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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 )

Commentary on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8

The purpose of keeping the Law is not a matter of blind obedience (obedience entails listening that is suppose to give ‘sight’—insight). It is about growing closer to the God of love and liberation who has first come close to us. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

An Overview of the Book of Deuteronomy:  This book is written in the form of an address by Moses to his people just before they were to enter the Promised Land. It is written as if it was Moses’ farewell address. It contains many long sermons and speeches that echo a much later reflection on the law and covenant than would have been possible at the time of Moses. (This kind of pseudonymous writing was a common ancient practice of authors; they hoped that the name of the respected leader would bring authority to their material.) The name, Deuteronomy, even means a second law – it is not really a second law, but a second look at the law given in Exodus by God through Moses. The writer was calling for reform and rededication. It is used here today, probably because Jesus is seen as the new Moses in the gospel, the One who teaches with God’s authority and wisdom. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Cycle B, 467-468)

2nd Reading: James 1: 17-18, 21-22, 27

Though it is unmistakably Christian, this book has a very Jewish feel to it.  There are a lot of do’s and don’ts, like a guidebook down the path of life. There is still debate among theologians who wrote this epistle.  It is most widely attributed to Jesus’ “brother” James, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem – James the Just, not the apostle, (Powell, Intro. the New Testament, p. 445-450).  We don’t even know when it was written, whether 60s or perhaps later in the 80s & 90s.  Despite the reflection of Jewish Christian traditions, the writing itself suggests a Greek-speaking Jewish community because of its elegance (Perkins, Reading the New Testament, p. 297).

This ‘sermon’ addressed to the 12 tribes of the Diaspora (which refers to the dispersion of the Jews from Palestine after the Babylonian captivity and/or the Jewish communities living outside Palestine). It is asking them to translate their faith into good deeds. The vertical bond with God must also be expressed with horizontal sharing and caring about those in need. To be truly Christian is to act on what we hear, welcoming God’s word into our hearts, minds, and will. (Celebration, Sept.3, 2006)

The Gospel: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-22

What good news do you find in this gospel?  How is Christ speaking personally to you in this passage?

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 130 -132:  The ‘tradition of the elders’ was a set of practices that were defined, maintained, and practiced by elites who lived in the city. The Pharisees wanted everyone to observe this urban tradition. Peasants in the countryside or itinerants like Jesus would have great difficulty observing such traditions. Water was scarce and/or not readily available for such washings. Fishermen and other peasants regularly came into contact with dead fish, dead animals, and other ‘pollutants.’ Peasants had therefore developed the ‘little tradition’ which adapted the requirements of the ‘great tradition’ of the urban and more well-to-do people. Jesus, the artisan (carpenter), obviously sided with this little tradition; he knew first hand the realities and difficulties of peasant life.

            What we ‘see’ in this gospel is the challenge and retort that was common in Jesus’ day. Questions were rarely inoffensive; every question was a challenge. There was always the hope that the one being questioned would not know the answer. Therefore, they could be shamed. The word, hypocrite, meant actor. In other words, Jesus was saying: “You actors! Scripture may be the lines you quote, but it is not the script by which you live.” It was considered particularly ‘honorable’ to be able to draw creatively and insightfully upon tradition or scripture in the heat of an argument. Some of us Americans are a bit dismayed by Jesus’ ability to confront and insult rather than using tact and diplomacy. Yet, what we see here was how a male would have to respond to ‘make a point’ and maintain his honor. Jesus also changes the topic (another clever refuting skill) by using a parable to teach about what really defiles a person. It is not what one eats that defiles, but what ‘comes out’ of a person that defiles.

This gospel is also about table fellowshipwho should be welcomed at ‘God’s table’ . . . The ‘unwashed hands’ are not only the hands of peasants, but in Mark’s early Christian community they would also have been the hands of Gentiles.  Mark is making an important point that Jesus does NOT exclude from table-fellowship those who do not keep all the purity laws. Jesus’ offer of salvation was not only to the ‘clean’ of Israel, but also to the unclean. He invited sinners and tax collectors to join him at table – and to feed on his word. He still does! It is interesting to think about this during our procession to and from Communion. It is itself symbolic of what is taking place: all of us, the able and the lame, the ready and the not-so-ready, the healed and those in need of healing. We all walk together to Christ’s table.         (Living Liturgy, 2003, p. 202)

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading:  Joshua 24:  1-2, 15-17, 18

From Birmingham’s Word and Worship, p. 617:  This small, ragtag military band of Israelites accomplished great victories only because they were sustained and empowered by the Holy One of Israel.  Israel laid claim to all of the land because God was the one who helped them secure it in the first place.  Salvation history exalts the God who strengthened Israel in all its endeavors – deliverance from slavery and conquest of the Canaanite land.  But the inhabitants of Shechem worshiped a god called El-berith.  The Israelites worshiped Yahweh.  The covenant agreement reached by both groups was to worship the one God, Yahweh.  The liturgy in this passage remembers and celebrates the agreement made by the two groups of people. 

What is it to serve the Lord and claim God as your own?  This is deeper than simply professing a belief.  As we will see in the Gospel reading, it is a transformation that some simply cannot accept.  Not only do we have to choose but we must continue choosing…daily! 

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 5:  21-32

The Greek root of the word subordinate can be ‘to obey’, or ‘to listen’.  Doesn’t that change how we look at Paul’s letter?  We must listen to one another, in our marriages and in our church.  Notice Paul speaks to the husbands about their responsibilities too, to love their wives.  And also note that church is not formally formed yet; he is talking to communities of people bonded in faith.

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 168-174:  This reading must be put in context.  The Jews had a low view of women at the time.  In his morning prayer there was a sentence in which a Jewish man gave thanks that God had not made him “a Gentile, a slave or a woman.”  In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing.  She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely her husband’s possession to do with as he willed.  And in Paul’s day, divorce was very easy.  All a man had to do was to hand a bill of divorcement, correctly written out by a Rabbi, to his wife in the presence of 2 witnesses and the divorce was complete.  The only other condition was that the woman’s dowry must be returned.  A woman really had no rights to divorce her husband at all.  So for Paul to talk about the relationship between husband and wife as being sacrificial, purifying, caring, unbreakable…this was a new idea.  And this is carried over into church life. 

There is an ancient proverb, “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”  How do we do that in our marriages?  In our parish?

John 6:  60-69

We come to the end of Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, but it is with unrest.  Murmuring, unacceptance, returning to former ways of life…the disciples are in a similar place as we are now in our Church!  With more sexual abuse allegations come to light, the priest shortage and dwindling congregations, we are also a murmuring people who needs consolation.  Thankfully Jesus tells us the words we need to hear, those of Spirit and life.  Peter affirms his belief in Jesus being the Holy One of God, and yet he denies him later.  We are hard to convince.  Roland Faley shares, “Faith is attained not by human effort, even though cooperation is essential, but by the action of God drawing the believer.”  We must be open to God drawing us in.  Perhaps we get in the way of God’s action when we try so hard?  Consider the murmurings you have with God in your own life.

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 227:  The disciples were well aware that Jesus had claimed to be the very life and mind of God come down to earth; their difficulty was to accept that as true, with all its implications….If we eat simply for the sake of eating, we become gluttons, and it is likely to do us far more harm than good; if we eat to sustain life, to do our work better, to maintain the fitness of our body at its highest peak, food has a real significance…The things of the flesh all gain their value from the spirit in which they are done.

Applying this to Eucharist, it makes all the difference.  Are we willing to let Eucharist change us, to bring meaning to our life, and to allow Spirit to flow?

Can we live so we convince others we are of God too?

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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?

Commentary on 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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)

But I Like Dogs…by Kris Rooney

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

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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).

Commentary on the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle B

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).