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.
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?”
This Sunday’s Gospel may be divided into
two parts: (a) Steps to be taken when you are offended by a member of the
Christian community; and (b) the power of the prayer of the Christian
community. The first part begins with the words: ““If your brother sins against
you….” The second part begins with the words: “if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray….”
To be a Christian is something between God
and me. In other words, to be a Christian believer is a private matter. Agree
or disagree? Many people will agree with this statement. That it is a private
matter. But the gospel today disagrees. The two teachings of this Sunday assume
that to be a Christian means to belong to a community. To be Christian means to
belong to a church. In fact, the Greek word for church (“ekklesia”) means an
assembly or a gathering. For this reason there is the church or Christian
community called a parish, then a diocese, then the church in a country and finally,
the universal church.
As I have said, today’s Gospel contains two
teachings about life in this community or church. The first teaching is how to
deal with broken relationships. When someone offends you or you offend someone,
this results in a broken relationship. When someone behaves badly, especially
when it gives the community a bad name, this results in a broken relationship
between the individual and the community.
So what do you do? Jesus counsels a low-key
approach. Go to the erring brother or sister and tell him or her his or her
fault. For example, “When you gave away the chocolate I gave you, I felt
offended.” You state specifically the offending behavior and then how it has
affected you. Another example. “When your father saw you low grades, he felt
that you did not appreciate the sacrifices he has made by working outside the
country.” These are called a “you messages”.
But sometimes, the first step that we
should take is to verify whether something is true or not. For example, “This
morning you did not return my greeting. Were you angry with me?” Or “I heard
from an office mate that you said that I was flirting with so and so. Is it
true?” More often than not, “chismis” is nothing else but a made up story.
If the offending person refuses to accept
his fault, then bring along one or two others in the hope that the offending
person will be convinced that the fault you are pointing out to him is not just
your opinion, but that it is really a fault.
The third stage is about excommunication,
and it is for very serious matters only. It is to bring the fault to the
attention of the community. And if the offending member still refuses to accept
his fault, the community must treat him like a Gentile or tax collector. That
is, treat him like an outcast. A Catholic who is excommunicated may attend Mass
but cannot receive Holy Communion, for example. He cannot be buried in a
Sometimes the excommunication is formal. Fr.
Daniel of Brazilwas excommunicated by his bishop because he refused a direct
order from his bishop to apologize for or retract his statement that love was
possible between people of the same sex. The priest also said a married person
who chose to have an affair, heterosexual or otherwise, would not be unfaithful
as long as that person's spouse allowed it.
At other times the excommunication is
automatic. For example, everyone involved in an abortion is automatically excommunicated.
Excommunication is meant to make it very clear
to the person who is excommunicated that his behavior or his teaching is
unacceptable. It is meant to wake up the person (“matauhan”) and thus, be moved
to repentance. An American Sister who allowed an abortion was excommunicated
but repented and was later reconciled to the Church.
Finally, the gospel for this Sunday ends
with these words: “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they
are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two
or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
I use Facebook not only as a social media
but also as a media for evangelization and promotion of Don Bosco. There have
been instances when I would be updating my posts that a message would pop up
asking for prayers. A few days ago I received this message: “father
pa help po pa pray mom ko na makalabas na sya hospital and good health po. Tnx.”
I am sure that I was not the only one he asked to pray for his mom. This
alumnus of DB Mandaluyong was taking advantage of the power of prayer of many. At the same time, let us truly say a prayer
when requested. It really doesn’t take long. And it doesn’t take many words. In
this particular case, I prayed like this: “Please, Lord, do take care of his
Today’s Gospel gives us
two lessons to bring home with us: (1) Regarding relationships: Let us verify
whether an offense was really committed. If an offense was committed, let us
use “you messages”, that is, let us state the offending behavior and then how
it has affected us. Having one or two to back us up may be helpful. And (2) The
prayer of many is powerful. And when we are asked for prayers, let us really
say a prayer.
Today’s Gospel is divided into two parts:
(1) Jesus talks about his suffering and death. Peter reacts negatively to this
proclamation. That earns Peter the rebuke of “get behind me, Satan”; and (2)
Jesus faces his disciples and tells them that the way of the Cross is not only
for him but for those who wish to follow him.
Jesus began to show his disciples that he
must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and
the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Take note that Jesus said he MUST go,
suffer, be put to death and then be raised. That was part of his Father’s plan
and so he had to do his part. Jesus was always obedient to the Father’s will.
After his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, he told his disciples
that his bread was to do the will of the Father who sent him. At his agony at
the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed that if it were possible let the cup of
suffering be taken away from him. But he ended his plea with the words, “Yet
not my will but yours be done.” Jesus courageously met the gruesome death of
the cross. That was why on the cross, he was able to tell his Father: “Consummatum
est.” It is finished. Mission accomplished!
But let us not forget the complete
statement of Jesus. He did not only say that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer
and die. He said that after dying on the cross, he would be raised on the third
day. The story of Jesus was not a tragedy. His story does not end in death. It
ends with his resurrection AND ascension into heaven. That’s why he said he would
be RAISED—raised from the death and raised up into heaven.
The story of Jesus ended in victory. And
that is how God wants our own personal story to end. He doesn’t want our story
to end in the tomb. He doesn’t want our death to be the end of our existence.
There is an after-life. There is life beyond the grave. In fact, heaven is
waiting for us for heaven is the place where we belong. What Jesus told his
disciples, he also tells us. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If
that were not so, would have I told you that I am going there to prepare a
place for you?” (Jn 14:2)
There are two other teachings for us in
this statement of Jesus.
To gain the glory of his resurrection and
ascension, Jesus had to suffer and die. To arrive at Easter Sunday and
Ascension Day, he had to go through Good Friday. The same rule applies to us. This
rule is behind the quotations: “No pain; no gain. Pag may tiyaga; may nilaga.”
This rule is behind the secret formula of deferred gratification. You pass the
board exams because you had to spend time to review. And review entailed
self-discipline on your part.
Filipino archer Earl Benjamin Yap bagged
the gold medal in the 15th Asian Archery Championships held in China on Monday.
The first time ever for the Philippines. What was his secret? Not only talent
but also the discipline of practice, practice, practice.
Raquel Choa was born into poverty and was
forced to sell candles and sampaguita on the streets as a child. At 12 years
old she was brought by her grandmother here (Laguna) from Cebu to work as a
kasambahay. But she’s no longer here in Laguna. She’s now in Cebu with her
husband and 8 children. She has become rich selling Ralfe Gourmet supplying
chocolates to various high-end local hotels, resorts and airports throughout
the country. During the interview with Karen Davila, she asked Raquel why she
was crying. Her answer: “Hindi ko kasi aakalain na malalampasan ko ang buhay na
mahirap." Her secret? Hard work.
There is a second teaching that we may find
comforting. God the Father did not leave Jesus dead. He is so powerful that he
raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand. Yes, God is so powerful
that he can write straight with crooked lines. God can bring good out of evil.
No evil that men can do can ever frustrate the designs of God. Therefore, if we
but entrust ourselves into the hands of this powerful but tender God, is there
no reason why we should not be able to sleep peacefully at night? Jesus assures
us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to
the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are
counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” St.
Teresa of Avila believed this in her heart. That’s why she was able to give this advice: “Let
nothing perturb you.”
Today’s Gospel reading contains many
lessons for us. There are three teachings which we can bring home with us. (1)
Death is not the end of our existence. Heaven is waiting for us in the
after-life. (2) Easter Sunday and Ascension Day are reached by passing through
Good Friday. That is also the rule of life. Kung may tiyaga; may nilaga. And (3)
Because we have a powerful and tender God, let nothing perturb you.
Today’s gospel reading may be divided into
three acts or scenes: (a) Jesus asked his disciples who people think he is; (b)
Jesus asked his disciples who they think he is. Peter answers in the name of
the disciples; and (c) Jesus makes a solemn pronouncement to Peter.
The solemn pronouncement made by Jesus to
Peter is of great importance because it establishes the primacy of Peter and
his successors. It is on this text that the position of Pope Francis and his
We must consider the fact that the Gospel
of St. Matthew was written for the Jewish Christians living in Galilee and
Syria. The purpose of the Evangelist was to strengthen their faith because they
were starting to have doubts. They were also being persecuted and so the
Evangelist wanted to encourage them to be strong. How does he do this? By recalling
the confession of faith that Peter had made in Caesarea Philippi: “You are the
Christ, the Son of the living God.” And then by ratifying that confession of
faith when Jesus responded by saying: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For
flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
Now we shall focus our attention on the words
of Jesus. These are the three statements: (a) Blessed are you, Simon son of
Jonah; (b) You are Rock and on this rock I will be build my church; and (c) I
will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you, Simon son of John. Jesus tells
Peter that he is blessed because God had given him the gift of faith to believe
that Jesus was the Son of God. Now not everyone has been given this gift of
faith. Not everyone accepts Jesus as Son of God. The Muslims, for example,
accept Jesus as a prophet but not as Son of God. We should, therefore, be
thankful for the gift of faith. We should value this gift. It would not be
right for us to say that being a Catholic and being born again or being INC are the same thing. No. It is not the same thing. How can we say that?
Because they do not believe in all the things that we believe in.
You are Rock and on this rock, I will build
my church. The original name of Peter was Simon. After that confession of
faith, Jesus changed his name to Cephas. Now Jesus did not speak Greek or
Latin. He, like the other Jews living in the Holy Land, spoke Aramaic. Cephas comes
from the Aramaic word “kepa” which means rock. The Greek form would be Petros
and Petra. Petros is Peter and Petra is rock. When a person is given a new name
in the Bible, it means that he is also being given a mission. His mission would
be to be a witness to Jesus and on his testimony Christians can find a strong foundation
for their faith. Pope Francis will come to the Philippines in January. He will,
of course, comfort the victims of Yolanda. But he comes as a pastor. That is
why his visit is called an apostolic visit. And the purpose of any visit of the
Pope is to strengthen the faith of the Catholics there.
Jesus makes a very important pronouncement.
On this rock I will build my church. Jesus will build his church on Peter. He
did not say that he will build his church on Felix Manalo who founded the INC.
He did not say that he will build his church on Joseph Smith who founded the
Mormons. He did not say that he will build his church on Ellen White, one of
the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Jesus said that it was on
Peter on which he will build his church.
Finally, Jesus gave to Peter the power of
the keys. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind
on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be
loosed in heaven.” The power to bind and to loosen is the power to permit and to
forbid. But it also includes the power to reconcile and to forgive. And this
power is exercised in a very special way in the Sacrament of Confession. It is
not surprising then that the official name of this sacrament is the Sacrament
of Reconciliation. In this sacrament the sinner (and all of us are sinners,
right?) is reconciled to God through the ministry of the priest. Pope Francis
gives importance to this Sacrament. For example, in the last World Youth Day in
Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis heard confessions of the young pilgrims.
We can bring home with us three teachings
from the Gospel: (1) We should be happy and grateful because we have been given
the gift of the Catholic Faith. (2) We should hold fast to our Catholic faith
because our faith rests on the witness of Peter, the rock on which Jesus built
his church. And (3) we should value confession because it is the Sacrament
through which we sinners are reconciled to God.
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region
of Tyre and Sidon.
It is outside the land of Israel. It is
pagan territory (non-Jewish) inhabited by Canaanites, long-time enemies of
Israel. Tyre and Sidon are found in modern-day Lebanon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that
district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter
is tormented by a demon.”
Only Jews would be familiar with the title,
“Son of David”. And they would use it only for the promised Messiah. How did a
Canaanite woman who was not a Jew learn about this title? Did she know what it
meant? Is this a sign of the beginning of faith in Jesus Christ?
In those days people did not know about
germs and viruses. They thought that illness was caused by evil spirits. That’s
why she did not say: “My daughter is sick.” Instead she said: “MY daughter is
tormented by a demon.” So that her daughter would get well, she would ask Jesus
to drive away the demon.
Even today some Filipinos would resort to “tawas”
to find out why someone is sick. Even today some Filipinos would explain why
someone is sick by saying: “Nakulam.”
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to
Why did he not mind the woman? Jesus
explains his behavior this way: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send
her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
The woman was making a scene. She was creating
a scandal. And the disciples were not comfortable at all the people looking at
This woman would not take no for an answer.
She wouldn’t give up even if Jesus was not minding her. She was persistent.
Why? Because a mother would do everything to make her child get well.
Matthew included this story in his gospel in order to teach us about perseverance
in prayer, about praying and not getting discouraged. Maybe St. Matthew used this
story of the Canaanite woman in order to explain this saying of Jesus: "Ask,
and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened
for you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks
it will be opened.” (Mt 7:7-8)
But the woman came and did Jesus homage,
saying, “Lord, help me.”
What does “did him
homage” mean? It means to bow. Is this a sign of respect. Or is this already,
as I have said, an expression of faith, that Jesus was not an ordinary man but at
least, a man of God.
He said in reply, “It is not right to take
the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
The Jews called pagans
“dogs”. It was supposed to be an insult. Did Jesus mean to insult the woman?
This would be out of character for Jesus. I would think that if Jesus were
texting, he would put a smiley at the end of his text message.
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs
eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
This woman was not only
persistent. She was also witty. She used the very words of Jesus to get him to
grant her wish for her daughter’s healing.
This reminds me of a
conversation between St. Teresa of Avila and Jesus. She was on her way to visit
one of the convents which she had established. But the heavy rains had swollen
the river. She could not cross it. And that made her angry. Then Jesus appeared
to her and said: “That is how I treat my friends.” St. Teresa, who was also a
witty woman, retorted: “That explains why you have so few friends!”
Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman,
great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s
daughter was healed from that hour.
Faith is the key that
unlocks the blessings from heaven. Faith makes it possible for us to receive
the graces that God wants to give to his children. God’s blessings are like
rain that falls from the sky. If we have faith, our hands would be open to
catch these blessings. But if our faith were weak, then our hands would be
closed and these blessings would slide away from our grasp.
If we have a weak
faith, it would not really be a big problem. Faith is gift from God. Because it
is a gift, we can ask for it, we can pray for it. And we shall receive
sufficient faith. For did not Jesus promise us: Ask and you shall receive.
Today’s gospel teaches
us three lessons: (1) Prayer that does not give in to discouragement because it
comes from a strong faith; (2) Faith is necessary for us to receive the
blessings from heaven; and (3) If our faith is weak, then we can pray for a strong faith because Jesus promised: Ask and you shall receive.