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Commentary on 4th Sunday of Easter, B

1st  Reading – The Acts of the Apostles  4: 8-12

Acts show us just how radically Jesus’ followers have been transformed by His risen presence.  Before, fear ruled their behavior; now they are courageous. They boldly proclaim Christ crucified and risen; in that process they too enter into the cycle of dying and rising.  Only the power of the risen Christ and his Spirit could bring about such a profound change in their lives. (Birmingham, W& W Workbook, 376)

The word for cornerstone in Greek could be more correctly translated as the head of a corner or the capstone or keystone. When building arches, Romans first constructed the two sides of the arch; the last stone to be set in place was the capstone which joined the sides assuring stability and endurance. This capstone was a powerful symbol for Christ for the early Christians. (Celebration, May 2003)

The name of a person is more than just an artificial ‘tag’ to tell one person from another. A name represents the fullness of a person. If we do something in someone’s name, we do it as that person would do it. As a Christian we are to act as Christ, to act in his name. To live this way is to find salvation. Salvation in the name of Jesus is not a ‘magic thing.’ It is a way of life. It is a way of love.

2nd  Reading – 1 John 3: 1-2

We are children of God.  By nature we are creatures of God, but it is by grace that we are children of God.  It is like comparing paternity and fatherhood (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 73-74).  It is one thing to be created, and something entirely endearing and intimate to be family.  We are called into this kind of relationship to God.  How do we answer?  How does God reveal Godself to you?  When you sense this, do you feel more like a child of God?  Take some prayerful time to sit with these words and mull the questions.

We are called and we are.  So we have the tools (and grace) within us to be who God means for us to be, and we are sent forth to go do it.  What gets in the way of us knowing this?  What gets in the way of us doing this?  It is a bit of a paradox.  We cannot become like God (which is really being fully who we are) unless we see God; but, we cannot see God unless we are pure of heart (Matthew 5:8), (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, p. 75).  As Merton prays, the desire to please God does please God.  So trying counts despite the obstacles! 

The Gospel– John 10: 11-18

Imagine the scene.  It is first-century Palestine.  Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance.  At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves.  Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first.  He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure.  Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep.  The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else.  Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd,

Jesus is the model Good Shepherd.  He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice.  There is ownership.  Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name.  He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good.  We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death.

The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock.  The word pastor was derived from this image.  (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 378- 379)

From O Phelps’ The Catholic VIsion for Leading like Jesus:  A Shepherd-Leader (SL) abides in humility and yet moves with confidence from one challenge to the next.  This builds community and fellowship, fosters contentment and generosity in ourselves and others.  An SL builds trust and increases the flow of trust all around them.  An SL inspires making greater contributions to the common good.  Service, contribution and purpose become the hallmarks of both individual and collective lives.  It is a new way to live:  the heart that beats in us becomes a servant’s heart.  It is always a struggle.  And the struggle is lifelong (p. 63).

Commentary on 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-19

Jesus is called the “author of life” – what does that mean for you?  Mary Birmingham points out that this term is a very ancient Christian term.  The Greek word for ‘author’ means “captain” or “leader.”  Jesus is the new leader, the new captain of life’s vessel, who leads the people, just like Moses, out of bondage into a new promised land – Jesus is the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed at the Exodus event – Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God has ever planned for humankind. (W&W Wrkbk Yr B, 363-364)

St. John of the Cross said, “The soul lives where it loves.”  Think about that.  Jesus lived here among us because of love.  And that is why he died too.  Peter seems to be pointing out the guilt that the people have in handing over Jesus to death, but the emphasis is on repentance and God’s salvific message.  Jesus reaches out in love; Jesus wants us to repent and turn to him.  He doesn’t want us wallowing in our guilt and self-loathing.  He wants us to embrace the love.  Let our souls live in that love.  How can we be different living that way?

2nd Reading: 1 John 2: 1-5

What does it mean to you to call Jesus an “Advocate” – a parakletos ?  An advocate is someone who pleads our case before a court of law – one who intercedes for us. It is someone whom we call to be by our side as our helper and counselor. It is someone who “lends his presence to his friends.” Jesus is this kind of friend. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 36-38)

Jesus is also called our ‘expiation’ for sin – here we must be careful of the meaning. In the Jewish sense, sacrifice was used to restore our relationship with God. It was God forgiving us and providing the means of restoring our relationship with God.  Scholars also point out that the word could be translated as ‘disinfection’: Jesus shows us what God is like and disinfects us from the taint of sin – from the darkness and bondage of sin.  Jesus is the reconciliation, the means, by which God reassures us of His love. And as this writer, John, sees it – this work of Jesus is carried out not just for us, but for the whole world.   The love of God is broader than the measures of our human mind. God’s salvation has wide enough arms for all. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 39-40)

“perfected”:  “made complete” NIV, “show how completely they love him” NLT, “love of God been perfected” ASV, “and then we know we belong to him” CEV…

The Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48

The gospels struggle with expressing the risen reality.  It was not just another phase in the history of Jesus of Nazareth.  In a real sense he was totally “other”, living now the indescribable life of God.  And yet he was the same person and in some ways objectively identifiable.  However, the resurrection was known principally by its fruits, the faith proclamation of unlettered fishermen.  It changed people’s lives and continues to do so.  To watch people move from a state of alienation to conversion and a new direction in life is the clearest proof of the risen Christ  (Faley, R.  Footprints on the Mountain, p, 309). 

From Ron Rolheiser’s “In Praise of Skin (Blog 6/4/2000):  In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it.  Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified.  That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.  For Christians, the body is not something from which one is ever meant to escape; rather, the body is to be understood as a temple of the holy spirit, a church, a sacred place where God can come and make a home. 

Wm. Barclay says this passage really emphasizes the Christian message:

  1. The reality of the resurrection:  The risen Christ is real, not a ghost or hallucination.
  2. The cross was necessary:  The cross was not forced on God; it was not an emergency measure when all else failed and when the scheme of things had gone wrong.  The cross is the one place on earth, where in a moment of time, we see the eternal love of God.
  3. The task is urgent:  We aren’t meant to stay huddled in the Upper Room but to be sent forth, (The Gospel of Luke, p. 311-312).

The word ‘troubled’ is from the verb tarasso; the other time this is used in Luke’s Gospel is when the angel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.  M. Birmingham thinks there is a connection, for Zechariah also struggled with doubt and disbelief.  Jesus’ response to their fear is to ground them in knowing his bodily presence is real flesh.  He solidified it by eating something.  Making peace with this reality is necessary for them to do the work ahead of them as disciples, that work being to spread this message:  that Jesus’ life, mission, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan of salvation for the world, (W&W, p. 369).

Forgiveness is such a key part of being transformed by Jesus.  It’s like the shedding of all that keeps us from God in order to be free to do the good work.  Have you found forgiveness to be freeing?  Why do you think forgiveness has this effect on us, and why is it so important to Jesus?

The Passion According to Mark: Chapter 16

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Risen Christ in Eastertime, p. 9-22)

  • (Regarding the stone over the tomb…)  Notice the contrast between human incapacity and God’s power.  When Mark reports that the women saw the stone already rolled back, he is using the passive to indicate divine action.  God has undone the sealing that the Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea so carefully placed.
  • A young man sitting on the right side (a place of dignity) clothed with a white robes surely a divine spokesman; and the amazement that greets him is typical of the reaction to the appearance of angels.  They are seeking “Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.”  The women now know that their well-meaning search for Jesus was in vain.
  • See 14:28.  The angelic youth hearkens back to that promise of Jesus to meet the disciples in Galilee after he is raised.  Those who were “scattered” (14:27) by the events of the passion at Jerusalem will once more become a community when they return to the place where they were first called together as disciples.  [It’s like this is the place of safety, the place of coming home, their hang-out.  If you saw West Side Story, it’s like the Jets returning to Doc’s Store after the rumble.]
  • Throughout the Gospel Mark has shown how those who followed Jesus failed because they did not understand that Jesus had to suffer or because they were unwilling to accompany him into his passion.  Mark somberly insists that none can escape suffering in the following of Jesus.  Amidst Mark’s readers surely there were some who had been tested by persecution and had failed.  They could find encouragement in the story of Jesus’ own disciples, all of whom failed during the passion.  But others among Mark’s readers would not have been so tested.  There is a parallel between them and the women who appear on the scene only after the crucifixion and observe his death without having become involved even in his burial.  Like the women they are will-inclined, but after they hear the proclamation of the resurrection and receive a commission to proclaim what has happened to Jesus, they too can fail if they become afraid.  Mark’s enduring warning, then, would be that not even the resurrection guarantees true faith in Jesus’ followers, for the resurrection cannot be appropriated unless one has been tried.  People may say that they believe firmly in the risen Christ, but they must realize existentially in their own lives that the one they are following is none other than Jesus the Nazarene who was crucifiedRelate this to your own life.  Have times of trial led you to appreciate life even more?  How much do we let fear make our decisions?
  • In “The Longer Ending” (which is debated whether or not Mark wrote), Mary Magdalene is introduced as if she had not just been, and there is other grammatical awkwardness in who “he” is.  Both Mary and the 2 disciples find courage to share their experience of Jesus (to the disciples “in another form”), but they are not believed.  The risen Lord is not to be deterred and finally shows himself to the Eleven when they are at table.  Those who have just been upbraided for lack of faith and hardness of heart (especially Peter who is named!) are now entrusted with preaching the gospel to the whole world.   

Mark seems to have purposefully refused to allow his readers to become passive spectators of the greatest human/divine drama in history.  That is why he left us with so many unanswered questions after verse 8, (M. Birmingham’s Word & Worship, p. 412).

Reflection Questions

  1. Why does the man in white refer to, “His disciples and Peter,” rather than simply, “His disciples?”
  2. What does this passage teach us about God?  What does this passage teach us about mankind? 
  3. What are your feelings if the Gospel did end with verse 8?

The Passion According to Mark: Session 3 (15: 1 – 20) The Roman Trial

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 28-29)

  • Moving from the Sanhedrin Trial to the Roman Trial, the issue is immediately shifted from the religious to the political:  “Are you the King of the Jews?” – a question about a title hitherto never used for Jesus by friend or foe, and therefore presumably reflecting the interests or fears of the Romans.
  • In Mark’s portrayal, the chief priests, having failed to move Pilate to condemn Jesus, are more successful with a crowd that has come to ask for the release of a prisoner on the feast.  
  • “Why, what evil has he done?”, serves to underline how outrageously Jesus is treated by those who might have been expected to be enthusiastic for their “King.”…The impression, then, is not one of the favorable Roman and the hostile Jew – rather it is of a Jesus who had no support on any side…Disciple, Jewish leader, and Roman leader all have a share of guilt.   

Why does Mark tell the story in such a way that Jesus is so deserted?  M. Powell theorizes that the disciples of Jesus (heroes of the church) had nothing to commend themselves other than the fact that they had been chosen by Jesus.  It is Jesus who calls them and gathers them into his family.  He offers them the secret of the kingdom and sometimes provides them with private explanations of his teaching.  He empowers them for mission.  He does all this in spite of the fact that they seem obtuse and self-obsessed and show few signs of improvement.  Despite their failings, Jesus keeps them as his disciples.  Discipleship is a relationship established by the call of Christ and defined by his own faithfulness, not by any merit that can be attributed to the disciples themselves (Introducing the New Testament, p. 143).

We know very little of Barabbas, only that he was in prison with other rebels for killing someone.  In Matthew’s Gospel, he is noted as “[Jesus] Barabbas.  The footnotes in NAB St. Joseph Edition say, “It is possible that the double name is the original reading; Jesus was a common Jewish name, but it is perhaps omitted here for reverential reasons.  The Aramaic name Barabbas means “son of the father”, the irony of the choice offered between him and Jesus.  Matthew titles him as a notorious prisoner and John as a bandit. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Verses 6-12 refer to several different leaders: Pilate, the Roman governor; Barabbas, an insurrectionary leader; the “King of the Jews” – a term applied by Pilate to Jesus; the chief priests who reportedly “stirred up the crowd.” What elements of leadership do these leaders seem to represent? Are any of these elements or aspects of leadership part of Jesus’ Lordship? Are any of these leaders similar to Jesus in any ways, do we think? How are they different from Jesus? What does any of this tell us about leadership? About Jesus?
  2. What do you think Jesus’ lack of responsiveness should teach us today?
  3. A cohort at full strength would comprise 600 men. What does this reveal about Pilate’s concern over crucifying Jesus?
  4. Much mystery stays with Barabbas.  Was he the actual murderer?  Was he fighting for justice against the Romans?  Did he profess his faith in Jesus after this incident?  If you were due to hang and someone volunteered to hang for you, how would you feel?  

The Passion according to Mark – Session 2 (14: 53-72)

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 25-27)

  • Mark has left the testimony about the destruction of the Temple incoherent for his readers, for he never explains what is false in the words the Sanhedrin attribute to Jesus:
    • Did Jesus never say anything like this about the Temple?  Or maybe he did with a different tone than intended here?
    • Did he prophecy destruction and restoration but not make himself the agent (John 2:19)?
    • Or is it more complicated…is Mark offering a clue for later Christians that the Temple would be replaced by the Church?
  • See the connections with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (53:7, 50:6).
  • “You will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven,” shows Jesus’ conviction that even his enemies will be forced to recognize his triumph.  The warning is rejected; not a voice is raised in jesus’ defense.
  • Some scholars think Peter may have been cursing Jesus.  This would truly have Peter reaching the depths of degradation in his discipleship.
  • Note the irony that at the very moment when Jesus is being mocked by the Sanhedrin challenge to prophesy, his prophecies are coming true in Peter’s actions. 

What is the Sanhedrin?  The word ‘Sanhedrin’ – sunedrion in Greek – is an exact translation of the word ‘consistory’:  it meant an assembly, a senate, a boule, as they would have said in Athens, or perhaps even a permanent commission; and it sat at Jerusalem.  By the time of this Gospel, we see the Sanhedrin solely as a tribunal, as the supreme court.  It also played the part of a pontifical college, charged with the study of religious question, and that of a political council.  It voted the laws, it had its own police, and it intervened in relations with the occupying Romans, H. Daniel-Rops’ Daily Life in the TIme of Jesus, p. 53.  R. Brown expands on the Sanhedrin in An Introduction to the New Testament that Josephus, a 1st century historian, seemed to indicate that the group was no longer a fixed number of members and may just have been called together when there was an issue or a need for advice or support, p. 146). 

From R. Leonard SJ’s Where the Hell is God?, p. 42:  God the Father’s role in the context of accompanying his Son in and through the crucible of anxiety in the garden might be seen in terms of a just and good army commander.  A good friend of mine who has led troops into battle in Afghanistan says, “I love my troops so much that I would never want to commit them to death.  I have gone with them into battle only so that we can all serve the higher good of liberating people from tyranny and offering them a better life than anything they’ve known before…the higher calling is to remain focused on the mission, and be committed to the people, among the poorest people in the world, to whom we are sent to serve.  Believing in the rightness of the cause means we can overcome our worst anxieties, look death in the face, and make sure evil does not have the last word.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you see yourself in this story?  What feelings in your gut are stirred?
  2. How do you react to confrontation?  How do Jesus and Peter react?
  3. Pretend you had to explain these events to someone who doesn’t know anything about Jesus.  How would you do it?  
  4. What does it mean to you to have a savior that went through all of this?

The Passion According to Mark: Session 1 (14: 26-52)

Some thoughts on Mark’s Gospel  (M. Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 125-136)

The Gospel of Mark is the briefest of the four Gospels, and much of the best-known and most-loved material about Jesus is missing (Jesus’ birth story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Beatitudes, the raising of Lazarus).  Mark tells stories of Jesus in ways that seem to emphasize frailty, suffering, failure, and ambiguity.  His book is less complex than Matthew’s or Luke’s, and it is less “talky” than John’s.  It works as a story told from beginning to end, the sort of story that one might have heard read aloud in a single sitting.  It was probably the first Gospel written, most scholars dating it between 65 and 73 during the Jewish war with Rome, just after the Roman persecutions of Peter, Paul and many others.  The book is anonymous because there are only guesses at the author’s identity.  Mark was a common name.  There is suspicion it could be the Mark mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 or the John Mark mentioned in Acts and some of Paul’s letters.  But we do know he is a devout Christian who believes in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and he was probably writing for an audience of Roman Christians.  

When it comes to the Passion, Mark’s Gospel is distinctive.  On Easter morning, a group of women come to the tomb where a young man (probably an angel) tells the women Jesus is risen:  They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  It is such an abrupt ending that some Christians added on to it later.   The centrality of Mark’s Gospel is the cross.  The crucifixion of Jesus is clearly what matters most to Mark.  Jesus has not ultimately come to heal the sick or to argue with Pharisees ;he has come to give his life as a ransom (10:45).  The cross of Christ serves as the primary symbol for the life of self-denial, service, and sacrifice that Jesus’ followers (That means us!) are called to embrace (8:34).

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 21-24)

  • Begins on a gloomy note, and the darkness will intensify until Jesus breathes his last the next day.  In all that time no support will come from those who have been his followers, and he will die alone.  The tragedy seems almost too much for Jesus himself.
  • Even though he predicted Peter’s denials, he is upset that Peter could not watch one hour with him.  Although there is no direct response from God to Jesus’ prayer for deliverance, ultimately Jesus rises resolved to encounter the betrayer, leaving us to assume that he has understood God’s answer to be that he must drink the cup and face the hour that is at hand.
  • For Mark (and here he differs from the other 3 evangelists) Jesus’ resignation to his fate may be seen in his failure to respond to the Judas who kisses him or to the bystander who draws the sword and strikes the slave of the high priest on the ear.  If the hour and cup could not pass, as Jesus had prayed earlier, let be what God wills.
  • The disciple fleeing naked is symbolic simply of the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples.  The first disciples to be called left nets and family (1:18, 20), indeed everything (10:28), to follow him; but this last disciple, who at first sought to follow Jesus, ultimately leaves everything to get away from him.

Points made by Garry Wills in What the Gospels Meant (p. 42-47)

  • The reason that Jesus was still not being accepted as Messiah is that he was the wrong kind of Messiah.  It was bad enough for Jesus to claim to be the Messiah.  It is simply insane for him to say that he would suffer death for being the Messiah.  The call of this Messiah is a call to suffering.  Later Christianities will be ruling, crusading, and triumphalist bodies, sitting on papal and imperial thrones, sending out armies to slay the heathen.  Mark’s Gospel could not be further from such distortions of what Jesus said and did and meant.The Messianic community not only suffered because it was like Jesus.  It suffered because it was Jesus.
  • Mark knows the opening of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, Abba, the Aramaic for “Father,” which he translates into Greek for his readers.  When Mark quotes Jesus using his original language, he is close enough to his sources to be giving the Lord’s precise words.  He does it here, at the beginning of the Passion, as he will at the end, when he quotes the Aramaized Hebrew of Psalm 22, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you see yourself in this story?  What feelings in your gut are stirred?
  2. Gethsemane in Hebrew means “oil press”.  How does this symbolism speak to you?
  3. Why do you think Jesus asks to have the cup taken from him?
  4. Have you ever been betrayed?

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st   Reading – Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46

Biblical leprosy was any fearful condition that was of unknown origin and could possibly contaminate others.  It ran the gamut from acne, psoriasis, boils, ulcers, rashes, even dandruff to serious malignancies. Leprosy was another name for the community’s fear.  Lepers were not only sick, but also condemned as sinners.  They were called ‘the living dead.’  A healing was considered as difficult as raising the dead to life.  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, and Celebration — Feb. 2000)

Have you ever been able to identify with this leper?  Perhaps you didn’t have anything visibly embarrassing on your person, but maybe you were self-conscious about something?  Or felt the world knew something wrong about you?  We sometimes have a little voice inside of us that counts us unworthy, unclean, unlovable.  But Jesus saves!  We must turn to Jesus’ voice, and He will heal those feelings to worthy, clean and lovable.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 10: 31- 11: 1

This reading is dealing with the problem of whether it was all right to purchase meat that had been previously sacrificed to idols. Was it okay for Christians to eat this meat? Some thought it was since the idols were not real anyway. Paul is trying to help this community see that while the meat might be fine to eat, one should not cause undue scandal to those who were more scrupulous.  It may be fine to eat as all things belong to God, but if they are aware it is idolatrous meat then it may bother their consciences.  Paul is trying to encourage them to do what is just and follow Jesus’ example by being concerned for the well-being of others. God is glorified when we freely live lives of love and service. We become better and so do others!   (W. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series p. 94, and M Birmingham, W & W Year B, 485)  Paul more fully comes to explain himself in chapter 13 when he discusses love: “Love is kind. Love is patient.  . . . etc.”

Paul has personally experienced the risen Christ; as a result, his life mirrors Christ, who is himself the image of God.  Christ has so taken possession of Paul that his own life is now that of Christ.  The Christian communities identified with Paul did not have the same experience.  His uniqueness as an apostle rested on his direct experience with Jesus.  Therefore, he calls on the communities to imitate him as they move toward their sole model, Christ himself, (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 159).  

Gerald Fagin SJ says this of glorifying God:  The goal or end of life is to praise, reverence, and serve God, and to come to eternal life.  All of God’s gifts are means to achieve this goal; we should use them accordingly.  “From this it follows that I should use these things to the extent that they help me toward my end, and rid myself of them to the extent that they hinder me.” (Sp. Ex. 23)…it means being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal.  It means magnanimous generosity, abandonment into God’s hands, avallability, (Putting on the Heart of Christ, p. 41-43).

The Gospel – Mark 1:40-45

Last week, we learned from Simon Peter’s mother-in-law that when we are touched by Jesus, we must ‘rise up and serve.’  Now we see a leper proclaim freely the good news of salvation (full health and life).  We find the love of God in Jesus.

 “Moved with pity” – sometimes translated “Moved with anger” – literally this phrase in Greek means to have one’s intestines turn over . . .(“Jesus was indignant”NIV, “Moved with compassion”NLT).  Yet, this leper had dared to ignore the law’s strict rule of quarantine.  So did Jesus. The passion and sympathy that moved Jesus from deep within showed how he empathized with this man’s plight. Jesus’ passion for the suffering of others challenges us, his followers, to also be stirred and motivated by the same mission. Jesus was willing to touch so as to comfort and heal, touching even those who were condemned as outcasts, (Celebrations, Feb. 2000, 2003; and Quest, Spring, 2006)

Jesus also spoke sternly toward the man commanding him to tell no one anything, but to see the priest.  The literal translation of this is that Jesus ‘snorted’ or ‘puffed’ – a way that was often used to confront evil in his culture. Mark’s messianic secret seems to be an important motif here. Fantastic miracles do not seem to be why Jesus came. He came to break down barriers between the clean and uncleanbetween the insiders and the outsiders. Eduard Schweizer says that Jesus is horrified at the misery of this man’s condition and isolation for it is contrary to God’s plan for creation.  Also, of course, there is irony in the way Mark tells this story for the healed man is so full of good news that he cannot be silent! God’s kingdom is breaking through! It is just too good – too real – to be concealed.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if we kept such goodness to ourselves? (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu;  E. Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, 58-59)

Society tends to exclude people and treat them as social lepers today no less than in the time of Jesus.  At that time, justification could be found in the law for a certain measure of separation.  While Jesus shows a basic respect for the Mosaic law, he never fails to respect primarily the worth of the human person as transcending every other religious or social consideration.  We have many examples of exclusion of people on the basis of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class.  It is Jesus’ over-riding love for the human person, virtuous or sinful, without qualification, that is his greatest challenge in any age or culture  (R Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 160).

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Job 7: 1-4, 6-7

In this reading, Job is answering his friends who say he is suffering because of his sin.  What do you make of his words?  What dialogue do you have with God concerning suffering?

“Without reading too much into words spoken by Job out of the depths of his grief, it is worth noting that neither Job nor his visitors invoke the possibility of life after death in a better place than this world as a source of consolation.  Sheol is not Heaven (or Hell).  It is the repository for “used souls’” since presumably our souls are not subject to physical destruction the way our bodies are.  But [the understanding at the time of Job] our souls do not seem to retain anything of our memories or personality.  For the biblical Israelite, dead is dead…”.  The Book of Job seems to teach us, “It’s not all about you.  If at times God’s world causes us grief, from plagues killing thousands to snowstorms ravaging a city, that is a consequence, not a punishment.  It was not done with us in mind.  The task of religion is not to explain why the water is bitter or to justify its bitterness, but to sweeten it to slake our thirst, not to help us understand the cause of our misfortune but to help us cope with it, (The Book of Job:  When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, H. Kushner, p. 59, 186-187).  

The mystery of pain…Why does God allow it to happen?  There is no satisfactory answer to that question.  But as Christians, we believe that violence, suffering and death are never the last word.  We have hope.  We do not have a God who is removed from our sufferings; ours is a God who has lived a human life and knows suffering.  There may not be answers that will satisfy, but for the believer there is God, who is sorrowful with us, who offers us eternal life, and who moves us, through our hearts, to build a more loving and compassionate society.  (Fr. James Martin in the New York Daily News after the Newtown school shootings)

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22-23

This is the cost of discipleship.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said:

Let us, then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate,

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

From Bonhoeffer who wrote The Cost of Discipleship:

“…what we want to know is not, what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what would Jesus Christ himself wants of us.”  (p. 37)

“Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world.”  (p. 60)

“He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.”  (p. 67)

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 84:  We can never attain to any kind of evangelism or friendship without speaking the same language and thinking the same thoughts as the other man.  So long as we patronize people and make no effort to understand them, we can never get anywhere with them.  Paul, the master missionary, who won more for Christ than any other, saw how essential it was to become all things to all .  One of the greatest necessitites is to learn the art of getting alongside people; and the trouble so often is that we do not even try.

The Gospel – Mark 1: 29-39

Before this passage, Mark tells of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum and casting out demons (last Sunday’s gospel), and then the day goes on with this reading –Mark is presenting dramatically a ‘typical’ day in the life of Jesus who is intent upon proclaiming and ‘preaching’ God’s Kingdom.  What do we see of God’s kingdom here? 

John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture Peter’s mother-in-law should have been living in her husband’s family home – or — if he was dead, then, she would be with one of her sons. The fact that she is in Peter’s house suggests that she may have no other living family members to take care of her. This woman may have known a lot more sorrow than just this fever. When Jesus touches her, she rises up with energy and purpose in her life. Jesus seemed to have helped her regain her meaning in life. This was beautifully expressed by her eager service.  What do you see in her story? 

Jesus’ healing power was not only an historical reality – people were healed, meaning was renewed in their lives, and they were restored to community – but it was also symbolic action.  Jesus’ healing miracles spoke to the religious and political conditions of the day; but they spoke in action, not words.  To the Hebrew mind-set, miracles were not “proofs” of God’s sovereignty.  God created the world and could intervene in it if God so chose.  God’s lordship over the world is not proven through miracles; miracles simply recognize the lordship that is already present.  (M. Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 481). 

“I’m living in a broken world, and there is holy work to do.”  Rabbi Ronnie Cahana

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

1st Reading – Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

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

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

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

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31

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

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

The Gospel – Mark 1: 14 – 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19

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

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

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

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

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

From Ronald Rolheiser’s blog entry, “In Praise of Skin”:  In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it.  Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified.  That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.  

The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42

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

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

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

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

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

More thoughts from Barclay:

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

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

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

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

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