- Document: Holy Scripture Readings
1.1. First Reading: Book of Isaiah 58:9-14
1.2. Gospel Reading: The Gospel of St Luke 5:27-32
1.3. Simple Comment: We continue to read the fasting Yahweh desires as reported by Isaiah. The emphasis moves into the images of Israel’s transformation if she fulfills the true fast: light shall rise, parched lands will become watered gardens, ancient ruins will be rebuilt. St Luke narrates in his gospel the call of Levi, the tax collector. In a similar narration in the Gospel of Matthew, this tax collector is identified by Matthew to be himself. By Jesus’ choice, Levi the tax collector is transformed to Matthew the Lord’s disciple: from a Jewish-society outcast to belonging to God’s circle of friends.
- Monument: Bethlehem
2.1. In submitting herself to God’s hands, Mary experiences the Lord’s goodness in the person of Joseph, her betrothed, who accepts her condition and does not leave her in a compromising predicament of becoming society’s outcast. Joseph accepts his mission from the angel who speaks to him in a dream; so he takes Mary to his home in Nazareth. When her time came to give birth, destiny summons them to Bethlehem, the city of David, in whose lineage Joseph belonged. Politics lead them to be listed in a nationwide census; God’s destiny brings His Son to be born in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
2.2. Bethlehem means Temple of (beth) [the god of] bread (lehem). It lies seven miles south of Jerusalem. Due to the census, there were many visitors in this little town and Joseph realized that Mary needed a more private place. He brings her away from the populated area and finds for themselves a cave meant to protect animals from the cold. Meanwhile angels appear in a nearby field announcing to shepherds the birth of the Messiah.
2.3. It was not a unique experience that a couple would spend the night out of necessity in a cave nor was it unique that a child be born outdoors, nor have society’s uncouth as first visitors. But just to think that God’s Son chose to live like an outcast from the first day of his life on earth makes us re-examine how we relate with society’s poor. Today Bethlehem is Palestinian territory ruled by the Hamas. It is encircled by a six-meter high wall, a blunt statement by Jews that these people do not belong to their circles.
- Lenten Reflection
3.1. Joseph is known to be an upright man, a blameless person and faithful Jew. Yet he takes upon himself the stigma of having impregnated Mary when they were not yet legally married. He takes this as a mission from God; like Mary he submits himself to the inscrutable ways of the Almighty who takes the side of society’s outcast.
3.2. Jesus chooses a manger for his first bed; he chooses outcasts for his companions, a Samaritan woman with already five previous marriages as bringer of good news to her townsfolk, a prostitute to anoint his head for his imminent death; he chooses the ignominious death of a criminal crucified on a cross and a borrowed tomb for his burial.
3.3. The outcast has a place in the designs of God, be it in the time of Jesus or to our day, like in a Yugoslav nun who left her cozy convent to minister to the outcasts of Calcutta, or a Polish Cardinal of a communist nation to lead the Church to the 21st century.
- Contemporary Filipino Question: There are now 11 million OFWs engaged in menial tasks of housekeeping in Rome, care-giving the aged in London, sweat-shop workers in Taipei, nightclub dancers in Fukuoka, welders under the sweltering sun of Riyadh, seamen plying the dangerous oceans of Norway. They also keep the Catholic faith alive in those cities. How do we treat the fruits of their labor with the billions of dollar remittances that still keep our economy afloat? How do we appreciate them whom Pope John Paul II called the modern missionaries of the world?