This Sunday is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday. What is happening in your life right now that causes you to rejoice? How is Christ present in this?
Isaiah 35: 1 – 6a, 10
How patient are you? Patient enough to wait for the desert to burst into flowers? For shaking hands to be stilled, for weak knees to be strong again? Patient enough to wait for the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to run, the mute to sing? That kind of patience is a divine quality. For most of us, these things are too wonderful to imagine, much less to expect.
The prophecy to the people of God in exile is that they will return home to their land, a thing as impossible to dream of as a blooming desert. Still the message delivered to the door of God’s people is always the same: God will save you. From Egypt, from Babylon, from your sins and yourselves, God will save you. To those who believe, the desert is a garden waiting to awaken. No situation in life is barren, no defeat final. No matter the depth to which we have fallen, God is prepared to raise us up. When our hearts are most frightened, we can lean on this word (Exploring the Sunday Readings, 12/98).
A doctor in Aleppo recently said, “We are under attack. We have the feeling that the whole world has abandoned us, left us here in Aleppo to be killed brutally with no help at all. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t do anything. We can’t protect our hospitals. We can’t protect our lives. We can’t protect our patients’ lives. We can’t protect our families’ lives. It’s desperate here.” Perhaps these words from Isaiah would comfort him.
What do you make of that word vindication? Vindication is not up to us. We must trust God and wait for God to execute justice for God surely will. It will be in God’s time, not ours (www.patheos.com).
James 5: 7-10
Henri Nouwen says, “What strikes me is that waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting. As the Advent weeks progress, we hear more and more about the beauty and splendor of the One who is to come. Advent leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing us to realize that he doe whom we are waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of our hearts. Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in our lives slowly and steadily and be received as the one we learned to know while waiting.”
Consider how you would finish this sentence: Jesus, I await your coming more fully into my life so that now…
Is this how we make our hearts firm?
Matthew 11: 2 – 11
Why did John question Jesus? Perhaps conditions were so harsh in prison that he began to doubt. Maybe he was growing impatient for something good to happen. Maybe he wondered if it was all worth it. We all have moments of weakness, when we let our thoughts take over and cloud what we know down deep to be true. Jesus assures John by naming the actions done in faith. Like the saying says, actions speak louder than words. John and Jesus had their own followers, but they all had the same goal: salvation!
John had the destiny which sometimes falls to men; he had the task of pointing men to a greatness into which he himself did not enter. It is given to some men to be the signposts of God. They point to a new ideal and a new greatness which others will enter into, but into which they will not come. It is very seldom that any great reformed is the first man to toil for the reform with which his name is connected. Many who went before him glimpsed the glory, often labored for it, and sometimes died for it, (Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 7)
Jesus questions why the people went out to see John. This Advent season, look at what fills your day. Why do you do what you do? Does it bring meaning to your life? Does it bring you closer to God? Are you preparing a way towards Jesus?
1st Reading – Numbers 11: 25-29
The name Numbers comes from the description of the census in chapter one of this book. The laws contained in the Book of Numbers are directed to a people on a journey through the promised land. The material contained here extends over many centuries and comes from various ancient sources. The narrative part comes from an earlier time, while the laws are probably from a much later time in Israel’s history. A part of Numbers parallels the story of Exodus, especially all the grumbling and rebelliousness. It stresses the Lord’s patience with his people as his ‘punishments’ are always balanced with God’s listening and God’s response to their needs. The purpose of any punishment is only to change their hearts and to encourage them to listen again to God’s ways of justice and care (M Birmingham, W & W Workbook for Year B, 660)
Although this is an ‘ancient story,’ how does it speak to you today? This story is evangelization at its best! But isn’t it too often that those close to the seat of power, relishing their privileged position, play gatekeeper to ensure that others who are not authorized don’t gain access to the coveted power? (Workbook for Lectors…, 245) It is so easy to think small, to continue doing things the same because “it’s how we’ve always done it”. God wants us to be open to see things in a new way! “God is trying to help us to see ourselves the way he sees us already, “ (Coutinho, How Big is Your God?, 65). Is there anything that is holding you back from allowing God’s spirit to be bestowed on you?
2nd Reading – James 5: 1-6
This reading should wake us all up this Sunday morning! This is the tenth exhortation in James’ letter. In vivid, powerful language it calls for all to be people of social justice. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, James is reminding us in no uncertain terms that God hears the cries of the poor and the abused. As people of God we need to listen and respond also. Poverty, of course, is not good in itself, but it can foster a reliance on God. Here is what St. Basil (329-379), church father, said regarding our attitude to another’s need: “If everyone kept only what is necessary for ordinary needs and left the surplus to the poor, wealth and poverty would be abolished . . . the bread you store belongs to the hungry. The cloak kept in your closet belongs to those who lack clothing. The money you keep hidden away belongs to the needy. Thus you oppress as many people as you are in a position to help.” (M Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 661-662)
What might be most challenging is how the passage ends: he offers you no resistance. Who is he? We could look at it as the oppressed not resisting. What if he were God? God did give us free will and allows us to make our choices, good or bad. Challenging words . . . how do you grapple with all of this?
The Gospel — Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Hyperbole is a common human way to communicate – especially when something is very important to us – or we want to draw attention to something: “She asked me a million questions!” “It scared the life right out of me!” “I waited in line forever!”
Jesus like so many teachers of his day also used this kind of language to get everyone’s attention. Here with the talk of cutting off body parts, Jesus is trying to emphasize how important it is to live God’s way of love and justice in order to be fully healthy and alive – AND how terrible evil is: it is as tragic as losing a hand or foot or eye! (Living Liturgy, Cycle B. 217)
Gehenna with its unquenchable fire was a real place in Jesus’ day. It was the Valley of Ben-Hinnon just south of Jerusalem. There Ahaz (a former king) had sinned in burning his sons as a sacrifice to the pagan god, Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3) Later, Ahaz’s grandson, Manasseh also sacrificed his sons by fire (2 Chronicles 33:6). The sight became infamous for sin and depravity being called the Slaughter Valley (see Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5-6; 39:35). King Josiah reformed things and put an end to such awful practices and declared this valley to be unclean (2 Kings 23:10). Later, the place was used as a garbage dump where Jerusalem’s refuse was burned and rotted: “where the worm dies not and the fire is never extinguished.” (Celebration, September 28, 2003).
Jesus is inclusive, not exclusive. “Jesus cares only that his ministry of love, mercy, and compassion continue. He welcomes anyone who offers these works of mercy and justice. Attitudes of “holier than thou” do not serve God’s people. Christians are to support all efforts to extend compassion and love to others. Karl Rahner coined the term, “anonymous Christian” to describe anyone who lived Jesus’ message of love and justice even if they did not ‘call’ themselves Christians (or Catholic)(Birmingham, Word and Worship, 663). We must allow God’s Spirit in and not be resistant to what God might be working on in our lives.
1st Reading – Isaiah 50: 5-9a
This passage is also the appointed reading for Palm Sunday. This is the third servant song from Second Isaiah. The people are still in the throes of captivity yet reject the prophet’s message of hope. The exile continues and the people are getting tired of this prophet saying there will be a positive outcome (Birmingham, W&W, 642). Yet he must be heard! Isaiah is adamant that his voice must be heard because God is by his side. What faith. How does this speak to you? When have you felt this boldness to pursue what is right and important to you?
Christians, of course, saw in these songs the picture of Jesus, our Christ.
In fact they were used to help them pray about and understand Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. They also contained an inherent challenge for Jesus’ disciples – and for us. (Celebration, Sept. 2006) How do they challenge you?
2nd Reading – James 2: 14-18
This letter is getting down to the brass tacks of our faith. If we have faith, what are we going to do about it? How does this reading inspire and/or challenge you?
There was quite the debate in the early church community about faith and works. Paul often spoke as faith being God’s gift to us, and so many thought Paul was in opposition to James’ letter. But both can work together. “To be Christian means to act upon the Word as our response in love,” (Birmingham, W&W, 643). Who inspires you as someone who balances their faith and works?
The Gospel – Mark 8: 27-35
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus questions. Jesus in his humanity is revealed in this question. Jesus first asks what others think of him, but then he gets to what he really cares about…what do his friends think of him? Revelation literally means an “unveiling” or “disclosure” of something previously hidden. Jesus is God revealed:
- Revelation is God’s own self-disclosure.
- Revelation points to particular events and particular people through whom God has communicated in decisive ways with humanity.
- Revelation calls for our personal response and appropriation. True knowledge of God is a practical rather than a merely theoretical knowledge.
- Revelation of God is always a disturbing, even shocking event. Look at Jesus! He ate with sinners-this was shocking at the time.
- Revelation transforms the imagination…it stretches out understanding.
Taken from Faith Seeking Understanding by D. Migliore, p. 24 Who is Jesus to you? How does He reveal himself to you in these different ways?
Notice how Jesus speaks openly, but Peter immediately turns defensive. Jesus does not shy away from confrontation. He walks right into it. Jesus is clear about what the future brings for him, and it will mean suffering. But through human weakness, the strength of God abides (Birmingham, W&W, p. 642, 645). Jesus challenges us to find strength in our weakness…to be open when we are hurting and sad. Can you do that? Can you live a life openly like Jesus did?
Jesus: divine AND human? We question this because we are trying to understand who he is. Our love for him makes us WANT to know him. In the end, there will always be some mystery in the knowing. Like with all of us, we may never truly understand and know each other completely. St. Augustine said, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.” But does that stop us from loving anyway?
1st Reading – Isaiah 35: 4-7a
This section of the Book of Isaiah was added to the earlier part of the book. It probably is prompted by the Babylonian exile which brought great fear and despair to the people whose country now lay in ruins and many of the people were back in slavery. The writer of Second Isaiah wants to inject hope and fearlessness born of faith: a trust in the God who “will come with vindication.” It speaks for all of us who believe in a God who is greater than all evil and whose grace is more powerful than any affliction. (Celebration, Sept. 2006)
Brother David Steindl-Rast in gratefulness, the heart of prayer talks about the difference between hope and hopes. Hopes are for a particular thing, while hope is a virtue, a way of being. Hope does not depend on hopes, because hopes don’t always work out. Hopes can even get in the way of hope. It makes a world of difference where we put our weight – on those hopes out there ahead of us, or on the hope that is within. A person of hope will have a whole array of lively hopes. But those hopes do not tell us much. The showdown comes when all the hopes get shattered. Then, a person of hopes will get shattered with them. A person of hope, however, will be growing a new crop of hopes as soon as the storm is over. Do you want to be a person of hopes or hope?
2nd Reading – James 2: 1-5
James is trying to move us away from our common tendency to favoritism. As Peter states in Acts (10:35) God shows no partiality and Paul says in Galatians (3:28) that we are all one in Christ Jesus – so James is encouraging the same idea. At this time, while by far most of the Christians were poor and just about all were powerless politically, they were a diverse social group. Jews and Gentiles, women and men, slave and free – and the rich and poor – all came together – and they were to come together in love. This was a challenge. It still is.
From Understanding God’s Word, September 10, 2006:
When God chooses the poor, it is not to set up a new, inverted pecking order. It is meant to eliminate the pecking order altogether. God gives privilege to the marginalized to abolish privilege. The biblically poor are not just those who are economically poor; it is anyone who lacks the power to protect their interests against misfortune (Who can we think of today?). James’ advice gets set in Catholic Social Justice teaching with the phrase: ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’. Showing the poor this preferential option does not mean making them more dependent on others. It is about empowering them to stand on their own two feet, in love and dignity. This is what James means by calling the poor ‘heirs’ of the kingdom.
Notice the word LISTEN. We must truly hear one another and be in open dialogue for change to happen and have a world with no partiality. Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, says, “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can relieve the suffering of the other person.”
The Gospel – Mark 7: 31-37
Our world is filled with words – and we have become very efficient at hearing, but not listening. We almost must ‘tune-out’ in order to survive! Yet, the Word of God that comes to us in Jesus is a word we need to hear and to take to heart. What do you hear in this gospel? What do you need to listen to in order to more deeply hear God’s voice?
Yet, the purpose of God’s word is not, first of all, to challenge us towards charity, social justice, morality, or even to worship of something higher . . . Christ came as God’s incarnate Word, to bring us life, light, and love. Loving parents call forth their infant with their smiles, their voice, their touch, their attentive reassurance into a world of self-expression and conscious love. Hopefully, we all have been called out of the darkness and chaos of infancy by loving voices that cajoled, caressed, reassured, and kept luring us beyond ourselves. Helen Keller, much like the poor man in the gospel today, had been trapped in blindness and silence until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, broke open the world for her. Annie’s infinite patience, touch, and breathing-presence slowly, but eventually, revealed the world to Helen. Christ as Word is like that for all of us. It is meant to be that voice of the loving mother/father/teacher who calls us out of fear, darkness, chaos and frustration to freedom, thought, self-expression and an awareness of love. But it is not easy to be led out of darkness. We need to trust in the voice of love, the gentle, beckoning, patient voice of our God-in-Christ. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Mark gives further meaning to this story by where he places it in the overall gospel narrative. Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples have been ‘deaf’ to Jesus’ word – lacking ‘insight’ and understanding. They and many others have been unable to make any confession of faith about him, Eventually, however, at Caesarea Philippi (after the feeding of 4,000, the blindness and deafness of the Pharisees, and the healing of another blind man at Bethsaida) their ears are opened, their tongues are released, and they speak clearly about Jesus as the Messiah through Peter, the spokesman. But even here their faith is limited and blind when Jesus talks of suffering and rejection. Jesus will have to walk with them further, talking, cajoling, correcting, and healing . . . Only on the cross will Jesus and God’s love be fully revealed. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
We may be a bit shocked by Jesus’ spitting in today’s gospel. We have become such a ‘germ-conscious’ culture. But in the Middle Eastern culture, spitting was a common precaution against evil. Traditional healers routinely used this strategy to ward off evil and thus heal. Hands were also the customary way that any therapeutic power was transmitted. (Even today we pay a lot to have ‘massage therapists’ work their wonders.) Also, the word, ephphatha, is an original Aramaic word. This was the language that Jesus would have used. It was believed that the actual word itself had power. So it was remembered and recorded. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
How can you be opened to the Lord?