1st Reading – Numbers 11: 25-29
The name Numbers comes from the description of the census in chapter one of this book. The laws contained in the Book of Numbers are directed to a people on a journey through the promised land. The material contained here extends over many centuries and comes from various ancient sources. The narrative part comes from an earlier time, while the laws are probably from a much later time in Israel’s history. A part of Numbers parallels the story of Exodus, especially all the grumbling and rebelliousness. It stresses the Lord’s patience with his people as his ‘punishments’ are always balanced with God’s listening and God’s response to their needs. The purpose of any punishment is only to change their hearts and to encourage them to listen again to God’s ways of justice and care (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 660)
Although this is an ‘ancient story,’ how does it speak to you today? This story is evangelization at its best! But isn’t it too often that those close to the seat of power, relishing their privileged position, play gatekeeper to ensure that others who are not authorized don’t gain access to the coveted power? (Workbook for Lectors…, 245) It is so easy to think small, to continue doing things the same because “it’s how we’ve always done it”. God wants us to be open to see things in a new way! “God is trying to help us to see ourselves the way he sees us already, “ (Coutinho, How Big is Your God?, 65). Is there anything that is holding you back from allowing God’s spirit to be bestowed in you?
2nd Reading – James 5: 1-6
This reading should wake us all up this Sunday morning! This is the tenth exhortation in James’ letter. In vivid, powerful language it calls for all to be people of social justice. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, James is reminding us in no uncertain terms that God hears the cries of the poor and the abused. As people of God we need to listen and respond also. Poverty, of course, is not good in itself, but it can foster a reliance on God. Here is what St. Basil (329-379), church father, said regarding our attitude to another’s need: “If everyone kept only what is necessary for ordinary needs and left the surplus to the poor, wealth and poverty would be abolished . . . the bread you store belongs to the hungry. The cloak kept in your closet belongs to those who lack clothing. The money you keep hidden away belongs to the needy. Thus you oppress as many people as you are in a position to help.” (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 661-662)
What might be most challenging is how the passage ends: he offers you no resistance. Who is he? We could look at it as the oppressed not resisting. What if he were God? God did give us free will and allows us to make our choices, good or bad. Challenging words . . . how do you grapple with all of this?
The Gospel — Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Hyperbole is a common human way to communicate – especially when something is very important to us – or we want to draw attention to something: “She asked me a million questions!” “It scared the life right out of me!” “I waited in line forever!”
Jesus like so many teachers of his day also used this kind of language to get everyone’s attention. Here with the talk of cutting off body parts, Jesus is trying to emphasize how important it is to live God’s way of love and justice in order to be fully healthy and alive – AND how terrible evil is: it is as tragic as losing a hand or foot or eye! (Living Liturgy, Cycle B. 217)
Gehenna with its unquenchable fire was a real place in Jesus’ day. It was the Valley of Ben-Hinnon just south of Jerusalem. There Ahaz (a former king) had sinned in burning his sons as a sacrifice to the pagan god, Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3) Later, Ahaz’s grandson, Manasseh also sacrificed his sons by fire (2 Chronicles 33:6). The sight became infamous for sin and depravity being called the Slaughter Valley (see Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5-6; 39:35). King Josiah reformed things and put an end to such awful practices and declared this valley to be unclean (2 Kings 23:10). Later, the place was used as a garbage dump where Jerusalem’s refuse was burned and rotted: “where the worm dies not and the fire is never extinguished.” (Celebration, September 28, 2003).
Jesus is inclusive, not exclusive. “Jesus cares only that his ministry of love, mercy, and compassion continue. He welcomes anyone who offers these works of mercy and justice. Attitudes of “holier than thou” do not serve God’s people. Christians are to support all efforts to extend compassion and love to others. Karl Rahner coined the term, “anonymous Christian” to describe anyone who lived Jesus’ message of love and justice even if they did not ‘call’ themselves Christians (or Catholic)(Birmingham, Word and Worship, 663). We must allow God’s Spirit in and not be resistant to what God might be working on in our lives.
Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Archbishop from South Africa: When you are in the presence of the Spirit, it is like sitting in front of a fire that does not burn you, but suffuses you with its qualities – its warmth, glow, and color. And, as you are there, in the presence of the Spirit, you also become suffused with the Spirit’s attributes of compassion, gentleness and love. You are loved and you are held in that love.” (Preaching Resources, Sept. 28, 2003)
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Jesus has just spoken of being handed over to those who would torture and kill him before he rose from the dead three days later. The incredibly uncurious apostles do not understand and as no questions for their minds seem to be on other things. Jesus hears them talking and when they return home, Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” The Gospel says they remained silent for they had been caught, like teenager caught. I actually imagine it was not quite silence but in a conversation that might seem familiar they mumbled and finally blurted out, “Nothing.”
You see, they were speaking about the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. As Jesus was talking about sacrifice and complete surrender to the will of God, they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. And you…
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1st Reading: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek and may be the last book of the Old Testament to be written. The main interest of the author is to reassure the Jewish community living in Egypt that keeping their faith is worthwhile despite the hardships in a pagan land (Aren’t we still?). Prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah draw from the insights in this book, so it deserves healthy attention (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 488-489).
Gandhi was inspired by the teachings of Jesus, in particular the emphasis on love for everyone, even one’s enemies, and the need to strive for justice. He also took from Hinduism the importance of action in one’s life, without concern for success; the Hindu text Bhagavad-Gita says, “On action alone be thy interest, / Never on its fruits / Abiding in discipline perform actions, / Abandoning attachment / Being indifferent to success or failure” (Wolpert, India 71).
For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (http://www.socialchangenow.ca/mypages/gandhi.htm).
In South Africa, the words “I am” also mean “you are.” I am because you are! This concept, known as ubuntu, emerged in the 19th century and developed as a world view for South Africans when apartheid was legislated in the early 1950s. It literally stands for human-ness or humanity toward others. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said ubuntu means “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.” Nelson Mandela wrote “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” Ubuntu then is a philosophy of interdependence (from recent blog of https://richardsvosko.wordpress.com/). How does this fit in setting the “wicked” as someone else? Are we all to learn and be blessed by one another?
2nd reading: James 3:16-4:3
James questions what we still question today…why is there war? Why can we hold on to our own self interests? He begs his listeners to be seekers of peace…to be pure, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. Where do you find peace in your life? How does this help you in times of conflict?
From Seeking Peace, Johann Christoph Arnold:
“You will always find reasons to grumble. If you want to find peace, you must be willing to give them up. I beg you: stop concentrating on your desire to be loved. It is the opposite of Christianity.”
“…the inside must become like the outside (and the other way around)…a consistent battle in favor of all that is life-bringing and good…”
“Joy and peace are found in loving and nowhere else.” – John Stott
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
Not only is Jesus predicting his Passion and death a second time (remember last week’s Gospel?), but he is teaching his disciples the meaning of servant. We are all servants of Christ and servants in his household. (Birmingham, W&W, 653) How do we become servants of Christ? It’s all about the love! J We will be unable to endure the cross Christ asks of us if we do not grow in the love he gives us. When we follow the way of the Lord and the will of God in love, we live in the justice which we seek in our prayer. Only then will we understand and live the life of a true servant of Christ (654).
Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges developed the Lead Like Jesus movement. Like Sigmund Freud said, ego has a lot to do with it. We have a tendency to Edge God Out by putting ourselves in the center (like the disciples in this Gospel story). We let pride and fear get in the way. We need to have a tendency for Exalting God Only, where we have a spirit of humility and confidence in God’s purpose. It is a lifelong struggle (Phelps, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, 58-63).
Did you notice that Jesus and the disciples are in constant motion? They are constantly on the way to somewhere, on a journey. This is like our lives now! We are challenged to be present with Jesus in our constant motion too.
The word for servant (talya) is interchangeable with child. The word receives is the same word for welcomes in 6:11. It means taking care of the weaker members of the community – those who are in most need of being served. Children were at the bottom of society’s social ladder. Childhood was a time of great danger. 30% of live births ended in death. Disease and lack of hygiene caused 60% of children to die by the age of 16 (Birmingham, W&W, 656). Jesus turns everything upside down for us. We are supposed to be more like children (or servants) to receive Him. How do we do this? Again, it is all about the love…
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
In Mark’s Gospel, miracles are often hard work. That is not the case in other Gospels such as John’s where it appears Jesus’ mere thought can heal someone. But in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is physical; he gets into the mud, he touches and transforms. The difference is like the two stories of creation in Genesis. In the first, the Lord speaks and light appears while in the second God makes mud and breathes into the man to create Adam. Mark’s Jesus is more evocative of the second story and the result is a portrait of Jesus that is personal and intimate as in the tale we hear today.
Jesus is moving through gentile territory but the people are still aware of his power. They bring before him a man who is deaf and suffers from a speech impediment. Jesus takes him aside, away…
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1st Reading – Isaiah 50: 5-9a
This passage is also the appointed reading for Palm Sunday. This is the third servant song from Second Isaiah. The people are still in the throes of captivity yet reject the prophet’s message of hope. The exile continues and the people are getting tired of this prophet saying there will be a positive outcome (Birmingham, W&W, 642). Yet he must be heard! Isaiah is adamant that his voice must be heard because God is by his side. What faith. How does this speak to you? When have you felt this boldness to pursue what is right and important to you?
Christians, of course, saw in these songs the picture of Jesus, our Christ. In fact they were used to help them pray about and understand Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. They also contained an inherent challenge for Jesus’ disciples – and for us. (Celebration, Sept. 2006) How do they challenge you?
2nd Reading – James 2: 14-18
This letter is getting down to the brass tacks of our faith. If we have faith, what are we going to do about it? How does this reading inspire and/or challenge you?
There was quite the debate in the early church community about faith and works. Paul often spoke as faith being God’s gift to us, and so many thought Paul was in opposition to James’ letter. But both can work together. “To be Christian means to act upon the Word as our response in love,” (Birmingham, W&W, 643). Who inspires you as someone who balances their faith and works?
The Gospel – Mark 8: 27-35
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus questions. Jesus in his humanity is revealed in this question. Jesus first asks what others think of him, but then he gets to what he really cares about…what do his friends think of him? Revelation literally means an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of something previously hidden. Jesus is God revealed:
- Revelation is God’s own self-disclosure.
- Revelation points to particular events and particular people through whom God has communicated in decisive ways with humanity.
- Revelation calls for our personal response and appropriation. True knowledge of God is a practical rather than a merely theoretical knowledge.
- Revelation of God is always a disturbing, even shocking event. Look at Jesus! He ate with sinners-this was shocking at the time.
- Revelation transforms the imagination…it stretches our understanding.
Taken from Faith Seeking Understanding by D. Migliore, p. 24. Who is Jesus to you? How does He reveal himself to you in these different ways?
Notice how Jesus speaks openly, but Peter immediately turns defensive. Jesus does not shy away from confrontation. He walks right into it. Jesus is clear about what the future brings for him, and it will mean suffering. But through human weakness, the strength of God abides (Birmingham, W&W, p. 642, 645). Jesus challenges us to find strength in our weakness…to be open when we are hurting and sad. Can you do that? Can you live a life openly like Jesus did?
Jesus: divine AND human? We question this (like Peter) because we are trying to understand who he is. Our love for him makes us WANT to know him. In the end, there will always be some mystery in the knowing. Like with all of us, we may never truly understand and know each other completely. St. Augustine said, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.” But does that stop us from loving anyway?
How do we lose ourselves to save ourselves? It is the cost of discipleship, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say. When friends were trying to convince him to stay in America while National Socialism raged in his homeland of Germany before WWII began, he refused. “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.” Bonhoeffer did return to Germany, where he was eventually arrested and executed in a concentration camp.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, Ch. 1, verses 9-10 states:
“What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages which preceded us.”
It goes on in verse 11 to say that—and I paraphrase here—we just tend not to remember what transpired in ages past, and future ages will tend not to remember what happens now.
This can be comforting, because if we do look back at history we clearly see that our generation is not the first to be scandalized by members of our beloved church. Going all the way back to the beginning, we find the very first scandal; one of Christ’s own chosen inner circle betrayed him to his death. We don’t stop and think much about this aspect of Christ’s betrayal, but I’d be willing to bet that the other eleven apostles and the rest of Jesus’s followers also felt very betrayed by Judas, who was one of their own. As we progress throughout history, we see the church embroiled in scandal after scandal. The Holy Roman Empire was created by Constantine’s forced conversion on its citizens under threat of death. Moving on, we find soldiers representing the church at the behest of the popes, looting and killing in the “holy wars” against Muslims, the Crusades. The Great Schism found eastern and western branches of Christianity excommunicating each other in fights over words in the Creed and other, mostly political, differences. Yet further along, we come to the Spanish Inquisition, with church leaders literally murdering people, who did not accept or dared to question official church positions, the most famous example being the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, later declared a saint. Great scientists and thinkers, even theologians, have been silenced or excommunicated for grappling with important questions about the universe. Think Galileo, condemned by the church for centuries, because God’s great gift of his scientific mind led to questions about whether the earth really was or was not the center of the universe. He, too, has now been vindicated. The point, my friends, is that scandal is not new to our beloved church— not by a long shot. We have faced many scandals throughout history and this is simply one more—no doubt, there will be others in the future.
Scandal at one time or another enters into any human institution. And even though the church is a divine institution, its day to day affairs are left in the hands of human beings. And human beings are always tempted by power and control. There is much truth to the old adage, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No one knew that better than Jesus Himself. That’s why he made it clear to his disciples that they were not to lord it over anyone, but rather were to be servants of all. And make no mistake; contrary to popular belief, this sexual abuse crisis and any cover-up it has engendered are in no way about sexuality; they are entirely about power and control—power and control over oneself and over others.
But let us not fall into the trap of negativity. If we do that, evil will have won. Though our history is filled with scandal, it is also filled with much good and we have tried to learn from our mistakes. Our history clearly shows that our church has survived all the scandals of history and it has prevailed. We will again prevail. We may not be able to see, right now, how or when or what the future will look like, but the church has survived every scandal throughout history and we can say with assurance that it will survive this one, too!
So, let us never give up. Some of our leaders may be flawed, as all humans are flawed, but they are not the church. We all together are the church. Without a community, there would be no need for leaders of any kind. Yet every successful community needs leaders, and there are many good leaders among us. Let us work together with these good leaders to continue to build the church and to move it more in the direction that God is leading it. And if we let God and ask for God’s help, God will lead us!
If this crisis teaches us anything, let it teach us that human beings make up the leadership of our church; let us no longer expect them to be super-human. Let us no longer place them on pedestals from which they must look down at us and from which it is nearly impossible to relate to the rest of us as equals and in a healthy manner. Let us turn this crisis into something positive, by using it as an opportunity to create a system which better nourishes our good leaders, and helps them live the ideals for which we all strive as Christians. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us always—till the end of time. Jesus and His Holy Spirit always keep God’s promises! So let us never despair!
Let us pray…
In this time and in any time, our deepest hope,
our most tender prayer,
is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy.
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect.
May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness.
May we listen to God in quietness and awe.
And in this listening, which is boundless in its beauty,
may we find the wisdom to cooperate with the healing Spirit, the divine Spirit,
beckoning us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for the gift and the grace of deep listening. AMEN
1st Reading – Isaiah 35: 4-7a
This section of the Book of Isaiah was added to the earlier part of the book. It probably is prompted by the Babylonian exile which brought great fear and despair to the people whose country now lay in ruins and many of the people were back in slavery. The writer of Second Isaiah wants to inject hope and fearlessness born of faith: a trust in the God who “will come with vindication.” It speaks for all of us who believe in a God who is greater than all evil and whose grace is more powerful than any affliction. (Celebration, Sept. 2006)
Brother David Steindl-Rast in gratefulness, the heart of prayer talks about the difference between hope and hopes. Hopes are for a particular thing, while hope is a virtue, a way of being. Hope does not depend on hopes, because hopes don’t always work out. Hopes can even get in the way of hope. It makes a world of difference where we put our weight – on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on the hope that is within. A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes. But those hopes do not tell us much. The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered. Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them. A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over. Do you want to be a person of hopes or hope?
2nd Reading – James 2: 1-5
James is trying to move us away from our common tendency to favoritism. As Peter states in Acts (10:35) God shows no partiality and Paul says in Galatians (3:28) that we are all one in Christ Jesus – so James is encouraging the same idea. At this time, while by far most of the Christians were poor and just about all were powerless politically, they were a diverse social group. Jews and Gentiles, women and men, slave and free – and the rich and poor – all came together – and they were to come together in love. This was a challenge. It still is.
From Understanding God’s Word, September 10, 2006:
When God chooses the poor, it is not to set up a new, inverted pecking order. It is meant to eliminate the pecking order altogether. God gives privilege to the marginalized to abolish privilege. The biblically poor are not just those who are economically poor; it is anyone who lacks the power to protect their interests against misfortune (Who can we think of today?). James’ advice gets set in Catholic Social Justice teaching with the phrase: ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’. Showing the poor this preferential option does not mean making them more dependent on others. It is about empowering them to stand on their own two feet, in love and dignity. This is what James means by calling the poor ‘heirs’ of the kingdom.
Notice the word LISTEN. We must truly hear one another and be in open dialogue for change to happen and have a world with no partiality. Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can relieve the suffering of the other person.”
The Gospel – Mark 7: 31-37
Helen Keller, much like the poor man in the gospel today, had been trapped in blindness and silence until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, broke open the world for her. Annie’s infinite patience, touch, and breathing-presence slowly, but eventually, revealed the world to Helen. Christ is that for all of us. He is that voice of the loving mother/father/teacher who calls us out of fear, darkness, chaos and frustration to freedom, thought, self-expression and an awareness of love. But it is not easy to be led out of darkness. We need to trust in the voice of love, the gentle, beckoning, patient voice of our God-in-Christ. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Mark gives further meaning to this story by where he places it in the overall gospel narrative. Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples have been ‘deaf’ to Jesus’ word – lacking ‘insight’ and understanding. They and many others have been unable to make any confession of faith about him, Eventually, however, at Caesarea Philippi (after the feeding of 4,000, the blindness and deafness of the Pharisees, and the healing of another blind man at Bethsaida) their ears are opened, their tongues are released, and they speak clearly about Jesus as the Messiah through Peter, the spokesman. But even here their faith is limited and blind when Jesus talks of suffering and rejection. Jesus will have to walk with them further, talking, cajoling, correcting, and healing . . . Only on the cross will Jesus and God’s love be fully revealed. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In the Middle Eastern culture, spitting was a common precaution against evil. Traditional healers routinely used this strategy to ward off evil and thus heal. Hands were also the customary way that any therapeutic power was transmitted. Also, the word, ephphatha, is an original Aramaic word. This was the language that Jesus would have used. It was believed that the actual word itself had power. So it was remembered and recorded. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Jesus answers the question what defiles us. What makes something designed to be good to produce something bad and sometimes even rotten? How does it happen with our bodies, the Law or the church? I have been spending a lot of time thinking about that question in the last couple of weeks as the crisis in our church had deepened. However complicit I might be as a member of the clergy, I believe I share your anger and frustration. And those feelings are not abstract or theoretical. They are close, personal and intimate. It feels like when you have been hurt by someone or something you love. And there is nothing that wounds quite as deeply than being hurt by love. It is a different experience when it is love. We feel a sense of betrayal. We recognize the potential and all the good…
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