Tag Archives: sharon soo

3 Aug, Saturday – On Saving Face

3 Aug 2019

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Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He said:

‘You are to count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout the land. You will declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you; each of you will return to his ancestral home, each to his own clan. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the ungathered corn, you will not gather from the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields.

‘In this year of jubilee each of you is to return to his ancestral home. If you buy or sell with your neighbour, let no one wrong his brother. If you buy from your neighbour, this must take into account the number of years since the jubilee: according to the number of productive years he will fix the price. The greater the number of years, the higher shall be the price demanded; the less the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests. Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.’

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Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

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but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.

‘Face’ or ‘mian zi’, I have discovered, is not just a Chinese infirmity. I used to think that it was just us who were obsessed with ‘mian zi’. Since coming to America though, I’ve realized that it affects all universally. Other people just have different names for it, e.g. pride. At the root of ‘mian zi’ lies deep-seated cultural attitudes about respect –- who gets it, who gives it, whether it has been earned, whether it can be earned, what one has to do to earn it, what happens when it is lost, etc

The need for ‘mian zi’ can compel people to do extreme things. I broke off an engagement with a man who was perfect on paper because his parents disrespected me and my family. They showed us no ‘mian zi’ because we had no money and no social standing. When it came down to it, I couldn’t contemplate a marriage without mutual respect; so I packed up, moved abroad and started a new life.

Since coming to America, I’ve heard versions of my own story, told to me by people from every demographic of American life – Chinese, Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, straight, lesbian, gay, you name it! The need to be shown respect, the need to be shown ‘face’ is a universal affliction. Just like I did, people will reboot their lives because of it. Sometimes things work out for the better — I would have been trapped in a loveless marriage if I had stayed. Other times, the relentless need to be shown ‘mian zi’ can rob you of your soul. In Herod’s case, it was more important to ‘save face’ than to save an innocent life. Overcome with pride and lust for Herodias’ daughter, he allowed himself to be manipulated into a corner, one he couldn’t back out of without a huge ‘loss of face’. In the end, John the Baptist lost his life. Herod though, lost something more valuable – his peace and his soul.

We all seem to take offence a lot more easily these days. You hear of fights breaking out at shopping malls and parking lots, of people getting shot and killed because someone was rude to them or disrespected them or ‘flipped them off’. We have no tolerance for being disrespected. Extreme actions have far-reaching consequences though. Taking a leaf out of Herod’s book, let’s all exercise a little caution the next time we go chasing after ‘mian zi’. It’s important we don’t lose sight of the things that truly matter while we’re busy saving ‘face’.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern wisely, between the things that are of this world and the things that truly matter.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, the source of wisdom, that allows us to make good decisions. We pray that God save us from ourselves and our impulses.

2 Aug, Friday – On School Reunions

Aug 2 – Memorial for St. Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; St Peter Julian Eymard, bishop

Eusebius (283-371) was a priest and lector in Rome, Italy. He was consecrated bishop of Vercelli, Italy in 340, but was exiled to Palestine and Cappadocia due to his struggle against Arianism. He was a friend of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was a prolific writer according to his contemporaries, but none of his works have survived. He was the first bishop to live with and follow the same rule as his priests. He may be been martyred by Arians, but reports vary. Many consider him a martyr as he may have died as a result of his sufferings in exile.

– Patron Saint Index

 Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) had a strong Marian devotion, and travelled to the assorted Marian shrines and apparition sites in France. He organised lay societies under the direction of the Marists, preached and taught, and worked for Eucharistic devotion. He felt a call to found a new religious society, and founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the lay Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. His work encountered a series of setbacks, including have to close his nascent houses and move twice, and the houses not being able to support themselves financially. However, his vision of priests, deacons, sisters, and lay people dedicated to the spiritual values celebrated in the Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament anticipated many of the renewals brought about by Vatican Councils I and II.

– Patron Saint Index

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Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said:

‘These are the Lord’s solemn festivals, the sacred assemblies to which you are to summon the sons of Israel on the appointed day.

‘The fourteenth day of the first month, between the two evenings, is the Passover of the Lord; and the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of Unleavened Bread for the Lord. For seven days you shall eat bread without leaven. On the first day you are to hold a sacred assembly; you must do no heavy work. For seven days you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord. The seventh day is to be a day of sacred assembly; you must do no work.’

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said:

‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them:

‘“When you enter the land that I give you, and gather in the harvest there, you must bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest, and he is to present it to the Lord with the gesture of offering, so that you may be acceptable. The priest shall make this offering on the day after the sabbath.

‘“From the day after the sabbath, the day on which you bring the sheaf of offering, you are to count seven full weeks. You are to count fifty days, to the day after the seventh sabbath, and then you are to offer the Lord a new oblation.

‘“The tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly. You must fast, and you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord.

‘“The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of Tabernacles for the Lord, lasting seven days. The first day is a day of sacred assembly; you must do no heavy work. For seven days you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord. On the eighth day you are to hold a sacred assembly, you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a day of solemn meeting; you must do no heavy work.

‘“These are the solemn festivals of the Lord to which you are to summon the children of Israel, sacred assemblies for the purpose of offering burnt offerings, holocausts, oblations, sacrifices and libations to the Lord, according to the ritual of each day.”’

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Matthew 13:54-58

Coming to his home town, Jesus taught the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? His sisters, too, are they not all here with us? So where did the man get it all?’ And they would not accept him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country and in his own house’, and he did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

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Is he not the carpenter’s son? … Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him

An ex-boyfriend is getting married this fall. In his enthusiasm to introduce the love of his life to the people he grew up with, he invited all of us to his wedding. “It will be like a school reunion! You’ll get to see everyone again!” he exclaimed, when we spoke about it. I am happy for him, I truly am, but I have an aversion to reunions. Some lives are meant to be lived just once. I have no desire to rip the scabs off old wounds or face-off with the ghosts of mean girls past. There’s nothing like a ‘reunion’ to stir up old animosities. It takes a thick skin to go to one of these things, something I just can’t conjure up at the moment. So I wished him well and declined his kind invitation.

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus dealing with some ‘reunion’ angst of his own. It’s almost a universal truth that the people you grew up around, the people of your ‘native place’, are the ones who will discount your success the most. They’ll make you fit in their little boxes and try to tear you down every chance they get. You’ll hear it in their barbed comments – “They live in that neighbourhood! What good ever comes out of there?” Or “They used to only have hand me downs, how did she manage to do that?” In Jesus’ case, it was “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?… Where did this man get all this?” (Matt 13: 54-57)

Preconceived notions about someone discount the transforming power of God’s grace. Scripture is full of ordinary characters doing great things through Him – the lowly shepherd boy who slew a giant and became a great king; the exiled prince who led his people out of captivity in Egypt; the frustrated fisherman who became the rock of Christ’s church. These were ordinary people who rose above their humble origins and went on to live extraordinary lives because they were open to God’s grace. They didn’t forget their roots; they were rooted in God. They said yes to Him and He changed their lives. Their peers probably mocked them, but so what? Who needs the affirmation of envious peers when one has God on one’s side?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me – 2 Cor 12:9

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who are stuck in toxic friendships, may God give them the strength to walk away from them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the kind and compassionate individuals who showed us encouragement instead of criticism, positivity instead of negativity, faith instead of doubt. 

11 June, Tuesday – On Barnabas

11 June – Feast of St. Barnabas, apostle

St. Barnabas (martyred AD61) founded the Church in Antioch. He was a Levite Jewish convert, coming to the faith soon after Pentecost. Barnabas is mentioned frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, and is included among the prophets and doctors at Antioch. Like Paul, Barnabas believed in the Church’s mission to Gentiles, and worked with him in Cyprus and Asia, but split with him over a non-theological matter. At the time of his death he was carrying a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew that he had copied by hand.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 11:21-26,13:1-3 

A great number believed and were converted to the Lord.
The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
  Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’
In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

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Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

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Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand

St Barnabas, together with St Paul, evangelized to the earliest Christians and was instrumental in establishing Christianity among the many non-Jewish communities of that time. Barnabas was born to wealthy Jewish parents, and, as was customary amongst privileged young men of his time, was given an education, possibly with the same teacher who had taught St Paul. Scriptural accounts of Barnabas tell of a gentleman, filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on his work of evangelizing. His commitment ran so deep, he donated his inheritance to the early Christian Church. And despite his conservative Jewish roots, Barnabas was a staunch advocate of ‘inclusivity’ in the early Christian Church. He wanted Gentiles to feel like they belonged. This caused a bit of a scandal, that led to the Council of Jerusalem acknowledging that the Old Testament practices did not apply to Christians.

The Romans during the time of St Paul and St Barnabas were deep thinkers and cosmopolitan-minded. Their cities teemed with cultures from across the empire. They believed that commerce flourished only if peace prevailed. That peace hinged on strong leadership at the grassroots levels. Establishing the early Church threatened the uneasy power dynamic between the Romans and the Jews, so Paul and Barnabas found themselves persecuted quite often. In the end, Barnabas was martyred in Cyprus, where it is believed he was stoned to death.

By all accounts, St Barnabas’ life was filled with improbabilities. He was the son of a wealthy Jewish man, raised in privilege, shielded from the rough and tumble of daily life by his family’s money and status. Yet he gave this all up to walk with God. He could have had a comfortable, cookie cutter lifestyle, but he eschewed that for the struggle of being a first generation apostle. In the end, he was killed for it. Some would say this was a ‘waste’ of a life. But God uses the foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). What is crazy from a distance makes complete sense when looked at closely, through the filter of faith and the Holy Spirit.

In our dark days of shameless self-promotion, rampant corruption and ruthless partisan politics, let us ponder for a while on a character such as St Barnabas – unassuming, humble, patient, peace-loving, a leader of the people. There are the politicians who scheme and plot to get themselves elected. And then there are leaders like Barnabas. Wouldn’t it be something if out of the dregs of humanity now, someone like such rose to be a leader amongst us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for leaders who are guided by their moral compass, not their financial calculators and personal balance sheets.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who selflessly go into public service.

19 April, Good Friday – All of our Crosses

19 April 2019

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.

As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.

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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

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John 18:1-19:42
 
Key: N. Narrator. ? Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

  N. Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said,
  ? Who are you looking for?
  N. They answered,
  C. Jesus the Nazarene.
  N. He said,
  ? I am he.
  N. Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time,
  ? Who are you looking for?
  N. They said,
  C. Jesus the Nazarene.
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? I have told you that I am he. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.
  N. This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’
  Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter,
  ? Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?
  N. The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’
  Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter,
  O. Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?
  N. He answered,
  O. I am not.
  N. Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.
  The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered,
  ? I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.
  N. At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying,
  O. Is that the way to answer the high priest?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?
  N. Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
  As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him,
  O. Aren’t you another of his disciples?
  N. He denied it, saying,
  O. I am not.
  N. One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said,
  O. Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?
  N. Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.
  They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said,
  O. What charge do you bring against this man?
  N. They replied,
  C. If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.
  N. The Jews answered,
  C. We are not allowed to put a man to death.
  N. This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.
  So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, and asked,
  O. Are you the king of the Jews?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?
  N. Pilate answered,
  O. Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. So you are a king, then?
  N. Jesus answered,
  ? It is you who say it. Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Truth? What is that?
  N. and with that he went out again to the Jews and said,
  O. I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?
  N. At this they shouted:
  C. Not this man, but Barabbas.
  N. Barabbas was a brigand.
  Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying,
  C. Hail, king of the Jews!
  N. and they slapped him in the face.
  Pilate came outside again and said to them,
  O. Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.
  N. Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said,
  O. Here is the man.
  N. When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted,
  C. Crucify him! Crucify him!
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.
  N. The Jews replied,
  C. We have a Law, and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.
  N. When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus
  O. Where do you come from?
  N. But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him,
  O. Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.
  N. From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted,
  C. If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.
  N. Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. Pilate said to the Jews,
  O. Here is your king.
  N. They said,
  C. Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Do you want me to crucify your king?
  N. The chief priests answered,
  C. We have no king except Caesar.
  N. So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
  They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate,
  C. You should not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said: “I am King of the Jews.”’
  N. Pilate answered,
  O. What I have written, I have written.
  N. When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another,
  C. Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.
  N. In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
  They shared out my clothing among them.
  They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.
  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother,
  ? Woman, this is your son.
  N. Then to the disciple he said,
  ? This is your mother.
  N. And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.
  After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:
  ? I am thirsty.
  N. A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said,
  ? It is accomplished;
  N. and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
  Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
  It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:
  Not one bone of his will be broken;
and again, in another place scripture says:
  They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.

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Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala

For a lot of us, tonight is traditionally the night that the Passion of Christ is staged at church by the younger members of our parish. Those of us who have young children in our families will typically jostle for good seats. We crane our necks, stick our mobile recording devices in people’s faces, all to get a good shot of our kids in Easter costume. The pageantry of the Passion almost supersedes its sombre message. This familiar story takes on new meaning when staged by our young. Our hearts are filled with love as we watch them bring it to life.

But what must John, Jesus’ mother Mary, his aunt Salome, Mary of Clopas and Mary of Magdala have felt watching it in real time at the foot of Jesus’ cross? Love, heartbreak, horror, hopelessness, despair, confusion…? How could this be the fulfilment of God’s plan? Where was the happy ending? Surely it couldn’t be this?

The Passion story has meant different things to me as I’ve grown older. The layers have begun to peel back and I’ve found myself looking with fresh eyes at the other characters that make up the Easter story. And now that I am an aunt and have watched my sister blossom into a loving mother, I’ve begun to wonder about the women who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Is this what family love is about? How strong must be their devotion to Jesus and to each other, that they would stay till the very end. This is what steadfast love looks like – holding on to each other through the gut-wrenching, bone-crushing gruesomeness. Holding on, despite their own fear, despite the whip of the Roman lash, the wild screaming of the mob, the heat, the stench of the dirt and blood. Yet they prevailed. This is what carrying your cross looks like.

Though Jesus is the one overtly carrying a cross in this story, everyone else is in some way, carrying one too. At that moment, Mary’s cross was her motherhood, that she was the mother of Christ. John, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdala’s cross was that of devoted discipleship. Pilate’s cross was self-preservation – he let Jesus die to appease the mob and save his own skin. Joseph of Arimathea’s cross was redemption from his wealth – he used his vast resources and stature in the community to give Jesus a dignified burial. Peter’s cross was Christ’s forgiveness despite Peter’s denial of him. Everyone is carrying a cross in this story. And if we look and listen very closely, we’ll be able to see ourselves in each of their stories. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for steadfastness and tenacity, as we pick up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Christ. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s love and mercy, in that when we were sinners, He deemed us enough and sent his beloved Son to redeem us. 

18 April, Thursday (Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper) – Participation not Perfection

18 April 2019

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Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal. It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord. That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”’

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

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 John 13:1-15
 

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’

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Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet

Over the Christmas season last year, I hosted my husband’s family at our house for a week. Because I ran myself to the ground the year before trying to take care of every small detail, my husband suggested that this time, I learn to be more ‘collaborative’, to allow others to ‘share in the joy of making Christmas a success’ (his words, not mine!). I argued that it was a pointless exercise, that no one would be able to do things as efficiently as I would, that they would mess it up and I would have to spend even more time fixing it. He argued that while it might be the case, everyone would feel like they had contributed, even if the end result wasn’t perfect. He argued that it was less important for things to be perfect, it was a nobler ideal that people felt they had participated, that they had played a part in making Christmas a success.

So we tried it his way. I let his family ‘collaborate’ even as I ‘helicopter-hovered’ as discreetly as I could. And I have to say… my husband was right!! The feeling of love, goodwill, joy and family warmth that emanated over the week was worth the less than perfect end result. Everyone had a great time, despite all my hovering!

How is this relevant to the gospel today? As much as we refuse to admit it, most of us are control freaks. We think that we’re the bee’s knees, that no one can do a better job of something than us. We shun help, disdain it, decline it condescendingly or worse, feel offended by it – “Why, do YOU think that I can’t figure it out for myself? Are YOU trying to tell ME how to do things?” A lot of this is rooted in self-pride – pride in our abilities, pride in our efficiency, pride in our perceived martyrdom. It’s a form of affirmation, this delusion that no one can do it better than we can. But in our hastiness to seize the spotlight for ourselves, we rob others of the chance to serve. Like Peter, we proclaim, “You will never wash my feet”. You will never serve me! I won’t allow it! But really, who are we to decide who gets to serve? Who are we to decide what is good enough? Don’t we also deny ourselves the chance to be loved, to be taken care of, when we are disdainful of a helping hand? Might joy and love not be multiplied if we all collaborated?

As we attend this evening’s mass and look upon the symbolism of the washing of feet, let us call to mind all the times we turned down a helping hand because we didn’t think someone was good enough, and ask the Lord’s forgiveness for our pride, our selfish vanity and foolishness. It is not the end result that matters, what’s more important is how we all got there together. Perfection is not nearly as noble an ideal as participation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience, the humility and the awareness to involve others in our lives and in the work of God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the times we have been helped, for all the times we have stood on the shoulders of others, and for all the opportunities that God has given us to be that shoulder for someone to stand on. 

18 April, Thursday (Chrism mass) – Own The Moment

18 April 2019

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Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.

But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God.’
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.

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Apocalypse 1:5-8

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

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Luke 4:16-21
Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

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You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord, ministers of our God shall you be called

How do we discern what God’s plan is for us? Does that plan change as we move through our life’s cycle? Some people are dutiful daughters, loving wives and doting grandmothers, but what if we are in one of those non-traditional families and don’t have children of our own? What roles do we play then? I’ve found myself mulling this over a lot as we approach the home stretch of Holy Week. I feel an urgency to figure this out because if I don’t, then it would be as if I had squandered yet another Lent. It would be as if I had learned nothing. I still don’t know what God wants for me. That failure to bear fruit is causing me a lot of anxiety.

The confidence with which Jesus embraces his purpose in today’s gospel reading is truly humbling. It takes courage to recognize and embrace your cause, courage which I clearly haven’t found. In his shoes, I would never have been so bold. I would have been intimidated by the expensive trappings of the temple, the rustle of the high priests’ robes as they walked, the scale of the place and all it symbolized in Jewish culture. I would have been overwhelmed by the weight of all that history, the expectations of generations of Jewish prophecy. I would have fretted over whether I was good enough, whether I would ever be good enough. I would have been too afraid to own the moment, as Jesus did.

And maybe that’s my problem. Fear. I am afraid to own my moment. I’m afraid to embrace my cause. I’m afraid to disappoint all the people who expect things from me, that I will upset their well-laid plans, if I stand up for myself. I don’t want to rock the boat with anyone. I tell myself that I’m trying to keep the peace but fear of confrontation is not the same as peacekeeping. No one succeeds in trying to please everyone. There is no happiness in pandering to everybody’s expectations of us. And perhaps that’s why I still haven’t figured it out — because I’ve lost sight of the only opinion that matters. God’s.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom and fortitude to see the long view and discern God’s purpose for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s mercy and the expansiveness of His love, that despite our unworthiness, He deemed us enough for Him.

2 March, Saturday – Rosie

2 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 17:1-13

The Lord fashioned man from the earth,
  to consign him back to it.
He gave them so many days’ determined time,
  he gave them authority over everything on earth.
He clothed them with strength like his own,
  and made them in his own image.
He filled all living things with dread of man,
  making him master over beasts and birds.
He shaped for them a mouth and tongue, eyes and ears,
  and gave them a heart to think with.
He filled them with knowledge and understanding,
  and revealed to them good and evil.
He put his own light in their hearts
  to show them the magnificence of his works.
They will praise his holy name,
  as they tell of his magnificent works.
He set knowledge before them,
  he endowed them with the law of life.
Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,
  and their ears heard the glory of his voice.
He said to them, ‘Beware of all wrong-doing’;
  he gave each a commandment concerning his neighbour.
Their ways are always under his eye,
  they cannot be hidden from his sight.

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Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.

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He gave them so many days’ determined time, he gave them authority over everything on earth.

We had a death in the family just before Christmas. Our niece, Rosie, passed away in her sleep. One day she was a hopeful 26-yr-old planning a new life with her fiancé, the next she had slipped away. It’s been a surreal few months. I have not reconciled myself to the fact that she is gone. It doesn’t seem real. When God decides to take a young person back to Himself, it is as if the natural order of things has been broken. Though my head understands it is His prerogative, that I cannot know the when and why of His ways, my heart is having a hard time with it. And along with denial is a terrible sense of regret – regret over words spoken and unspoken, over intentions good and bad, over things I should have done and things I wished I had not.

One of the inevitabilities of grief is an awareness of time. This isn’t new territory for me, but I had allowed myself to let my guard down. Our time with someone is finite and it can get taken away from us. Quite brutally too. My father passed away 3 years ago after a long battle with cancer. With him, I had a long time to say goodbye, to bank as many beautiful memories as I could. And still, I was careless and our last words were angry ones. After he died, I told myself that I would henceforth be more watchful over my tongue and my thoughts. Yet my last thoughts of Rosie were, if not angry, then certainly frustrated ones. And oh, how deeply I regret that.

The gospel in Mark talks about how only childlike faith will grant us citizenship in the kingdom of God. I know this to be true because it is only with childlike faith and wonder that one is able to rise above the cynicism, scepticism and jadedness of adulthood. I had lost that wonder, not just with Rosie, but with a lot of other people in my life. Just before she died, I was going through what I can only describe as a very angry period. Now she is gone, I wish that I had tempered myself more. I wish that I had prayed more. I wish that I had overlooked more things. But it’s a little late for all that now. Regret doesn’t bring back the dead, it only fills the living with grief and remorse. I am glad that Rosie is back with God. At least she no longer has to deal with the likes of me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for the self-awareness to be more restrained in both my thoughts and my words.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the time that I did have with my father and Rosie. I give thanks for all the memories, both the good and the bad.

1 March, Friday – Husbands And Wives

1 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17
A kindly turn of speech multiplies a man’s friends,
  and a courteous way of speaking invites many a friendly reply.
Let your acquaintances be many,
  but your advisers one in a thousand.
If you want to make a friend, take him on trial,
  and be in no hurry to trust him;
for one kind of friend is only so when it suits him
  but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
Another kind of friend will fall out with you
  and to your dismay make the quarrel public,
and a third kind of friend will share your table,
  but not stand by you in your day of trouble:
when you are doing well he will be your second self,
  ordering your servants about;
but if ever you are brought low he will turn against you
  and will hide himself from you.
Keep well clear of your enemies,
  and be wary of your friends.
A faithful friend is a sure shelter,
  whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.
A faithful friend is something beyond price,
  there is no measuring his worth.
A faithful friend is the elixir of life,
  and those who fear the Lord will find one.
Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends,
  for as a man is, so is his friend.

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Mark 10:1-12

Jesus came to the district of Judaea and the far side of the Jordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’

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So they are no longer two but one flesh.

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on my own, is to sit and watch old married couples interact with each other. Whether at airports, in cafes, at the grocery store or in crowded restaurants, the miracle of an enduring marriage is something I think about a lot. What lives must they have led, to get to this point where they’re at peace with themselves and content just to be in each other’s company? What struggles and arguments must they have endured to know and love each other so much now? You can always tell the ones who are uneasily yoked – someone is usually rolling their eyes or making some backhanded remark. Granted, it is not easy to live with the same person for so many years. Why then, do some marriages grow strong with age, while others wither and die out?

It takes divine grace to go the distance, to build something that endures. Our first reading talks about how one is to discern one’s friends. Those same qualities apply to our life partner as well. Are they compassionate and trustworthy? Do they have our backs? Can they be found when we’re laid low? These are not the things that we consider in the first blush of romance. Rather, more weight is given to whether they ‘make us happy’, as if happiness were something to be traded and acquired.

I was very nearly married once, before I met my current husband. We were so young. He was someone who ticked all the ‘right boxes’, someone who on paper fulfilled the ‘requirements’ I thought would make for a happy life – the right pedigree, the right education, the right career path. No thought was given to whether or not we might be good companions for the long haul. We never made it to the altar. He and I faltered at the first hurdle, planning the wedding, and were exposed for the frauds that we were. You’re not ready to be married until you’re ready to sacrifice. And neither he nor I were prepared to yield even one inch for the other.

The enduring marriage is a miracle of God. It is a triumph of patience and sacrifice, a testament to love that puts the other ahead of itself. “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”– no longer the wants of their individual selves, but rather the shared hopes and dreams of both together. At the heart of it, the enduring marriage is a three-pronged relationship – husband, wife and God, all bound together by those beautiful wedding vows. “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate”. God bless all of our long-suffering husbands and wives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are about to take their marriage vows. We pray that God helps them to discern carefully, to understand the gravity of the decision they are about to make.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our husbands and our wives; for their patience, their humour, their love and the sacrifice they make daily, when they put us before themselves. We give thanks that we met them. We give thanks for the brightness that they bring to our lives.

28 February, Thursday – On Cucumbers

28 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 5:1-10

Do not give your heart to your money,
  or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’
Do not be led by your appetites and energy
  to follow the passions of your heart.
And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’
  for the Lord will certainly be avenged on you.
Do not say, ‘I sinned, and what happened to me?’
  for the Lord’s forbearance is long.
Do not be so sure of forgiveness
  that you add sin to sin.
And do not say, ‘His compassion is great,
  he will forgive me my many sins’;
for with him are both mercy and wrath,
  and his rage bears heavy on sinners.
Do not delay your return to the Lord,
  do not put it off day after day;
for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out,
  and at the time of vengeance you will be utterly destroyed.
Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains,
  they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.

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Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples:
  ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
  ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

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Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.

Not many people know this but Saint Martha – patron saint of all who toil in the kitchen – was my confirmation saint. There is a lot to learn about God in the culinary arts. For instance — pickled cucumbers. Most of us take them for granted. Why bother with making them when Vlasic retails them for $3.99/jar? But if you did that, you would miss out on one of the great joys of eating. I learned how to salt and pickle fresh cucumbers from my mother. She would cut out the soft, delicate hearts, treat the firm outer flesh to an exfoliating salt scrub, then leave the cucumbers to ‘leak’ their excess moisture, before storing them in a bath of salt, vinegar and sugar. Pickled cucumbers were a mainstay in our house, adorning pan-fried pork cutlets, garnishing minced beef noodles, elevating fatty hunks of roast. I snacked on them by the handfuls. But it is only as an adult, through the filter of Scripture, that I have come to appreciate the lowly, pickled cucumber as more than instant gastronomic gratification.

In the Old Testament, the ‘Covenant of Salt’ (Num 18:19) was the covenant that God made with the tribe of Moses’ brother, Aaron, when He set them apart as priests of the Holy Sanctuary. The Hebrews at the time were an unenlightened, ungrateful people, incapable of approaching the Holy Sanctuary without being struck down by death and pestilence. Aaron’s family was the go-between, a line of priests set apart for serving God. Salt was used to consecrate all of the offerings in the Sanctuary. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he did away with all that and allowed us believers to return to God, to be His consecrated people. By God’s grace, we have been ‘salted’ and granted citizenship in His new kingdom. For our part, we are told to ‘keep salt in yourselves’ (Mark 9:50), to maintain a leanness of spirit, to not clutter ourselves with the distractions of wealth, power and fruitless desires (Sir 5:1-8). God wants us to remember why we have been consecrated.

There is much Scriptural wisdom in the culinary arts. Fresh off its vine, the cucumber might look glorious for a few days, but would end up rotting worthlessly at the bottom of our refrigerator drawer, if we did not bother to salt and pickle it. By losing some of its unwanted water weight, the pickled cucumber is transformed into something purer, leaner, crisper – and a great deal more enduring. The same can be said for us. We could all benefit from a little spiritual ‘salting’, an exfoliation of all the unnecessary distractions that drag us down. That which emerges is very likely to be leaner, purer and more spiritually pleasing to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s grace when we endure the struggles that serve to ‘salt’ our souls, so that we might be pleasing in His eyes.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His infinite grace and mercy, that while we were unenlightened, ungrateful sinners, God sent His Son to die for our sins and grant us citizenship in His everlasting kingdom.

4 February, Monday – Evelyn

4 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:32-40

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – these were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what is right and earned the promises. They could keep a lion’s mouth shut, put out blazing fires and emerge unscathed from battle. They were weak people who were given strength, to be brave in war and drive back foreign invaders.

Some came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection; and others submitted to torture, refusing release so that they would rise again to a better life. Some had to bear being pilloried and flogged, or even chained up in prison. They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless, and dressed in the skins of sheep and goats; they were penniless and were given nothing but ill-treatment.

They were too good for the world and they went out to live in deserts and mountains and in caves and ravines. These are all heroes of faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had made provision for us to have something better, and they were not to reach perfection except with us.

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Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples reached the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and no sooner had Jesus left the boat than a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain; because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broken the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear by God you will not torture me!’ – For Jesus had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit.’ ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. ‘My name is legion,’ he answered ‘for there are many of us.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.

Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.’ So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. The swineherds ran off and told their story in the town and in the country round about; and the people came to see what had really happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his full senses – the very man who had had the legion in him before – and they were afraid. And those who had witnessed it reported what had happened to the demoniac and what had become of the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave the neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to be allowed to stay with him. Jesus would not let him but said to him, ‘Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.’ So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.

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“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you”

My cousin, Evelyn, had serious bouts of epilepsy when she was a child. It was so bad that it hampered her development. So Evelyn, in her old age, still behaves as she did when she was 6. In those days, not a lot was understood about her condition. The family whispered amongst themselves, shaking their heads, wringing their hands. How could this have happened? People searched for ways to explain it. My grandmother blamed it on my aunt. Not everyone was kind.

Despite all this, Evelyn grew to know Christ and embraced Him as her saviour. Evelyn went to church. She understood happiness and sorrow. She had a deep sense of moral justice. And she was filled with joy, always laughing or smiling. She also prayed a lot. She told me once that she asked God something and He responded to her and it made me think, “…God has chosen what the world considers foolish, to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong…” (1 Cor 1:27-28). Evelyn likely had a closer relationship with God than any of us. She may even have tried to communicate that, but we dismissed her because we all thought she was ‘slow’.

I wonder what kind of resistance the man in today’s gospel faced from his family. Would they have dismissed his testimony as the chatter of an unsound mind? Or would their faith have allowed them to see that he had been touched by God? How we view life speaks to what we hold in our hearts. Are we cynical? We will view everything with skepticism. Are we resentful? We will try to compete with everyone. Are we proud? We will look down our noses at everything. Evelyn’s simpler life saved her from the illnesses of the ‘sound mind’ like pride, selfishness, greed, prejudice. Evelyn was wholly open to God because what else was she going to do? Seek affirmation from her mean-girl cousins? Those who love us are the ones most capable of hurting us. Evelyn might have seemed unaware but I think she knew what we were saying all those times we were sharp to her. And she would have been hurting even if she was smiling. In our suffering, we can all think of Christ on the cross – singular in his focus, hopeful in the worst of circumstances, faithful till the end. Perhaps that was the source of Evelyn’s joy – Christ – and he was enough to make her forget how hard life was. I sometimes wonder why she never said anything. But perhaps it is I that never really heard her in the first place.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability to discern Christ even in the most unlikely of individuals.


Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His grace and mercy, that despite our past wrongdoings, He is merciful in His forgiveness.