Monthly Archives: October, 2021

Commentary on the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st  Reading – Deuteronomy 6: 2-6

This is the foundational creed for all the Jewish people.  It is known as the Sh’ma Israel (Hear, O Israel!).  Devout Jews had a mezuzah (case and scroll) mounted on its doorframe with this passage in it.(Birmingham, W& W, 703)

Love God with all your heart, soul and strength…your whole self, body and soul!  What does this mean to you?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 7: 23-28


This is a passage with “high Christology”, meaning it pictures Jesus in a much more divine light than human. The author of Hebrews is comparing the levitical priests to Jesus’ priesthood. How does this concept resonate with you

Jesus is the surety of a new and a better covenant, a new kind of relationship between man and God. The difference is this – the old covenant was based on law and justice and obedience; the new covenant is based on love and on the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The old covenant was based on human achievement; the new covenant is based on God’s love…the writer to the Hebrews uses another wonderful word about Jesus and says of him that he remains forever (paramenein). That verb has 2 characteristic flavors. First, it means to remain in office. No one can ever take the office of Jesus from him; to all eternity he remains the introducer of people to God. Second, it means to remain in the capacity of a servant. Jesus is forever at the service of us. He is the priest forever, the one who is forever opening the door to the friendship of God and is forever the great servant of humankind, (Wm. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, p. 81-83).

The Gospel – Mark 12: 28-34
Jesus is now in Jerusalem.
He has been teaching, cleansing, confronting . . .
Out of the 248 positive commands and the 365 negative prohibitions of the Torah, Jesus now puts these commandments together that were not ordinarily put together as equals – one from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and one from Leviticus 19: 18. What is Jesus telling us by doing so? Jesus adds to the first commandment “with all your mind” – why do you think he does this?

Loving with one’s whole heart is another way of saying that love cannot be measured. We are to give it all –our entire capacity to love (Birmingham, W&W, 706). We must love our neighbor even if it is hard…even if it may not be returned…even if it’s not the way you imagined it. But the love of God will always be returned tenfold, and it will be more that you could ever imagine.

This is the last encounter Jesus has with his opponents before he is arrested and prosecuted by them – and in it he silences them once and for all. When the scribe agrees with Jesus’ insight, Jesus tells him, “ You are not far from the kingdom of God.” ‘Not far’ implies that orthodoxy is not enough. More than intellectual assent is required. There must be observable, direct action – justice toward one’s neighbor must be practiced (Birmingham, W&W, 707). What do you make of “not far”?

Commentary on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Jeremiah 31: 7-9

This is a reading of compassion at a time of exile and hardship.

What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘remnant’? The thesaurus lists these ideas: remainder, relic, leftover, residue, trace, vestige, scrap, end . . . Yet, in Hebrew scriptures this remnant was the few and the faithful who would survive because of their faith in the Lord. They are a ‘motley lot’ but they journey with a God who loves them and who cares for them like a father for his first-born.

This ‘remnant of the needy’ shows us a spirituality that has learned to depend on God for survival and salvation.  They were in need and disadvantaged: blind, lame – mothers and mothers-to-be – without husbands.  They needed God’s consolation and guidance – and each other’s support. This is a constant theme that echoes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Ps. 34:6; Sirach 21:15).It is meant to challenge all of us: if God is so concerned for the needy, how can God’s people be otherwise?  (Preaching Resources, October, 2003)

Ephraim was the second son of Joseph, but he received the blessing of the first born from Jacob instead of Manasseh.  Jacob crossed his hands so his right hand was blessing Ephraim instead  (Genesis 48:  8-20),  Ephraim is one of the tribes of Israel), but he represents all of Israel in this reading. How does this prepare us for the gospel?

The 2nd Reading – Hebrews 5: 1-6

Who is Melchizedek? See Genesis 14: 17-20.   Melchizedek means ‘king of Salem [peace] and priest of the Most High’.  He embodied ‘mysteriousness’ since he seemed to have no history – no family or lineage.  Thus, he also stood for a priest with no limits of time and space; he offered bread and wine and blessed Abraham in the name of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth, who delivered him from his foes. He seemed to transcend history with an eternal connection to this God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus comes ‘in the line of Melchizedek”.  (Birmingham, W& W, 696)

From Bishop Matthew Clark’s Forward in Hope:  Vatican Council II affirmed that pastors have the “duty to shepherd the faithful and recognize their ministries and charisms so that all, according to their proper roles, may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart” (LG, 30).   For from Christ “the whole body, being close joined and knit together through every joint of the system, according to the functioning in due measure of each single part derives its increase to the building of itself in love” (Eph 4:16).  We are all called through our baptism to be priest, prophet and king.  Like Melchizedek offered bread and wine as an offering to God, so we offer ourselves and our own gifts in order to fulfill the whole body of Christ. 

The Gospel — Mark 10: 46-52

In what ways can Jesus help you to see?

This gospel is at the end of chapter 10; chapter 11 is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.  This whole ‘journey-section’ is sandwiched between stories of the cure of two blind men — the blind man from Bethsaida (Mark 8: 22) and this story of Bartimaeus (‘son of the unclean’ is perhaps the meaning of the Hebrew words). Between these two stories of blindness we find the three passion predictions, each one followed by graphically embarrassing stories of the disciples’ blindness as they fail to understand Jesus’ mission.  (Living Liturgy, 2003, 233)

Notice the contrast between the disciples of last week along with the story of the rich man who ‘saw so well’ that he had kept the law perfectly.  Note also how Jesus asks the same question of both Bartimaeus and James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” The answers are in sharp contrast showing us what true discipleship is – and what it is not . . . Jericho was the last stop for a pilgrim on the way to Jerusalem. At the outskirts of this ‘suburb’ there would be a throng of beggars hoping to receive alms from those who are going up to the Temple.  Bartimaeus jumps up quickly and readily lets go of his ‘cloak’ when Jesus calls. (The cloak was the only means of support for a blind man: he would spread it on the ground and use it to catch the coins that were thrown his way. It was also his only cover against the cold, wind and rain.) Bartimaeus – without possessions or ambition – asks for sight. When he receives it, he follows Jesus on the way – which as we see in the very next section is the way to Jerusalem and to the cross.  (Birmingham, W&W, 698-700)

What is this faith that has saved Bartimaeus?  Observe how this ‘faith’ is acted out: Bartimaeus heard Jesus, cried out to him, persisted in his prayer, came to Jesus when called, spoke boldly of his need, and when he finally ‘sees,’ he follows Jesus with the crowd down the road to Jerusalem . . . Bartimaeus gives us a blueprint for being a true disciple. (Living Liturgy, B, 232)

Commentary on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading — Isaiah 53: 10-11

This is part of the fourth Suffering Servant Song that is found in Isaiah. One can read all of these Servant Songs at Isaiah 42: 1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12.  They were written during the time of exile when the nation of Israel was itself the ‘suffering servant’. Its intention was to offer a word of hope and consolation.  The early Christian community believed that Jesus was the Suffering Servant; it isn’t certain if Jesus actually saw himself that way, but he could certainly identify with it.   How do you identify with this passage?  Did you see a light in the tunnel when you have had moments of suffering?

The word for many according to Jewish scholars referred to gentiles.  In later Judaism, the many was understood to mean “all” – everyone, all the nations, all people.  The Suffering Servant would save all people.  What good news!  (Share the Word, 52, and Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year B, 686)

From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:

God can make sense of chaos. God can bring good out of bad.  The Christian view of history is not that goodness overcomes badness, but that goodness survives badness. We learn that from Jesus, God’s own son. God has high hopes for us and for his world. God is tickled to have us in God’s life. The God we find in Jesus promises us that all will be well in the end.

2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 14-16

Here the Suffering Servant is the High Priest. How does this reading give you confidence?  How do we hold fast to our confession?

As different as Jesus is from us, he also knows and understands our weaknesses.  Like us, he too was tempted, and not only once at the start of his ministry, but throughout his life, just as we are.  The difference, of course, is that though tempted “in every way,” he never sinned.  The consequences of all this are no less than astounding:  we can “confidently” approach “the throne of grace,” that is, the throne of God, because Christ, our brother in the flesh and our Lord in eternity, has thrown wide the gates of access to God’s merciful love, (Workbook for Lectors…255). 

The Gospel — Mark 10: 35-45

From your experience, what is so great about being servant?   Where is the good in this?

After James and John argued their point that they should have “special seats” in heaven (Doesn’t it remind you of kids who want to sit in the front seat?), Jesus summons all of his disciples saying, “You know….there are rulers in the world that want power and prestige, and you aren’t them.”   In other words, Jesus is gently and lovingly telling them to get over themselves!  They must be willing to really drink from the cup. 

John Pilch says that in this culture, the head of the family would fill the cups of all at the table. Each one is expected to accept and drink what the head of the family has given.  In a type of analogy, God is like this parent and so this cup came to represent the ‘lot’ or reality of our life.  Jesus accepts the reality and his call from God to serve others by showing them God’s kingdom, God’s power and love.  Jesus’ ‘honor’ will be attained in this way, even when evil tries to stop him.  What is your cup?  How does this add insight into the ‘sharing of the cup’ at Eucharist?  (“Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

Henri Nouwen opened up this idea even further in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?.  He asks, “Can you drink the cup?  Can you taste all the sorrows and joys?  Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring?”  Drinking the cup of life involves holding, lifting and drinking.  It is the full celebration of being human.  We must hold our cup and fully claim who we are and what we are called to live.  When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then too, can we lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up their lives as well.  Drinking the cup of life says, “This is my life,“ and “I want this to be my life.”  

Thoughts from M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbk.,Yr. B, 689:  The word ‘ransom’ in this setting in Hebrew means an offering for sin, an atonement offering.  Jesus has paid the universal debt:  he has given his life for many (ALL, see above) to redeem the world.     

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis’ unjust and inhuman treatment of Jews in Germany before and during WWII.  He was killed by order of Hitler, but his life and words still inspire many. In his reflections on Jesus’ call to service, he lists certain ministries or services that can encourage a holy and wholesome communal life:

  • The service of holding one’s tongue so as to prevent undue criticism or domination while allowing the other to grow freely, in God’s image not my own.
  • The service of humility that places the honor, opinion and well-being of another before my own.
  • The service of listening that does not listen with only half an ear presuming to know already what the other has to say.
  • The service of active helpfulness that remembers that nobody is too good for the lowliest service.
  • The service of proclaiming by speaking God’s words of compassion and truth even in difficult circumstances.

Only after all these services are in place and available to all can the service of authority be truly exercised.  True authority is humble, willing to listen. It is actively helping to ease the burdens of others, while speaking words that give life. (Preaching Resources, October 2000)

Commentary on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading — Wisdom 7: 7-11

The author of this book lived in Alexandria, the major Mediterranean port city in Egypt.  He wrote his work in Greek for the large Greek-speaking Jewish community there, shortly after the beginning of Roman rule in 28 BC.  He probably taught in one of the many synagogues in the city, and his book demonstrates the profound knowledge he possessed of both Jewish and Greek culture and learning.  The author shows that one can be open to Greek ways and still remain a faithful Jew, (Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 327).

What is it to be wise?  Name a person you know or have heard about who seems wise to you.  What attributes does this person exhibit that help you to understand what wisdom is?

2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 12-13

What does the image of this two-edged sword say to you?  Is it empowering, frightening, encouraging?  How do you think the Word of God as living and active?

This hymn-like tribute to the Word of God (imagine it being sung) invites us – urges us – into transformation.  Mary Birmingham says (W&W, B):  The Word comforts those who turn to its counsel.  Like a sword it penetrates the dark recesses of the human soul.  It pierces the lies and the denial and exposes them to the truth.  The Word judges the heart.  The word ‘judge’ originates from the Greek word kritikis, or crisis.  A crisis is a time for a decision — for judgment.  The Word of God uncovers the hidden secrets and questionable motives in our hearts and invites transformation.

From William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrew, p.40:  The Greek phrases that make up the last part of this section about being “exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” may have various interpretations. One is that the word was used in wrestling for seizing an opponent in such a way that he could not move or escape. It may be telling us that we may escape God for awhile, but then God grips us in such a way that we cannot help meeting him face to face as we are. It also refers to the fact that God sees us to the heart – to our inner most being. In the end we must stop running from our selves – and from God.  Remember always: God sees with love.

The Gospel –Mark 10: 17-30:

Most of us Christians cannot walk away from everything tomorrow. But all of us are called to personal assessment. The more God grows in our lives, the more simply and generously we can live. When we allow God to fill our hearts and minds, there is less room for ‘more things.’ What stands between God and us? Let us pray for wisdom and use God’s Word as a sharp sword that cuts through the ‘nonsense’ that sometimes surrounds us and deadens us.  (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p.662)

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, 148-150:  The questioner in this instance is not hostile, but his greeting, “good teacher,” signals aggression.  Compliments in this culture imply that the complimented person has tried to rise above others, to their detriment.  One can frequently suspect that the questioner envies the named qualities in the other person and secretly wishes they would be destroyed (Do you have experience with this?).  Jesus defuses the whole situation by rejecting the compliment, and loves him anyway (only mentioned in Mark’s Gospel).

“Go sell what you have” does not mean cash in your stocks as it might mean today.  In Jesus’ culture, it would have meant breaking blood ties with your family and leaving your home and land.  This is essentially social suicide…not easy at all.  The promise is that the reward will be the kingdom of God.  (Notice Jesus doesn’t say heaven but the kingdom of God.  What is the kingdom of God?)

John Pilch also notes that whenever the word “rich” appears in the Bible it is better to substitute the word “greedy.” At this time the ‘greedy rich’ land owners had 98% of the wealth even though they were only 1% or 2% of the population.  They surrounded themselves with those who could supply their every want including honor and prestige.

Which commandments are missing?  Did Jesus forget them?  Hardly…the 1st 4 commandments are that there is only 1 God, don’t worship anyone or anything else, don’t use God’s name in vain and the Sabbath is holy.  Why do you think he omits them?  They all have to do with worshipping God.  Perhaps Jesus knew this man already practiced these things.

Notice how Jesus tells him to GO and sell his things, then COME and follow me.  Jesus usually calls and sends in a single movement.  He almost never sends without first calling a person explicitly.  Yet in this case, the man is sent away to do something before he is called to follow Christ.  Why do you think that is?  Do you think his wealth has anything to do with it?  (Gittins, Encountering Jesus, p. 74-75)