1st Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6
How does God punish evil? By focusing more on the good! Instead of striking down the evil doers, God promises that he will gather ALL of his flock and they shall multiply. None shall be missing!
And who is the righteous shoot of David but Jesus Christ. This type of writing in the Bible is considered typology. “typology is seen as a method by which Old Testament events are seen as types or figures of the work of Christ; more than that, it reflects a theological understanding of salvation as enacted and revealed in history,” (Medieval Liturgy, Mayeski, 63). Events are fulfilled in Christ. Right now, Christ continues to fulfill these things in the Church. Where do you see this? How do we live in security and justice today?
Jeremiah speaks out against the kings of Israel who have traditionally been seen as shepherds to God’s people. Their power was to protect and guide their people, not to destroy and use them. Needless to say, Jeremiah was not popular among these corrupt kings. He suffered greatly (and not silently either!) Jeremiah spoke about the sheep being scattered across the land – the people were exiled. Israel sinned and was unfaithful to the covenant. (Birmingham, W&W, 575) What scatters and drives us away from God?
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2: 13-18
Peace is a many-splendored word! The Hebrew word, shalom, has a rich meaning of fullness of goodness, completeness, perfection. Peace is not about mere prosperity – an essential component of peace is righteousness. Where there is no righteousness, there is no genuine peace. Jesus brings us this kind of peace. (Dictionary of the Bible, John McKenzie, S.J., 651)
“that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two”…what do you think that means? Paul indirectly refers to Trinity, that Jesus the Son and the Father are united and later on, that “we both have access in one Spirit to the Father”. Who is we? We are the Gentiles and the Jews, together equal and both offered this peace that only Jesus can provide. We are invited to have a relationship like that of Trinity. God wants to be one with all of us. That is true peace.
Also consider Paul’s language of who is near and far. Think of those who are near and far from you, especially this summer when there is so much travel. It is good to go away but there is always an ache to be together again! How are you near and far from God?
The Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
This gospel is very carefully structured. We need to pay close attention to the order that Mark has given us. At the beginning of this 6th chapter, Jesus goes home to Nazareth but is rejected by his own people (the gospel of 2 Sundays ago). Then, last Sunday we see Jesus (not deterred at all by the rejection) sending out his apostles in twos to preach and to heal. This week we jump over Mark’s story of John the Baptist’s death to the return of the apostles and Jesus’ compassion toward them – and then toward the crowd of hungry people in “a deserted place”. What do you make of this story and the order? We all need to go off to a deserted place to rest at times. What deserted places have you found helpful?
Picture Jesus listening to the apostles. It is almost like when Dad comes home from work and everyone fights to be first to tell him about their day. He listens to them with such compassion…he knows how hard they are trying and wants them to have rest. But the crowd is ever present and needy. We might be irritated by this! But, “their need calls forth from him what he does best – generously subordinate his needs so he can minister to the needs of others…There will always be a faithful Shepherd who will not mislead, who will not abandon the truth, who will never desert the flock,” (Workbook for Lectors, 211). How does this compare with the first reading?
Shepherding in the church, which today embraces many people in diverse ministries, calls for a Christ-like openness and responsiveness. How we do things is as important as what we do. That is the asceticism of Christianity. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 491). What do you think?
The Hebrew word for pity described in the text is ‘womb’. Jesus is drawn to help the crowd because his heart burns for them like a mother to a baby within her. When people are hurting and hungry, disciples of Christ are to extend the compassion of God and one’s very life to them – balanced, of course, with appropriate doses of much needed solitude, contemplation, and prayer (W&W, Birmingham, 578). How do you achieve this balance?
In The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis, he says that the shepherd (or priest) takes on the smell of the sheep. But he also says that ALL evangelizers must take this on. “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the ‘smell of the sheep’ and the sheep are willing to hear their voice, “ (p. 8). We are all called.
The Gospel – Matthew 4: 1-11
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is led into the desert immediately after his baptism. “This is my beloved, on whom my favor rests.” Notice that these words of total acceptance by God are spoken before Jesus had done anything of great significance. This is critical to realize and remember as we enter our own times of wandering in life’s deserts (Wandering with God, Feb. 1993, p. 8)
Why would the Spirit drive Jesus out into the desert, especially now after what just happened? In Mark, it says, “the Spirit immediately drove him out,” (Mark 1:12).Did Spirit know what would happen there? It sounds a little harsh, at first glance. But Spirit is not way outside of ourselves. Spirit is within. It is our deepest inner desire that calls us outward. So Spirit was driving Jesus out to the desert because that is where Jesus wanted to be. Jesus wanted that space to himself. He needed the stillness. His ministry lay before him. He had a lot to figure out. He needed to keep it simple. He needed less. Intentions were good. Satan seemed to have other plans, though.
The word, Satan, has been used in scripture to mean many things: the talebearer, the accuser, the seducer, the one or the thing that separates us from God, that which brings or likes darkness. What do you make of the use of Satan here? (“the Perspective of Justice,” http://liturgy.slu.edu ) THE DEVIL is the personification of the wrong view of life, the wrong use of power, the wrong use of language. His way is a lie; it is false.
FASTING can be a form of prayer for God’s help when making a difficult decision. The act of fasting redirects the heart away from worldly activities and towards the remembrance of God. Jesus was faced with a life-changing decision, so he fasted, helping himself be open to God’s word and guidance. From what can we fast that could help us hear God more clearly?
Jesus was tested in the desert. But even there he continued to listen to his Abba’s words and to trust in his love over possessions, honor, pride. Jesus held on to the great love of his life. This Lent let us try to be again more like Jesus. May we re-balance our priorities. Jesus recommends this way: “Love the Lord your God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.” (John Foley, S/J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The tempter beckons Jesus to choose a new center for his life instead of God: power (bread into stones), influence and control (throw self off temple), and exalted recognition bought at the price of false worship (all these kingdoms can be yours). Jesus lives in fidelity to who he is: gifted for responsible choices. He refuses the “easy way out,” which leads away from fuller human life. What are some important choices you had to make this week? Why is the desert necessary for full human living? (Breaking Open the Work of God, cycle A, p. 43-44)
Jesus left the desert convinced of three things:
- His power is for love; it is not to be used for self-satisfaction.
- He is called to serve, not to be served.
- He will not bargain with evil, even if it means suffering.
The word for tempt here in Greek is peirazein, which actually means “to test”. Here is a great and uplifting truth. What we call temptation is not meants to makeus sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin. It is not means to make us bad, it is meant to make us good. It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal. Temptation is not the penalty of being a human, temptation is the glory of being a human. It is the test which comes to a person whom God wishes to use. So, then, we must think of this whole incident, not so much the tempting of Jesus, as the testing of Jesus (Barclay, Daily Bible Study Series, p. 63).
Other thoughts from Barclay:
- We must always remember that again and again we are tempted through our gifts. It is the grim fact of temptation that it is just where we are strongest that we must be for ever on the watch.
- No one can ever read this story without remembering that its source must have been Jesus himself. It is Jesus telling us his own spiritual autobiography.