Tag Archives: Mark

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.  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 )

Some psychologists say that we mature not by always having everything ‘together’ and ‘successful’ – whatever that means – but we often “grow by falling apart.” Jonah’s story is sort of a parable about this ‘disintegration.’ Sometimes it is in the darkness, in the ashes, in the failures and frustrations that we journey to full maturity. In scripture this is often imaged in ‘desert or wilderness’ experiences.’ — or in Jonah’s case, the belly of a whale. Like Jonah we can find ourselves carried to some place we’d rather not go. Our successes bring us glory, while our pain, with God’s help, brings us character and compassion. Pain can mellow and enlarge our heart and our soul. The best wines are aged in cracked, old barrels. Our natural instinct, though, is to get out of the darkness and tension as quickly as possible – it is not easy to trust that God’s love can be with us in such dire circumstances. We are too often afraid to suffer, to let it do its purifying work. Yet, when we find ourselves in this ‘dark night’ we can come to know what it means to let our faith in God’s love carry us. We can care rather than cure. We can support and trust the process. We can reflect, think, pray, and talk about the situation with trusted friends and mentors. We do not need to move against the process, but find ways to relax and be comforted right in the middle of it. (Ron Rolheiser, “In Exile” http://liturgy,slu.edu )

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 talk 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?

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.”

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2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

Let us pray with Joyce Rupp:

looking high into winter trees

I see the distant nests

cradled in arms of branches

 

nests:  round, full of warmth,

softness in the welcoming center,

a circle of earth’s tiny goodness,

flown far from the far corners,

patiently pieced together,

and hollowed into a home.

 

nests:  awaiting the treasure of life,

simple, delicate dwelling places

from which song will eventually echo

and freedom of wings give flight.

 

advent has been on my mind.

 

prepare the nest of heart.

patch up the broken parts.

place more softness in the center.

sit and warm the home with prayer.

give the Christ a dwelling place.  Amen.

1st Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11

From Celebration, Dec. 2002:,,This is the beginning of 2nd Isaiah.  It is sometimes called the Book of Consolation. It was written to a people who were in exile, a people who were

shamed and saddened in the truest sense. Although they were separated from their land, God would still care for them. The prophet was to speak to his people “tenderly.” The Jerusalem Bible translates this passage more literally by directing the prophet to “speak to the heart” of the people. For the Hebrews, the heart was the seat of the intellect and will. God wanted them to trust deeply that he would still care for them.

From Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk for Year B, p. 61:  Today’s reading refers to Israel’s return home as well as the prophet’s commissioning,  The heavenly court witnesses and approves God’s command, call, and commissioning of the prophet.  So commissioned, the prophet’s word announces a new age of restoration for the people.  Through the power of God’s Word, the world will be reconciled.  The people stood on the threshold of a new age,.  The creative Word of God had spoken as it was spoken at the dawn of an earlier age, the creation of the world, and into the hearts of all believers was infused the seeds of new life.  God’s glory would be revealed when the people were safely restored and in their own land.  For Christians the glory of God is revealed in the advent of the One Who Is to Come.  What does all of this mean to you?

2nd Reading: 2 Peter: 3: 8-14

From Mary Birmingham, p. 63-64:  This letter is a pseudonymous work attributed to the apostle Peter. Most scholars date it around the mid-second century (130-150AD). It is probably the last letter written of all the canonical New Testament documents. Its imagery concerning the ‘end of the world’ was a part of the culture of the times. Total destruction by fire was a popular belief from Persia to the Greco-Roman world.  These images were also common in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Such images or

opinions are not scientific assertions but mythopoeic images. Some scholars also suggest that the translation of heurethesetai (dissolved by fire) is better translated ‘will be laid bare’. Yet, keep in mind that the main point of this passage is that our God is a patient God – and that we need to use whatever time we have to repent, to change, to be reconciled.

Reginald Fuller adds these three points: 1) Watchfulness is a part of Christian living. 2) Rightly understood, the imminent hope in Christianity is a motivation for the pursuit of holiness and Godliness in life. 3) While we can demythologize our scriptures in order to have them ‘speak’ more clearly to us today, we must also hold dear to the fact that the final goal of history is the hope of a new heaven

and a new earth. (“Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )

The Gospel: Mark 1: 1-8

This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, as is stated. Mark has no infancy stories. Most scholars believe that this is the earliest gospel written, probably between 68-73 AD.  Mark was not an eye-witness to Jesus or his ministry. (He seemed to have incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of the Palestinian geography and customs.) He is a Greek-speaking believer who relied on already established traditions concerning Jesus, most of which were probably oral. He is a skilled craftsman who wished to share the joy of our salvation by writing a ‘gospel’ – a work of good news. He is addressing this ‘good news’ to a community that was suffering persecution. The center of this good news for Mark is Jesus’ suffering and death. This gospel is sometimes called a long ‘passion narrative’ with a brief introduction. For Mark, Jesus’ death assures us that God is forever with us, even in what appears to be utter destruction. This is good news!  (Celebration, Dec. 2002)

John’s clothing seems to be taken directly from 2 Kings 1:8 as the traditional ‘dress’ of a prophet. John’s diet also has to do with the truth of the good news he is to proclaim. Locusts were traditionally regarded as God’s instruments of judgment because they were agents of bitter and punishing destruction (Exodus 10:4, Isaiah 33:4, Psalm 105:34). Honey, however, signified peace and plenty and was a symbol of God’s comfort and care (Exodus 3:8, Deuteronomy 6:3). Together, these two ‘ingredients’ seem to announce the dual character of the gospel. Like locusts, the good news of Jesus Christ would lay bare and devour evil; like honey, the gospel would bring comfort, peace and sweet salvation to the repentant sinner.  Today, John still stands in our midst. He still calls us to prepare ourselves, our ways, our hearts, our wills, and our world to welcome the challenge and the comfort, the purifying power and the peace that is Jesus. (Celebration, Dec. 2002)

Ronald Rolheiser says that we all live with “an innate tension” – we want to be ‘ourselves,’ different, unique, independent. Yet, we also want to belong, to unite,  to be a part of community and to be intimate. Baptism both calls us to be ‘set apart’ from the world and to be part of a new unity, the family of God, the body of Christ. John the Baptist and Jesus show this tension. John ‘stood out’ – by his life style and his cry of repentance. His motivation, though, was to get people to come back to living the way God had called them – to be people of compassion and honesty. Jesus did not seem to set himself apart at all by externals. What set him apart was the integrity of his life which was filled with the intimacy of God and care for others. That set him apart – and that allowed him to show us and to call us to a greater intimacy with God and compassion toward others. Think of how you live with this tension and how God might be calling you. (“In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )

How is the “nest” of your heart in relation to the dwelling of the Lord?  Do you have room for your God?  Is there an awareness in your life of the presence of the Lord?  Where in your life does the Christ most seek a welcome?

1st Sunday of Advent, cycle B

Let us pray with St. Irenaeus…

It is not you that shapes God,

it is God who shapes you.

If then you are the work of God,

await the hand of the artist

who does all things in due season.

Offer God your heart,

soft and tractable,

and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.

Let your clay be moist,

lest you grow hard

and lose the imprint of God’s fingers.  AMEN

1st Reading:  Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7

From commentator Roger Karban:  Today’s Third-Isaiah reading only makes sense when we understand that our biblical writers believed people thought with their hearts, not their minds. So when the prophet accuses his people of “hardening their hearts to Yahweh,” he’s actually charging them with closing their minds to Yahweh. Since they don’t expect anything from God, they don’t even think about God. Though Third-Isaiah knows Yahweh is on the verge of helping those recently released from the Babylonian Exile, God can only do what people permit God to do. Anticipation of God’s actions plays a big role in experiencing God’s actions.  Isn’t that part of what Advent is…waiting in joyful expectation of what God is going to do in our lives?

This reading may make us feel we’ve got to try harder, do more.  But the reading ends with a different message.  We are to be clay.  We are to allow God to work on us.  So it is more a message of surrender.  Allowing.  Letting God in.  Gerald May describes the difference between willfulness and willingness.  Willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence.  Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself.  Willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment.  Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but…”.  Both reflect the attitude we have toward the wonder of life itself  (Will and Spirit, p. 6).  How might an attitude of willingness be helpful as we walk toward Christmas?

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 1:3-9

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series:  There are 3 things that stand out in this passage of thanksgiving:

  1. A promise which came true.  Paul preached Christianity to the Corinthians and said Christ could do certain things for them.  He proudly claims that all has come true.
  2. A gift has been given.  Paul uses a favorite word of his, charisma, which means a gift freely given to someone.  It comes through salvation and through whatever special skills we may need in life to be the most of who we are.
  3. There is an ultimate end.   If we are clothed in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

How might how “willingness” help us live our lives as Paul sees the Corinthians doing?  Might it help us live in gratitude like Paul?

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:33-37

From commentator Roger Karban again:  Mark’s Jesus directs his call for watchfulness to a community still expecting an imminent Parousia. Yet the command to be alert goes far beyond just looking for Jesus’ Second Coming. The story he tells demonstrates how constantly being on guard is an essential part of our faith. As servants of the risen Jesus, we never know when the “master” is going to break into our lives.  If we’re not continually attentive, we’ll miss what, as Jesus’ servants, we’ve been uniquely trained to experience.  How do we do this?

When someone we care for travels abroad, we wait with HOPE for their return.  So there is an eagerness in our watching.  We are looking for good to happen.  “Like the seed long since sown in springtime, God’s inward arrival comes through unobtrusively and slowly, but with terrific force, and becomes manifest in all the seeming banality of our lives,”  (M. Birmingham, W&W Worksbook, cycle B, p. 53).  We often have apocalyptic readings during Advent because Christ came to us as a child, and he came to us in his resurrection.  He keeps coming and coming every day into our lives.  Do we see it?  Do we wait in hope for it?

Waiting is active.  Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands.  The bus is late?  We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait.  It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.”  Words like that push us into passivity.  But there is none of this passivity in Scripture.  If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait.  Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it, (Henri Nouwen’s “Waiting for God” Advent Prayer Booklet, p. 2).

Eucharist and Babette’s Feast III

babette's Feast

Let us pray from John Phillip Newell

Clear our heart, O God, that we may see you.
Clear our heart, O God,
that we may truly see ourselves.
See our heart, O God,
that we may know the sacredness of this moment
and in every moment
seek you
serve you
strengthen you
as the Living Presence in every presence.
Clear our heart, O God,
that we may see.  Amen

A Reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (14:22-25)

22 While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. “Take it,” he said, “this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and handed it to them; and they all drank from it. 24 Jesus said, “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant. 25 I tell you, I will never again drink this wine until the day I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God.”

Julian of Norwich said, “We are not just made by God.  We are made of God.”  Eucharist is an offering.  Christ offers Christself to us, and we offer in return.  It is meant to be a flow.  There is a divine love that is freely given.  We enter into it and it changes us.  It doesn’t just flow in.  What happens to water when it grows stagnant?  It is meant to then flow out.  We must allow God within us to flow out of us.  How is this shown in Babette’s Feast?

“How then can we, in the midst of our ordinary lives, drink our cup, the cup of sorrow and the cup of joy?  How can we fully appropriate what is given to us?  Somehow we know that when we do not drink our cup and thus avoid the sorrow as well as the joy of living, our lives become inauthentic, insincere, superficial, and boring…We can choose to drink the cup of our life with the deep conviction that by drinking it we will find our true freedom.  Thus, we will discover that the cup of sorrow and joy we are drinking is the cup of salvation.”  Henri Nouwen in Can You Drink the Cup?  Does Babette do this?  What about the townspeople?

What is God’s covenant?  How does God’s covenant make a difference in your life?

Let us pray

Christ, come into our lives.

Come into our lives and make us into something new.

Help us find joy in this newness.

Help us use this joy in our lives

and in the lives of those we around us

each day.

Amen

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?

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)

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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.