11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel’s allegory of the cedar tree is one source for the imagery of the mustard bush in the gospel reading. The cedar stands for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the exile. The shoot or twig (see Isaiah 11:1) refers to a descendant of Jehoiachin, the last Davidic king before the exile. The beasts and birds represent the nations of the earth. This indicates that the prophecy expects the kingdom after the return from exile to be more than just the mere restoration of the status quo before the exile; in fact, it is to be the realization of the messianic kingdom. It is therefore legitimate to say that this prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, of which the church on earth is a foretaste. (R Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu/11OrdB061712/theword_indepth.html)  

The cedar forests of Lebanon enjoy the unique distinction as the oldest documented forests in history.  The cedars made a special contribution to the development of the Phoenician civilization by providing the timbers with which they developed their famous sea-going merchant boats -thus becoming one of the first, if not the first, major sea-going trading nation in the world.  The Phoenicians transported the cedar to Egypt, until Egypt conquered Lebanon and gained direct access to the forests, which were highly prized for building temples and boats.  Later the Babylonians took a similar interest in the cedars and obtained them for use in building the fabled city of Babylon.  The expansion of the Roman Empire into Syria and Lebanon had a detrimental effect on the cedars until the Emperor Hadrian installed markers around the boundary of the remaining forests and declared them as Imperial Domain.  In modern day Lebanon, the legendary cedar is still revered and remains prominent in the minds of all Lebanese. The cedar is featured on the national flag, the national airline, Government logos, the Lebanese currency and innumerable commercial logos. (http://www.shoufcedar.org/)

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10

For all his yearning for the life to come, Paul does not despise this life.  He is, he says, in good heart.  The reason is that even here and now we possess the Holy Spirit of God, the first installment of the life to come.  It is given to the Christian to be citizen of two worlds; and the result is, not that he despises this world, but that he finds it clad with a sheen of glory which is the reflection of the greater glory to come  (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 205-6).  Isn’t this hopeful?  We must look for the good.  Life is in the decisions we make.  Right now.  We must live in the present, but with a foot in the future, knowing we are accountable for our actions.  What we do makes up who we are, and affects others around us.  Does this stir something up in you?

The Gospel – Mark 4: 26-34

The seed symbolizes the word of God.  It doesn’t take much effort to understand how a word can be planted in the mind.  That’s precisely what Jesus intends to do – plant a word in us to make us think about the mystery of life and growth.  Listening to his word, in turn, obligates us to witness to and proclaim it.  Otherwise the seed grows old and sterile.  But how does this really work?  Jesus skips the details.  First the farmer broadcasts the seed over the land, then he whiles away night and day, during which the earth produces a harvest “he knows not how”.  Once the harvest is ready, the farmer loses no time to reap it.  Sometimes we can’t easily access growth in ourselves, in our society, or the progress of the Church toward the kingdom.  Jesus wants to alleviate disappointment at the lack of visible growth or progress in the spiritual life by telling us that, without any outward intimation of it, there’s bound to be a glorious finish, (J. Fichtner’s Many Things in Parables, p. 11-12)

The combination of the prophetic cedar and the proverbial mustard seed is almost comic.  Cedars did not even grow in Israel.  They had to be brought from Lebanon.  But mustard bushes could grow up in anyone’s field.  Here’s your national destiny, then – a mustard bush.  Not as grand or glorious as the cedar, but consider what happens to all the dilemmas about the rule of God and national destiny if the nation is a mustard bush.  It still can shelter the birds.  The rule of God in the world is only a problem for those who think that his people have to be “top cedar”.  This reduction also has significance for Jesus’ own ministry.  Willingness to stay with the small scale, the people and natural processes of the village, makes it possible to point to the presence of God’s rule in a context which is quite unmessianic – messianic hopes tended to be cast as great cedars, not bushes.  Jesus is taking on the most serious questions people had about God’s rule over the world and the destiny of those who knew themselves to be his chosen people.  God’s rule does not have to appear in the grandiose; a mustard bush will do just as well, (P. Perkins’ Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 87-88).

Commentary on the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle B

1st Reading: Exodus 24: 3-8 

Why was it necessary to ratify a covenant in blood?  The fact that the covenant was sealed in blood indicated not only that it was an agreement to follow the Law, it was also an agreement to allow it to be the center of life – it was an agreement to share life.  Recall that blood was a sign of life force – life was believed to reside in the blood.  The people were willing to enter into covenant, an intimate binding relationship, with Yahweh.  The blood ritual only took place once.  It would not be repeated again until the blood sacrifice of Jesus  (W&W Wkbk Yr. B, p. 759).

What rings true for you in this reading, since we don’t go around throwing blood?  It does show great commitment to try and follow God’s will.  But there is no way to absolutely know what God’s will is for us.  As we pray and discern, we try to figure it out.   Participating in Eucharist – remembering the blood sacrifice of Christ – keeps us on the path.  Does Eucharist help you feel closer to God?

2nd Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-15

Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI) Theology of the Cross from his book: Einfuhrung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity):

     In many devotional books we encounter the idea that Christian faith in the cross is belief in a God whose unforgiving justice demands a human sacrifice – the sacrifice of his own son. This somber and angry God contradicts the Good News of God’s love and makes it unbelievable. Many people picture things this way, but it is false. In the Bible, the cross is not part of a picture of violated rights; the cross is far more the expression of a life which is a ‘being for others.’

This is an appalling picture of God, as one who demanded the slaughter of his own son in order to assuage his anger. Such a concept of God has nothing to do with the New Testament. The New Testament does not say that human beings reconcile God; it says that God reconciles us.

The fact that we are saved ‘through his blood’ (Hebrew 9:12) does not mean that his death is an objective sacrifice… In world religions, the notion which dominates is that of the human being making restitution to God in order to win God‘s favor. But in the New Testament the picture is the exact opposite. It is not the human being who goes to God, to bring him a compensatory gift or sacrifice; rather, it is God who comes to human beings with a gift to give us. The cross is not the act of offering satisfaction to an angry God. Rather, it is the expression of the boundless love of God, who undergoes humiliation in order to save us.

Christian worship is not the act of giving something to God; rather, it is the act of allowing ourselves to receive God’s gift, and to let God do this for us.

In traditional reflections on the passion, the question turns up again and again: what is the relationship between pain and sacrifice? And it was often assumed that the intensity of Jesus’ pain gave it salvific value. But how could God take pleasure in human pain, or find in it the reconciling act which must be offered to him? If this picture were true, then it would be Jesus’ executioners who make the sacrificial offering . . . but in Jesus God’s creative mercy makes the sinful human being belong to him, giving life to the dead.

What do we think of this in relation to the reading?

The Gospel: Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu:  In Jesus’ culture grain, oil, and wine were the staples, with grain and its products – especially bread – being most important. Bread provided about ½ the caloric intake for the ancient Mediterranean world, with wheat being considered superior to barley and sorghum, the food of the poor.  

Another point from John Pilch:  Drawing water and carrying it was a woman’s task in Jesus’ culture. Any man present at a well would be a challenge to the honor of all the fathers, brothers, and husbands in that village. If a man did carry water it was in a skin not a jar. This man carrying a water jar was certainly a cultural anomaly: easy to spot

In Jesus, God has come to be with us where we are. To proclaim the death of the Lord is to find in his death a new definition of ourselves – a new understanding of the meaning of success and failure, of the meaning of life and death, of what it means to be a human person . . . the Eucharist is the call which frees each of us from the false self, the most tyrannical master of all . . . At Eucharist we become gifts of God to be enjoyed and put at the service of the neighbor. We are freed from the radical insecurity and false pride that is at the heart of all evil. We are freed to be realistic and intelligent about how we use the gifts God has given us while recognizing that our true call is to find life by giving it away . . . (John Dwyer, The Sacraments, “Chapter Eight: the Eucharist” p.129-130)

The Hebrew word for the Greek anamnesis is zikkaron, meaning a sacrificial term that brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or brings God into favorable remembrance with the offerer.  When Jesus took the bread and wine and offered it, he was identifying with the Israelites and their covenant.  He was being a good Jew.  He was making a new covenant, saying, “I am united with my ancestors.  This is now me.  I am Passover.”  So now the Church identifies herself with Christ.  We are Christ to the world.  Now it’s our turn to be united in covenant with God and give of ourselves.  Like the Israelites, it will move us from captivity to freedom, from sin to repentance  (taken from Fr. Vosko lecture).

Commentary on the Most Holy Trinity readings for Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Deuteronomy, or “second law” in Greek, is a later book composed as a reflective speech of MOses which sums up the meaning of the exodus event and the desert journey, and reaffirms the importance of the covenant law as a guide for Israel’s life in the promised land.  It is Moses’ “farewell speech” and supposedly taken place just as the people are ready to invade the promised land, “(L. Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 89-90)  

How does this reading speak to you about our God?  Moses speaks ardently about the people’s relationship with God, which is really what covenant is all about.  What is it for them to fix their experience of God in their hearts?   What is it for us?

Through the act of amamnesis (the remembering of things from a previous existence) we remember the saving action of God.  We remember and make present the gratuitous action of God in the salvation of the world.  This gratuitous action was and is made freely.  Thus, in times when there is great temptation to forget God, to doubt that God will act, we are to call upon our corporate power of remembering that God can, does, is, and continues to act in the lives of human beings, (M. Birmingham’s W&W Yr. B, p. 752).  Why might amamnesis of how God has worked in our lives be helpful to us now?  How does this relate to Trinity?

2nd Reading: Romans 8: 14-17

From Celebration, June 11, 2006:  Paul here is using Roman law and customs to explain how God wishes to relate to us. According to Roman law, the father’s power over the family was absolute. A son never came of age; he was always under the control of his father. To adopt a son was a major undertaking. It followed a long and exact ritual. But once done, the adopted person belongs forever to the new father. Here are some of the consequences of these legal adoptions: 

  1. The adoptee gave up all rights in his former family and gained all rights and dignity of a legitimate child in his new family.
  2. The adoptee became the legal heir of his new father and even if others are born afterwards, his rights could not be affected.
  3. The old life of the adoptee was wiped out and all debts were cancelled.
  4. The adoptee was regarded as a new person and a true son/daughter. 

What do you find most important in this reading?  How does it feel to know you are a child of God (Family!) and able to ENTER INTO this trinity?

Fr. Richard Rohr recently reflected on this unity with God in his Daily Meditations (5/26/2021):  To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people.  We see what this means when we are involved in the experience of a broken relationship.  When I have lost harmony with another, my whole life is thrown out of tune.  The recognition of the Spirit of God as the unifying principle of all life becomes at once the most crucial experience of humanity.

The Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20

Matthew’s gospel began with the story of Jesus’ birth saying “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” (1:23). Now with this ending passage, Matthew has Jesus again assuring the disciples who are sent out to all the world (no longer to just fellow Jews) saying: “And behold, I am with you always . . .” 

What strikes you most about this gospel?  Isn’t it interesting that the moment the disciples doubted, that’s when Jesus sent them off with work to do?  None of us are completely prepared, but we are sent anyway.  Just as we are.

  • This took place at the Ascension…think of the difference between a vertical relationship with God to a now horizontal relationship.
  • The Trinitarian formula reminds us that God wants FULL relationship with us in every way.  The love within the Trinity is what God wants us all to enter into.

There are 2 ways to look at trinity:  economic trinity and immanent trinity.  The “immanent trinity” is God in relation to God’s self.  It is internal.  The “economic trinity” is God in relation to the world, (Introduction to the Trinity, L. Lorenzen, p. 45).  St. Augustine in De Trinitate came to this understanding of trinity:  The Father is the Lover, the Son the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit the mutual Love that passes between Father and Son…the human soul and its faculties is the best mirror of the Trinity that is available.  And so…this is the outward divine activity…that we move from the “economic” to the “immanent” tripersonal God.  (The Tripersonal God, G. O’Collins SJ, 135-142).  In other words, the more we have-our-being in God  (behave, relate, move through the world), the more we enter into God’s very self.  This is all very theological, but take time to consider what this might mean in your life.  What is it to live a Godlike life? 

Commentary on the Readings of Pentecost

The Hebrew word ruah, the Greek pneuma, and the Latin spiritus all basically mean “air in motion,” “breath,” or “wind.” The root word is power. Apart from human and animal power, wind was the main observable energy source in the ancient world. Wind was seen as the ‘breath of God – our own breath coming from that life-giving Breath. It is also interesting to note that in the ancient understanding of wind and water and fire – and thus spirit – we find them possessing what we consider to be properties of liquids. Thus we have the idea of the spirit being poured out. (The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p. 88-89)

1st Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Pentecost (50 days since Passover; 7 weeks since planting time) originally was an agricultural feast of thanksgiving for the 1st grain harvest.  Later, it came to be also a celebration of the gift of the Law to Moses on Sinai.  Because it was the second of Judaism’s three major feasts (The others being Passover and Sukkoth, or Tabernacles.), Jews from all over Palestine and the Greek territories (the Diaspora) would have traveled to Jerusalem. Luke wants us to notice how this diverse group is the perfect place for the Spirit to be present in power.  (Celebration, May 2002)

Luke is also telling us this Pentecost story in such a way as to remind us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  John the Baptist had promised that the Messiah would baptize “with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). Here we see that the fire comes in tongues giving courage and meaning and understanding to the gift of speech.  In many ways this story is the reversal of the Babel story in Genesis 11: 1-9. At Babel, sin (self-importance and false pride) had brought confusion and defeat. Now with the power of God’s Holy Spirit we see a new universal outreach characterized by mutual understanding and respect. Also where there was fear and inaction, there is now new energy and boldness that is rooted in faith in the God of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is still available today; we also need this ability to understand each other despite differences. Luke’s writing is to encourage us to be open to the ongoing process of transformation that is Spirit!  (Birmingham, W & W Wrkbk Yr A, p. 336; Celebration, May ‘02)

2nd Reading: Galatians 5: 16-25

Here are some thoughts on Paul’s Flesh and Spirit:  These terms, flesh and spirit, which are often used to translate the Greek sarx and pneuma, have caused tragic misunderstandings of Paul’s theology.  In Romans (8: 6-9), Paul says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace . . . the flesh is hostile to God . . . but you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.”  Because of such passages and such translations, Paul has often been blamed for seeing the body and sex as sinful, evil.  This is unfortunate for it is far from what Paul has in mind when he uses the word, sarx.  He does not mean the physical, sexual part of a human. Sarx refers to the WHOLE human as he/she is enslaved to weakness and corruption.  (Even when Paul lists sexual ‘sins’ with prominence, he is saying that sexual abuse and misuse are symptoms of the whole person’s disorientation away from God, the true source of life.)

      The pneuma, or spirit, on the other hand, is the full human who is open to being influenced by God’s Spirit and charis, saving power.  Our whole being “every cell of our body, every moment of our mind is BOTH flesh and spirit.”  We are enslaved by the power of sin.  Or, we are liberated to grow into the image of God that we are intended to be.  If we allow ourselves to trust in our weak and corruptible self or other weak, corruptible selves, we miss living a life in tune with the God revealed in Jesus.  As our reading says, we are called to belong to Christ and to live in his Spirit.  (P. Tillich, Shaking of the Foundations, 133 and The Eternal Now, 48).  

Consider these fruits of the Spirit and how they take root in you.  Consider also how you see these fruits in each other, and in our church community…

The Gospel: John 20: 19-23

Jesus’ words in this Gospel apply not only to priests or to all believers.  As Christians, we are to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness.  How did He treat His friends after they deserted Him?  Jesus forgives and brings us into communion with God – Source of all life  – powerfully present in all life.  Jesus’ Way, Truth, and Life sets us free to BE Christ-in-the-world:  As disciples we are called to bear witness to His risen life by breaking the barriers of sin and division in our hearts and communities. True peace can only begin when we each begin to work with the Spirit to create situations around us of justice, dialogue, and truth – situations that lead to peace. The power of Spirit can enlarge and expand our hearts if we allow the Spirit of Jesus to grow within us – to breathe into us the power of forgiveness – the power to welcome others in his name – the power to transform the world one heart at a time – starting with our own. (Celebration, May 2002)

From John Kavaungh, “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :  If Pentecost was the start of the church, it was a birth out of frailty. The believers were huddled in fear behind closed doors. Yet Pentecost unleashed a courageous power. Driven by wind and fire, the followers of Jesus were set loose upon the world to make bold proclamation. The Spirit brought unity, not only in a shared sense of poverty and smallness, but in the common experience of one God in Jesus, one faith, and one baptism. It was a faith that also put believers in touch with their deepest humanity. They would now speak a universal tongue, in a way which could touch the hearts of people from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.  The unity of faith in Jesus is a subversive power; since Christ is our primary reality, his Spirit is a force that liberates us from any other bondage. 

“whose sins you retain are retained”  That night Jesus gave the Church the ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the Apostles (cf. CCC, no. 1461). By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests continue this ministry to forgive sins“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In this Sacrament, the priest acts in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church, to reconcile the sinner to both God and the Church. “When he celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. . . . The priest is the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (CCC, no. 1465).

Commentary on the 7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

1st Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26

The line in Acts that comes just before this passage states: 

“All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” 

So what goes on in this upper room is not just a ‘male thing.’ It is a gathering of those who have known and loved Jesus in life and now through death and into the resurrection. It is a community that has grown out of this lived experience of Jesus. (Preaching Resources, 5/28/06)  How might our church be like them and “be a witness to his resurrection”?

It is also important to remember that the number twelve was symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the fullness of the ‘people of God.’ So these Twelve had been appointed by Jesus to be a sign of this ‘eschatological community.’  That is why it was important to select another one to replace Judas who had died.  These twelve must also be witnesses to the original saving history of both the earthly Jesus and his resurrection. They become this bridge between the earthly Jesus and the mission of the Church as a whole. The circle of the Twelve and the circle of the apostles (those sent out) sort of overlap. For all disciples are apostles – called to be sent out by Jesus to bring the Good News to the needy – and sometimes hostile – world. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )  

It feels good to be picked out, chosen.  Imagine what Matthias may have experienced when he heard the lot fell to him.  But we aren’t always picked.  Poor Barsabbas.  What do you think became of him?  Can you think of times when you were like Matthias and Barsabbas?   How did it affect your life after? 

2nd Reading – 1 John 4: 11-16 and the Gospel – John 17: 11b-19

Let’s look at these readings together for they come out of the same community. 

God’s love for us and others compel us to also love one another. This is possible as God abides in those who love.  God’s Spirit empowers them — lives in them. This is one of the main themes of the Johannine tradition. It is constantly being repeated. But let not its repetition deaden our ears and hearts to its truth. This mutual indwelling of our God of love is the essence of the saving event we call the Good News of Jesus Christ.  (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )  

We see Spirit at work through its fruits:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Take time to consider where you see these fruits in your life.  Take comfort in knowing Spirit is gifted to us so that God, and God’s love, remains with us.

We are consecrated with God’s truth.  What does that mean to you?  How does this relate to Mass?  It is not only the bread and wine that are consecrated at the table.  We are all made holy through the grace of God.  We stand in truth, open to that consecration, knowing that we are being strengthened and nourished…so we can be sent forth into the world.  

Karl Barth once referred to the period between the ascension and Pentecost as a “significant pause.”  It is a pause between the actions of God, a pause in which all the community can is wait and pray.  It may seem paradoxical, but although the Spirit came, in Johannine language, ‘to remain with us forever,’ the Church nevertheless has to pray constantly, Veni Sancte Spiritus.  The gift of the Spirit is never an assured possession but has to be constantly sought anew in prayer, (M. BIrmingham’s W& W Worksbook-B, p. 417).

Commentary on the 6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

Reading I:  Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

Before this passage, we learn about a man named Cornelius who is a Roman centurion (so a Gentile) who believes in God.  He has a vision from an angel of God that he is to call on Peter.  Peter also has a vision where a voice tells him it is okay to eat unclean meat because it is still from God.  He was perplexed by this when Cornelius’ men arrive.   Once Peter meets Cornelius and they share their visions, it becomes clear that Jesus was not meant to be just for the Jewish people but for all people.  However, the big questions were:  Were Christians bound by the Jewish rules?  Should the Gentiles be received without first becoming Jews (i.e. being circumcised)?  This was never resolved in Jesus’ lifetime.  It makes one consider how many try to resolve issues today in the church using Jesus’ words and deeds.  If Jesus did not solve the most fundamental question of the Christian mission, we may well doubt that his recorded words solve most of our subsequent debated problems in the church  (Brown, R., A Once-and-Coming Spirit at Pentecost, pgs. 61-62).

God shows no partiality.  The root of all the readings this week (and always with the Word!) is love.  How often do we feel completely affirmed to the core of our being?  Do we ever get to a point where we have arrived in feeling absolutely loved and accepted for who we are?  Are we worthy?  We have a deep desire to be loved.  Carl Jung said, “What we’re about as humans is a constant and consistent movement toward wholeness.”  We are wired to be connected with something that is other and beyond.  As St. Augustine said, “My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God.”  This love that is God is offered to all, with no partiality.

Reading 2:  1 John 4:7-10

Love has a double relationship to God.  It is only by knowing God what we learn to love and it is only by loving that we learn to know God.  Love comes from God, and love leads to God.  So the effect of God is love.  It is when God comes into a person that s/he is clothed with the love of God and the love of people.  So we must live a life of love.  What better example for us than Jesus, (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 97).

From Creighton University Online Ministries:

I like to think, and I pray God’s fingerprints are on me and the prints I leave behind are just as noticeably God’s prints.  For me, leaving behind a trail of God’s fingerprints is not easy, but God’s prints are readily identifiable.  It is God who intrudes and rifles my heart.  It is God who sets things right.  God dwells among us.  God dwells in me.  God’s fingerprints are everywhere.  Just like fingerprints on a window can only be seen in the light, I also have to stand where the light can shine through me.  God’s love-ly fingerprints are smeared and permanently stuck to me.  How do you leave your love-ly fingerprints?

Gospel:  John 15:9-17

We do not earn God’s love, and we do not initiate love and goodness ourselves.  Everything comes from God…freely given; we can accept or reject. (At Home with the Word, p. 87)   Can you think of times when you have accepted or rejected God’s love in your life?  The love in the Trinity is the love that God wants to have with us.  It completes the circle.  Jesus came to be one with us…completely human.  To the point that he calls us His friends.  He chooses us.  How does that make you feel?  This love for one another brings life…IN ABUNDANCE!  But what Jesus is telling us isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling…it is a commandment:  love one another.  Can all of us do that, all the time?  “The relationality of the three bonded in the one Love spills over into a relationality with the world, thereby making it possible for human persons to enter into this communion in the one Love, “ (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 60).  We are meant to be intertwined with God in God’ Trinity.  How do we do that?

Commentary on 5th Sunday of Easter, cycle B

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31

Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is.  The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation.  As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise.  We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)

For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.

Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas.  The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him.  It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown).  Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit.  Aren’t these related?  When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us.  When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way.  Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25).  Do you find this to be true in your life?

Why was Paul sent to Tarsus?  NT White says, “It’s hard to know what the Jerusalem community thought would happen next.  They were in dangerous, unmapped, new territory.  Saul of Tarsus, still on fire with having seen the risen Lord, eager to explain from the scriptures what it was all about, apparently careless of the hornets’ nests he was stirring up, was one problem too many.  [Perhaps they thought] ‘Let him go back to Tarsus.  They like good talkers there.  And besides, that’s where he came from in the first place…’,” Paul, A Biography, p. 67-68.

2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24

Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of salvation if they follow the command to love one another.  Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another.  Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives.  (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)

Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words.  Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness.  (Celebration, May 2000)

The Gospel – John 15: 1-8

The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”

is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John.  Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?

The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God.  Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)

John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people.  Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love:  the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us.  In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love.  Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.”  Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus.  We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Love forgives a multitude of sins.  M. Birmingham, W and W rkbk for Year B, 387-388

For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)

Commentary on 4th Sunday of Easter, B

1st  Reading – The Acts of the Apostles  4: 8-12

Acts show us just how radically Jesus’ followers have been transformed by His risen presence.  Before, fear ruled their behavior; now they are courageous. They boldly proclaim Christ crucified and risen; in that process they too enter into the cycle of dying and rising.  Only the power of the risen Christ and his Spirit could bring about such a profound change in their lives. (Birmingham, W& W Workbook, 376)

The word for cornerstone in Greek could be more correctly translated as the head of a corner or the capstone or keystone. When building arches, Romans first constructed the two sides of the arch; the last stone to be set in place was the capstone which joined the sides assuring stability and endurance. This capstone was a powerful symbol for Christ for the early Christians. (Celebration, May 2003)

The name of a person is more than just an artificial ‘tag’ to tell one person from another. A name represents the fullness of a person. If we do something in someone’s name, we do it as that person would do it. As a Christian we are to act as Christ, to act in his name. To live this way is to find salvation. Salvation in the name of Jesus is not a ‘magic thing.’ It is a way of life. It is a way of love.

2nd  Reading – 1 John 3: 1-2

We are children of God.  By nature we are creatures of God, but it is by grace that we are children of God.  It is like comparing paternity and fatherhood (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 73-74).  It is one thing to be created, and something entirely endearing and intimate to be family.  We are called into this kind of relationship to God.  How do we answer?  How does God reveal Godself to you?  When you sense this, do you feel more like a child of God?  Take some prayerful time to sit with these words and mull the questions.

We are called and we are.  So we have the tools (and grace) within us to be who God means for us to be, and we are sent forth to go do it.  What gets in the way of us knowing this?  What gets in the way of us doing this?  It is a bit of a paradox.  We cannot become like God (which is really being fully who we are) unless we see God; but, we cannot see God unless we are pure of heart (Matthew 5:8), (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, p. 75).  As Merton prays, the desire to please God does please God.  So trying counts despite the obstacles! 

The Gospel– John 10: 11-18

Imagine the scene.  It is first-century Palestine.  Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance.  At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves.  Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first.  He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure.  Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep.  The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else.  Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd,

Jesus is the model Good Shepherd.  He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice.  There is ownership.  Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name.  He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good.  We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death.

The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock.  The word pastor was derived from this image.  (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 378- 379)

From O Phelps’ The Catholic VIsion for Leading like Jesus:  A Shepherd-Leader (SL) abides in humility and yet moves with confidence from one challenge to the next.  This builds community and fellowship, fosters contentment and generosity in ourselves and others.  An SL builds trust and increases the flow of trust all around them.  An SL inspires making greater contributions to the common good.  Service, contribution and purpose become the hallmarks of both individual and collective lives.  It is a new way to live:  the heart that beats in us becomes a servant’s heart.  It is always a struggle.  And the struggle is lifelong (p. 63).

Commentary on 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-19

Jesus is called the “author of life” – what does that mean for you?  Mary Birmingham points out that this term is a very ancient Christian term.  The Greek word for ‘author’ means “captain” or “leader.”  Jesus is the new leader, the new captain of life’s vessel, who leads the people, just like Moses, out of bondage into a new promised land – Jesus is the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed at the Exodus event – Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God has ever planned for humankind. (W&W Wrkbk Yr B, 363-364)

St. John of the Cross said, “The soul lives where it loves.”  Think about that.  Jesus lived here among us because of love.  And that is why he died too.  Peter seems to be pointing out the guilt that the people have in handing over Jesus to death, but the emphasis is on repentance and God’s salvific message.  Jesus reaches out in love; Jesus wants us to repent and turn to him.  He doesn’t want us wallowing in our guilt and self-loathing.  He wants us to embrace the love.  Let our souls live in that love.  How can we be different living that way?

2nd Reading: 1 John 2: 1-5

What does it mean to you to call Jesus an “Advocate” – a parakletos ?  An advocate is someone who pleads our case before a court of law – one who intercedes for us. It is someone whom we call to be by our side as our helper and counselor. It is someone who “lends his presence to his friends.” Jesus is this kind of friend. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 36-38)

Jesus is also called our ‘expiation’ for sin – here we must be careful of the meaning. In the Jewish sense, sacrifice was used to restore our relationship with God. It was God forgiving us and providing the means of restoring our relationship with God.  Scholars also point out that the word could be translated as ‘disinfection’: Jesus shows us what God is like and disinfects us from the taint of sin – from the darkness and bondage of sin.  Jesus is the reconciliation, the means, by which God reassures us of His love. And as this writer, John, sees it – this work of Jesus is carried out not just for us, but for the whole world.   The love of God is broader than the measures of our human mind. God’s salvation has wide enough arms for all. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 39-40)

“perfected”:  “made complete” NIV, “show how completely they love him” NLT, “love of God been perfected” ASV, “and then we know we belong to him” CEV…

The Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48

The gospels struggle with expressing the risen reality.  It was not just another phase in the history of Jesus of Nazareth.  In a real sense he was totally “other”, living now the indescribable life of God.  And yet he was the same person and in some ways objectively identifiable.  However, the resurrection was known principally by its fruits, the faith proclamation of unlettered fishermen.  It changed people’s lives and continues to do so.  To watch people move from a state of alienation to conversion and a new direction in life is the clearest proof of the risen Christ  (Faley, R.  Footprints on the Mountain, p, 309). 

From Ron Rolheiser’s “In Praise of Skin (Blog 6/4/2000):  In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it.  Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified.  That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.  For Christians, the body is not something from which one is ever meant to escape; rather, the body is to be understood as a temple of the holy spirit, a church, a sacred place where God can come and make a home. 

Wm. Barclay says this passage really emphasizes the Christian message:

  1. The reality of the resurrection:  The risen Christ is real, not a ghost or hallucination.
  2. The cross was necessary:  The cross was not forced on God; it was not an emergency measure when all else failed and when the scheme of things had gone wrong.  The cross is the one place on earth, where in a moment of time, we see the eternal love of God.
  3. The task is urgent:  We aren’t meant to stay huddled in the Upper Room but to be sent forth, (The Gospel of Luke, p. 311-312).

The word ‘troubled’ is from the verb tarasso; the other time this is used in Luke’s Gospel is when the angel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.  M. Birmingham thinks there is a connection, for Zechariah also struggled with doubt and disbelief.  Jesus’ response to their fear is to ground them in knowing his bodily presence is real flesh.  He solidified it by eating something.  Making peace with this reality is necessary for them to do the work ahead of them as disciples, that work being to spread this message:  that Jesus’ life, mission, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan of salvation for the world, (W&W, p. 369).

Forgiveness is such a key part of being transformed by Jesus.  It’s like the shedding of all that keeps us from God in order to be free to do the good work.  Have you found forgiveness to be freeing?  Why do you think forgiveness has this effect on us, and why is it so important to Jesus?

The Passion According to Mark: Chapter 16

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Risen Christ in Eastertime, p. 9-22)

  • (Regarding the stone over the tomb…)  Notice the contrast between human incapacity and God’s power.  When Mark reports that the women saw the stone already rolled back, he is using the passive to indicate divine action.  God has undone the sealing that the Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea so carefully placed.
  • A young man sitting on the right side (a place of dignity) clothed with a white robes surely a divine spokesman; and the amazement that greets him is typical of the reaction to the appearance of angels.  They are seeking “Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.”  The women now know that their well-meaning search for Jesus was in vain.
  • See 14:28.  The angelic youth hearkens back to that promise of Jesus to meet the disciples in Galilee after he is raised.  Those who were “scattered” (14:27) by the events of the passion at Jerusalem will once more become a community when they return to the place where they were first called together as disciples.  [It’s like this is the place of safety, the place of coming home, their hang-out.  If you saw West Side Story, it’s like the Jets returning to Doc’s Store after the rumble.]
  • Throughout the Gospel Mark has shown how those who followed Jesus failed because they did not understand that Jesus had to suffer or because they were unwilling to accompany him into his passion.  Mark somberly insists that none can escape suffering in the following of Jesus.  Amidst Mark’s readers surely there were some who had been tested by persecution and had failed.  They could find encouragement in the story of Jesus’ own disciples, all of whom failed during the passion.  But others among Mark’s readers would not have been so tested.  There is a parallel between them and the women who appear on the scene only after the crucifixion and observe his death without having become involved even in his burial.  Like the women they are will-inclined, but after they hear the proclamation of the resurrection and receive a commission to proclaim what has happened to Jesus, they too can fail if they become afraid.  Mark’s enduring warning, then, would be that not even the resurrection guarantees true faith in Jesus’ followers, for the resurrection cannot be appropriated unless one has been tried.  People may say that they believe firmly in the risen Christ, but they must realize existentially in their own lives that the one they are following is none other than Jesus the Nazarene who was crucifiedRelate this to your own life.  Have times of trial led you to appreciate life even more?  How much do we let fear make our decisions?
  • In “The Longer Ending” (which is debated whether or not Mark wrote), Mary Magdalene is introduced as if she had not just been, and there is other grammatical awkwardness in who “he” is.  Both Mary and the 2 disciples find courage to share their experience of Jesus (to the disciples “in another form”), but they are not believed.  The risen Lord is not to be deterred and finally shows himself to the Eleven when they are at table.  Those who have just been upbraided for lack of faith and hardness of heart (especially Peter who is named!) are now entrusted with preaching the gospel to the whole world.   

Mark seems to have purposefully refused to allow his readers to become passive spectators of the greatest human/divine drama in history.  That is why he left us with so many unanswered questions after verse 8, (M. Birmingham’s Word & Worship, p. 412).

Reflection Questions

  1. Why does the man in white refer to, “His disciples and Peter,” rather than simply, “His disciples?”
  2. What does this passage teach us about God?  What does this passage teach us about mankind? 
  3. What are your feelings if the Gospel did end with verse 8?