1st Reading – Ezekiel 2: 2-5
Abraham Heschel describes a prophet as, “a person, not a microphone. S/He is endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness –but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality. It is not only what s/he said but also what s/he lived. The prophet was an individual who said No to his/her society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism,” (The Prophets, p. x-xv). Do you recall instances when you were called to be a prophet? What was the experience like?
When have you been obstinate of heart? Did you wish God set your feet straight? What prophets are among us now? How are we prophets?
The daily reflection from http://onlineministries.creighton.edu says, “We are prophets when our lifestyle reflects an alternative to the easy conformities of our cultures.” We must live as we are meant to live. But the right way to live isn’t always the easy way. Ezekiel is trying to convince a people who see God as a tyrant that he is a prophet for them. Not an easy task.
The term “Son of Man” gives emphasis to the human being who is to be the bearer of the divine message. Ezekiel saw himself as called to this title; so did Jesus. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
What do you make of this? It is questionable what Paul’s burden is, but we all have our own weaknesses and burdens. Some commentators say he had epilepsy, some an ophthalmic condition or maybe depression. From http://liturgy.slu.edu, “But if, like him, we learn to be ‘content with our weakness, for the sake of Christ,’ we may one day find ourselves unleashed, our hearts emboldened, our words firm and free.” Think of St. Kateri and her suffering from small pox and not being able to see well. She is quoted to have said, “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus.” Are you willing to give yourself over completely, weaknesses and all?
But Paul did not use excuses to limit his life. He knew vividly his own problems and difficulties – he even begged many times to be relieved of the ‘thorn in his flesh.’ But perhaps through his prayer he came to realize that none of his ‘work’ was about his weakness – but it was about trusting that God’s grace was sufficient for whatever was necessary. He learned to be content with weakness for the sake of Christ “in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” Like Paul, when we are weak, it is then that we are strong – in and with the Lord. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel — Mark 6: 1-6
Do you find this true in your own life, when you return to your hometown or see friends and family from your past? Where are you in this story?
Most scholars think that this passage has a ring of historicity. It is probably unlikely that the early church would have told stories about Jesus being rejected in his own hometown if it were not based on a real event. It was probably a very important story for them because they themselves often experienced rejection of their own when they tried to share ‘the Jesus story’ with their families and close acquaintances. And, of course, as Jesus will soon begin his journey to Jerusalem, this rejection will culminate in the horrible rejection of the cross. But even that horror will not end the truth and power of his life and word. (R. Fuller, OSB, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In Jesus’ culture there was no expectation of ‘doing better than one’s parents.’ In fact honor required that a person stay in their inherited status and make no effort to improve on it. Any effort to ‘better oneself’ was seen as a threat to others. So Jesus aroused anxiety on this point alone. Then, craftsmen at this time – especially those who lived in small hamlets like Nazareth – had to leave home to find work. They had to leave their women and children at home without proper male protection. Such craftsmen were, thus, looked upon as ‘without shame.’ How could such a one have such power and wisdom? “And they took offense at him.” (J. Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
From Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. J. Martin:
In consulting with 1st century archeologist Jonathan Reed, a Jewish village of that size at the time would not have had a synagogue. There has been no evidence discovered yet. People would have most likely gathered outside, like an open space in the village, or maybe the courtyard of a wealthy homeowner (115). Picture Jesus in that setting. It is likely that Jesus knew how a message of openness to the Gentiles would be received in his hometown. Nonetheless he is fearless. How? Courage from grace, yes. But he also had a freedom from any desire for approval from the people in Nazareth. He needed only to be true to himself. He loved the people of Nazareth, but he saw beyond that (125). How often do we worry about what people think of us? Does it keep us from moving forward?
A reading from the Book of Wisdom (1: 13-15; 2: 23-24)
This passage echoes the Eucharistic Prayer 3 in the Catholic tradition. It ends, “Therefore we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.” All good things are from God. God wants good for us. It is not only death of our living that is spoken about in this reading but the death of a good idea, the death of a hope for something, the death that can be found in negativity. How might you find LIFE, goodness, wholesomeness, God’s own nature in you?
In Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si’”, he says, “The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement,” (#5). How might we appreciate and protect all of creation so that it is seen as this gift that God intended?
A reading from the 2nd Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (8:7: 9, 13-15)
The Jerusalem Church was struggling at this time in severe poverty. Paul had promised after his meeting with the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem (in probably the year 49 AD) to try to collect money for those in need. This passage shows some of his efforts. For Paul, this collection was a matter of great importance. He urged generosity for he wanted to promote the unity of the church, and to overcome the barrier between Jewish and Greek Christians. (J Dwyer, Church History, 43-44)
Generous people are primarily grateful people – people who know that ‘what they have’ is gift. We are creatures; we did not create ourselves. While we are responsible for how we use our gifts and talents, we are in the end never ‘self-made’ women or men. Thus, we are called to live with generosity. We must be people with open hands and hearts – not clinging to our wealth, but using whatever we have for the good of our families and others. This is what Paul it talking about here. In Jesus the Word of God ‘gave up’ the richness of divinity to embrace the poverty of human life, creaturehood. By so doing, Jesus showed us what God is like and what we are to be like, created as we are in the image of this God. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2000)
The passage references Exodus 16:18: But when they measured it [the manna] out by the omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little. They so gathered that everyone had enough to eat. Do we think this way?
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (5: 21-43)
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 104-105:
In Jesus’ day professional physicians hesitated to actually treat anyone (for they were held responsible with their own life if the treatment did not work). They preferred to just discuss illness in a rather philosophical way. Faith healers were far more common, and it seemed that Jesus was identified by people as one of these. It is hard to ‘get at’ the real history of these ‘cures’ for we have no factual evidence of any of these diseases since no one knew about germs or viruses etc. “But in the same terms, Jesus definitely healed all who wanted to be healed. Healing is the restoration of meaning to people’s lives no matter what their physical condition might be. Curing may be very rare, but [for those who reach out to Jesus] healing takes place infallibly, 100% of the time.” Because of Jesus this woman is welcomed into community, even though she violated the purity codes, and so did Jesus. The ‘other daughter’ is then restored by Jesus to her rightful place in community which is signified when Jesus commanded that she be given something to eat.
From Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 551:
The number 12 is of great significance; it pulls the two stories together. Jesus not only restores the older ‘daughter’ to fullness of life after 12 years, but he takes the hand of the 12-year-old and raises her up to new life. She ‘was asleep’ but is then restored. Perhaps she represents the 12 tribes of Israel. Mark’s Jesus believes he is presiding at the collapse of the social order determined by Jairus’ Judaism. The 12-year-old daughter of privilege is dead. The outcast woman violates the purity codes and reaches out to Jesus. She sought fullness of life. Jesus responded to her need. Israel must also embrace the reign and power of God in their midst. The walls of social and religious status must be torn down. Jesus can raise up what is lost. He gives life to the little girl prefiguring the salvation that Christ will offer through his own death and resurrection.
Jesus does not appear to have a plan but is simply and clearly available to the people. Notice how Jesus follows Jairus. Here Jesus is exemplifying what he talks about so often: the leader must become the follower. There must be no clinging to status nor lording it over others. But then we are interrupted. A woman, who had nowhere left to go. But she had heard about Jesus, and she listened and understood. She would have been socially “dead” (see 1st reading!) being isolated from everyone, since she was considered unclean. Her faith was strong enough that she spoke up, against her fears, and didn’t fall into the trap of considering herself as good as dead. And what does Jesus call her? Daughter! She is no longer an unknown woman, but family. Jesus was committed to doing holy things, making things and people holy. He felt that flow come out of him (Do we?). The story hurries on (That’s Mark for you!) and now Jesus is leading Jairus. Jesus uses the local dialect to raise his daughter from the dead. The story ends with Jesus involving the family and community in her rehabilitation by getting her something to eat. We all need to bring about the kingdom. (From A. Gittins’ Encountering Jesus, p. 23-30)
Seriously, look at that face! This is our new dog Copper, and he is inquisitive, trusting and lovable. He also has a bunch of needs; my family and I are doing our best to figure him out and help him have his best life. So when I read today’s Gospel reading, it actually kinda hurt. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces, ” Matthew 7:6.
This is a hard one. Why would Jesus say this, when he mostly hung out with people who may have seen themselves or were even called dogs or swine? Is Jesus saying holy things are only for the good ones? And who are they? Part of me wants to imagine Jesus never saying this at all. Could Jesus look at Copper’s face and turn away? Usually when a Bible verse is bothersome like this, it can be a clue that God wants us to dig deeper into what may God may be trying to say to us right now. And since God is love, it is always good to err on the loving perspective.
To put this passage in context, there was a real divide between the Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’ day. They really didn’t mix, so maybe this is the human side of Jesus speaking as a Jewish person. Maybe he hadn’t grasped yet that Gentiles could handle the holy stuff too. This passage is also part of the Sermon on the Mount, so it is right after Jesus calls people blessed when they try to do good and right after he says not to judge people. Again I am confused why Jesus would then set a judgment with dogs and pigs. Since this is a Bible passage that will never be heard on a Sunday, my guess is the liturgical people are as confused about it as I am.
But when I pray about it and think about God’s love, I wonder if this reading is more about doing holy things together. It’s hard to fully embrace the holy all by ourselves. Can it even be done? Maybe Jesus was saying don’t just give the pearls of holiness to dogs and pigs for them to figure out by themselves. We need to share the holy together. Life can be so hard, right? Even figuring out the divisions is exhausting. It is time to just share our goodness with each other. You’ve probably experienced it already. When you have shared something deeply about yourself with someone, and that someone really hears you and shares something back that helps in some way. It touches the heart, right? That’s Jesus at work. We grow when we give back AND forth with each other. There is a holiness – and wholeness – in the exchange. In a way, we become more like Jesus when we share ourselves with each other like that. It can be risky, but love always seems to be that way.
Just like Copper is also helping me and my family live our best life too. The holy is simple love. Beautiful possibilities happen in its sharing.
Jesus, our loving friend, help us to share ourselves with each other even when we are afraid or unsure. Help us to do hard things together with love. Open our hearts to you, to all that is holy and good. Amen
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).
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).