CHRIST’S RESPONSE TO ABEL’S CRY
This is an attempt to understand the power of the Blood of Christ above that of the blood of Abel. The letter to the Hebrews says, “The sprinkled blood of Christ speaks more insistently than the blood of Abel” (12:24).
Abel’s Cry for justice
The Lord said to Cain after he had killed Abel, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gn 4:10). What is the blood of Abel crying out for? It is crying out for justice on two counts: one, that the life of which Abel is robbed be returned to him; two, that Cain be avenged.
In the first place Abel is asking that his life be returned to him, since it has been taken away unjustly, by someone who has no right over his life. The cry of Abel is typical of the cries of millions of people who suffer injustice all over the world - in fact, of all the people from the time of Adam to the last man yet to be born. His cry is resounding from generation to generation. That is why Jesus said to the Jews, “This generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:49-51). Every injustice committed on earth adds up to the debt of retribution that is due to be paid. This is as true of a simple lie told as it is of a murder committed. This is true even of an evil device hatched in the secret of one’s heart. For Jesus entertaining an evil intent is as serious as committing adultery (Cf. Mt 5:28). Every disordered subject is asking for retribution.
Abel’s cry for revenge
Secondly, the blood of Abel is crying out to see Cain disciplined (punished, to be more realistic). The punishment commensurate to the crime committed by Cain is nothing less than taking his life. Abel would imagine that his own soul would rest in peace (if you use a present-day justification for capital punishment) by depriving Cain of his life itself; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the primitive rule of retribution. Peoples still ask for the blood of a hard core criminal: “Hang him! Hang him!”
Whence comes Justice for Abel, acquittal for Cain?
In normal circumstance Abel would never get justice. This is because Cain who took his life is incapable of giving it back to him. Only God is capable of bringing anyone back to life. But would God put breath back into his nostrils? That has not been his way (except when in rare instances Jesus raised three dead persons). God generally lets the dead be buried.
On the other hand, taking the life of Cain in retribution also would not be a response to the cry of Abel; for of what use to Abel is the death of Cain if Abel himself is deprived of life? (For example, if someone maligns you, would your good name be restored by your maligning that person?) Therefore, vengeance is not a means to procuring justice.
Abel is in a wretched state. Where will he get justice? Who will hear his prayer? God does not listen to sinners (Jn 9:31). The first parents and their posterity had been “sold as a slave to sin” (Rom 7:14), when they sold themselves to Satan while they listened to Satan, rather than God. Read the account of the great fall in Gn. 3: 2-5: The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And the woman ate it and gave some to the man and he too ate of the forbidden fruit. As a consequence he experienced spiritual death (“… but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin,” says St. Paul (Rom 7:14). God had warned them that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. They disobeyed. Subsequently they received the wage of sin, as St. Paul says, “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Adam and his whole posterity bears thconsequences of the exiled life. That is why Paul, on behalf of the whole humanity, cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24).
On the part of Cain, he is devastated too. God said to Cain, “ And now you are cursed fromthe ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me” (Gn 4:11-16). Cain must have been so devastated (one could gauge from his groan before God) that he would have been ready even to give his life if he could to bring his brother back to life. God assured him, “Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord (“ Remember that you were at that time … having no hope and without God in the world” Ephesians 2:12).
Thus Abel could never get justice. And Cain had no acquittal. Humanity was damned.
* * * *
The Blood of Christ: life blood for humanity
But God’s ways are mysterious. He would find ways of giving life back to Abel in altogether stupendous ways. First he pays the price to buy man back from Satan. It was when humanity was thus damned that Christ appeared. “But when Christ came as High Priest of the good things that are now already here, … he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12). The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel (Heb.12: 24). This is so because, as St. Gregory the Great says, “ The blood of Jesus calls out more eloquently than Abel’s, for the blood of Abel asked for the death of Cain, the fratricide, while the blood of the Lord has asked for, and obtained, the life for his persecutors” (Book 13, 21-23).
The power of the blood of Christ is highlighted here. When man (Adam - the prototype of Christ) was spiritually dead and was “without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), “God made his Son to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). This was necessary because “the wages of sin is death”. Man earned death for himself. Keeping record of the sin of man, Satan would never miss an opportunity to accuse him. It was as if Satan was standing before the throne of God crying out day and night, “Death for man! Death for man!” the prophet Zechariah (3:1) sees it in a vision: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him”. (Joshua is the representative of the priesthood, and through that also of the whole people.) Therefore, a death is inevitable. Someone who was capable of representing the whole humanity had to die on behalf of man. None of the children of Adam could pay it satisfactorily, because they were all “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). So, another man who was “righteous” (1Pt 3:18) would have to do it. That one would have to be on the one hand part of the human race, and on the other one who is free of sin. Therefore, God sent his only Son, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners …” (Heb 7:26).
God put Him forward as an expiation by his blood (Rom 3:25)
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus offered himself to be arrested. He said, “If you are looking for me, then let these men go" (Jn 18:8). In the Praetorium Pilate hands Jesus over to the people in exchange of a criminal, Barabbas – the innocent one in exchange of a sinner. Soon after this Jesus accepts the wood of the cross. About this Isaiah had prophesied:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed (Is 53: 4-5).
Satan was always jealous of God and of his Son Jesus, because he himself was thrown down from heaven. Therefore he hated all that he created. He fooled Adam into disobeying God got him on his side. Now Jesus had appeared to undo the wrong. Satan could not bear it. And that was the reason Satan did all he could to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. He tried this from the day Jesus entered the desert to the time he was hanging on the cross. But Jesus submitted himself to death in obedience to the will of the Father. In this way Jesus became “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeemed man from the transgressions under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15).
Thus, Abel’s cry has been answered. He has been given eternal life. He received life back with interest, because eternal life is surely higher than earthly life. Besides, God put a mark on the forehead of Cain, thus saving him from being killed by anyone who came across him. Thus Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13); and again, “For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life (Rom 5:10)!
Thus, the blood of Christ is proved to be more powerful than the blood of Abel.Read More
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
We are just a couple of days away from the Christmas and on the fourth Sunday of Advent we hear the visitation of Our Blessed Mother. “Behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” These words of the angel proved to Mary that nothing is impossible with God. She immediately takes up the long and hazardous journey to visit Elizabeth. Mary impregnated with God’s Word and carrying the baby Jesus within her goes to meet her cousin. Mary hurried, which means speed, diligence, care, earnestness, zeal. Mary went with purpose and earnestness. She was not going on a casual, friendly visit. She was going so that she and Elizabeth could encourage and share with each other. They both had similar situations. God had acted upon both their bodies, performing a miracle for both. Elizabeth’s womb was made alive for the son of Zechariah to be conceived, and Mary’s womb had conceived as a virgin.
One of the titles we give to our Lady is Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was precious not because of its gold decoration but because it contained three precious items (Heb 9:4):
1). The two tablets of stone containing the ten commandments which had been written by the hand of God. Moses had received it from the hand of God on Mt. Sinai.
2). Manna, which God provided to the people of Israel in the desert as their daily sustenance.
3). The priest, Aaron’s rod that budded.
We can say that Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament prefigured Mary in the New Testament, it was pointing forward to Mary in the New Testament. Mary carried in her womb
1). Jesus the living Word of God, the Word made flesh (not just written on stone as in the Old Testament)
2). Jesus was the Bread of Life (John 6) (fulfilment of the manna of the OT)
3). Jesus was the Priest of the NT (Heb.) (Aaron was a priest and those descended from his were priests but Jesus is the Priest of the NT)
So, the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was pointing forward to a far greater Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament, Mary, who carried in her womb the Living Word of God, the Bread of Life and the High Priest, Jesus himself.
If we compare Mary visiting Elizabeth with King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem for the first time, we get further hints that the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was looking forward to Mary as the greater Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament:
1). David dances for joy as the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem in 2 Sam 6:5 and John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb as Mary greets her cousin Elizabeth in Luke 1:44.
2). David calls out, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” in 2 Sam 6:9 and Elizabeth calls out, “why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” in Luke 1:43. Just like David who welcomes the Ark of the Covenant with great humility, Elizabeth too welcomes Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant with humility.
3). The Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite a few miles outside Jerusalem for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his whole house in 2 Sam 6:11, and Mary too remained about three months with Elizabeth in Luke 1:56 a few miles outside Jerusalem.
As we come prepare ourselves for the great Mystery of Incarnation, let us pray that we who receive Jesus daily in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, may become dwelling places of God. May we like Mary carry Jesus within us and share the joy of Christmas with whomsoever we come in contact with. May all of us bear God within us. God bless.Read More
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday”, meaning “rejoicing Sunday”. We light a pink candle known as “the shepherds’ candle”, signifying our joy in welcoming the baby Jesus. We rejoice because our salvation is already at hand and God himself is at hand.
The prophet Zephaniah calls the people of Jerusalem to rejoice because their enemies have been cast out; their sins have been forgiven and the Lord lives in their midst and will never leave them. They do not have fear any evil and God will not let their hands grow weak. St. Paul invites us along with the Philippians to rejoice for the Lord is very near. They do not have to worry because they can take all their concerns to God in prayer. In the Gospel we continue to hear about John the Baptist and his preaching. John instructs what we need to do if we want to experience the joy of Christmas and rejoice in the Lord always.
(1). To be genuinely generous towards the others.
When ordinary people asked John the Baptist what they should do, John said to them: “If anyone has two tunics, he has to share with the one who has none, he has to do the same with the food.” We are called to share with the others not out of abundance of wealth but it has to be sacrificial like the old woman in the Gospel who dropped two silver coins in temple treasury. She gave everything she had and it was noticed by Jesus because it was a sacrificial giving. St. Teresa of Kolkata says: “Give until it hurts you.” If we want to experience the joy of Christmas, then, we need to share our material things, our time and talents with others.
(2). To be sincere and truthful in our duties and responsibilities.
After the ordinary people, the tax collectors asked John the Baptist what they should do and John said to them: “Collect no more than is appointed you.” The tax collectors represented the Roman government. Using their authority, they collected more taxes and kept some for themselves and cheated the people. As a result the ordinary people hated them. So now John is asking them to be sincere and truthful in their profession. If we want to experience the joy in our lives, then, we need to be sincere and truthful in our tasks, no matter what the circumstances be.
(3). To be content and satisfied with what we have.
After the tax collectors, the soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do and John said to them: “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation and be content with your wages.” It was common for the Roman soldiers to allow illegal things to go on for a bribe. If a man did not pay a bribe, he was often falsely accused by the soldiers. The main reason for this was the soldiers were not happy and content with what wages they received. So, John told them to be content with what they received. We always compare ourselves with the others and become dissatisfied with what we have. If we want to experience the joy, John tells us to be happy with what God has blessed us with.
When we are genuinely generous towards others, when we are sincere and truthful in our duties and responsibilities and when we are content with what we have, then, we will surely experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Joy, in our lives. This same joy was experienced by Our Blessed Mother and Joseph at the birth of Jesus; this same joy was experienced by the shepherds when they heard from the angels the birth of Jesus; the same joy was experienced by the Magi when they saw the baby Jesus in the manger. Let us earnestly pray that we too may experience the same joy in our lives and rejoice in the Lord always.Read More
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
Preparation for VIPs: When the President or Prime Minister of a country is scheduled to make a public appearance, his staff prepares weeks and even months in advance to make sure that the proper protocol will be observed, and the leader’s security will be assured. Similarly, detailed preparations precede the appearance of religious leaders like the Pope. Programs are scheduled, choral presentations are practiced, gifts are bought, and special persons are chosen to present them in the most gracious manner possible, so that the honored one is duly recognized and appreciated. When rock stars make a tour, elaborate preparations are made for their coming; their entourage would arrive ahead of time to get things ready for their concert. Stages would be set; lighting would be adjusted, sound checks made; every care would be taken so that the needs of each guest would be fully accommodated. Only when we put the same care and commitment into our spiritual Christmas preparations will “all mankind begin to see the salvation of God.”
In today’s gospel, St. John the Baptist quoting Prophet Isiah (40:3-5) invites us to spiritually prepare ourselves. During the time of Jesus, when a king proposed to tour a part of his dominions, he would send a courier before him to tell the people to prepare the roads. So, John the Baptist is regarded as the courier of Christ, the King. But the preparation on which he insists, is a preparation of heart and of life. He says: The King is coming; Mend not your roads but your lives. We are asked to make our lives fit for the King to see. What John and Isiah are speaking of are more of inward preparation of ourselves, than the external preparation.
1). We need to make our crooked and winding paths straight. All of us would prefer to travel in a straight or plain road rather than a winding road. We do not like to travel on a road with potholes and too many curves. In our lives too, there are so many roads of relationships. Sometimes it gets winding and becomes crooked because of misunderstandings, anger, unforgiveness. And we do not want to rectify those relationships; we hold on to the wining and crooked relationships; we say like the tagline of ad: Jo teda hai, vo mera hai. If we want to prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus worthily, then, we need to straighten all our crooked and winding roads through Forgiveness. As Buddha says that by being angry, we ourselves get hurt. It is just like holding a hot iron rod and trying to throw at our enemy, but in the process of throwing it our hands gets burnt first. Let us try to forgive one another and pray for those who hurt us as Jesus advises Peter, “I do not say to you seven times but seventy- seven times” (Mt 18:22). Forgiveness brings healing in our relationships, healing within ourselves and also in the lives of others. ‘But if we do not forgive others their sins, our Father will also not forgive our sins’ (Mt 6:15).
2). We need to prepare ourselves by filling every valley. We all have created our own deep valleys within ourselves; we have created a deep emptiness in our lives. The valley of loneliness, the valley of depression, the valley of jealousy, and so on. These valleys are to be filled with love, peace and joy of Jesus. Janis Joplin, a world-famous Rockstar ended her life at the age of just 27 because of depression. She had everything in her life: money, fame, fans. Amidst all these she was not happy at all. She longed for love, peace, and joy. She was lonely in spite of everything. Ultimately, she out of desperation and loneliness ended her life. Jesus says “I have come to give life, life in abundance” (Jn 10:10). Only Jesus can give us that life and fill the empty voids of our valleys. At times we try to fill our emptiness with the worldly things. But all worldly things are of temporary; they can only give us satisfaction or happiness for a while. The eternal happiness and peace only Jesus can give us. And for this reason, Jesus asks us to follow His commandment of ‘loving God, oneself and loving others as you love yourself’ (Mk 12:30-31). St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata says that no person should ever feel that they are unloved, unwanted and uncared for; “If we can see God in our neighbor, we will love Him and want to serve Him in our family, our neighbor, in a dying man, a poor widow, a hungry child.”
3). Every mountain and hill shall be brought low. Is it possible to lower the mountains and hills? Yes, it is possible, we all have huge mountains of pride and ego within us. We cannot welcome our Lord with such attitudes. Our Master asks us to give away our pride and switch on to humility. Just as he said to Zacchaeus to come down from the tree because he was going to enter his house, he is asking each one of us to come down from the tree of our pride and ego. If we come down of our pride, arrogance and ego then the baby Jesus is going to enter our lives. St. Teresa of Avila says, “Humility is the ladder to heaven.” Our pride and arrogance will only put us down and distance us from our friends and relatives and most importantly our Creator. Jesus rightly explains us the consequences of being proud through the Parable of Rich Fool (Lk 12:13-21). St. Peter says “God opposes the proud and shows favor to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). When the world-famous gigantic Titanic ship was ready for its first voyage from Southampton to New York city, one of the Employees of the White Star Line in his interview at the launch of the Titanic Ship said, “Not even God himself could sink this ship.” But ultimately, we know what happened to this gigantic ship at its first voyage. On 14 April 1912, around midnight because of its collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean the ship sank. Around 1500 people lost their lives. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lk 14:11).Read More
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)
The Advent Wreath: The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing God’s eternity and perfection. The green leaves symbolize the fullness of life that Christ brings. On the wreath, five candles are arranged: three purple candles, one pink and one white candle. During the season of Advent, one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world. The tradition states that the four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, each stand for one thousand years, to total the 4,000 years from the time of Adam and Eve until the birth of the Saviour.
Prophets’ Candle: On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This first candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah. This candle is called the "Prophets’ Candle" in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Is 7:14).
Bethlehem’s Candle: On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5: 2).
Shepherds’ Candle: On the third Sunday of Advent the pink candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the "Shepherds’ Candle," and it represents joy: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:8–11).
Angels’ Candle: The fourth and last purple candle, called the "Angels’ Candle," represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests" (Lk 2:13–14).
Christ’s Candle: On Christmas Eve, the white candle is lit. This candle is called the "Christ’s Candle" and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. The colour white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Saviour. Those who receive Christ as Saviour are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow: "Come now, let us settle the matter," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool" (Is 1:18).
REFLECTION: Missing the signal! In its day, the Titanic was the world's largest ship, weighing 46,328 tons, and it was considered unsinkable. Yet, late during the night of April 14-15, 1912, the unthinkable happened to the unsinkable. Near midnight, the great Titanic struck an iceberg, ripping a three-hundred-foot hole through five of its sixteen watertight compartments. It sank in two and a half hours killing 1,513 people. Before the Titanic sank, warning after warning had been sent to tell the crew that they were speeding into an ice field, but the messages were ignored. In fact, when a nearby ship sent an urgent warning, the Titanic was talking to Cape Race about the time the chauffeurs were to meet arriving passengers at the dock in New York, and what dinner menus were to be ready. Preoccupied with the trivia, the Titanic responded to the warning, "Shut up. I am talking to Cape Race. You are jamming my signals!"
Why did so many die that night? Perhaps the crew disregarded the danger of the weather; there were not enough lifeboats on board; and the radio operator of nearby California was off duty; perhaps those responsible did not heed the warnings; they were preoccupied with other things! Sometimes we believe that our 'ship' is unsinkable, our life is all well planned, and the unthinkable can never happen to us. We need to read the signs of the times, we need to pay attention to the warning signals. But if we are preoccupied with the trivial things of life, we will miss the most important things till it is too late.
The First Sunday of Advent gives us the warning to be watchful, waiting and prepared. Advent is the season when we make spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin 'advenio', which literally means “come to.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux says: There are THREE COMINGS OF THE LORD”: 1). In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him; Our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness. 2). In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The Lord will be seen in glory and majesty. 3). The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. Here the Lord comes in spirit and in power.
All the Readings in the Liturgy today speak about the coming of Jesus. The 1st Reading speaks about the coming of the Messiah as prophesied by the prophets of old. Jeremiah announces that the Messiah will be a descendant of David and he will act with justice and fairness. In the 2nd Reading, St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to abound in neighbourly charity so that they may present themselves holy at the coming of Jesus with all his saints. The Gospel speaks about the second coming of Jesus with his majesty and glory. Jesus says that his future coming will be preceded by roaring of the sea and the waves. Since his coming is sudden, he calls us to be vigilant. Let us pray that we may take these warnings about the coming of Our Saviour seriously and prepare ourselves worthily for his coming.Read More