5 February, Wednesday – Who is Jesus to you?

5 Feb – Memorial for St. Agatha, virgin and martyr

We have little reliable information about this martyr who has been honoured since ancient times, and whose name is included in the canon of the Mass. Young, beautiful and rich, Agatha (d.250) lived a life consecrated to God. When Decius announced the edicts against Christians, the magistrate Quinctianus tried to profit by Agatha’s sanctity; he planned to blackmail her into sex in exchange for not charging her. Handed over to a brothel, she refused to accept customers.

After rejecting Quinctianus’ advances, she was beaten, imprisoned, tortured, her breasts were crushed and cut off. She told the judge, “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” One version has it that St. Peter healed her. She was then imprisoned again, then rolled on live coals; when she was near death, an earthquake struck. In the destruction that followed, a friend of the magistrate was crushed, and the magistrate fled. Agatha thanked God for an end to her pain, and died.

Legend says that carrying her veil, taken from her tomb in Catania, in procession has averted erupts of Mount Etna. Her intercession is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion in 1551.

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2 Samuel 24:2,8-17

King David said to Joab and to the senior army officers who were with him, ‘Now go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and take a census of the people; I wish to know the size of the population.’ Having covered the whole country, they returned to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. Joab gave the king the figures for the census of the people; Israel numbered eight hundred thousand armed men capable of drawing sword, and Judah five hundred thousand men.

But afterwards David’s heart misgave him for having taken a census of the people. ‘I have committed a grave sin’ David said to the Lord. ‘But now, Lord, I beg you to forgive your servant for this fault. I have been very foolish.’ But when David got up next morning, the following message had come from the Lord to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, ‘Go and say to David, “The Lord says this: I offer you three things; choose one of them for me to do to you.”’

So Gad went to David and told him. ‘Are three years of famine to come on you in your country’ he said ‘or will you flee for three months before your pursuing enemy, or would you rather have three days’ pestilence in your country? Now think, and decide how I am to answer him who sends me.’ David said to Gad, ‘This is a hard choice. But let us rather fall into the power of the Lord, since his mercy is great, and not into the power of men.’ So David chose pestilence.

It was the time of the wheat harvest. The Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning till the time appointed and plague ravaged the people, and from Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of them died. The angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, but the Lord thought better of this evil, and he said to the angel who was destroying the people, ‘Enough! Now withdraw your hand.’ The angel of the Lord was beside the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was ravaging the people, he spoke to the Lord. ‘It was I who sinned;’ he said ‘I who did this wicked thing. But these, this flock, what have they done? Let your hand lie heavy on me then, and on my family.’

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Mark 6:1-6

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?

Who do you say Jesus is? It shouldn’t matter what names people give to Jesus. But it is so easy to judge people based on their appearance, demeanour, profession, name and title, even who they associate with. Jesus gets it all the time. He is judged the moment he sits down to eat and drink with tax collectors, befriends the prostitutes and lepers, and whenever he performs miraculous healings on the Sabbath day. Perhaps he was too radical for people of his time to understand.

I’ve always been a bit of a rebel myself, so I can totally see where Jesus is going with this. I admire his guts and his ability to not be perturbed by what people think or say. In fact, he has so much wit he can surely outsmart even the shrewdest man; but he chooses not to. One thing about being a rebel is to have courage and confidence. When I was a teenager, I was up to a lot of mischief. I went out a lot, met boys a lot, had several BGR (along with both headaches and heartaches), partied and wore a lot of black despite my parents’ disapproval (black was deemed a colour that signifies mourning) – all in the name of fun. That rebel inside me had always wanted to break out and to be different. So I made plans of my own; I pursued an education overseas, studied something that my dad didn’t quite understand and thought it pointless since I would one day be married. I continued to be rebellious right up to my adulthood, doing things I knew my family would not approve of – including getting a tattoo and converting to Catholicism (which by far was the best decision I’ve made).

Now that I’m much older and (hopefully) wiser, I continue to be radical and the most radical of all is doing the things I do for God. Thanks to my Conversion Experience Retreat in 2015, I’ve received the holy courage to stand up for my faith, to dare to be different; such as to go up and give my testimony before the church congregation and to sign up as a catechist despite my fear of public speaking (I used to break out in a rash every time), to make the sign of the cross before meals no matter where I am or who I’m with (yes, even at media luncheons), and to finally make the decision to write my personal scripture reflections and share my daily faith testimonies via Facebook. This reminds me a little of what Francis de Sales did when he slipped little pamphlets explaining the Catholic doctrine under doors and perhaps this is why he is the patron saint of writers. My intent is to share with my non-believer friends what Christianity is about. I know the potential risk of losing some friends and I know that what I post on social media is not going to garner many ‘Likes’ but I have since stopped worrying about what others think. I am just going to use social media to my (and God’s) advantage and leave the rest to The Lord for however he wants to use my gift. All that matters is that I keep on writing and sowing the seeds. What’s also important is that whatever I do, I stay true to myself, as well as be authentic to my faith and my love for Jesus.

Whatever label people may have given to Jesus, whether carpenter, son of Mary, saviour, counsellor, healer, or rebel, he is above all, a God I can also call friend.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cynthia Chew)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, show us how to be as radical as you, especially when it comes to showing others who you really are. Help us to be more like you, to not be afraid to stand up for our faith, especially when we are put to the test.   

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for agreeing to be born a man, to live in the humblest circumstances, to suffer all the persecutions and to die for us on the cross just so that we have a chance to be reunited with you in the kingdom of heaven.   

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