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27th Week In Ordinary Time

October 13, 2001 Saturday

   Luke 11:27-28 The Word of God

The brief exchange between Jesus and a woman takes place just after he answers those who cast doubts on his authority to drive away demons (vv. 14-26)and just before he answers those who seek a sign (vv.29-36). Coming right after the the lesson on the return of the evil spirit to that place from where it has been cast off, the exchange would suggest the importance of keeping and acting on the word of God as a remedy for keeping demons away from the human heart. Coming right before vv. 29-36, the macharism that Jesus pronounces functions as a title for the sayings that follow (the sign of Jonah there is the conversion that the prophetic word effects).

The exchange between Jesus and the woman also has the effect of recalling to the readers' or listeners' ears statements earlier made that are worded in a similar way as the macharism. Going backwards, there is the saying about the word of Jesus convoking and gathering together his family (8:21). Then, there is the comparison between the man who hears and does the words of Jesus with someone who builds his house on a firm foundation ( 6:47-48). Further, if one would trace backwards the first time that the participle fulassonteV was used, one would find the shepherds who were keeping watch when the angels first announced the news (2:8) Again, the fact that it is a woman from the crowd who utters the blessing also recalls Elizabeth's exchange with Mary, the Mother of the Lord, she who was called "Blessed" on account of her faith in the news that the angel uttered (1:42). The blessing of the woman, finally, recalls the figure of Mary, the first one who kept the word of the angel and gave it a space within her (1:28). This chain of resonances is evoked at this point of the narrative in preparation for the subsequent sections where the prophetic utterances of Jesus will be directed to Israel's accepted custodians of the Word of God.(vv. 37-54)

If early in the gospel of Luke, there is an exchange between two women celebrating the Word of God, at this point in the road to Jerusalem, a man and a woman exchange words that for the audience of Luke's gospel becomes a signal that henceforward, that which is prophetic will be put into high gear. The Word of God can rouse both joy and sadness (cf. the "Woes" that Jesus will be uttering in 37-54); and if it was a source of joy for Mary, it will be a source of sadness for Jesus. The Via Dolorosa, has begun.

October 12, Friday

    Luke 11:14-26 The One Stronger Than Beelzebul

Outline of the Reading
14-20: By The Finger of God
21-23: The Stronger Man
24-26: The Returning Spirit

Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus continues to drive away demons. But while others ask for more signs (cf. v. 29), some others cast doubt on the authority by which He casts out impure spirits. This tract on exorcism has been placed here by Luke because as Jesus nears Jerusalem, resistance to him becomes increasingly more human.

The response of Jesus to the accussation that he casts by the power of Beelzebul (The Lord of the Flies) is answered in three ways:. The first answer assumes that He is of Beelzebul: if he is of Beelzebul and he is casting out demons, then there must be a division within the former's kingdom. The casting out of demons therefore is a sign of the weakening of the Devil's kingdom and its imminent collapse. The second answer continues the previous assumption that He is of Beelzebul, but he casts doubt on the authority of other exorcists on Judaism. If there is one exorcist found who is working with Beelzebul, perhaps there were others too? The third answer, works on a condition: If it comes to light that Jesus is not of Beelzebul, but is working with authority coming from God, then it is a sign that the reign of God has proleptically come (fqanw.

The dynamics of the reign of God arriving to displace the reign of the Devil is explained in the parable of the Strong and the Stronger Man. The Strong Man maintains the status quo while no one stronger than he is comes. But when the Stronger one arrives (and it is just a matter of time), the Strong Man's protection will be taken away and all his goods will be distributed as booty. Jesus is the Stronger One who has come to dispossess Beelzebul of his goods.

   The parable of the Spirit that returns is perhaps a lesson in demonology that early Christian exorcists learned from their Jewish counterparts. Perhaps it is a lesson that explained the phenomenon of persons whose demons have been cast away but who turned out worse than they were before. The key idea is that when the impure spirit returns from wandering, he finds his former house clean and empty. In other words, once a demon has been cast out of a person, that person should accept something else within him/her other than a demon. Otherwise, the demon that has been cast out will return and take his place once more. Something else must have its dwelling in a man to keep away the demon that has been driven away. From the tenor of its immediate context, it should be the Stronger One which should have its dwelling in a man. In other words, the question about Jesus' authority in casting out demons has been turned by the evangelist into the question of who should be occupying the space in a man's heart.

   Note: In Luke 22:3, Satan enters into the heart of Judas, the image of the disciple who betrays the Lord. It is the case of a disciple who has opened the door to a dispossessed ruler.

October 11, Thursday

Luke 11:5-13 A Lesson In Persistent and Persevering Prayer

Luke's catechism on prayer continues. Verses 5-13 can be subdivided for clarity's sake into 5-8 (A "Who among you..." saying that illustrates persistence in prayer);9-10 (A saying about persistence in prayer) 11-13a (Another "Who among you" saying that drives home the point that God will not refuse the one who prays.

What I have called "Who-among-you" sayings are rhetorical devices that should be distinguished from parables. While a parable is meant to make the listener think (or rethink), "Who-among-you" sayings are meant to induce the listener to accept a subsequent argument as necessarily true. These sayings are so constructed that they make a direct appeal to what the audience would think would happen given a particular situation or circumstance. The appeal however is at the same time couched in narrative form to which the audience must agree on absolutely (otherwise, the appeal won't be effective). Once the situation has been established, the whole point of the saying is expressed. In other words, the "Who-among-you" sayings prepare for the main idea, in this case, verses 9-10, and 13b.

Verses 9-10 (cf. Matthew 7:8) Seen from this perspective becomes a comprehensive teaching on prayer. "" are the verbs that should characterize the prayer of the Christian. There is an "asking" that derives from a basic trust; there is a "seeking" that comes from a conscious need; there is a "knocking" that wants to be heard and responded to. These verses are meant to be memorized so as to become a source of motivation in prayer when prayer itself does not seem to be heard.

Verse 13b would look like a more specific rendering of Matt. 7:11's "good things." But wouldn't it be more correct to say that Luke has in 13b has understood the Holy Spirit as the summation of the "good things" that the disciple should ask for? Some people would argue that Matt. 7:11's "good things" covers all that a human being would need to live, even the physical goods that one needs to keep on going in this life while Lk 11:13b is too spiritual, or one can even say, too "churchy (since what Luke seems to be looking at here is the prayer of the Church, not of the individual)." But if one takes into consideration "life" as it is conceived of biblically (especially under the force of Isaiah's (see 32: 15-20) concept of it: biological vitality, psycho-emotional stability, social security, plus the care and attention of God) then one must admit that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of all other lesser goods in the hierarchy of goods. In other words, if one seeks the Holy Spirit, then all the rest will follow.

Let us consider Is. 32:15-20 : According to this passage, the eschatological gift of the Spirit will bring with it fulness of life, justice and integrity. And it will create a place where there is peace and security such that people will live in secure dwellings, and live stock will roam free. The idyllic image is best understood from within an agricultural background (hence the later addition of the passage according to which, cities will be hewn down (v. 18d.). A passage such as this however should remind us that in biblical thought, the Spirit's power is not limited to what is interior but extends to all that pertains to human life.

October 10, Wednesday

    Luke 11:1-4 The Disciples' Prayer

Luke's version of the Our Father is much shorter than that found in Matthew (6:9ff) and placed in a context that is quite similar. Matthew includes the Lord's Prayer within the Sermon On The Mount, making it paradigmatic prayer of the Disciple. In the Matthaean version, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray in the same spirit as he prays (outwV) Luke on the other hand places the Lord's Prayer as Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem, and turns it into a distinctive prayer for the disciples. He also tells them it should be their prayer (otan proseucesqe legete) Because it is much shorter and simpler in Luke, some scholars regard it as at least the one closer to the original.

    Some years back, a Spanish bible scholar translating Luke's Greek back into Aramaic rendered pater as Abba. "Abba" is undoubtedly a ipsissimum verbum Iesu. Even Paul, preaching to the Gentiles, has been struck by it to such an extent that he even incorporates it into his doctrine of the Christian's filiation (cf. Gal. 4:6; Romans 8:15). Seeing that Luke was writing within the Pauline tradition, and that Paul has these two texts wherein he has pater translating "Abba", our scholar was prompted to "retrotranslate" Luke 11:2's pater as "Abba". If our bible scholar has hit upon the original wording of the Lord's prayer -- at least in this place -- then we can safely say two things: (a) the Lord is passing on his own way of addressing the Father, and (b) the Lord, invites his own disciples to enjoy the same intimacy that he has with the Father.

   This two fold assertion can find support in the Johanine tradition. But we know too that Luke has in 10:21 underlined the kind of intimate knowledge that exists between Jesus, the Father and the disciple.

There are six petitions, all marked by verbs in the imperative. The first two verbs are imperatives in the third person form, and quite solemnly expressed. This first group regards first, the Holy Name, and the Kingdom, respectively. The next four are all imperatives in the second person, with the penultimate in the negative (mh). and regard the needed bread, sin, temptation and evil. The first group of petitions then is concerned with the realization of God's plan. The second group is concerned with the precariousness of the disciples existence: the needed physical sustenance, and all that may draw the Christian away from the fulness of life: sin, the temptation (to fall away), and the Evil One.

The petition to "let your Name be holy" and "let your kingdom come" are both petitions that God realize his design. God acts for the sake of his Holy Name when he will finally re establish lost Israel, and the re establishment of Israel will see the day when he imposes his rule over it. For the re establishment of Israel will coincide with a transformation that he will effect in the human heart; it will be in the heart of man that He will inscribe his Law. Thus, when God makes holy his name, he will also be establishing his rule in men's hearts.

The second group of petitions is for the daily sustenance of the Christian. One may take "the bread for today and tomorrow" as physical bread, or as a metaphor for the following three petitions. In the first case, the petitions would be asking God for daily physical sustenance , and also for sustenance in the daily struggle against one's own egotism (forgiveness and temptation) and the Evil One. In the second case, if the bread being asked for is metaphorical bread, then we will no longer have to wonder about the use of the participle epiousion with kaq emeran. ton arton epiousion should be taken as one phrase denoting the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk. 11:13), and the petition is that it be given daily. This interpretation however should not be misunderstood as mere spiritualizing. We should of course pray for our daily needs, including the bread we eat. But the context of Luke's catechism for prayer, and his understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian makes the second option more probable.

October 9 Tuesday

Luke 10:38-42 The Better Part

Martha and Mary are mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures as the sisters of Lazarus, the friend whom Jesus loved. In this Lucan story, however, no mention is made of Lazarus, and the house which Jesus enters on the way to Jerusalem is said to belong to Martha. The narrative is a pronouncement story about "sitting at the Lord's feet and hearing his word." The actions of the two sisters towards the Lord are not compared, but rather, the significance of what they do are pointed out. Martha gets herself busy in all the chores that pertain to ministering to the Lord (diakonein) in a gesture of hospitality. Mary too was being hospitable to the Lord: she sat at his feet and listened to his word. The question that Martha raises must be the question that all ministers of the Lord would like to ask: Don't you care that I am left alone to serve? Tell them to help me. The term diakonein is also the verb used for the ministry. From Acts, we know that there were different forms of ministry which included "table service" (cf. Acts 6:2 and context). The response that the Lord gives is not a rebuke to Martha; he simply underscores the value of what Mary was doing. The "one thing necessary," the "better part", this Mary has chosen, and it shall not be taken away from her.

In Acts 6, Luke narrates that in view of the needs of a growing church, the apostles ask the Hellenistic-Christian sector to choose seven deacons who will be appointed to take charge of ministering to the widows. "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (v.6) Perhaps the story of Martha and Mary is another of Luke's way of providing a basis for a practise that was taken for granted in the early Church: that there were those who ministered like Martha doing menial and odd jobs for the benefit of the community, while there were those who "specialized" in the "ministry of the Word and prayer."

    There was a time when this story of Martha and Mary were compared to two forms of Christian life: the active and the contemplative. The active life, according to this way of understanding, would be characterized by participation in secular affairs, of active witnessing in the midst of human affairs. The contemplative life, on the other hand, would be characterized by seclusion and distance from worldly affairs; a life rhythmically regulated by the ringing of a bell.

    St. Augustine once talked of Martha and Mary as a tension which exists in the Christian. The desire for contemplation and listening to the Word, though stronger, must be periodically given up due to the necessity of love, which bids the Christian to be worried and occupied about many things. "Otium sanctum," which is but the foretaste of that Sabbath which will not end, must in this life give way to "necessitas caritatis/onus amoris."

    Service to the Lord will take on different forms so long as the life of the pilgrim Church is tied up with the ebb and flow of human history. But no matter how many and great these services are, one thing necessary remains: listening to the Word of the Lord. Without this, all service will be but worries and vexations of the spirit.

October 8 Monday

    Luke 10:25-37 Who Is My Neighbor

The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus' response to the query of a lawyer who has asked him the meaning of neighbor based on the commandment: "Love your neightbor as yourself." The parable of the Good Samaritan opens up the situation of a man who gets mugged as he was on his way to Jericho. The dying man was left alone on the road and looked dead. A priest and a Levite passed by but because of the ritual law prohibiting the touching of a cadaver, they went on the other side of the road and proceeded on the way of Jerusalem, presumably for worship. Then a Samaritan came -- a non-Jew, and by definition, an "enemy". This man had compassion on the wounded man. He bandaged the man, brought him into an inn and the next day left the inn keeper something with which to allow the wounded man to stay.

Jesus question would have been surprising: Who was neighbor to the wounded man? And the answer was: The one who showed compassion. In the end, the lawyer (and the reader) is made to realize that the question is not really "Who is my neighbor" but "How am I to be a neighbor". The command of Jesus ("Go and do the same") is directed to the lawyer and to all those who would readily classify people into "neighbor" and "non-neighbor." Where "I" becomes the measuring rod, the "neighbor" is the one "who lives nearby." In Israel, the "one who lives nearby" was often a member of the family, clan or tribe. A "foreigner" was a "non-neighbor"; technically, he was an enemy. This way of classifying has made it that strictly speaking,, a "neighbor" can only be a fellow-Israelite. What Jesus was saying through the parable is simple: take out the "I" and make it "neighbor." In that way, all others who happen to be where you are becomes a neighbor.

    The lawyer's concern was to trip Jesus. The question about "eternal life" was asked by someone who thought he already knew the answer. The parable then becomes a device by Jesus to make the lawyer look at his own assumptions and rethink his own questions.

    In the Catechism, this Lucan passage is cited together with Jn. 13:34 (with reference to 1 Jn 3:4) in a section that deals with "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (CCC, 2822). Jn 13:34 is the new commandment that Jesus gives his disciples.

    Luke almost never uses the word love: he rather speaks of mercy, forgiveness, compassion. "To have compassion" translates a verb that is based on the word splagcna and denotes a physical movement in one's being. It is the verb used to describe what Jesus feels for those who come to him for healing. The Vulgate translation for the verb splagcnizomai is "misericordia motus esse", to be moved by mercy. Franz Delitzsch translates the Greek esplagcnisqeiV (v.33) into the Hebrew as wayehemu me'aw, and his "womb warmed up" while for verse 37, he renders "the one who had compassion" as ha'aseh 'immo hahesed, "the one who did him grace'

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