Monthly Archives: September, 2021

Commentary on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Genesis 2: 18-24

When you read Genesis, you will notice there are actually 2 creation stories side by side.  Theologians have determined that this is because there are 2 sources, one being Yahwist (J) and the other Priestly (P).  This creation story is by Yahwist, which is an earlier and more “earthy” source.  These creation stories in Genesis are not intended to be read as scientific documents about the beginning of things.  They are etiological stories written to help us ponder and understand basic truths about humans and creation.  How does this story speak to you about humanity and creation?

From Genesis, Gerhard von Rad (83-84):  “When man says “ox” he has not simply discovered the word “ox,” but rather understood this creature as ox and included it in his imagination and his life as a help to his life.  Here one should note the creaturely proximity of man and beast to each other…A “deep sleep” falls upon the man, a kind of magical sleep that completely extinguishes his consciousness.  The narrator is moved by the thought that God’s miraculous creating permits no watching…Now God himself, like a father of the bride, leads the woman to the man.  The man in supreme joy at once recognizes the new creature as one belonging completely to him, and he expresses his understanding immediately in the proper name that he gives the new creature.”  This commentary fleshes out (literally!) the relationality we as humans have with each other and with creation.  We need each other.  We were made that way.  It’s easy to see how we need the people in our lives, but what about the birds? the trees? the bugs?

“God fashions the first human being by taking the dust of the ground into his hands, holding it so close that it can share in the divine breath, and inspiring it with the freshness of life.  It is only as the ground is suffused with God’s intimate, breathing presence that human life – along with the life of trees and animals and birds – is possible at all.  God draws near to the earth and then animates it from within,” Norman Wirza quote from Grounded by Diana Butler Bass, p. 42).  What does this say about how God wants to relate to us?     

“Like man, woman owes her life solely to God.  For both of them the origin of life is a divine mystery.  Another parallel of equality is creation out of raw materials:  dust for man and a rib for woman.  Yahweh chooses these fragile materials and in both cases processes them before human beings happen…Superiority, strength, aggressiveness, dominance, and power do not characterize man in Genesis 2.  By contrast he is formed from dirt; his life hangs by a breath which he does not control; and he himself remains silent and passive while the Diety plans and interprets his existence,” (Phyllis Trible, “Eve and Adam:  Genesis 2-3 Reread”).

2nd Reading – Hebrews 2: 9-11:

Hebrews is part of the early Church’s effort to understand Christ as both human and divine.  Preceding this reading, Psalms 8 is quoted that angels are ‘rulers over the new world to come’ (Workbook for Lectors, 249).  But Christ made himself lower than the angels for a little while…so he could taste death like everyone does.  Christ wants to be one with us.  As Paul said in his letter to the Philippians about Christ:  “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, “ (2:6-7).  In Hebrews and Philippians, the intent was for the hearers of the message to place their trust in Christ.  Does it make you want to place more trust in Him?

The Gospel — Mark (10: 2-16):

How has God’s grace (God’s love, God’s very life) been present for you in a child – a spouse, a parent, a friend?  Maybe this is more about our ‘hard-hearts’ than about divorce. In the church there is room for everyone. As church we still need to proclaim the ideal of holiness of marriage, because it comes from Christ and his wisdom; it builds up the human family. But Christ calls all of us into a love relationship with God and with others. Due to human weakness we all fall short in one way or another. This only means we need Christ more; we need to alleviate the pain of broken relationships whenever and wherever we can, (Footprints on the Mountain, Roland Foley, 649).  We must be like children, open, vulnerable and trusting.

            Jesus is being asked his opinion on a very hotly debated issue of his day:  the grounds for divorce. The words in Deuteronomy (24; 1-40) say that a man can divorce a woman for ‘some indecency’ which, of course, could mean many things. Some conservatives of Jesus’ day said a man could only divorce a woman for adultery.  Others said that divorce was all right if a woman was a poor cook, if she spoke to strangers, if she gossiped about her husband’s family, or simply if he found another woman more attractive.  Women, for the most part, had no right to divorce at all, in Jesus’ time and culture.  Women in the Roman/Greek culture, however, could divorce, that is why Mark’s gospel refers to this in vs. 12.

Divorce at this time was also more than just a separation of two partners; it was a separation of families. God had chosen one’s parents it was believed. Then, the parents chose the marriage partners for their sons and daughters. In that sense then, God chose – God, through the chosen parents, had joined them together. Thus, “what God had joined together, let no one separate.”

Divorce then brought great shame not only to the woman, but also to her family – in particular to the males of that family. This shame would often be a cause for feuding. Bloodshed was a common result from such a ‘separation’.  (J. Pilch, Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B

A word of warning and compassion:  This passage can be a cause of great pain and resentment for those who have suffered because of a union that was far from the ideal. “Without detracting anything from the sacredness of the gift of marriage, those who have suffered as a result of their unions should be shown respect, understanding and encouragement. Support for them in their struggle should be the order of the day in a community that is meant to be a home to all.” Just as physical nourishment is needed for one to grow strong, so spiritual nourishment is also needed and should not be withheld. This is the nourishment of friendship and the sacrament of Christ’s presence.  Everyone needs God’s strength and his grace of forgiveness daily.  This is important for all, whether married or unmarried.      (Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006)

Commentary on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Numbers 11: 25-29

The Spirit cannot be confined to regularly appointed offices.  Its freedom to blow where it wills is a pointer to the day when the whole people of God will prophecy – an aspiration that Christian faith can see fulfilled at Pentecost (R. Fuller’s Preaching the Lectionary, p. 352). 

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 in Hebrew is ge-hinnom, meaning “valley of the son of Hinnom”.  The name probably is that of the original Jebusite owner.  It had become a cultic shrine where human sacrifice was offered (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2, 32:35).  This valley is referred to, not by name, in Isaiah 66:24 as a place where the dead bodies of the rebels against Yahweh shall lie.  Their worm shall not die nor shall their fire be quenched – this passage is important in tracing the origin of the concept of Gehenna as a place of punishment after death, (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 299-300).  Gehenna later became the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. 

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)  A different take on fire than that of Gehenna…

Image result for holy spirit fire

Let us pray with St. Catherine of Siena…

You, God, are a fire that always burns without consuming.

You are a fire consuming in its heat

every compartment of the soul’s self-absorbed love.

You are a fire lifting all chill and giving all light.

In Your light You show me Your truth.

You’re the Light that outshines every Light.

You, God, give the mind’s eye

Your divine light so completely and excellently.

You bring lucidity even to the light of faith.

In that faith, I see my soul has life, and in that light,

I receive You who are Light itself.  AMEN

Commentary on 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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). 

Just before these verses, Wisdom sounds a bit like Ecclesiastes in saying that our lives are fleeting and maybe mean nothing at all.  The underlying message is to live now, in the present.  Why, then, does the author turn and point fingers at the unjust…and even challenge and test?  It is hard to grasp the wisdom in this.  What experiences in your life might help our understanding?  Perhaps challenging those who are “obnoxious to us” help us to clarify what we ourselves believe in?     

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 with this reading?  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…

Commentary on the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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?

Further reflection questions:  Why do we rebel sometimes to where God may be leading us?  What does it mean when Isaiah says he wants to appear together with those that oppose him?  How does God help us?

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 (See Galatians 2:16).  But both can work together.  “To be Christian means to act upon the Word as our response in love,” (Birmingham, W&W, 643).  Mark Powell seems to think it is apples to oranges, because Paul and James define faith differently.  James seems to think of faith as mere intellectual assent, the act of knowing or believing certain things to be true.  For Paul, faith is a radical orientation toward God that transforms one’s entire being and produces a “new creation”, (Introducing the New Testament, p. 455).  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:

  1. Revelation is God’s own self-disclosure.
  2. Revelation points to particular events and particular people through whom God has communicated in decisive ways with humanity.
  3. Revelation calls for our personal response and appropriation.  True knowledge of God is a practical rather than a merely theoretical knowledge.
  4. Revelation of God is always a disturbing, even shocking event.  Look at Jesus!  He ate with sinners-this was shocking at the time.
  5. 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.

Commentary on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Isaiah 35: 4-7a

This section of the Book of Isaiah was probably prompted by the Babylonian exile, which brought great fear and despair to the people whose country lay in ruins and many people back into 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?  How does this reading help our 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 )