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The WORD. The TRUTH.

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Homily for Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent, 23 March 2022, Mat 5:17-19

Somebody once asked me an interesting question: “Bishop, I learned in a Bible Study session recently that the Old Testament pala is the Bible of the Jewish people. So why is it still part of our Bible? Should not the Christian Bible contain only the New Testament?

He also added that he found it very difficult to read the Old Testament because it was “full of violent characters and sounded very primitive.” He also felt that the God of the Old Testament seemed to him to be a vengeful and punishing God, and not like the God of the New Testament revealed by Jesus Christ, who, according to him, is more of a loving and forgiving God.

I know that there are some Christians who feel the same way but are not saying it. If you happen to be one of them, here’s my answer to your doubts.

Please do not forget that we cannot break away from Judaism and continue to call ourselves “Christian”. The Christian faith is built on the foundation of the Jewish faith. If you remove the foundation, the rest of the house collapses. That is why we call our faith JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN.

People often forget that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were Jewish. So were the Elizabeth, Zechariah and their son John the Baptist, as well as the twelve apostles. Even Paul who supposedly wrote 13 of the 27 writings of the New Testament was Jewish, in fact a Pharisee. Most of the early Christians continued to identify themselves as Jews who followed the Way of Jesus of Nazareth—the one they proclaimed as the Messiah the Jews were waiting for. Of course, not all Jewish people agreed. And so the early Jewish Christians were rejected by some of their fellow Jews. But Christians themselves were never taught to reject Judaism. It is unChristian to be anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic.

Today’s Gospel explains to us why. Jesus never had the intention of parting ways with Judaism and the faith in which he was nurtured. It is what he meant when he said he did not come to abolish the “Law and the Prophets”, meaning, the Scriptures. Rather, he says, “I have come to FULFILL them.”

I can sense a certain tone of defensiveness in these words. Obviously there were some people who felt threatened by Jesus’ teachings because they found them too radical. They were the ones who misrepresented him as a kind of anarchist, or a revolutionary who wanted to do away with Judaism. In today’s circumstances, he would have been red-tagged or called a communist, like many advocates of social change, (even those who have nothing at all to do with communists). Look, even bookstores—like Popular Bookstore and Solidaridad are now being red-tagged. I saw in the news that their shops have recently been spray-painted with messages in red, calling them names like “NPA, terorista, komunista,” etc.

I imagine all the names Jesus and his group of followers were called by those who rejected his teachings. Some of those who called him “Messiah” or “Son of God” actually meant it in a very sarcastic way, with the intention of villifying him. Many of his detractors were in fact very religious people, and very orthodox in the way they observed their religious duties and obligation. Ironically, Jesus referred to them as people who “nullify the word of God for the sake of tradition”. (Mat 15:6) Quoting from the prophet Isaiah 29:13, he describes them as people (who) “honor (God) with their lips”, but whose “hearts are far from (him).” People who teach as doctrines “mere human precepts.”

Jesus is suggesting that complying with the law is one thing and fulfilling it is another. Alas, not all who think they are complying with the law are actually fulfilling it. Some may in fact be blaspheming it.

When Pope Francis met virtually with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, I could sense that he was trying to be diplomatic, perhaps still hoping against hope that he could dialogue with him in the light of faith and reason. Why? Because he knew that this man was the only one who had some spiritual and moral influence on President Putin. He could be the only key to peace in Ukraine and the one in a position to get Putin to stop the war. I think it was after he failed to convince Kirill that he finally decided to follow the advice of the Ukrainian Catholic bishops to consecrate both countries to the Blessed Mother.

A few days ago I saw a video of President Putin addressing a big crowd of young Russians inside a stadium. I have never heard Putin sounding so religious in his speech. He was paying homage to the Russian soldiers who have died in what he kept calling a “special military operation” in Ukraine, which according to him is meant to save Russia. He said, “I recall the words from the Bible, ‘Greater love no one has than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’” He was quoting from John 15:13.

He described the loss of Russian lives as “storms (that) will contribute to Russia’s glory!” Then he ended by invoking the traditional response to the Christian doxology to the Holy Trinity,“As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.” But he had turned the “Glory be to the Holy Trinity…” into “Glory be to Russia!” It was only then that I realized that this man actually thinks he is fighting a religious war!

And his interpretation of the same Biblical passages are motivating Russian Christians to kill Ukrainian Christians and think that they are doing it for the glory of God, which, for Putin means, for the glory of Russia. Now Pope Francis is asking us to fight this war in the only way it should be fought—the spiritual way. We are in the middle of a SPIRITUAL BATTLE with the Great Liar who can even quote the Bible in order to weave his lies.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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