Tag Archives: Hebrews

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading – Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29

Sirach is the longest of the wisdom books with 51 chapters.  It is a mixture of proverbs and lengthy essays on major themes within the wisdom tradition:  use of speech, self-control, the value of work, etc.  Unlike Proverbs, it tends to group many sayings on the same topic close together.  The author identifies himself (Ben Sira) at the end of chapter 50, but luckily his grandson translated the original into Greek and wrote a preface which helps date the book to 190-175 BC.  It was thought that it was all in Greek but portions were found in Hebrew.  It is not a book accepted in the Jewish canon or the Protestant Bible (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 486-487).  Think about the passing on of wisdom and faith through the generations.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept.2, 2007:

Genuine humility has nothing to do with praising others or putting ourselves down. Humus means earth; humility means remembering that we are dust – yet dust that God has taken and breathed into it his very life. When we are humble we are filled with gratitude and are at peace in God’s presence. We can use our talents with great energy; but we do not have to be everything to everyone. Nor, do we have to be noticed, applauded, or extolled. Can you think of an example of when you have had to “eat humble pie”?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24

This reading is highlighting the contrast between the law (Mount Sinai) and the salvation we find in Christ (Mount Zion).  What sense do you make of this reading?

From John Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Some see God as unapproachable as the highest mountain, or an all-consuming fire, or an abyss of impenetrable darkness, or a booming, terrifying voice. But the God we find in Christ is a loving parent, a merciful judge. His mountain is full of life and light and festivity. Come! We will be made whole.

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Sept.2, 2007:

These two images of God battle for our attention. Is our God fearful, powerful, brooding, and potentially wrathful?   Or, is God approachable, beautiful, and delightful? Do you feel like plugging your ears and closing your eyes before God due to fear? Or, do you find yourself joining in a song of joy and peace in God’s presence? Moses once stood in the presence of God; his face shone with a brilliant light. Yet, the rest of the community nearly died of fright. What we see and experience in the presence of God may have more to do with us than with God. If we are open and trusting in the divine presence, we may be surprised by the joy we find. But if we are closed by fear and self-defensive, self-righteous attitudes, we may find trouble.

The Gospel – Luke 14: 1, 7-14

From John Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

Jesus is not offering some lesson in courtly etiquette. He is talking about the real problem of ego-enhancement – self-promotion. Both the guests and host – and us? – have this problem. Elite house parties, in Jesus’ time or in our own, are honored by the best and brightest who attend. But besides this, Jesus is also speaking to people who want to ‘test’ him – even trap him. He is talking to them in the only language they understand, the logic of self-enhancement. He wants them to see that even on their own terms their tactics are self-defeating.

From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:

In Jesus’ times, meals were very powerful means of communication. They affirmed a person’s role and status in a given community. Luke tells us that Jesus is invited by a leading Pharisee – but also that he is watched closely by the host and his guests. The word that is used for watching implies a very hostile observation. Their apparently honorable invitation may not have been quite so honorable. Jesus responds to this hostility with a story, a parable. Jesus is using their logic to turn their world upside down. Accepting an invitation to dinner came with obligation. Reciprocity was expected. Jesus’ advice to his host was shocking, and perhaps quite insulting and rude.

(A guest was never to tell a host how to be a host!) But Jesus wants to shock them and us into realizing that only God can confer ‘true’ honor. In Jesus we find a God who will personally reward the host who has been gracious to those unable to return such graciousness. Pharisees believed in Resurrection. Having set a trap for Jesus, they find themselves trapped — and their world rather topsy-turvy.

From Joan Chittister’s, Illuminated Life (p. 56):  “I am not everything I could be.  I am not even the fullness of myself, let alone a pinnacle for which my family, my friends, my world, the universe should strive.  I am only me.  I am weak often, struggling always, arrogant sometimes, hiding from myself most of the time, and always in some kind of need.  I cover my limitations with flourish, of course, but down deep, where the soul is forced to confront itself, I know who I really am and what, on the other hand, however fine the image, I really am not.  Then the Rule of Benedict says, we are ready for union with God.”

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

1st Reading:  Isaiah 66:18-21

From The Word into Life, p. 96:  This first reading is taken from that part of the Book of Isaiah called Third Isaiah  (chapters 56-66), which was composed by an unknown prophet  (or prophets) around 500BC (and possibly later).  It proclaims a message of exceptional universalism – the God of Israel loves everyone.  First the Gentiles will actually serve as Yahweh’s missionaries; they’ll proclaim Yahweh’s glory in remote regions of Spain, Africa, Greece, and Asia Minor.  In the process, “they shall bring all your kindred from all the nations” – those exiled Israelites who have lost hope and those who have forgotten their God – “to my holy mountain.”  And some will be called to enter the elite ranks of the priests and to become Levites, or assistants, to the priests.  This is indeed a world without prejudice or bias.  In what ways do you experience a feeling of unity, of being one with others, in your family, in your work place, in your neighborhoods, in the Church?

2nd Reading;  Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

From Word & Worship, p. 454-455:  The discipline spoken of in the text probably referred to prejudices and persecution experienced at the hands of their friends and non-Christian neighbors.  Imagine what that must have been like…being teased for your faith, or worse…feeling like an outsider in your own hometown.  Even today, as Catholics, we worry about the fate of our Church and why there are dwindling numbers.  Wherever and whenever the church suffers in any way, whether that is through serious persecution, dwindling numbers, or apathy, we are to view it as discipline.  We are disciplined as a church.  This discipline is a sign of God’s love of the church.  One cannot help but recall St. Theresa’s complaint:  “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.”).  What obstacles do you find in practicing your faith?  How are these obstacles like discipline?

The theology of Hebrews asserts that suffering is to be seen as necessary for growth, not punishment for wrongdoing.   Consider exercising, or writing a paper.  It is hard work, but good work!  Harold Kushner in When Bad Things Happen to Good People says, “Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us.  They do not happen for any good reason, which would cause us to accept them willingly.  But we can give them a meaning.  The question we should be asking is not, ‘Why did this happen to me?  What did I do to deserve this?’ That is really an unanswerable, pointless question.  A better question would be, ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?’ ( p. 136).

Gospel:  Luke 13:22-30

From Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 188-189.  “Keep on striving to enter…”  the word striving is the root word for the English word agony.  We must never be complacent; our struggle to follow Jesus is part of an intense encounter.  There is no finality for the Christian; no resting on one’s self-righteous laurels.  A Christian way is like climbing up a mountain towards a peak which will never be reached in this world…

We cannot live on borrowed goodness – or on who we know, not even if it is ‘rubbing elbows with Jesus.’  Jesus does not want casual acquaintances; he wants disciples.  Think about your own friends and how some are closer than others.  Sometimes it is hard when you want to be closer to someone than you are, but maybe the other doesn’t want that.  Or even people you may always just say hi to but you still don’t remember what their names are!  Jesus wants us to strive to be closer than close to him.  He always knows our name and knows us intimately.  We must respond to his offer.

From St. Anselm, “Thoughts from the Early Church, “ http://liturgy.slu.edu:  The kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us – but he will not give it to anyone who lacks love.  Love is the only thing asked for – without it he cannot give it.  Love God and other people as you should and then you will deserve what you desire.  But you cannot have this love unless you empty your heart of other loves:  riches, power, pleasure, honor, and praise.  Hate locks doors; only love can open them…

From Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 215:  “Jesus doesn’t seem to have much patience with the question [of who will be saved]…it’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘Just aim for the narrow gate.  Assume that you’re all outsiders and try the best that you can.  Don’t try to assess who is in and who is out.  Don’t even waste your time on all that because you’re not going to be able to figure it out.  The last will be first and the first will be last.’  What if we really led our lives in this manner?  What if we met each person and had no preconceived notions about who they were, but listened to their stories and understood their human messiness?  What if we had a bit of humility and assumed the position of outcasts who are just trying the best that we can?…if we set aside all of the ways in which we determine who is in and who is out, if we begin to relate to one another as mysteries…we would have a very different sort of faith.”

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1st Reading – The Book of Wisdom 18: 6-9

The Book of Wisdom, written in the century before the birth of Jesus and in Alexandria (one of the great centers of learning in the ancient world), aimed to strengthen the faith of the Jewish community living in the diaspora.  The diaspora were communities outside of the Holy Land through Asia Minor where the Jewish people were more influenced by Hellenistic culture.  They seemed to be more progressive and were very important to the early church.  In this reading, the author reflects on God’s abiding presence and constant saving action among the people.  There is an attitude of watchful readiness, which we will see in the Gospel reading too (Foundations in Faith, p. 176).

With faith comes courage.  We have a God that will never disappoint, that will never leave us.  We must rely on God like “holy children of the good”.  How does that image speak to you?  God summons (arouses, beckons, gathers, rallies) us…for God’s glory.  How do you find this true in your life?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19

The 11th chapter of this letter is sometimes called ‘the roll call of the heroes of faith.’ Yet, these great figures of salvation history are brought forth, not for their heroism, but for their ‘faith’ which is here closely linked with hope.  Faith is taking God at his word when he promises his love and help for the now and for the future. These Old Testament people became examples to early Christians (and to us) for the New Israel – the new wandering people of God – called into God’s kingdom – now and into the future. We are all called to imitate Abraham who “went out, not knowing where he was to go.” He lived trusting himself and his family to God’s promises and love. (Reginald Fuller, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

 

The Gospel – Luke 12: 32-48

This gospel is not about an ending…but a beginning.  Be prepared…for something wonderful.  Be prepared…for God to come into your life.  Be prepared…to open the door to Christ, let him in, and to serve him.  Are we ready for whatever God wants us to do with our lives?  Are we looking for Him, anticipating Him?  Are we ready to give Him what He wants and needs – our time, our talent, even, perhaps, our lives?  (Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 206)

“Gird your loins.”  The long flowing robes of the east were a hindrance to work;  and when a man prepared to work he gathered up his robes under his girdle to leave himself free for activity.  We would like God to find us with our work completed.  Life for so many of us is filled with loose ends…the things put off and the things not even attempted.  Keats wrote,

“When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain.”

There is nothing so fatal as to feel that we have plenty of time  (Barclay’s The Gospel of Luke, p. 171-172).  What will you do with your time?  It matters!

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – Daniel 12: 1-3

The book of Daniel is apocalyptic, the 4th of the major prophets.  It is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events.  This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago (Daniel) and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place (about 165 BC).  It is actually written by an unknown person.  Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucid empire in Syria ruled of Palestine around 175 BC.  He stripped the temple twice of its wealth to fund military campaigns.  To encourage unity, he demanded Hellenization (follow the Greek ways) which devastated the Jewish people.  A small revolt in 167 began a constant struggle for religious freedom and political independence (not much new for that area!).  So all of this colors what Daniel is trying to say (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 503-509).

Apocalyptic writing usually has these elements:

  1. Famous names
  2. Secretive
  3. Symbolic
  4. Prophetic prediction
  5. Anonymous
  6. Pessimistic
  7. Dualistic
  8. Deterministic
  9. Confidence in divine intervention
  10. Cosmic viewpoint
  11. Use of intermediary beings such as angels and demons
  12. Old prophecies being fulfilled
  13. Hope in the resurrection of the dead
  14. Hope in a glorious new kingdom in heaven or on earth (p. 513-514)

The words, “At that time” are repeated in this passage.  The emphasis it gives should not be overlooked.  It is calling everyone to the present…right now.  What happens right in this moment makes a difference.  Your life can change for better or worse in an instant.  How does this emphasis on NOW matter to you?

A word on the angel Michael:  He was thought to have fought and defeated Lucifer.  His name means, “Who is like God?”.  All angels of God’s own active presence in our world.  Whereas men and women have bodies and souls, angels are pure spirits.  They were created before humankind, and they are capable of sin (Catholicism for Dummies, p. 306).   Some are sent to guard over people.  Have you felt like you had a guardian angel in times of distress?

2nd Reading – Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18

From Roland Faley, Footprints on the Mountain:  The standing posture of the priests in their endless work contrasts with the seated posture of Jesus whose work has been realized.  The sitting position, symbolizing work accomplished, is not at odds with the high priest image which depicts Christ as continually offering his one sacrifice in the eternal ‘now’.  The two are complementary, not exclusive.  Christ’s one sacrifice continues to make holy those who appropriate its benefits.  With sin now forgiven and ready access to God assured, no further sacrifice is needed.  Isn’t this good news?

Every day at Temple, morning and evening, the priests would offer a burnt offering of a 1 year old lamb without blemish, a meat offering of flour and oil, a drink offering of wine, and incense.  Did they make a difference?  What Jesus offered as himself could not be repeated.  He offered his whole self as living sacrifice (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 117).  How do we offer ourselves daily?    

The Gospel — Mark 13: 24-32:

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, B, 164:

Mark’s Jesus is absolutely convinced that everything he has announced will occur during the lifetime of his audience.  Jesus died around 30CE and the temple was destroyed in 70CE.  These were certainly difficult, frightening, changing times.  The audience needs certainty that better times are ahead  (so do we!).  They need something to count on.  By saying ”Amen, I say to you…” it guarantees the truth of what one says.  Jesus is saying, “Trust me!  I speak the truth and won’t fail you no matter what!”  This is more good news.

The cosmic events (sun darkening, stars falling) are entirely and exclusively under God’s control.  How does it feel to allow God to take the wheel completely?

From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 726, 730-731:

The ‘fig tree’ had been a common symbol for Israel.  Jesus uses this idea and then changes it to become a symbol of the new kingdom of God.  Here in Mark 13 the fig tree is blossoming as opposed to its withering in Mark 11.  For these early Christians, as followers of Christ, the religious world that they knew was over.  They can no longer be centered around the Temple. Jesus’ new kingdom of God’s love was and is ready to emerge.  Jesus’ words do not pass away; through Jesus, the Word of God, and his cross, the powers of domination will be defeated.  Mark calls all disciples “to live in history with eyes open, to look deep into present events.”  The fig tree that seemed dead will be blossoming again. The old world, centered around the Temple, was coming to an end, but Jesus’ new world was emerging.  It still is.

The trick to understanding these readings is to not to reduce them to an historical period. We must let them speak to every historical time and place – even our own. After all, the end times happen to us all, individually at our death and communally as a generation that passes into the midst of disappearing ages . . . As our projects and pretenses mount, as our labors and tasks surround us, as our entertainment and doodling pass the time . . . we may forget that the upshot of our lives is to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be–living and dying. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”http://liturgy.slu.edu.)

From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :

Perhaps Jesus is not so much talking about cosmic cataclysms as cataclysms of the heart. Sometimes it is our inner world that is shaken, turned upside down, and darkened. But in this upheaval, only one thing that remains: God’s Word of love and fidelity. When our world is shaken, we have the chance to see more clearly, to grow more authentically, to love more unselfishly. Honeymoons are wonderful, but we do need to love what is real what is beyond the pleasant.  God’s love leads us to reality, to bedrock, to truth beyond illusion.   Jesus is NEAR, he is at the gates, his words stay with us.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading – 1 Kings 17: 10 – 16

What does this story illustrate to us about the ‘true God’?

What happens to us when we think that we do not have enough to share or anything worthy of sharing?  What can we learn from this widow and this story?

From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 711-712:

All the ‘Elijah’ stories are written to show us who the real God truly is.

The fertility gods, especially the god, Baal, have no place before Yahweh. Elijah was in conflict with King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel. Ahab had allowed his wife to bring her pagan worship of Baal with her into Israel. The prophets of Baal with Jezebel’s encouragement sought to destroy the prophets of Yahweh. Elijah had therefore informed King Ahab that a drought would come upon the land. Baal and his prophets had claimed that Baal had ultimate power over the land and natural elements like rain for crops. Yet, during this famine Baal proved powerless. Elijah had initially taken refuge near a stream where God had provided bread and meat in the morning and evening; ravens brought these ‘gifts’ to Elijah by order of Yahweh. But eventually the stream dried up. This is when Elijah is told to go to visit this widow in Zarephath of Sidon. This area was the very pagan home of Baal. Elijah trusted in God’s Word and proceeded headlong into this place of danger. When Elijah saw this woman in mourning clothes, he decided to ‘size her up’ by asking for a drink of water – a precious commodity in the desert climate at the time of famine. She responded with generosity and truthfulness which showed her openness to God’s Word in her own life. Unlike the corrupt King Ahab, this widow trusted in the God of Elijah and her needs were met.

2nd Reading – Hebrews 9: 24 – 28

How is Jesus’ sacrifice like that of the widow’s?

Jesus took pain, rejection, even death and filled it with God’s presence and love.  So even the worst that life may throw at us can no longer separate us from God’s love and presence.  When Jesus comes again – and He does come again and again and again –  What does He bring? – a life that is eternally bursting forth!

The ‘holy of holies’ that was in the temple was referred to as being a copy of the true one, heaven itself.  The sanctuary is empty and dark, covered with a veil  (how different from actual heaven hopefully!).  It was entered only by the high priest and then only once a year, on Yom Kippur  (Day of Atonement).  Two goats would be sacrificed as a sin offering and their blood sprinkled in the sanctuary – the scapegoats.  Jesus is our scapegoat!  He sacrificed himself as our sin offering, though sinless.  But through him, there is life!  He is our advocate…always for us.  By entering into the ‘holy of holies’, he opened the way for all the redeemed to enter also.     (Preaching Resources, Sanchez, 2).

From William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, 109-110:

Christ did not enter into a man-made Holy Place; he entered into the very presence of God. As Christians we are to know that in Christ we also can enter into this intimate fellowship with God.

The Gospel – Mark 12: 38 – 44:

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered” http://liturgy.slu,edu. :

There are times when we are down, and we think we have nothing left to give. Little remains in the barrel of our lives. Then, for some reason, we still manage to give more out of the nothing we have left. And grace is born again. How often the mere pennies of others replenish us. It happens in that moment when someone seems to have nothing much to give us: no education, no program, no sermon, no sound advice, no solution to our problems. If they do not give up on us, but give us something else — if they give not from their surplus, but from what they have to live on — we find that they have offered their very being — their presence. their hearts . . .  the very life of God growing in our faith, hope, and love.

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 160-162:

The scribes were lay theologians who were experts on the Law of Moses and scripture.  Jesus hurls a scathing insult at them. Because of their position of honor, they were used to being greeted first by those who were considered ‘lower’ in honor. They loved to be given the best seats at synagogues; these seats were up on the platform facing the people. Jesus’ comment on this widow’s behavior is more a lament than praise. The Temple authorities had promised to redistribute the Temple collections to the needy. Yet, they would spend the funds on conspicuous consumption like expensive clothing and banquets. They “devoured the estates of widows.” Jesus laments this corruption. In fact, in Jesus’ culture it would be very wrong to donate to the Temple if it meant that you would be plunging deeper into poverty and thus dishonor.

From Journey of Faith, Cycle B, 115:

Here Jesus is trying to teach the crowd and his disciples. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus has associated with the weak, the needy, the sick, the unclean, the tax collectors, etc. He is using this widow to again show us all that discipleship necessarily calls us to serve. Jesus’ disciples are not to exploit the poor and the powerless. They are to live the law of love that was taught in last week’s gospel.  Do you think that the widow thought her ‘2-cents’ was worthless?

Neither widow gives very much.  What is important about this?  How can we apply these stories to our lives?

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

The 1st Reading – Jeremiah 31: 7-9

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

What do you think of when you hear the word, ‘remnant’? The thesaurus lists these ideas: remainder, relic, leftover, residue, trace, vestige, scrap, end . . .

Yet, in Hebrew scriptures this remnant was the few and the faithful who would survive because of their faith in the Lord. They are a ‘motley lot’ but they journey with a God who loves them and who cares for them like a father for his first-born.

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

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

The 2nd Reading – Hebrews 5: 1-6

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

From Bishop Matthew Clark’s Forward in Hope:

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

The Gospel — Mark 10: 46-52

In what ways can Jesus help you to see? 

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

*Notice the contrast between the disciples of last week along with the story of the rich man who ‘saw so well’ that he had kept the law perfectly.  Note also how Jesus asks the same question of both Bartimaeus and James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” The answers are in sharp contrast showing us what true discipleship is – and what it is not . . . Jericho was the last stop for a pilgrim on the way to Jerusalem.

At the outskirts of this ‘suburb’ there would be a throng of beggars hoping to receive alms from those who are going up to the Temple.  Bartimaeus jumps up quickly and readily lets go of his ‘cloak’ when Jesus calls. (The cloak was the only means of support for a blind man: he would spread it on the ground and use it to catch the coins that were thrown his way. It was also his only cover against the cold, wind and rain.) Bartimaeus – without possessions or ambition – asks for sight. When he receives it, he follows Jesus on the way – which as we see in the very next section is the way to Jerusalem and to the cross.  (Birmingham, W&W, 698-700)

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

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle B

1st Reading — Isaiah 53: 10-11

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

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

From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:

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

If Jesus came with the sole mission of taking away all pain in this life, then he failed miserably.  But perhaps God inspired the Suffering Servant songs precisely to help us understand the sufferings of Jesus and so learn how to cope with our own sufferings – growing in compassion regarding the sufferings of others.  (Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.)

2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 14-16

Here the Suffering Servant is the High Priest. How does this reading give you confidence?

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

How do we hold fast to our confession?

The Gospel — Mark 10: 35-45

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

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

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

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

Thoughts from M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbk.,Yr. B, 689:

The word ‘ransom’ in this setting in Hebrew means an offering for sin, an atonement offering.  Jesus has paid the universal debt:  he has given his life for many to redeem the world.

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

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

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

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

be-wise

1st Reading — Wisdom 7: 7-11

The author of this book lived in Alexandria, the major Mediterranean port city in Egypt.  He wrote his work in Greek for the large Greek-speaking Jewish community there, shortly after the beginning of Roman rule in 28 BC.  He probably taught in one of the many synagogues in the city, and his book demonstrates the profound knowledge he possessed of both Jewish and Greek culture and learning.  The author shows that one can be open to Greek ways and still remain a faithful Jew, (Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 327).  Solomon was seen as the model of Wisdom and was also remembered for building the magnificent temple.  This book was written with his name as sort of an ‘honorary’ author.  (Preaching Resources, Oct. 15, 2006)

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

2nd Reading — Hebrews 4: 12-13

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

This hymn-like tribute to the Word of God (imagine it being sung) invites us – urges us – into transformation.  Mary Birmingham says (W&W, B):

The Word comforts those who turn to its counsel.  Like a sword it penetrates the dark recesses of the human soul.  It pierces the lies and the denial and exposes them to the truth.  The Word judges the heart.  The word ‘judge’ comes from the Greek word kritikis that means crisis.  A crisis is a time for a decision — for judgment.  The Word of God uncovers the hidden secrets and questionable motives in our hearts and invites transformation.

From William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrew, p.40:

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

The Gospel –Mark 10: 17-30:

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

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, 148-150 and http://liturgy.slu.edu :

The journey is mentioned at the beginning. This is the journey to Jerusalem and eventually to the cross… What do you think of the way that the man compliments Jesus? Are compliments sometimes given so that they can be returned? Or do they imply that the person is so arrogant that they would think highly of us if we compliment them?  This was often the case in Jesus’ culture and times.  John Pilch also notes that whenever the word “rich” appears in the Bible it is better to substitute the word “greedy.” At this time the ‘greedy rich’ land owners had 98% of the wealth even though they were only 1% or 2% of the population.  They surrounded themselves with those who could supply their every want including honor and prestige. Jesus is also challenging how they (and we) view family. For this young man to sell all would have meant untying himself from family, home and land. Jesus’ challenge was one that would seem like social suicide, but in the end it would lead to more family, real treasure, and full life: The KingdomIn your life today, how would you view such a challenge?

An interesting comment from Living Liturgy, 2003, p. 227:

The procession [at Mass] with the bread and wine is symbolic of our own journey from life to eternal life when we will stand at the messianic banquet ‘in the age to come.’  The bread and wine are symbolic of ourselves, just as the bread and wine are substantially changed into the real Body and Blood of Christ, so we are transformed into more perfect members of that Body.  Finally, when the gifts of the community include food, necessities, and money for the poor this is wonderfully symbolic of our willingness to “give to the poor” and taking Jesus invitation to follow him quite seriously. It is a concrete way for us to show our willingness not to be possessed by our riches but to give of ourselves, emptying ourselves to better follow Jesus with an undivided heart.

Jesus not only was teaching his disciples on the way, but he was showing them the way, and leading them toward it.

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

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

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading – Genesis 2: 18-24:

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

The most important point of this story is that both man and woman come from God.  There is a pun in this account that is lost in the translation.  An earlier Sumerian account tells of the goddess Ninti, whose name means “Lady of the rib” or “Lady of life”.  This play of the words rib and life is lost when translated from Sumerian into Hebrew, but traces of the meaning have been retained.  The woman is built from the rib (2:22) and she is later named Eve, Mother of the Living (3:20).  You recall earlier in this scripture passage, God forms man (adam) from dust (adamah).  But it is from this dust that all life is created:  plants, animals and birds.  It seems to signify a life force.   Made from the rib of the man, the woman is no more inferior to him than the man is inferior to the dust of the ground from which he comes.  God made all of it as worthy and good (“Scripture from Scratch”, 10/97).

2nd Reading – Hebrews 2: 9-11:

From Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006:

The author (and even the audience) is unknown for this ‘letter.’ It is not even really a letter, and there is much discussion over exactly what type of writing it is – a sermon? an exhortation? a treatise? But it contains a message that continues to be of great importance and truth. It tells of a God who is not at a distance from his creation, but “a God who has been speaking, arguing, pleading, wooing, commanding and generally spinning words across the lines between heaven and earth since the beginning of time.” These messages from God are like a great musical overture that reached its crescendo in Jesus Christ. Jesus who is God’s ultimate Word became one of us – even to the point of death. Here in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we can hear the salvation that God intended for sinners fully and hopefully with great thanksgiving.

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

The Gospel — Mark (10: 2-16):

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

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

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

Divorce then brought great shame not only to the woman, but also to her family – in particular to the males of that family. This shame would often be a cause for feuding.  Bloodshed was a common result from such a ‘separation’.  (J. Pilch, Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B; Preaching Resources, Oct. 2006)

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

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 is 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 blinding relationship, with Yahweh.  The blood ritual only took place once.  It would not be repeated again until the blood sacrifice of Jesus.

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.  It does please God that we try to be in relationship with God.  Participating in Eucharist-remembering the blood sacrifice of Christ-is one way we are able to do this.  How do you decipher God’s will?  Does Eucharist help you feel closer to God?

2nd Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-15

Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s 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.   **Joseph Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI.

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.

From Celebration, June 1998:

Eucharist is about a remembering (anamnesis) that does not simply call to mind the past events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The Eucharist makes present here and now, within the gathered assembly of believers, the reality of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Each Eucharist is a “living remembrance of Jesus’ act of love.” By our participation (offering our ‘hungry’ selves, hearkening to God’s Word, and then eating and drinking) in the Eucharist, believers proclaim and are integrated into that death and are given a taste of the resurrected life to come.

At Eucharist we say that we “proclaim the death of the Lord” . . .

What does this mean?  The Eucharist is always about the paschal mystery – about a dying and a rising. We, like Jesus, must become a body for others. Giving of ourselves is a type of death – but out of it comes new life for our selves and for others. The gift of Jesus’ very self demands a response from us; it demands a response that is our selves. (It is also good to reflect how sharing from both the bread and wine – the body and the blood of Christ – is a much fuller celebration of Eucharist. The body is the real self of the Risen Christ and the blood is the life force of this Risen Christ– “We eat his Body and drink his Blood as sign that, nourished by him, we are now able to lay down our own bodies [our very selves] and pour out our own blood [our life force] so that salvation [fullness of life] comes to others.” (Living Liturgy, 2004, 150-152)

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).