1st Reading – Zechariah 12: 10-11
This Old Testament book was probably written by two, maybe even three, different anonymous authors, with this portion being written after the Babylonian exile.
Through suffering, the people would come to know what it means to truly repent and thus the covenant with God restored. How does suffering help purify us? The early Christians, of course, saw Jesus in these words, as we do today. He is the pierced one that we must look upon and mourn. Then a fountain of grace will cleanse us of sin. And that is the central meaning of the passage. When we really grasp the love of God poured out in and through the ‘pierced one,’ we will experience an outpouring of the Spirit and a change of heart. With mourning and grief we will turn away from our self-centered sins and open to the love of God present in the crucified one. (Celebration, June 1998)
It is interesting that grace proceeds the mourning. How else are we to carry our burdens but through God’s grace? It is only through God’s grace that death and destruction do not have the final answer. In God there is hope. What better goodness to hear with all that is in the news lately?
2nd Reading – Galatians 3: 26-29
Baptism is the sacrament in which we are immersed in Christ — in the One who shows us the overflowing love of God and the dying and rising that this love entails. We are one-in-Christ only in this truth. Only when we immerse ourselves in God’s love and acceptance (justification) are we able to overcome and transcend such very real differences. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Paul says we are all children of God…co-heirs…not alone but one body in Christ. In fact, we are to “put on” Christ in our oneness. By linking us all back to Abraham, he is saying the Israelites are not the only chosen people of God. We are all chosen. How does it feel to know you are chosen by God?
Paul was not concerned with hierarchical leadership as much as he was with the house churches acting “as a body”. Leaders were to admonish, but so was everyone. Prophets were to build up, but so was everyone. Paul’s notion of church leadership included the concepts of reciprocity, collegiality, and collaborative ministry. The one in charge would carry out the wishes as servant of the “body” (Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 403). How is this reflected in our church today?
The Gospel – Luke 9: 18-24
The next 10 chapters of Luke are about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. They are particular to Luke. The other evangelists do not give such an exhaustive rendering of the journey. Luke intended to show that Jesus’ journey mirrors the journey of every Christian (Birmingham, W&W, p. 404). It gives us the picture that the disciples really were On The Way. There is continual movement for them…constantly busy…yet they are focused on Christ and are fed in the midst of it. Do you relate to this?
From Celebration, June 1998:
Peter’s response that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God, was a good answer, but one that hung Judaism’s old messianic hopes on Jesus. This messiah had been long anticipated as a royal descendant of the Davidic dynasty with might and prowess sufficient enough to restore the nation to the prestige and power it had known under David. Jesus had to correct this notion. His mission would not be spent in military maneuvers forcing foes into submission. He had come as one who serves, as one proclaiming God’s kingdom, a kingdom of love. This love would entail self-sacrifice – self-giving — dying to oneself. Only this way of life would lead to transformation, but first it would also lead to suffering. Jesus does not ‘sugar-coat’ this message. We as disciples – who claim to recognize God’s anointing presence in and with Jesus — must follow him: daily picking up our crosses, enduring rejection and suffering and even death so that we might find new life, resurrection. This dying and rising is a daily event, a daily decision, a daily response to our faith in Jesus.
As William Barclay says, Jesus requires that life be spent, not hoarded. We cannot be concerned with what is the safe thing – the bare minimum – the me-first routine. We need to seek the right thing, the generous gift, the what-can-I-do-for-others endeavor. We need to be grace-driven, grace-filled rather than ambition-motivated and power-directed. How do you do this? How does being one body in Christ help us with this?
1st Reading: Job 38: 1, 8-11
This ‘parable-story’ is told to challenge the more prevalent beliefs of the day that ‘blessings’ and ‘prosperity’ were signs of God’s favor and one’s own goodness. Instead, it tells us a story of a good person who suffers unspeakable things while all around him believe that Job is responsible for his own misfortune. Job was a wealthy and righteous landowner with a large family; then numerous and horrendous misfortunes raged against him. But Job does question God as to why he is allowing such suffering to happen. His cry and protest becomes his prayer. Today’s reading is part of the ‘reply’. It is designed to also prepare us to hear the gospel story.
Also, just think about the wonderful imagery that is given here as God tells us about creation – how God sees God’s self as a mother giving birth. He tells Job that the sea came bursting forth from God’s own womb! God speaks with maternal care to a man in despair about how he took the clouds and wove them into swaddling clothes for the baby ocean. How he had to teach, discipline, his new creation to stay within its limits and to obey God’s voice, to still proud waves. This story and the gospel urge us to trust God – and thus to trust to Jesus – believing that God’s love is always surrounding us – is actually right in our ‘boat.’ Why is this so important to God – to Jesus? Because faith and trust are like openings that allow God’s love to enter us. When pain and sorrow find us in life, they can stretch us, making room for a deeper relationship with God – with Jesus.
(Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu/edu )
The Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
Jesus chides the disciples in their fear and panic much like God chides Job for questioning God’s mysterious and powerful love. We, too, often find ourselves complaining and fearing our own storms and sicknesses and deaths. So how does faith help us? Our faith in Jesus does not guarantee that we will not go under. It is not a magic wand to wave at all difficulties. Our faith is promise that, even if we nearly drown, Jesus will be with us. All our storms can be transformed by the abiding presence of his love. This love will and can cast out all fear. That is how in Christ we become a new creation – a creation that can find safety in God’s love.
(John Kavanaugh, S. J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu/edu
Summer Reflections, 2006, p.17 & 18:
The boat has long been recognized as a symbol of the church. Its task is to help people chart their way through the sea of life. [The sea was also a symbol of chaos and evil; note that Jesus uses the same words to calm the sea as he uses when he expels demons.] As Jesus slept, it appeared to the disciples that he was unconcerned about their plight. Is not being tossed about in the turbulence of life as the trials, problems of the world swirl about us like being tossed about in violent waters? It was not much different for the disciples in their chaotic world of the 1st century: hardship, rejection, persecution, misunderstanding, poverty, oppression, destruction, etc. Jesus’ saving power was and is with his disciples. We must depend on his Spirit. He promises that his Spirit will fill our sails in the midst of our trials and tribulations bringing us to a safe harbor.
Jesus tells the sea to be quiet. Be still. Richard Foster challenges us, “Don’t you feel a tug, a yearning to sink down into the silence and solitude of God? Don’t you long for something more? Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to his Presence? It is the discipline of silence that will open the door. You are welcome to come in and listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence,” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 109).
Catherine of Siena wrote, “God is a bright ocean that distills and reveals hidden truths so that my soul has a better understanding of how to trust Love, and this water is a mirror in which You, Eternal Trinity, give me knowledge.” Using these images of the sea, what waves are stirred in you? How do we shake loose from thinking we know better and to trust God with the tides of our lives? What does it feel like to not be able to control the waves? How can we help one another weather the storms?
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17
Paul is utterly convinced that Christ’s life in us changes everything so much that Christ’s love actually impels us to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ. Paul is trying to point out that because we are one with Christ, death can harm us no more than it can harm Christ. Note, Paul didn’t say we won’t suffer and eventually die, but suffering takes on a new meaning. We are part of a new creation in Christ. (Taken from NCR’s “The Word Scripted for Life” by Sr. Mary McGlone, p. 29)
What a perfect time to consider how we are part of God’s creation with Pope Francis’s encyclical coming out this week! Sr. Elizabeth Johnson has thoughts on Creator Spirit in Quest for the Living God:
Attending to the idea of the Creator Spirit brings to the fore the belief that the presence and activity of God pervade the world and that therefore the natural world is the dwelling place of God. This divine presence is continuous, cruciform and abides in the mode of promise. Creator Spirit dwells in compassionate solidarity with every living being that suffers, from the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroid to the baby impala eaten by a lioness. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without eliciting a knowing suffering in the heart of God. Yet the scientific account of the expanding cosmos and of the evolution of life on this planet makes it clear that the universe, rather than being a settled phenomenon, can be described today only in terms of an open-ended adventure (pp. 187-190).
1st Reading – Job 7: 1-4, 6-7
In this reading, Job is answering his friends who say he is suffering because of his sin. What do you make of his words? What dialogue do you have with God concerning suffering?
The Book of Job explores but does not resolve the fact of suffering. With Job, we see the dark and seamy side of suffering – and Job rails against the injustice of innocent suffering. His ‘friends’ are telling him that his sufferings must be a direct punishment for sin. Job vehemently disagrees. This passage is one of his lengthy, descriptive laments. In the end, after a series of intense, poetic exchanges with God, Job accepts that his suffering cannot be explained away or completely understood. His ‘friends’ are wrong; God harshly corrects them. As the book ends and Job is restored, suffering is still seen as an intrinsic part of the gift of human life. Job learns to accept what he cannot understand and to trust in the inscrutable wisdom of God. (Preaching Resources, Feb. 9, 2003)
The mystery of pain…Why does God allow it to happen? There is no satisfactory answer to that question. But as Christians, we believe that violence, suffering and death are never the last word. We have hope. We do not have a God who is removed from our sufferings; ours is a God who has lived a human life and knows suffering. There may not be answers that will satisfy, but for the believer there is God, who is sorrowful with us, who offers us eternal life, and who moves us, through our hearts, to build a more loving and compassionate society. (Fr. James Martin in the New York Daily News after the Newtown school shootings)
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22-23
This is the cost of discipleship. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate,
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
From Bonhoeffer who wrote The Cost of Discipleship:
“…what we want to know is not, what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what would Jesus Christ himself wants of us.” (p. 37)
“Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world.” (p. 60)
“He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.” (p. 67)
The Gospel – Mark 1: 29-39
Before this passage, Mark tells of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum and casting out demons (last Sunday’s gospel), and then the day goes on with this reading –Mark is presenting dramatically a ‘typical’ day in the life of Jesus who is intent upon proclaiming and ‘preaching’ God’s Kingdom. What do we see of God’s kingdom here?
John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture Peter’s mother-in-law should have been living in her husband’s family home – or — if he was dead, then, she would be with one of her sons. The fact that she is in Peter’s house suggests that she may have no other living family members to take care of her. This woman may have known a lot more sorrow than just this fever. When Jesus touches her, she rises up with energy and purpose in her life. Jesus seemed to have helped her regain her meaning in life. This was beautifully expressed by her eager service. What do you see in her story?
From Celebrations, Feb., 2003:
Comfortable Christianity is an oxymoron. We like to imagine those in a deep relationship to God to be peace-filled . . . But to be honest, the most ‘responsive,’ committed Christians . . . are often ‘driven,’ compelled –with at least some measure of agitation and turmoil . . .the calling [from God] deep within – if heeded – is almost guaranteed to increase sensitivity to the demands that abundantly present themselves! There are always more hungry mouths to feed, more injustices to deal with, more violence to be overcome, more broken hearts to be healed . . .Yet “while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” It was from that quiet place that he moved on . . .
Let us pray…
God who dwells within,
God who is with us in good times and in bad,
We turn our hearts again to you and we proclaim:
nothing can come between us
and your love for us,
even if we are troubled or worried or persecuted,
or lacking food or clothes,
or being threatened or even attacked.
We can grow through difficult times
because of this power of your love at work in our lives.
We lean upon you and offer you thanks and praise. AMEN
If you are looking for a happy ending in Jeremiah, you are not going to find one. The people do not listen to Jeremiah’s words from God, and go the walls of Jerusalem fall into the hands of the Babylonian Empire. The only sign of hope is the Oracles against the Nations which spells out the demise of Babylon, implying the release from exile and a restoration of Jerusalem. After the oracle is read by Seraiah, Jeremiah instructs him to tie a stone to the scroll and throw it into the Euphrates as a sign, “Thus shall Babylon sink. Never shall she rise, because of the evil I am bringing upon her,” (51:63-64).
Don’t we sometimes feel this same despair, that there will never be an end to it and God will never come to our aid? Jeremiah provides such imagery for this: “shattered Moab like a pot that no one wants” (48:38), “flee, retreat, hide in deep holes” (49:8), “they toss like the sea which cannot rest” (49:23) and “she shall be empty, and become a total desert” (50:13). The only thing to hold on to in times like that is hope. What is hope?
From Fr. Pat Butler’s talk, “Though He Slay Me, I will hope in Him”:
According to Thomas Aquinas, hope is a special desire that has a special object. That object must be clearly good, apparent, in the future, difficult to get YET possible. We must have faith that it is possible. Faith is necessary for hope. Both faith and hope must be in love (which you ALREADY HAVE by the grace of God). God is love. That’s all God can do. We choose hopelessness when we cannot see a better outcome.
Despite the harsh language in Jeremiah, God wants us to choose hope! Jeremiah doesn’t know Jesus yet, but we do. Jesus promises us hope. Jesus gives us the happy ending.
From Harry Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People:
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. We can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them. 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?”
When you come to the place
where the shadows are,
And the light ahead is withdrawn:
Put your hand in God’s and keep it there
Till he carries you over and on.
You may have to tarry a while in the dark
Till God is ready to lead
But while you are waiting just pray and pray
To Him your great need.
Then hold on to God’s hand with a
Let nothing deter your stand:
Keep waiting and waiting and holding on
Till the shadows pass from the land. AMEN
There are many who believe that some people are poor because they are bad. And there are those who think that prosperity in this life is a sign of God’s pleasure. In today’s gospel, the disciples see a man who was born blind, and they ask Jesus, “Was it his or his parents’ sin that caused him to be born blind?” Now, who among us hasn’t asked a similar question at some time? We reason that since God is in charge of everything, anything bad that happens must be some sort of punishment for that bad deed. The belief that suffering is a punishment from God can cause all sorts of problems. Many believe that those who find favor with God lead pleasant lives, and those who are evil are doomed to lives of misery. No! That’s not how it works! Jesus’ message is very clear.
Jesus wants us to see as he sees, to see through his eyes.
We need to recognize that our suffering is not a punishment from God. We also need to stop spending so much time and energy looking to place blame. Too often, assigning blame for suffering is a way to avoid getting involved. Rather, we should open ourselves to Christ and put all of that energy we are wasting into finding a compassionate, life-giving response by simply looking at the world around us through the eyes of God, the eyes that Jesus sees through.
A friend of mine who received a big award accepted it by saying, “I don’t deserve this. But then he raised his head and said, I have very poor eyesight too, and I don’t deserve that either.” My friends, it is dangerous for us to think too much about what we deserve and what we do not deserve.
I remember speaking with a wonderful woman of great faith that I knew. She was the mother of two young children and was very sick and would soon die. I suggested that she might want to read the book called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” She laughed, she looked at me and said, “You know, the question I ask a lot is, “Why don’t more bad things happen to bad people?’ I can deal with my sickness, but I really wonder why God doesn’t punish my husband who left me and our children when I got sick.” Yes, sometimes life seems so unfair, doesn’t it? I think we all wish that good people would have all the good luck and that people would be punished for every bad thing they do.
But, life is a lot more complicated than that. Suffering is a mysterious thing, and God’s ways are not our ways. As long as we live in this world, we will never understand why things happen as they do unless we can see through the eyes of Jesus.
Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, calls us to live in the light of the Lord, not in darkness. Like the man born blind in today’s gospel, we need to learn to see. We are called, though, to see in the way that God sees. God does not look for people to blame or punish. Rather, God looks on each one of us with love, with forgiveness, and with compassion.
The theme of our Lenten journey this Lent, already half over, is to open ourselves to Christ. By doing that, we would learn to see as God sees.
We would strive to want what God wants, and to act as God would have us act. When we pray, we should not try to change God, to persuade God to do things our way. Rather, we need to trust God enough that we can pray for God to change us. We need to trust God enough so that we can pray that God will help us all to stop looking for people to blame and start looking through the eyes of Jesus for ways to help ourselves and one another.
After wrestling with the readings for a couple of day this week, I came upon what I knew to be the perfect theme. Joy. Listen to the enthusiasm of the people as they exalt in God’s saving action so much they simply must break in to song. Paul simply states, “Rejoice.” And then, as if he cannot wait to exclaim again, “I say it again, rejoice.” With Christmas so rapidly approaching the Church gives us this day we call “Gaudete Sunday” the joyous Sunday of Advent. And I knew I would be rocking my rose colored vestments and we could simply speak of joy.
Then I heard the news from Connecticut and I thought that I must choose another path. How could one speak of joy in the midst of such suffering? But I corrected myself. I made a mistake so many of us make. I had confused happiness with joy. Happiness is by definition a temporary state. It would be the height of insanity to be happy all the time. Joy however, comes from a place somewhere deeper. It is a gift that God has given us and it can never be taken away. It is that which allows us to know how blessed we are regardless of the shadow of the circumstances around us. Happiness is laughing at a joke. Joy is making a friend.
Perhaps a good analogy would be our lawns. We try to keep them pristine as possible in the summer. We water them, protect them and cut them; all the while knowing they can never look that good permanently at least not in upstate New York. But we do what we can to extend the season. Ah the foolish things we do for happiness to make that which must pass, last. Joy is like a tree. Even when its leaves have fallen and its beauty has been diminished, there is still life within it; it is still a sturdy shelter. It roots run deep and breaths in life in the midst of winter. And when the wind buffets and the storm approaches, would you rather be a blade of grass or a tree?
Look at the cross. Why does it stand as the great sign of our salvation? There is nothing happy about the cross. Jesus is in pain. He has been betrayed and abandoned. He sinks nearly into despair, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Yet, he is able to say at the end, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” He is able to trust his God will love him, take care of him and save him. That is joy. That is the source of Christian joy.
Christian joy is simply this: that we know we are loved. Loved beyond all telling. Christian joy is knowing we are never given up on. That love endures. Happiness is vulnerable. Perhaps that is why we do so much to defend it. But joy is always present. It gives us courage and strength and faith and hope. That is why the churches of Newtown are filled. That is why last week they filled churches in Clifton Park. That is why so many people in our parish who have felt the searing pain and have had the darkest of darkness descend upon them still come, because the need the inevitable consolation of Christian joy. We need to know we are loved.
It why we gather around the table of God’s body and blood and around his word. We need to remind ourselves of the endless promise of God’s love and dip into Christian joy so that we can attain what Paul speaks of in the second reading, “Peace beyond all understanding.”
So even in the midst of our hurt and pain, we rely on Christian joy. How blessed we are to have a God who have given us inexhaustible love, who has promised to embrace us for eternal life. Let us thank God for Christian joy. In the summery days of our life it gives us the shimmer of exhilaration and a gleam in our eye. Let us give thanks for Christian joy that in the most challenging of times, we have courage that only being loved can give us. A determination in our Spirit and a sturdiness in our legs. And let us give thanks for Christian joy that gives us consolation in the midst of heartbreak and hope that surmounts the most terrible of losses. Let us give thanks for Christian joy for we are always blessed. We are always loved.