Monthly Archives: January, 2021

Commentary on the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

This is a story about Jonah the prophet.  God told Jonah to bring about the redemption of Ninevah, to which Jonah ran in the opposite direction toward the sea  (How often do WE run away from where God may be leading us?).  The sea became stormy and the sailors thought Jonah was bringing God’s wrath to them, so he sacrificed himself and was swallowed by a huge fish (not necessarily a whale!).  After 3 days, God had mercy and Jonah eventually through twists and turns went to Ninevah to do what God had said.  

This story can help us ponder how we listen to God in our own lives. Is following God’s will always placid and without ambiguity? When we pray, do we really pray to know God‘s will or do we ask God to do our will? (John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy,slu.edu )

Its major literary style is that of irony.  Jonah does everything a good prophet should not, from fleeing to refusing to speak to complaining that God does not fulfill all the threats of doom that he made Jonah preach.  Bus it is also set up in a number of clever panels, so that the prayer in chapter 2 parallels exactly the dialogue found in chapter 4, although one is praise, the other complaint.  The prophet takes action in chapters 1 and 3, but in one he refuses to act and in the other he does perform what God commands…Also note that God saves Jonah from death despite his sin, yet Jonah will not let the Ninevites be saved from death  even though they repent, (L. Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 468-469).  How fickle we are!  How much we let our emotions lead our action!  And yet God continues to dialogue with Jonah even through Jonah’s anger.  The lesson is clear:  God’s mercy is more powerful than his judgments, and God’s plan will not be thwarted even by the negative “righteousness” of his prophet.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31

This is a very early letter of Paul’s. The expectation at this time was that Jesus was coming back very soon – that his life, death and resurrection had ushered in the ‘end-times.’ This belief empowered the early Christians including Paul to eagerly share the good news of Jesus Christ. 

“The world as we know it is passing away” – Paul wanted us to think about the priorities that fill our lives and preoccupy our minds.  Richard Rohr talks about this a lot, the idea that we NOTICE what we are feeling and doing as a way of seeing how God works in our life.  We don’t need to be so attached to the emotion.  We can wonder about our responses, a little like Paul is telling the Corinthians to do. Rohr says, “Wondering is a word connoting at least three things:  standing in disbelief, standing in the question itself and standing in awe before something.  Try letting all three ‘standings’ remain open inside of you…whenever we can appreciate the goodness and value of something, while still knowing its limitations and failures, this also marks the beginning of wisdom and nondual consciousness,” (The Naked Now, p. 46, 106).  It is allowing the tension…to live without resolution.  When we open ourselves in this way, God has an easier time entering in and causing something new to happen.  Have you experienced this?  How does this help us with the Gospel message?

The Gospel – Mark 1: 14 – 20

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her essay, “We Were Made for Times Like These”, “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”  Simon, Andrew, James and John are all safely keeping to their boats, but Jesus calls them out.  They go.  What would your response be…to stay safe or to go out?

Joseph Fitzmyer, a New Testament scholar, notes how strange this metaphor of ‘catching people like fish’ seems to be. The mission of the disciples was to bring people to salvation (fullness of health). Yet, fishermen eat fish, not save them!  He points out, though, that the Greek term that Jesus used to say that they would be ‘catchers or netters’ of humanity could literally be translated as “you will be taking them alive.”  The strange metaphor then comes to mean that those ‘caught’ or ‘netted’ by Peter and the others would be saved from death and gathered into God’s Kingdom. (Celebrations, Feb. 1998)

After his baptism, Jesus may have stayed around John and his followers for awhile. After John’s arrest, it seemed that Jesus began setting up his home in Capernaum. His old life at Nazareth was over and done; it was a clean cut, momentous decision. The village was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This lake was and is a large inland lake that is 680 ft. below sea level. It has quite a warm climate and is surrounded by phenomenally fertile land that was quite densely populated. It is considered to be one of the loveliest lakes in the world. “Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water – a burnished mirror set in a framework of rounded hills and rugged mountains.” In Jesus’ time it was thick with fishing boats.  This is probably not the first time that these men have met Jesus.  Some of them may have been disciples of John. They had known and talked with Jesus; they had heard him preach. Now these fishermen were being invited to “throw in their lot with him.”  These were ordinary, sort of middle-class men – certainly not poverty stricken – nor were they men to be easily fooled or impressed. As fishermen they may have had just the qualities Jesus needed in his disciples: men of patience, perseverance, courage, cleverness, with the ability to ‘fit the bait to the right fish’, to stay out of the way, and to know how to recognize the right moment for action.  (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1 77-79)

The invitation is also open-ended.  Jesus does not tell Peter and Andrew how they will “fish for people.”  No, Jesus’ call is – like many calls – appealing but also confusing…There are many ways of being called.  Many people think that being called means hearing voices.  Or they feel that since they have never had a knocked-me-off-my-feet spiritual experience that they have not been called.  But often being called can be more subtle, manifesting itself as a strong desire, a fierce attraction, or even an impulse to leave something behind,”  (Fr. J. Martin’s Jesus:  A Pilgrimage, p. 134, 141).

The leaving of everything to follow Jesus was the way the gospel writers expressed the need of disciples to make Jesus the priority in life. These fishermen were no longer just fishermen anymore once they began to follow Jesus. They probably went out during the day with Jesus to the surrounding areas returning to their families at night or after short intervals, even returning to fishing when necessary. Their total response to Jesus is meant to be an example to all of us as to where our priorities should lie. With Christ as the center of their lives, it was now more important to go out to ‘catch’ the suffering sea of humanity. This humanity was in need of God’s love, God’s kingdom and presence in their lives. What they have to offer others in Jesus’ name was not just good news; it was great news! It still is and we still have the same calling.   (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 363,364)

Martin Luther King responded profoundly to God’s call of justice with great hope, faith, and love – even in the midst of violence and hatred: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be . . . so today, I still have a dream.”

Commentary on the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary TIme, Cycle B

1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19

From M Birmingham:  The Books of Samuel recall a time of transition. From the time of Joshua, Israel had been governed by a loose tribal confederacy. These books tell of the move to one central government that reached its pinnacle in the reigns of David and Solomon. The major figure during this time of political change was Samuel, a late-eleventh-century B.C. voice of the times. The books span the time from Samuel’s birth and childhood through the reign of David and his sons. David is remembered as Israel’s ‘golden age.’ Prior to David’s reign, Israel was suspicious of kings. These books reflect these suspicions. Many preferred the tribal system over the monarchy.  The Books of Samuel reflect these tensions. The first king, Saul (who Samuel anointed), was a great disappointment. David came and was able to unify the tribes and to establish the city of Jerusalem as the capital: it was on the border between the north and the south and, thus, acceptable to both. The high point of these books is Yahweh’s promise to David that his reign would last forever. Israel would remember this promise as a sign of God’s protection during future difficult times.   (Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 451-451)

Are you “familiar with the Lord”?  How does God reveal Godself to you?  And where?  Notice God comes to Samuel right where he is-in bed!  Of course, we don’t find out what God says to Samuel in this reading, but God reveals that he is going to punish Eli because his sons blasphemed (1 Samuel 3:11-14).  It may have been left out of the lectionary because the point being made is God calls us to action, and does so where we are.

2nd Reading – I Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20:

Paul is speaking about what was common in Greek thinking at the time, that the body is separated from the soul.  Because of the separation, if one sinned, that was the body’s fault and not the soul.  So sin away!  Paul is telling them (and us!) that our souls are enfleshed.  We are body AND soul for the Lord.  How does this affect our lives today?  How do you use your whole self for God’s work?

Just because God’s Spirit dwells in us we have become a temple of God; and so our very bodies are sacred.  And more – Christ died to save not a bit of a person, but the whole person, body and soul.  Christ gave his life to give each person a redeemed soul and a pure body.  Because of that our bodies are not our own to do with what we like; we belong to Christ.  We must use our bodies not for the satisfaction of our own lusts, but for the glory of Christ.  The great fact of the Christian faith is, not that a person is free to sin, but that it makes a person free NOT to sin.  It is so easy to allow habits to master us; but the Christian strength enables us to master them, (W Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 56-57)   

From Ronald Rolheiser’s blog entry, “In Praise of Skin”:  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.  

The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42

We go right from Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord to Jesus in ministry now.  Jesus grew up and into his calling in a couple weeks!  

What’s in a name?  Jesus is called the Lamb of God, Rabbi and Messiah in this pericope.  Simon gets the new name of Cephas, or Peter.  Think about the different names you are called, maybe nicknames, terms of endearment, maybe not-so-kind names in traffic!  Names are how we are known to people.  Names make us unique.  Names can sometimes hurt.  Sometimes we have pet names for people.  When your name is remembered by an old friend, it makes you feel good  (and not if it is forgotten).  Jesus always knows your name (like Cheers!).  You are unique, called and special in Jesus’ eyes always.

The title, Lamb of God, has many overtones and shades of meaning. It obviously was an important title for Jesus in John’s community. It contains a rather compact wealth of Christological information. Ray Brown and William Barclay point out the various meanings and images connected with this phrase.

  • Passover Lamb:  By whose blood the Israelite slaves were saved from death (Exodus 12). This was also celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and evening in the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • Suffering Servant Lamb:  In whose suffering others would find healing and strength (Isaiah 53:7). 
  • Triumphant Lamb:  Whose mission it was to overcome evil and reign over all peoples of the earth (Revelation 7:17, plus it is used 29 times throughout the book).

As Barclay says, this title sums up “the love, the sacrifice, the suffering, and the triumph of Christ.” (Celebration, 2000, and The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, by William Barclay, p. 80-82)

More thoughts from Barclay:

It is John the Baptist that calls Jesus the Lamb of God.  Once again we see him pointing beyond himself.  He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer his loyalty to this new and greater teacher; and yet he did it.  There was no jealousy in John.  He had come to attach men and women not to himself but to Christ.  There is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first place was enjoyed.  But as soon as Jesus emerged on the scene John never had any other thought than to send people to him. 

Notice that Jesus TURNED to the disciples.  It is God who takes the first step.  And what does he ask?  “What are you looking for?”  What are YOU looking for?  What’s your aim and goal?  What are you trying to get out of life?  Whether you are a young person or retired, this is a question for all of us.  

Andrew seems to be the man of introductions, because that is all he ever does in Scripture.  He does so here, in John 6:8-9 when he brings the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus and in John 12:22 when he brings inquiring Greeks to Jesus.  Like John the Baptist, it must have brought Andrew joy to bring people to Jesus.  And he is often named as Peter’s brother, as if he was second fiddle to Peter.  He seems to be a humble, loyal servant of God.

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, p. 457:

The readings for this Sunday remind us that “all of salvation history can be summarized as the process in which God is in constant search of human beings.  God is the initiator.  But the invitation must be accepted in faith and in freedom.  It is an invitation to respond.  We are told what that response involves: action.  Today’s gospel is pregnant with action words – see, stay, hear, believe, come, watch.  These verbs evoke the acts, which lead from one’s initial discovery of the Lord to the resolute commitment to follow him in order to be near him . . . 

Ruth and Buckets of Hope by Kris Rooney

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What is it that causes people to hope when all seems lost? Where do they find it? The Women of St. Kateri met virtually last night, and we talked about the story of Ruth. A famine came, and it took the lives of Ruth’s husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law. It left three women, Ruth, Orpah and Naomi, with nothing. They heard there might be food in the land where Naomi originally came, Bethlehem, so they start walking there. After great emotion, Orpah decides to go back to her mother’s house; Ruth and Naomi continue on. As a group of women sharing this story together now and in our world today, we grappled with the desperation of these three women and what could have led them to have hope. Especially Ruth, because Naomi had lived in Bethlehem before and knew people. Ruth left everything she knew behind to be with Naomi, saying the famous lines, “Do not plead with me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do so to me, and worse, if anything but death separates me from you,” (Ruth 1: 16-17). How is hope found in the darkness?

It seems what we can learn from this story is that hope can be found in courage, hope can be found in each other, and hope is always found in the Lord. Ruth and Naomi trudged onward from Moab to Bethlehem because they couldn’t stay in the famished land with no husbands (not a feminist thought, but it is how it was then). They had no choice but to move forward toward something and someone that might help them. Their courage proves fruitful, because they do find food, land and people that help them in the end. It is that courage (the root “cor”, meaning heart) that keeps them going.

Hope loves company. It is so hard to hope alone. Ruth and Naomi leaned on each other to get through. If one of them got discouraged, the other carried them both. When Naomi begged Ruth to go back home, she eventually stopped urging her, “for she saw she was determined to go with her,” (1:18). They were in this together.

Eventually Ruth marries Boaz who is a relative in her father-in-law’s family, and they have a son Obed who will be the grandfather of King David. Naomi rejoices, and the women around her say, “Blessed is the Lord who has not failed to provide you today with an heir!” (4:14). Our hope is in the Lord. Even when all seems defeated and lost.

In reflecting on all of this – and please take this time if you’re able – I doodled a picture of a bucket. We all have buckets in our hearts that the Lord pours hope into (faith). We have to be brave (courage) and hold our buckets out so we can catch it. Then, it is our job to pour a little into each other’s hearts too (company). Ruth and Naomi, through their courage, company and faith, had full buckets of hope that they were willing to share. May they strengthen us. May we hold out our buckets to the Lord, gather the hope and share it like they did. Naomi and Ruth, pray for us!

Baptism of the Lord, Cycle B

1st Reading  – Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7

This is the first of four ‘suffering servant’ songs from the second part of the Book of Isaiah.  The prophet wishes us to see that God acts through this chosen servant to nullify the power of evildoers and so to restore the harmony and peace that arises where God’s justice is acknowledged and lived. Jesus must have loved the Book of the Prophet Isaiah for he modeled his life on these words concerning what it is like to be God’s servant.  From his baptism on, Jesus knew that he was called and empowered to be this servant – to bring light, and sight, and freedom to all in bondage. God’s justice was one of compassion for all.  Like Jesus by our baptism we are called to do likewise – to try to reproduce God’s justice in the world: father the fatherless, mother the motherless, welcome the stranger, feed the traveler, be hospitable to the alien. By trying with intelligence and perseverance to love all who touch our lives, we can help to bring God’s steadfast love into the reality of our everyday life. (Celebration, January 2005)

The justice or righteousness used here means living in right relationship with God and with other people. This justice acknowledges the human dignity of all people, especially those who are in need. Love of God is intrinsically tied to love poured out on others. Isaiah tells us of a Suffering Servant whose justice does not proceed with force or cruelty. This servant brings forth justice carefully, caringly, gently, so gently that even bruised reeds will not break, nor will smoldering wicks be quenched. This Servant brings God’s love to the weak and fragile and needy. Jesus is the fulfillment of this idea of servant. As disciples (learners) of Jesus we, too, must become suffering servants; it is our highest dignity. In baptism we become like Jesus – priest, prophet, and king – sent to lead others to this love of Christ, to share the Good News of the love, and to offer our lives in service for others.(Celebration, January 2002, and Mary Birmingham,  Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 126)  What does this “stir to flame” in you? 

2nd Reading – Acts 10: 34-380

Cornelius was a gentile – a non-Jew – yet Peter, a faithful Jew, became convinced that he too could be baptized and become a follower of Jesus.

This is echoed in a homily given by Pope Francis:  “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: We will meet one another there.”

“For God was with him”  Do we know this?  That God is with us?  That God makes it possible for good to happen in (and through!) our lives if we are open to God’s presence?  Just think what your life would be like if God’s love was able to flow freely in and out of you.  What good would come?

The Gospel — Jesus’ Baptism – Mark 1: 7-11

Why do you think that Jesus was baptized?  **If Jesus shows us what God is like, what do we see in this passage?  There is a special irony in Jesus’ baptism that speaks to the central message of the redemptive mystery. Jesus enters into radical solidarity with all people, taking upon himself even the condition of our sinfulness, himself having not sinned. The “one more powerful” assumes the position of weakness. It is precisely in this that he is beloved, and it is from this that he is sent. But how could he be fully human, like us, if he did not sin? We misunderstand this, because we misunderstand our humanity as well as our sin. Jesus reveals to us not only what God is like; he also reveals to us who we are. Our sin in essence is the rejection of the truth of our humanity. Jesus’ utter acceptance of his humanity reverses our sinful rejection of our ‘creatureliness’. His baptism is at the heart of his mission to heal us. He enters into even the wounds of our self-rejection and insecurity, without making the rejection and insecurity his own. He stands with us even if that means that he is seen as a sinner. Here the Word of God is enfleshed for all to see. The Spirit hovers over him and the Voice declares to him and to all of us who share his flesh: “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus IS God’s ancient covenant of love. In him, both halves meet: the divine and the human. (J. Kavaanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”; http://liturgy.slu.edu )

In first-century Israel there were two seasons: rainy (late September to late April) and dry (early May to early September). Most stayed inside during the wet season, so during the dry season people wanted to be out and about, a very important Mediterranean activity. When John was baptizing, it was probably the beginning of the dry period. The Jordan River would be still filled with water and it would now be warmed by the sun. Jesus’ baptism by John is one of the most certain historical events recorded in the gospels. Its significance caused the early Christians first some embarrassment and gradually great insight. Another point: in Marks’ brief account it is a ‘mouth-full’ to say that Jesus leaves his family and village to come to John for baptism. One’s family was the central social institution of his day; this step away from his family would have been seen by his culture as very risky, even shameful. When the voice from heaven claims him as a beloved son, a whole new type of family is set up. Mark expects us who are hearing this gospel to recognize that the source of Jesus’ honor is God not his family or culture. God personally acknowledges Jesus as a beloved, obedient son and servant.   (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

Jesus’ encounter with his calling and identity at his baptism is the starting point for all that he will undertake. It is because Jesus knows who he is that he does as he does. He trusts the truth that he is God’s beloved; he refuses, even in the face of suffering and death, to believe the lie that God is distant, uncaring, or condemning. At baptism, we are also called sons and daughters of God. In fact, our baptism is our acceptance of that truth. Like Jesus, we need to let that truth fill our lives and overflow into all we do and are.  We are never just consumers or spectators or travelers or workers – all of us are God’s beloved, “Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu .