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Friday, December 14, 2007

Dec. 19 Simbang Gabi

Commentary 1: Fr. Randolf C. Flores, SVD
Professor of Old Testament, Divine Word Seminary
Tagaytay City, Philippines

Commentary 2: Fr. Lino Nicasio, SVD
Professor of Homiletics, Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City
Principal of St. Jude Catholic School, Manila, Philippines

Reading 1: Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a
Responsorial Psalm:
Ps 71:3-4a, 5-6ab, 16-17
R. (see 8) My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
Gospel:
Lk 1:5-25

Commentary 1
A Few Good Men” is the title of a successful movie in 1992 based on a Broadway play by Aaron Sorkin. It’s the story of lawyers at a court-martial who, in the course of defending their clients, begin to uncover a high-level conspiracy in United States Marines. Against all odds they choose to be “good” and relentlessly pursue the truth.

A Good Person is Harder and Harder to Find
The book of Judges from whom the first reading is taken a similar narrative that centers on the quest of few good men and women –called “judges” or more appropriately, military leaders who would take up the lead to protect Israel from their enemies. Actually, it is a desperate search for “few good men”. The stories in this book unfold in a kind of cyclic pattern of apostasy (going after other gods), punishment (usually the oppression of a foreign nation), repentance, and rescue and back to apostasy again. Every time a new story of Israelites’ infidelity begins, the search and call for a qualified leader or “judge” is also on. But a good leader is a rarity: Among the judges, it is only Othniel, the first judge, and Deborah, the only female judge, that we do not read any character and commitment problem. Ehud, the second judge is a trickster; Gideon, a coward; and Jephthah eventually turns his daughter as burnt offering and Samson, a tragic figure. In this book, a good person is getting harder and harder to find. As you come to the end of the book, it ultimately spirals into idolatry, rape, and near genocide – in short then book of Judges ends with anarchy and chaos in the Promised Land.

Annunciation Type-Scene
The first reading today narrates the birth of Samson, the last judge (Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a) which liturgy parallels with the story of the birth of John the Baptist, last prophet of the Old Testament (Lk 1:5-25, the liturgical reading has the first part: the annunciation of the John’s birth). The narrative of the birth of these two men follows the structure of a miraculous birth common in the bible. This annunciation type-scene (as it is called in biblical scholarship) has three elements: the initial barrenness of the wife, a divine promise of future conception, and the birth of a son. We find similar type-scenes in the birth of Isaac (Gen 18:1-16); of the twins, Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:20-26). According to R. Brown (Birth of the Messiah), Luke could be drawing parallels between the birth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1) and John the Baptist. Both of their fathers, Elkanah and Zecariah are priests; mothers Hannah and Elizabeth are barren, Samuel and John the Baptist are “dedicated” to the Lord; and the name “Hannah” comes from the same Hebrew word as “Yohanan” (“John” in English) “HEN “kindness” or “grace” in English).

Samson and John the Baptist
In any case, Samson and John the Baptist are parallel figures too. Aside from the similarities of their birth, they share a tragic end. Samson dies with the Philistines after crashing the pillars of their temple while John was beheaded on Herod’s order. As Samson is bound by the Nazirite vow where he must abstain any intoxicating drinks, refrain from cutting the hair on one's head, avoid corpses and graves (see Num 6:1-21), the ascetic lifestyle of John indicate that he too is Nazirite ( see Luke 7:3).

However, the two are better seen as figures of contrast. Samson, his name means “sun”, really burns himself up like the sun. He has the strength of Hercules except that he is dim-witted. He breaks his Nazirite vow by eating from the carcass of a lion (Judg 14:9); against his parents’ consent, he becomes erotically involved with three women from their enemies, the Philistines. In rage for feeling betrayed, he goes around burning the Philistine vineyards. In retaliation, the Philistines burn his wife and her parents. Like the in the first, the rest of those marriages end in tragedy. The love story of Samson and Delilah, as we know today, has become a classic story of love and betrayal. Who would ever forget love and violence in Tom Jones’song, Delilah?

The song opens immediately with betrayal:

I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window
I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind
She was my woman
As she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind
My, my, my, Delilah
Why, why, why, Delilah
.

And ends with rage and murder:

I could see that girl was no good for me
But I was lost like a slave that no man could free
At break of day when that man drove away, I was waiting
I cross the street to her house and she opened the door
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more
My, my, my Delilah
Why, why, why Delilah.

"The Just Man"
John the Baptist is different. The writer Luke sees to it that John is not another Samson. Even the first century A.D. Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, calls him a “just man”.

In the Gospel of Luke, John is at every important event in the life of Jesus. As we have seen, this Gospel opens with the announcement of birth of John the Baptist before the announcement of birth of Jesus; the story of the birth of John first before the story of the first Christmas; the preaching of John before the Jesus himself appears to preach.

In the Benedictus, Zechariah calls his son “the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (italics mine, Lk 1:76). “To go before the Lord” seems to indicate not only John as “forerunner” but also as the teacher of Jesus. Discipleship is “going after the Lord”. Jesus could have been a disciple of John before he himself becomes a teacher. At one point, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray “as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1) and then he proceeds to pray the “Our Father”. Did Jesus learn the “Our Father from John?

From the Crib to the Cross
When John is in prison and he sends his disciples for a sort of “background” check on Jesus, the latter’s reaction ends with calling John “more than a prophet” and greater than among those born of women (Lk 7:26, 28; synoptic parallel was read last Sunday, Dec. 16, Mt 11:2-11). These words do not mean to heap up accolades but to lead Luke’s readers to see John as the precursor not only of Jesus’ birth but also of his death. Both shared a violent end. Such will also the fate of those would wish to follow Jesus. In the second volume of Luke’s work, the Acts of the Apostles, we will read the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. This violent yet triumphant story is read right on the day after Christmas (Dec. 26, Acts 7:54-60). The Crib must lead us to the Cross.

A Few Good Men
On this season, we can choose to think of other few good men (and women too) who suffered such fate. The story of the death of Bishop Wilhelm Finnemann, SVD would exemplify this ideal. He was the first SVD auxiliary bishop of Manila and probably the first German to become a naturalized Filipino citizen.

In 1936, Bishop Finnemann was appointed the first bishop of Mindoro. It was World War II. The war took its toll in Mindoro especially on women and children. Some Catholic schools and convents were being transformed into brothels for children. Women especially young girls were being abused raped and turned into “comfort women”.

Bishop Finnemann strongly stood against these abuses and a number of times interceded and denounced the soldiers to free young girls who were forced to become sex slaves. The bishop was thus imprisoned and on October 26, 1942, he was thrown alive into the sea between Calapan and Batangas. One account describes that he died, “Along the way in the waters between Verde Island and Batangas, the soldiers bound his hands and feet, tied his body on a huge rock and dropped him overboard into the depths of the sea.” (cited in fabc.org).

Palm Sunday, April 1, 2007 in Barrio Mabongtot, Lubuagan, Kalinga. Fr. Fransiskus Madhu, SVD missionary was about to begin the Palm Sunday mass when a man with an M-16 slung from the shoulder fired at him at close range. Fr. Madhu sustained five bullet wounds in his lower abdomen and side. He died on the spot. It’s now past seven months and 19 days, still no justice has been served to the young Indonesian missionary.

Back to John the Baptist
This Christmas season, we can choose to be a renewed follower
of Jesus, one among the few good men and women, by beginning to heed the preaching of John the Baptist.

And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages" (Lk 3:10-14).
Commentary 2 (from Bible Diary 2005)
There is a saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This seems to be Zechariah’s thought in today’s gospel after anger Gabriel gave him great sounding news: Elizabeth and he are about to have a child. And because he doubted the angel’s word, Zechariah was struck dumb. What the priest failed to see was that with God everything is possible. Let’s consider the following points:

First, God had a plan for human being’s salvation. It may have taken centuries to unfold, but the plan was going to be realized. And Zechariah and Elizabeth had a role to play: to be the parents of the precursor of the Savior.

That both of them were old was irrelevant in this case, for nothing is impossible with God.

What about us? Are we ready to be sued by God for his purposes? Are we eager to do God’s will in our lives even though it is difficult? St. Francis prayed: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace?” What does God want us to do for him?

Second, God chooses whom he wills. He chose Zechariah, Elizabeth and others for his purposes. And he chose each and everyone of us for a special task or calling, this is why He created us.

Are we going to miss and lose the mission God has in mind for us? It is the priesthood or religious life, or single blessedness or married life? Yes, we are unworthy, but our task is to be like Mary, a servant of God’s will.

Third, God carries out his plan. It may have taken a long time for the Savior to appear, but he did. In life, we have our own time, and we have God’s time. Usually when we want something, we want it our own way, in our time. This is wrong, for we should allow God to work out his plan in our lives and in his own time. What we need to do is to be ready at all times to do God’s will when, where and how he wills it. This is the way of God’s servant.

God has a purpose for our lives. Are we willing to fulfill it? May the Holy Spirit guide us that we may accomplish for which God created us with love.

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