled soul is set free.
It was difficult for Lin to give up her need
for revenge. She wanted Yang and his family dead. She even started stalking his
parents. That was when she saw Yang’s mother selling magnolias amidst the
bustling traffic. His father, whose hand had been amputated in a car accident,
was using his good arm to sell flowers, receive money and return change. In
that moment, Lin felt empathy – Yang’s parents were as poor as she was. She
remembered similar hardships when her husband had been bedridden for a long
period of time. Back then, Lin held down two jobs washing dishes and cars to
make a living. She also grew vegetables to sustain the family.
Yang’s parents were victims of circumstance,
just like her. They were reduced to selling flowers by the road to pay the
court-ordered compensation. Looking at them from across the street, Lin’s anger
“Even if I were to kill [Yang], it wouldn’t bring
back my son. And my hatred would cause another family to suffer.” Lin thought
to herself, “If my son were the one who committed the mistake, wouldn’t I also
hope for forgiveness?”