“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel”

Scripture: Mark 16:15-18   (alternate reading: Mark 3:22-30)

15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will  recover.”

Scripture: Acts 22:3-16

3 “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of  the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 8 And I answered, `Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, `I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, `What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, `Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, `Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, `The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Meditation: Mark ends his Gospel account with Jesus’ last appearance to the apostles before his ascension into heaven. Jesus’ departure and ascension was both an end and a beginning for his disciples. While it was the end of Jesus’ physical presence with his beloved disciples, it marked the beginning of Jesus’ presence with them in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time. Now as the glorified and risen Lord and Savior, ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would anoint them with power on the Feast of Pentecost, just as Jesus was anointed for his ministry at the River Jordan. When the Lord Jesus departed physically from the apostles, they were not left in sorrow or grief. Instead, they were filled with joy and with great anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ last words to his apostles point to his saving mission and to their mission to be witnesses of his saving death and his glorious resurrection and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the world. Their task is to proclaim the good news of salvation, not only to the people of Israel, but to all the nations. God’s love and gift of salvation is not just for a few, or for a nation, but it is for the whole world – for all who will accept it. The gospel is the power of God, the power to forgive sins, to heal, to deliver from evil and oppression, and to restore life. Do you believe in the power of the gospel?

This is the great commission which the risen Christ gives to the whole church. All believers have been given a share in this task – to be heralds of the good news and ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the only savior of the world. We have not been left alone in this task, for the risen Lord works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Today we witness a new Pentecost as the Lord pours out his Holy Spirit upon his people to renew and strengthen the body of Christ and to equip it for effective ministry and mission to every land and peoples. Do you witness to others the joy of the gospel and the hope of the resurrection?

Conversion of Paul the Apostle 
Many Christians celebrate today the conversion of St. Paul who became an apostle to the Gentile nations. Paul testified how he first opposed the gospel and persecuted Christians, but was converted when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:3-16). Paul’s encounter with the person of Christ radically changed his life and opened his eyes to the truth of the gospel. Benedict XVI reflects on the significance of Paul’s conversion for the whole Christian people:

“Paul’s conversion matured in his encounter with the Risen Christ; it was this encounter that radically changed his life. What happened to him on the road to Damascus is what Jesus asks in today’s Gospel: Saul is converted because, thanks to the divine light, “he has believed in the Gospel”. In this consists his and our conversion: in believing in Jesus dead and risen and in opening to the illumination of his divine grace. In that moment Saul understood that his salvation did not depend on good works fulfilled according to the law, but on the fact that Jesus died also for him the persecutor and has risen. This truth by which every Christian life is enlightened thanks to Baptism completely overturns our way of life. To be converted means, also for each one of us, to believe that Jesus “has given himself for me”, dying on the Cross (cf. Galatians 2: 20) and, risen, lives with me and in me. Entrusting myself to the power of his forgiveness, letting myself be taken by his hand, I can come out of the quicksands of pride and sin, of deceit and sadness, of selfishness and of every false security, to know and live the richness of his love.” (from address given on January 25, 2009)

“Lord Jesus, through the gift of your Holy Spirit, you fill us with an indomitable spirit of praise and joy which no earthly trial can subdue. Fill me with your resurrection joy and help me to live a life of praise and thanksgiving for your glory. May I witness to those around me the joy of the gospel and the reality of your resurrection.”

Psalm 117:1-2

1 Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! 
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us; and the faithfulness of the LORDendures for ever.  Praise the LORD! 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Our witness is trustworhty if we live accordingly, by John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) 

“For [Paul] truly became a witness to [Jesus], and a witness as one should be, both by what he did and by what he said. We too must be such witnesses and not betray what we have been entrusted. I speak not only of doctrines, but also of our way of life. Look, what he knew, what he heard, he bore witness to this before all, and nothing hindered him. We too have heard that there is a resurrection and ten thousand good things; therefore, we ought to bear witness to this before all. ‘We do in fact bear witness,’ you say, ‘and believe.’ How, since we do the opposite? Tell me, if someone should say he was a Christian but should then apostatize and act like a Jew, would his testimony be sufficient? No, not at all; for people would look for testimony through his actions. Likewise, if we say that that there is a resurrection and ten thousand good things but then look down upon them and prefer the things here, who will believe us? For all people pay attention not to what we say but to what we do. ‘You will be a witness,’ [Christ] says, ‘to all.’1 That is, not only to the friends, but also to the unbelievers. For this is what witnesses are for: they persuade not those who know but those who do not. Let us become trustworthy witnesses. How will we become trustworthy? By the life we lead.” (excerpt from HOMILIES ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 47)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit”

Scripture: Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-22

[Luke 1]1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2 just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

[Luke 4]14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17 and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 20 And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

Meditation: What does the Gospel of Luke tell us about Jesus and his mission and what he came to do for us? Many skeptics question the reliability and accuracy of the Gospel accounts of Jesus. Luke tells us that his account is utterly believable because it comes from firsthand witnesses (Luke 1:2) who knew Jesus personally, heard him teach, saw his miracles, and witnessed his atoning death on the cross and his rising from the tomb to everlasting life. 

Luke begins his account by addressing his friend, Theophilus, a name which means “beloved of God” (Luke 1:3). In so many words Luke tells his friend (and us as well), I am writing to you the most incredible story humankind has known – and which many witnesses and messengers of God’s word have openly explained on many occasions. Luke wants his friend and all who read his account to “know the truth” (Luke 1:4) concerning Jesus of Nazareth who was sent from the Father in heaven and anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring us the good news and power of God’s kingdom.

The “good news”of Jesus brings new life and freedom 
The word “gospel” literally means “good news.”  The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ and the new life and freedom he has won for us through his atoning death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection to everlasting life and glory with the Father in heaven. The Gospel is the all-powerful and all-merciful word of God for us today as much as it was for the people who first heard it in Jesus’ time. It’s a life-giving word that has supernatural power to change, transform, and bring freedom and healing to those who accept it as the living word of God. Are you hungry for God’s word of truth and mercy, love and forgiveness? And do you want to grow in the knowledge of God and what he has accomplished for us through his Son, Jesus Christ?

Jesus came in the power of the Spirit 
Luke tells us that Jesus was about 30 years of age when he began his public ministry (Luke 3:23). Right after Jesus was baptized by John and anointed by the Spirit at the River Jordan (Luke 3:21-22), he spent 40 days in the wilderness to devote himself to prayer and fasting (Luke 4:1-13). At the end of this period of spiritual preparation and testing, Luke tells us that Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to his own land of Galilee” (Luke 4:14). Jesus chose to begin his public ministry in Galilee first, rather than in Jerusalem, the holy city and temple of God. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1,2.  

Luke tells us that Jesus chose to publicly announce his mission in the synagogue at Nazareth. The people there were familiar with Jesus since it was his custom to regularly attended the weekly Sabbath service. Jesus was also known by many in Nazareth as a “carpenter” (Mark 6:3) and “son of Joseph” (Luke 4:21). When the president of the synagogue called on Jesus to read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus chose to read Isaiah’s description (verses 1-2 of chapter 61) of  what the Messiah would do when he came to restore God’s kingdom for the people of Israel. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be sent by God and anointed in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach “good news” and bring healing, blessing, and freedom to all who were oppressed (see Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus awakened their hope in God’s promises when he announced that this word was now being fulfilled in his very own person. Luke tells us that the people of Nazareth spoke well of him and received his “gracious word” with amazement and wonder. But they also openly questioned how the “son of Joseph” would fulfill this Messianic mission (Luke 4:21). Jesus challenged them to believe the word God had spoken through the prophets and the word he now speaks in God’s name through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus renews and strengthens us in faith, hope, and love
The Lord Jesus speaks this same word to each of us today – he comes to bring us healing and restoration, pardon and freedom from the oppression of sin, despair, hopelessness, and destruction. Do you believe his word with expectant faith and trust, or with doubt and indifference? The Lord will not refuse to pour out his Spirit on all who trust in him. Ask the Lord Jesus to renew in you the joy of the Gospel and the freedom to live each day with trusting faith, joyful hope, and fervent love.

“Lord Jesus, you are the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. Through the gift of your Holy Spirit you bring us truth, freedom, and abundant life. Fill me with the joy of the Gospel and inflame my heart with a burning love for you and a deep thirst for your word.”

Psalm 19:8-10,14

8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;  the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 
9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever;  the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;  sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61, by Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD)

“Now it was necessary that he should manifest himself to the Israelites and that the mystery of his incarnation should now shine forth to those who did not know him. Now that God the Father had anointed him to save the world, he very wisely orders this also [that his fame should now spread widely]. This favor he grants first to the people of Nazareth, because, humanly speaking, he had grown up among them. Having entered the synagogue, therefore, he takes the book to read. Having opened it, he selects a passage in the Prophets which declares the mystery concerning him. By these words he himself tells us very clearly by the voice of the prophet that he would both be made man and come to save the world. For we affirm that the Son was anointed in no other way than by having become like us according to the flesh and taking our nature. Being at once God and man, he both gives the Spirit to the creation in his divine nature and receives it from God the Father in his human nature. It is he who sanctifies the whole creation, both by shining forth from the Holy Father and by bestowing the Spirit. He himself pours forth his own Spirit on the powers above and on those who recognized his appearing.” (excerpt from COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 12)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“People were saying of Jesus, ‘He is beside himself’ “

Scripture: Mark 3:19b, 20-21   

Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.”

Meditation: Is the Lord Jesus honored in your home? Why would Jesus’ relatives be so upset with him when he began his public ministry? On one occasion Jesus remarked that a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household (Matthew 10:36). The Gospel of Mark records the reaction of Jesus’ relatives when he went home: they came to seize him. They, no doubt, thought that Jesus must have gone mad or become a religious fanatic. How could a good home-body from Nazareth leave his carpentry trade and go off to become a traveling preacher? To their way of thinking, Jesus had thrown away the security and safety of a quiet and respectable life close to his family and relatives. 

Jesus probably expected to meet opposition from the highest religious authorities in Jerusalem. For him to meet opposition from his own relatives must have been even harder. When we choose to be disciples of the Lord Jesus and to follow his will for our lives, we can expect to meet opposition from those who are opposed to the Gospel message and Christian way of life. But the hardest opposition may actually come from someone close to us, a family member or close friend who doesn’t want us to take the Gospel message too seriously. Jesus met opposition – whether from family, friend, or foe – with grace and determination to fulfill his Father’s will. Are you ready to obey and follow the Lord Jesus even if others oppose your doing so?

“Lord Jesus, may I always put you first and find joy in doing your will. May your love and charity grow in me, especially in the face of opposition and adversity.”

Psalm 80:2-7

2 Stir up your might, and come to save us! 
3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 
4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. 
6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; and our enemies laugh among themselves. 
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved! 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Jesus’ worried kinfolk, by Jerome (347-420 AD)

“In the Gospel we read that even his kinsfolk desired to bind him as one of weak mind (Mark 3:21). His opponents also reviled him saying, ‘You are a Samaritan and have a devil’ (John 8:48).” (excerpt from LETTER 108, TO EUSTOCHIUM)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite: copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“Jesus appointed twelve to be with him”

Scripture: Mark 3:13-19

13 And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. 4 And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons: 16 Simon whom he surnamed Peter; 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Then he went home.

Meditation: What is God’s call on your life? When Jesus embarked on his mission he chose twelve men for the task of preaching the kingdom of God and healing the sick in the power of that kingdom. In the choice of the twelve, we see a characteristic feature of God’s work: Jesus chose very ordinary people. They were non-professionals, who had no wealth or position. They were chosen from the common people who did ordinary things, had no special education, and no social advantages. Jesus wanted ordinary people who could take an assignment and do it extraordinarily well. He chose these men, not for what they were, but for what they would be capable of becoming under his direction and power.

When the Lord calls us to serve, we must not shrug back because we think that we have little or nothing to offer. The Lord takes what ordinary people, like us, can offer and uses it for greatness in his kingdom. Do you make your life an offering to the Lord and allow him to use you as he sees fit?

“Lord Jesus, fill me with gratitude and generosity for all you have done for me. Take my life and all that I have as an offering of love for you, who are my All.”

Psalm 57:1-5,10-11

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge;  in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. 
2 I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. 
3 He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample upon me. [Selah]  God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness! 
4 I lie in the midst of lions that greedily devour the sons of men;  their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords. 
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! 
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The renaming of Matthew by Jesus, by Bede the Venerable, 672-735 A.D.

“We must not pass over the fact that Matthew had two names, for he was also called Levi, and that name too bears witness to the grace granted to him. Levi means ‘added’ (or ‘a joining’) or ‘taken up,’ signifying that he was ‘taken up’ through being chosen by the Lord, and ‘added’ to the number of the apostolic band. Mark and Luke generously chose to use this name alone, so as to not make glaringly conspicuous his former way of life, for he was now their companion in the work of the Gospel (Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27). In setting down the list of the twelve apostles, they simply called him Matthew, not mentioning Levi (Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15). Matthew himself, on the other hand (in accord with what is written, ‘The just man is the first accuser of himself; his friend came and searched him out’ – Proverbs 18:17), calls himself by his ordinary name when telling of being called from his tax-collector’s place, but adds pointedly ‘the publican’ (Matthew 10:3) – ‘Thomas,’ he says, ‘and Matthew the publican.’ In this way he offers to publicans and sinners greater confidence in securing their salvation.” (excerpt from HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 1.21)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

All pressed upon Jesus to touch him

Scripture: Mark 3:7-12

7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed; also from Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

Meditation: Is there anything holding you back from giving yourself to God without fear or reservation? Jesus offered freedom to everyone who sought him out. Wherever Jesus went the people came to him because they had heard about all the wonderful deeds and miracles which he performed. They were hungry for God and desired healing from their afflictions. In faith they pressed upon Jesus to touch him. As they did so power came from Jesus and they were healed. Do you seek to lay hold of Jesus’ presence in your life that he may touch and heal you?

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) remarked:

“It is by faith that we touch Jesus. And far better to touch him by faith than to touch or handle him with the hands only and not by faith. It was no great thing to merely touch him manually. Even his oppressors doubtless touched him when they apprehended him, bound him, and crucified him, but by their ill-motivated touch they lost precisely what they were laying hold of. O worldwide church! It is by touching him faithfully that your ‘faith has made you whole’ (Isaiah 1:10-18; Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; Mark 10:52; Luke 8:48; John 20:29).” (excerpt from SERMONS, ON EASTER 148)

Why did Jesus perform so many countless miracles and signs during his earthly ministry? Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD) wrote that these signs and miracles showed that Jesus was truly God – the eternal Word who was made flesh for our salvation:

[Jesus] performed very many wonderful miracles, rebuking demons, delivering from incurable diseases whoever drew near to him, and displaying his own most divine power. He did these works so that both the Jews, who had run together to him, and those from the country of the Greeks might know that Christ was not some ordinary man of those in our degree but, on the contrary, God. He honored these chosen disciples with the dignity of the apostolate. He was the Word that was made man but retained nevertheless his own glory. “For power went forth from him and healed all.” Christ did not borrow strength from some other person, but being himself God by nature, even though he had become flesh, he healed them all, by the demonstration of power over the sick. (COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 25)

Why did the demons tremble in the presence of Jesus (Mark 3:11)? They recognized that his power and authority came from heaven and not from earth. But while they confessed Christ and trembled in his presence, they did not respond in love.

When you read God’s word and consider all that Jesus said and did, how do you respond? With indifference, hesitation, or skepticism, or with expectant faith, love, and willing obedience? Ask the Lord Jesus to draw you to himself with increasing faith, fervent love, and eager readiness to do his will.

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Inflame my heart with a burning love for you and with an expectant faith in your saving power. Set me free from all that hinders me from drawing closer to you.”

Psalm 56:2-3, 9-14

2 My enemies trample upon me all day long, for many fight against me proudly. 
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 
9 Then my enemies will be turned back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 
10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, 
11 in God I trust without a fear. What can man do to me? 
12 My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. 
13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: Faith works by love, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.

“The ‘faith that works by love’ (Galatians 5:6), is not the same faith that demons have. ‘For the devils also believe and tremble’ (James 2:19) but do they love? If they had not believed, they would not have said: ‘You are the holy one of God’ or ‘You are the Son of God’ (Mark 3:11-12; Luke 4:34,41). But if they had loved, they would not have said: ‘What have we to do with you?’ (Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28)” (excerpt from Letter 194, To Sixtus)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“Is it lawful… to save life or to kill?”

Scripture: Mark 3:1-6

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Meditation: What is God’s intention for the commandment, keep holy the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12)? The scribes and Pharisees wanted to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath ritual so they might accuse him of breaking God’s law. In a few penetrating words Luke records that Jesus knew their thoughts. They were filled with fury and contempt for Jesus because they put their own thoughts of right and wrong above God. They were ensnared in their own legalism because they did not understand or see the purpose of God. Jesus shows their fallacy by pointing to God’s intention for the Sabbath: to do good and to save life rather than to do evil or to destroy life.

Christians have traditionally celebrated Sunday as the Lord’s Day, to commemorate God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ and the new work of creation he accomplished through Christ’s death and resurrection. Taking “our sabbath rest” is a way of expressing honor to God for all that he has done for us. Such “rest” however does not exempt us from our love for our neighbor. If we truly love the Lord above all else, then the love of God will overflow to love of neighbor as well. Do you honor the Lord in the way you celebrate Sunday, the Lord’s Day and in the way you treat you neighbor?

“Lord Jesus, in your victory over sin and death on the cross and in your resurrection you give us the assurance of sharing in the eternal rest of heaven. Transform my heart with your love that I may freely serve my neighbor for his good and find joy and refreshment in the celebration of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.”

Psalm 144:1-2, 9-10

1 Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; 
2 my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues the peoples under him. 
9 I will sing a new song to you, O God; upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you, 
10 who give victory to kings, who rescues David your servant. 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The tender compassion of the Lord, by John Chrysostom, 547-407 A.D.

“Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ Then he challenged the Pharisees as to whether it would be lawful to do good on the sabbath. Note the tender compassion of the Lord when he deliberately brought the man with the withered hand right into their presence (Luke 6:8). He hoped that the mere sight of the misfortune might soften them, that they might become a little less spiteful by seeing the affliction, and perhaps out of sorrow mend their own ways. But they remained callous and unfeeling. They preferred to do harm to the name of Christ than to see this poor man made whole. They betrayed their wickedness not only by their hostility to Christ, but also by their doing so with such contentiousness that they treated with disdain his mercies to others.” (excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 40.1)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath”

Scripture: Mark 2:23-28

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; 28 so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Meditation: What does the commandment “keep holy the Sabbath” require of us? Or better yet, what is the primary intention behind this command? The religious leaders confronted Jesus on this issue. The “Sabbath rest” was meant to be a time to remember and celebrate God’s goodness and the goodness of his work, both in creation and redemption. It was a day set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on our behalf. It was intended to bring everyday work to a halt and to provide needed rest and refreshment. Jesus’ disciples are scolded by the scribes and Pharisees, not for plucking and eating corn from the fields, but for doing so on the Sabbath. In defending his disciples, Jesus argues from the scriptures that human need has precedence over ritual custom.

When David and his men were fleeing for their lives, they sought food from Ahimelech the priest (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The only bread he had was the holy bread offered in the Temple. None but the priests were allowed to eat it. In their hunger, David and his men ate of this bread. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath was given for our benefit, to refresh and renew us in living for God. It was intended for good and not for evil. Withholding mercy and kindness in response to human need was not part of God’s intention that we rest from unnecessary labor. Do you honor the Lord in the way you treat your neighbor and celebrate the Lord’s Day?

“Lord Jesus, may I give you fitting honor in the way I live my life and in the way I treat my neighbor. May I honor the Lord’s Day as a day holy to you. And may I always treat others with the same mercy and kindness which you have shown to me. Free me from a critical and intolerant spirit that I may always seek the good of my neighbor.”

Psalm 89:19-21,26-27

19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said:  “I have set the crown upon one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; 
21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. 
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ 
27 I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The Lord of the Sabbath, by John Chrysostom, 547-407 A.D.

“Doubtless he speaks of himself when he mentions the ‘Lord of the sabbath’ (Mark 2:28, Matthew 12:8, Luke 6:5).  Mark relates a complementary saying about our common human nature, that “the sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath (Mark 2:27). Why then should someone who gathered sticks on the sabbath be censured? The law that was established earlier could not be scorned without jeopardizing the law to be given later.

“The sabbath did confer many benefits, great blessings in the earlier dispensation. It made people more gentle toward those close to them. It guided them toward being more sympathetic. It located them temporally within God’s creation and providence, as Ezekiel knew (Ezekiel 20:19-20). The sabbath trained Israel by degrees to abstain from evil and disposed them to listen to the things of the Spirit.

“They would have stretched the law out of shape if, when he was giving the law of the sabbath, Jesus had said, ‘You can work on the sabbath, but just do good works, do nothing evil.’ This would have brought out the worst in them. So he restrained them from doing any works at all on the sabbath. And even this stricter prohibition did not keep them in line. But he himself, in the very act of giving the law of the sabbath, gave them a veiled sign of things to come. For by saying, ‘You must do no work, except what shall be done for your life’ (Exodus 12:16), he indicated that the intent of the law was to have them refrain from evil works only, not all works. Even in the temple, much went on during the sabbath, and with great diligence and double toil. Thus even by this very shadowy saying Jesus was secretly opening the truth to them. Did Christ then attempt to repeal a law so beneficial as the sabbath law? Far from it. Rather, he greatly magnified the sabbath. For with Christ came the time for everyone to be trained by a higher requirement.” (excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 39.3)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“Fasting or feasting?”

Scripture: Mark 2:18-22

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wine skins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.”

Meditation: Which comes first, fasting or feasting? The disciples of John the Baptist were upset with Jesus’ disciples because they did not fast. Fasting was one of the three most important religious duties, along with prayer and almsgiving. Jesus gave a simple explanation. There’s a time for fasting and a time for feasting (or celebrating). To walk as a disciple with Jesus is to experience a whole new joy of relationship akin to the joy of the wedding party in celebrating with the groom and bride their wedding bliss. But there also comes a time when the Lord’s disciples must bear the cross of affliction and purification. For the disciple there is both a time for rejoicing in the Lord’s presence and celebrating his goodness and a time for seeking the Lord with humility and fasting and for mourning over sin. Do you take joy in the Lord’s presence with you and do you express sorrow and contrition for your sins?

Jesus goes on to warn his disciples about the problem of the “closed mind” that refuses to learn new things. Jesus used an image familiar to his audience – new and old wine skins. In Jesus’ times, wine was stored in wine skins, not bottles. New wine poured into skins was still fermenting. The gases exerted gave pressure. New wine skins were elastic enough to take the pressure, but old wine skins easily burst because they were hard. What did Jesus mean by this comparison? Are we to reject the old in place of the new? Just as there is a right place and a right time for fasting and for feasting, so there is a right place for the old as well as the new. 

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52). How impoverished we would be if we only had the Old Testament or the New Testament, rather than both. The Lord gives us wisdom so we can make the best use of both the old and the new. He doesn’t want us to hold rigidly to the past and to be resistant to the new work of his Holy Spirit in our lives. He wants our minds and hearts to be like new wine skins – open and ready to receive the new wine of the Holy Spirit. Are you eager to grow in the knowledge and understanding of God’s word and plan for your life?

“Lord Jesus, fill me with your Holy Spirit, that I may grow in the knowledge of your great love and truth. Help me to seek you earnestly in prayer and fasting that I may turn away from sin and wilfulness and conform my life more fully to your will. May I always find joy in knowing, loving, and serving you.”

Psalm 50:8-9, 16-17, 21, 23

8 I do not reprove you for your sacrifices; your burnt offerings are continually before me. 
9 I will accept no bull from your house, nor he-goat from your folds. 
16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? 
17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. 
21 These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. 
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I rend, and there be none to deliver! 
23 He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me; to him who orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God!” 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The presence of the Bridegroom, by Bede the Venerable, 672-735 A.D.

“From the time that the incarnation of our Savior was first promised to the patriarchs, it was always awaited by many upright souls with tears and mourning – until he came. From that time when, after his resurrection, he ascended to heaven, all the hope of the saints hangs upon his return. It was at the time when he was keeping company with humanity that his presence was to be celebrated. Then it would have been unfitting to weep and mourn. For like the bride, she had him with her bodily whom she loved spiritually. Therefore the bridegroom is Christ, the bride is the church, and the friends of the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15, Luke 5:34) and of the marriage are each and every one of his faithful companions. The time of his marriage is that time when, through the mystery of the incarnation, he is joining the holy church to himself (Revelation 19:7). Thus it was not by chance, but for the sake of a certain mystical meaning that he came to a marriage ceremony on earth in the customary fleshly way (John 2:1-12), since he descended from heaven to earth in order to wed the church to himself in spiritual love. His nuptial chamber was the womb of his virgin mother. There God was conjoined with human nature. From there he came forth like a bridegroom to join the church to himself.” (excerpt from HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 1.14) 

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“Jesus manifested his glory at Cana”

Scripture: John 2:1-12

1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. 3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and there they stayed for a few days.

Meditation: Do you recognize the glory and presence of the Lord Jesus in your life? God often reveals his glory to us in the unlikeliest of places – in a cold stable at Bethlehem, at a village wedding party in Cana, on a bloody cross at Golgatha, or on the road to Emmaus. In today’s Gospel reading we see the first public sign and miracle which Jesus performed. The Lord Jesus brought great blessing and joy to a newly wed couple and their wedding party. First by his presence, and second by saving them from embarrassment when the wine ran out. Changing water into wine was a remarkable act of kindness; but giving the best to last was unnecessary and unheard of. In the Old Testament wine is seen as both a gift and blessing of God (Deuteronomy 7:13; Proverbs 3:10, Psalm 105:). That Jesus would miraculously produce 120 gallons of the best wine (many times more than needed) shows the superabundance of the blessings which he came to offer.

This miracle signifies the “new rich wine” of the Gospel and it points to the “wine of the new covenant” and the “bread of life” which Jesus provides for his disciples in the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. It also points to the Messianic banquet which Jesus will provide at the end of the age when he comes again in his glory. The miracles of Jesus demonstrate the power of God’s love and mercy for his people. God’s kindness knows no limits. And the ultimate expression of his love is revealed in the person of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He became flesh for our sake, and he died for our redemption, and he rose that we, too, might be raised up and glorified with him. Do you thirst for God and for the abundant life and blessings he offers to you?

“Heavenly Father, you have revealed your glory in our Lord Jesus Christ. Fill me with your Holy Spirit that I may bring you glory in all that I do and say.”

Psalm 96:1-3,7-10

1 O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! 
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! 
9 Worship the LORD in holy array; tremble before him, all the earth! 
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established, it shall never be moved;  he will judge the peoples with equity.” 

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The touch of the Lord, by Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD)

“Why did our Lord change nature at the beginning of his signs, if it was not to show that the divinity that changed nature in the interior of the jars was the same that changed nature in the womb of the virgin? And at the conclusion of the signs, he opened the tomb to show that the insatiable nature of death would not keep hold of him; he confirmed and ratified these two uncertainties of his birth and of his death. As to their nature, these waters were turned into the [fruit of] the vine; their stone vessels were not changed within their own nature. They were a symbol of his body, which was wonderfully conceived in a woman, and in a marvelous way by [the intervention of] no man within the virgin. He thus made wine out of water to teach about the manner of his conception and birth. He called upon the six jars as witness to the one virgin who gave birth to him; for the jars conceived in a unique way that was not customary for them, and they brought forth wine, and then they did not continue to produce [it]. Thus did the virgin conceive and give birth to Immanuel, and then she ceased and did not continue [to give birth]. The offspring of the jars was from smallness to grandeur, and from vileness to excellence, for from water came good wine. In this case [the birth from the virgin], however, it was from grandeur to weakness and from glory to contempt. Yet in the case of these jars, they were for the purification of the Jews, and our Lord poured his instruction into them, to teach that he came in the way [found in] the Law and the Prophets, and he transformed everything by his teaching, just as wine [was made] from water.” (excerpt from Commentary on Tatian’s DIATESSARON 5.6–7)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

“Many sinners were sitting with Jesus”

Scripture: Mark 2:13-17

13 He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them. 14 And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Meditation: What draws us to the throne of God’s mercy and grace? Mark tells us that many people were drawn to Jesus, including the unwanted and the unlovable, such as the lame, the blind, and the lepers, as well as the homeless such as widows and orphans. But public sinners, like the town prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors, were also drawn to Jesus. In calling Levi, who was also named Matthew (see Matthew 9:9) to be one of his disciples, Jesus picked one of the unlikeliest of men – a tax collector who by profession was despised by the people.

Why did the religious leaders find fault with Jesus for making friends with sinners and tax collectors like Levi? The orthodox Jews had a habit of dividing everyone into two groups – those who rigidly kept the law of Moses and its minute regulations and those who did not. They latter were treated like second class citizens. The orthodox scrupulously avoided their company, refused to do business with them, refused to give or receive anything from them, refused to intermarry, and avoided any form of entertainment with them, including table fellowship. Jesus’ association with sinners shocked the sensibilities of these orthodox Jews.

When the Pharisees challenged his unorthodox behavior in eating with public sinners, Jesus’ defense was quite simple. A doctor doesn’t need to visit healthy people; instead he goes to those who are sick.  Jesus likewise sought out those in the greatest need. A true physician seeks healing of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. Jesus came as the divine physician and good shepherd to care for his people and to restore them to wholeness of life.The orthodox Jews were so preoccupied with their own practice of religion that they neglected to help the very people who needed care. Their religion was selfish because they didn’t want to have anything to do with people not like themselves. 

Jesus stated his mission in unequivocal terms: I came  not to call the righteous, but to call sinners. Ironically the orthodox were as needy as those they despised.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Lord fills us with his grace and mercy. And he wants us, in turn,  to seek the good of our neighbors, including the unlikeable and the trouble-maker by showing them the same kindness and mercy which we have received. Do you thank the Lord for the great kindness and mercy he has shown to you?

“Lord Jesus, our Savior, let us now come to you: Our hearts are cold; Lord, warm them with your selfless love. Our hearts are sinful; cleanse them with your precious blood. Our hearts are weak; strengthen them with your joyous Spirit. Our hearts are empty; fill them with your divine presence. Lord Jesus, our hearts are yours; possess them always and only for yourself.” (Prayer of Augustine, 4th century)

Psalm 21:2-7

2 You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips. [Selah] 
3 For you meet him with goodly blessings; you set a crown of fine gold upon his head. 
4 He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days for ever and ever. 
5 His glory is great through your help; splendor and majesty you bestow upon him. 
6 Yes, you make him most blessed for ever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. 
7 For the king trusts in the LORD; and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved. 

Daily Quote from the early church fathersNo physician can avoid the arena of sickness, by Gregory of Nazianzus (330 – 390 AD)

“When Jesus is attacked for mixing with sinners, and taking as his disciple a despised tax collector, one might ask: What could he possibly gain by doing so? (Luke 15:2) Only the salvation of sinners. To blame Jesus for mingling with sinners would be like blaming a physician for stooping down over suffering and putting up with vile smells in order to heal the sick.” (excerpt from ORATION 45, ON HOLY EASTER 26)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite:
copyright (c) 2016 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager