Thursday, November 19, 2009



(Part 5)


Our theme for 2010 and its various elements are very much reflected in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and in the life of Mary.

The Almighty!

Mary bursts out in a psalm of praise. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Lk 1:46,49a).

Job initially looked for answers from God. God answered, but only spoke of His omniscience and almighty power. Job accepts and is humbly content.

Mary also questioned the angel Gabriel. Gabriel spoke of the power of the Most High, for whom nothing is impossible. Mary accepted, acknowledging her being the Lord’s servant (handmaid).

We too are called to recognize and acknowledge the golden splendor and awesome power and majesty of God. This is our starting point in our knowing our rightful place in our relationship with Him.

Call to reverential fear

“His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.” (Lk 1:50).

Elihu spoke last, before God finally speaks. Elihu means “My God is he.” He defends God’s justice and explains suffering. Job does not answer him, perhaps seeing the right in what he said. Elihu spoke of reverential fear: “At this my heart trembles and leaps out of its place, to hear his angry voice as it rumbles forth from his mouth!” (Job 37:1-2). “From the North the splendor comes, surrounding God’s awesome majesty!” (Job 37:22).

Mary too was awed by the greatness of the Lord, by the Mighty One who does great things, by the One who shows might with His arm.

We too, in recognizing the Almighty God for who He is, should stand in awe and reverential fear before Him. Our very life and well-being are in His hands. We are totally dependent on Him.

Righteous is He

“and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49b).

Elihu said: “far be it from God to do wickedness; far from the Almighty to do wrong! .... Surely, God cannot act wickedly” (Job 34:10b,12a).

Mary was told of the holiness of the Triune God. “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Lk 1:35). Mary could only exult: “holy is his name.”

Job was blameless and upright. Mary was conceived without sin and was the holy mother of God. We too are called to be holy. Peter tells us: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15-16).

Just is He

“He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” (Lk 1:52-53).

Elihu said: “the Almighty cannot violate justice. .... He withholds not the just man’s rights, but grants vindication to the oppressed.” (Job 34:12b,36:6).

Mary speaks of the reversal of human fortunes, of the lowly being singled out for God’s favor. This is God’s justice, when people receive what is their due. The hungry will be satisfied and those who weep will laugh (Lk 6:21), while those (the unjust rich and powerful) who are filled now will be hungry and those who laugh now will grieve and weep (Lk 6:25).

Job asked God to weigh him in the scales of justice, confident that he would be innocent, and proceeded to cite his just acts (Job 31:6-34). We too are called to act justly, giving to everyone what is their due. In being just, we will experience the justice of God. “Do me justice, O Lord, because I am just.” (Ps 7:9).

Call to humility

“For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness” (Lk 1:48a). “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.” (Lk 1:51).

Job is humbled by his suffering and by the unjust rebukes of his friends. He is further humbled by God’s response to his seeking answers from Him. He realizes his place in the face of the Almighty God.

Mary humbly says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). She realizes her place as a humble instrument of the Most High God.

We too are called to humble ourselves. Our personal attitude must be that of Jesus (Phil 2:5), who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, ... he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8). Peter instructs us: “clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for: ‘God opposes the proud, but bestows favor on the humble.’ So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Pet 5:5b-6).

Redemptive suffering

“and you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35a). “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Lk 1:47).

Job was blameless and upright; he feared God and avoided evil (Job 1:1). He was innocent. But he nonetheless suffered terribly. Then God redeemed him from his affliction and restored him.

Mary, just like any mother (or father), suffered terribly when her Son suffered. Jesus was thought to be crazy by his relatives, was betrayed by Judas, was abandoned by his apostles, was demeaned by the people, was tortured, and finally suffered an excruciating death on the cross. Mary was there, right up to the foot of the cross, until Jesus died. But Jesus’ death, and subsequent resurrection, resulted in our salvation. Mary herself, for her unique role, is our co-redemptrix.

We too are called to redemptive suffering, which is the way of the cross, which is the way of a disciple of Christ. In the world there will be affliction, such that we experience pain and suffering. But such are intended by God to purify us and to draw us closer to Himself. Suffering spurs us on to greater holiness.

Blessings in the end

“behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.” (Lk 1:48b).

In the end, Job is restored to health and wealth, and is blessed double what he had before.

In the end, Mary is enthroned as Queen of heaven and earth.

In the end, we too will be blessed and rewarded. We will be with God forever in heaven, with Jesus our Master and Mary our mother. Job will be there too.

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(Part 23)


November 10, 2009

Today’s psalm reading (Ps 34:2-19) continues to teach us about looking to God who delivers the just. Our theme for 2010, taken from the book of Job, tells us about reverential fear (or awe) and the call to righteousness and justice. These are all interconnected.

The one who is holy is one who will fear the Lord. The one who fears the Lord is one who is on the way to holiness. “Fear the Lord, you holy ones” (v.10a).

Those who fear the Lord and who are growing in righteousness and justice are those who can call upon the Lord for help in times of distress. “Fear the Lord, you holy ones; nothing is lacking to those who fear him.” (v.10). “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The Lord has eyes for the just and ears for their cry.” (v.15-16). “When the just cry out, the Lord hears and rescues them from all distress.” (v.18).

Life is full of struggles and pain and crosses. We will be afflicted, some way, somehow. Many times we will be tested and will be at the point of helplessness and hopelessness. These times are not necessarily bad for us. They are times that should lead us to God, and trust more in Him.

No matter what is happening to us and around us that weighs heavily on us, we have the assurance: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.” (v.19). This is not just a pious statement, but it has been shown in the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus. He has gone through such anguish and torment. He was crushed in spirit. Still, he endured, and God came through for him.

So God will be there for those who fear Him and are growing to be just and righteous.

David in his psalm teaches us about the fear of God. “Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (v.12). In what ways do we show fear of the Lord.

First, we avoid sin and wrongdoing. “Turn from evil” (v.15a). But we do not only avoid sin, we also foster virtue. “Turn from evil and do good” (v.15a). In doing good, we are to work at justice, and “the Lord has eyes for the just” (v.16a). Justice is giving to each person what is their due as children of God. If we relate to others in this way, then the fruit is peace, that is, being in right relationship with everyone. There then need not be conflict in the world. Thus we “seek peace and pursue it” (v.15b).

Second, we guard our speech. “Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies.” (v.14). James tells us about the power of the tongue (Jas 3:1-10), by which we can bless and curse. Satan is of course the father of lies (Jn 8:44). So we are not to speak evil of one another, and we are not to judge others (Jas 4:11-12). Such speech is what causes disunity in the body of Christ, which ultimately affects adversely its witness and its work.

When we do the above, then we will experience the fruit of God’s love and care. We will be saved from all distress (v.7), we will be delivered from our fears (v.5), we will not be shamed (v.6b), we will be radiant with joy (v.6a), we will have life and prosperity (v.13), we will lack no good thing (v.11b).

Wow! What a wonderful blessed life, even amidst adversity. We fear God, and we then need not fear anything else. We seek God and He answers us (v.5a). We are always secure, with the angel of the Lord encamping with us (v.8a). Nothing at all is lacking for us (v.10b).

What is unfortunate is that many do not know such a God. Many do not recognize His hand in the crosses that come our way. Many miss out on the bountiful blessings that come with clinging to Him and turning our lives over to Him. Many do not know how good God truly is. If we did, and we turned to Him, then we would be happy in life. “Learn to savor how good the Lord is; happy are those who take refuge in him.” (v.9).

What do we say and do in the face of such a great and wonderful God? The Almighty! Just and righteous is He!

With awe and great amazement, let us then bow down in worship. “I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth. My soul will glory in the Lord that the poor may hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” (v.2-4).

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November 18, 2009 Today’s scripture (2 Mc 7:1-31) always makes for fascinating reading. It is about the martyrdom of a Jewish mother and her seven sons, all in one day. The seven sons are subjected to gruesome and horrible torture. The book was written to encourage God’s people in times of persecution. Indeed, the book was popular among the Christians of the early centuries, who were subjected to persecution, and many of them were martyred.Today Christians are still persecuted in many places in the world. Today there are still martyrs for the cause of Christ. But today, many Christians, especially those living in the First World, live a comfortable Christianity. They avoid pain and discomfort. And when a little affliction comes their way, they easily wither away.But there will always be pain and crosses in life. It might be a devastating typhoon with severe flooding, like what Ondoy wrought. Or it might be so many other different things. For Christians, what is important is how they endure and persevere. One thing that will help a lot is to understand a bit more why God allows such suffering, especially in the lives of the innocent. In a word, such suffering is redemptive.First, suffering can be purification from sin and wrongdoing. “We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.” (2 Mc 7:32). Many people will not turn away from their sins unless something drastic happens to them. Perhaps a serious illness, or an accident, or the loss of a loved one, or bankruptcy, or a devastating flood. But such events, painful as they are, are God’s way to get our attention, to teach us our lesson, and of course to turn us back to Himself. “Though our living Lord treats us harshly for a little while to correct us with chastisements, he will again be reconciled with his servants.” (2 Mc 7:33).Second, such suffering can be redemptive not only for ourselves but for others. As there are many who do evil but do not know how to be otherwise because they do not know Christ, then it is left to those who do know Christ to make reparation for their sins. We then become sacrificial lambs, but in being so, become mediators and intercessors. “Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation” (2 Mc 7:37a). The suffering of a just person can be redemptive for the unjust.Third, such suffering brings us, who are all sinners, back to God and back to His eternal plan for us. It is the way of the cross, the very way God Himself chose. Jesus won salvation for us by going to the cross. There is no other way. Certainly not the gospel of prosperity, or the gospel of going to heaven in first-class comfort. “Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Mc 7:38). When we understand how suffering can be redemptive, then we no longer disdain suffering (that is, if suffering is for the sake of righteousness). We endure and bear suffering “courageously because of (our) hope in the Lord.” (2 Mc 7:20b). We endure and bear suffering, even unto death, without giving in to the ways of the world that can relieve our suffering, because we put “all (our) trust in the Lord.” (2 Mc 7:40).We hope and trust in God, because He is merciful and He has a great and wonderful plan for us, which He wants fulfilled in our lives, but which our sins prevent from happening. So as a father to his child, God disciplines us in order to bring us back to the right path. Such discipline is often through affliction and pain. But even in the midst of the most terrible suffering, we are assured: “He never withdraws his mercy from us. Although he disciplines us with misfortunes, he does not abandon his own people.” (2 Mc 6:16).What is our life on earth after all? It is preparation for our life in heaven. We are pilgrims merely passing through. We invest ourselves not in this life but in the next. We may suffer deprivation in “this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” (2 Mc 7:9a).Given all these, we not only do not disdain suffering, but we embrace it with joy. Eleazar, a venerable old man also martyred, when he was about to die under the blows, uttered: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” (2 Mc 6:30). Redemptive suffering. Suffering that leads to redemption. So very different from the wisdom of the world. So very challenging for us, to be able to take on God’s own wisdom, and see the value and blessing of suffering in life.We suffer but for a moment, but we reap the joy of everlasting life, according to God’s plan for us. “My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant” (2 Mc 7:36a).
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