Monthly Archives: June 2018

1 July 2018: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24   Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13   2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15   Mk 5:21-43

The healing power of a personal encounter

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to examine Jesus’ healing and saving acts.

The first reading from Wisdom gives a meditation on the origins of death, both physical and spiritual. God did not create death; out of envy the evil one separated humans from God. This separation is spiritual death; physical death is a metaphoric consequence. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel, in which Jesus shows his power over spiritual and physical death.

The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the ekklesia at Corinth. In today’s reading, Paul asks the Corinthians to participate in his collection for the Jerusalem ekklesia. He reminds the Corinthians that Christ has already made them spiritually rich; those with spiritual and material abundance should be willing to become poorer to give relief to other believers.

Mark’s gospel uses what scholars call the “Marcan sandwich” technique to tell two healing stories at once: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a flow of blood. The related stories describe different women whose lives under threat.

  • Power over disease and social isolation. The woman suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years. According to Torah, she is ritually impure: she should not be in the crowd, let alone touch Jesus. She believes that if she touches Jesus’ clothes she will be healed/saved. After touching Jesus, she knows immediately that she is healed; Jesus demands to know who she is.

    Mark’s hearers would be surprised by Jesus’ response. Jewish men did not speak to women in public, and would never allow an unclean person to touch them. Ignoring cultural and religious laws, Jesus speaks directly to her (“Daughter”); addresses how her faith results in her healing/saving; blesses her (“shalom”); and tells her to “remain in health.” In Mark’s community this story promises that those who seek Jesus will find social and religious koinonia (fellowship, unity).

 

  • Power over sickness and death. Jairus’ daughter is twelve years old. She is sick to the point of death. Jairus believes that Jesus’ touch can heal/save her. While on the way, Jairus hears his daughter is dead. Jesus tells Jairus not to fear, but to believe (Jairus has just witnessed Jesus heal another woman). When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house, the mourners laugh at him. Jesus sends away the unbelievers and invites only the girl’s parents and Peter, James, and John to witness his healing/saving act.

    Mark’s hearers would be surprised by Jesus’ actions. A Jewish person who touched a corpse would become unclean. Ignoring religious law, Jesus takes the girl’s hand, saying “Little lamb, arise.” The girl stands up and walks. The Greek words Mark uses for “arise” and “stand up” are the same words Jesus uses when speaking about his resurrection. In Mark’s community this story promises that Jesus will also raise up each believer at the parousia.

The readings present RCIA candidates and the believing community with ideas about spiritual and physical death, and the role of faith in healing and salvation. Although a large crows surrounds and jostles Jesus, only the woman seeking to touch and encounter Jesus is restored to community life. Although unbelievers surround Jairus, his faith in Jesus’ touch restores his dead daughter to physical life. How do we encounter Jesus? Are we part of a thoughtless crowd who impersonally bump against him? Do we laugh off the thought of real change as impossible? How would our lives change if we consciously reached out to Jesus or let him touch us?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 June 2018: Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist: Day

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 49:1-6   Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15   Acts 13:22-26   Lk 1:57-66, 80


Lectionary note: Reading options based on celebration
The Lectionary presents two sets of readings for The Nativity of John the Baptist: The vigil of the Nativity of John the Baptist or The day of the Nativity of John the Baptist. This commentary uses the readings for The day of the Nativity of John the Baptist.

The Baptizer’s call to prepare and change

White_gold_banner_sm The Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist asks RCIA participants and believing community to recall how the Baptizer precedes Jesus in fulfillment of God’s saving plan.

The first reading is from the Deutero-Isaiah’s second Suffering Servant song. Jewish hearers understand the servant song as describing the Jewish people as a whole. From their earliest days, the Christian believing community read these prophetic songs as foretelling Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. The Lectionary editors link the reading’s themes of “naming in the womb” and prophecy with the Baptizer’s birth and mission.

In the second reading from Acts, Luke recalls Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey to preach to the gentiles. Paul makes his first proclamation in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Paul includes the Baptizer’s role as precursor to Jesus (v 24-25) in his kerygmatic speech.

In the gospel, Luke presents the Baptizer as a prophet and Jesus’ precursor. Using repeating literary structures, Luke parallels the annunciations, births, circumcisions, and summaries of the Baptizer and Jesus to show how John prepares for Jesus:

  • Annunciation (Lk 1:11-20/Lk 1:26-38). The same angel, Gabriel, appears to Zechariah and to Mary. Gabriel tells both “Do not fear,” promises both they will have sons who will be “great,” and tells them the names of their sons. Gabriel then gives both a specific sign (Zechariah’s muteness; Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s conception) as a proof of God’s action.
  • Birth (Lk 1:57-58/Lk 2:6-20). At the Baptizer’s birth the neighbors rejoice; at Jesus’ birth the hearers are astonished and the shepherds praise God.
  • Circumcision (Lk 1:57-66/ Lk 2:21-33). Both boys are circumcised on the eighth day, according to Jewish law, and are named according to Gabriel’s instructions. Zechariah’s speech is restored when he names his son John. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors are awed by God’s action; Mary and Joseph are amazed by the prophecies about Jesus.
  • Summary (Lk 1:80/Lk 2:21-33). The Baptizer “grew and became strong in spirit;” Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

John the Baptizer’s life foreshadows Jesus’ life, but Luke is careful to show how Jesus is greater than John.

This feast celebrates the birth of the Baptizer, recalling how his preaching and prophecy paved the way for Jesus. As Paul reminds his listeners in the second reading, the Baptizer called the people to metanoia (change of mind/heart) and to baptism as a sign of change. The sacrament of Baptism forgives sin, incorporates us into the believing community, and is a witness to our discipleship. The holy water we encounter when we enter a church building reminds us of our baptisms and our discipleship promises. Metanoia is not a one-time action; it is a continuous need. As we again hear the Baptizer’s prophetic call to conversion, we must ask: Am I doing all I should? What else should I be doing?

—Terence Sherlock

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17 June 2018: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ez 17:22-24   Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16   2 Cor 5:6-10   Mk 4:26-34

God’s kingdom: secret seeds, bushes, and birds

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider the mystery of God’s kingdom.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel describes God’s promises to restore the exiles and to reestablish David’s line. God will plant a cutting from a mighty cedar tree in the heights of Israel. The tree stands for Israel (the restored Davidic dynasty). The birds who come to roost in the branches are the returning exiles (the captives in Babylon). Eventually all nations (“birds of every kind”) will come to recognize the God of Israel. Christians hear Ezekiel’s words fulfilled in Jesus; Jesus is David’s descendant, and Jesus inaugurates God’s messianic kingdom, which is open to all nations. The gospel’s mustard seed parable echoes this theme of including all nations in God’s kingdom.

The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the ekklesia at Corinth. The overarching theme of 2 Cor is Paul’s defense against false teachers who created confusion in the community. In today’s reading, Paul contrasts “home/away” and “seen/ unseen” to explain how we live between the already and the not yet. Now we all live (“are at home”) in physical bodies, and so we are separated from the risen Christ. Now we know the risen Christ only by faith, since we can no longer see him. Our faith tells us that when we die (“leave our bodies”) we will be with the resurrected Christ. Now we should live as Jesus lived (“aspire to please him”) so that when we meet him (“appear before the judgement seat”), Jesus will recognize us as his disciples (“receive recompense”).

Mark’s gospel is from Jesus’ “day of parables” (Mk 4). We hear two parables and Mark’s summary:

  • Parable of the seed growing quietly (v 26-29). This parable is unique to Mark. Jesus reminds his hearers that seeds grow without human intervention. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that God’s kingdom would come unnoticed, without cataclysmic signs. The kingdom of God develops quietly yet powerfully until God fully establishes the kingdom at the final judgment (Mk 4:29; Rev 14:15).

The parable encourages disciples in Mark’s community who feel their efforts are fruitless, and warns those who think they can bring the kingdom through their own projects and plans.

  • Parable of the mustard seed (v 30-32). This parable also appears in Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that God’s kingdom would be present but be unseen. Jesus probably told this parable in response to his opponents’ criticism: if the kingdom of God is here, why can’t we see it? The biblical image of a tree housing many birds symbolizes an empire that grants protection to people of many races and languages (see the first reading). With comic irony Jesus portrays the kingdom not as a lofty cedar tree (first reading), but as a weedy bush.

The parable encourages Mark’s community, which is facing failure and persecution (Mk 13:9-13). Jesus continues to grow the believing community even when they lack faith.

  • Mark’s summary (v 33-34). Mark concludes with two important ideas about discipleship:

First, Jesus speaks to the crowd as they are able to hear. The Greek verb ἀκούω means “to hear,” “to listen,” “to understand,” or “to obey.” Mark wants his community to remember that the kingdom grows as a disciple reflects on the parables and embraces their implications, enlarging his or her ability “to hear.”

Second, Jesus explains everything to the disciples privately. The Greek verb ἐπιλύω means “to explain” and is often translated as “to interpret religious or oracular statements.” Mark wants his community to hear Jesus address the needs in their ekklesia: proper moral conduct (Mk 7:17-21), divorce (Mk 10:10-12), and the danger of wealth (Mk 10:23-30).

The readings challenge RCIA candidates and the believing community to consider the mystery of God’s kingdom, and our response as disciples. Jesus describes God’s kingdom as a seed that grows by its own power, and as a tiny seed that grows into a shrub that is home to many birds. The kingdom comes according to God’s plan, not ours. The kingdom comes for everyone, not just for us and our friends. As disciples, we should cooperate with God’s plan. As disciples we should seek to grow the kingdom. Are we promoting God’s agenda, or our own? Do we have faith that the community will grow as God wills, or do we believe we know better?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 June 2018: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 3:9-15   Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8   2 Cor 4:13-5:1   Mk 3:20-35

Conflicts: Who is Jesus? Who is our family?

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary readings ask us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings challenge every RCIA participant and each one of the believing community to examine his or her commitment to discipleship.

The first reading from the book of Genesis explores the consequences of humanity’s disobedience and rejection of God. A theological tension exists between God’s “good” creation and the created world’s own intransigence (for example, disobedience and violence). The Torah becomes a story of recalcitrance (on creation’s part) and rescue (on God’s part). Later Jewish and Christian interpreters identify the serpent with Satan. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel because the gospel reading refers to Satan.

The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the Corinth ekklesia. Paul describes his faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead, a faith that also includes a hope that God will raise Paul and his converts. God is already renewing the believing community’s “inner nature” in preparation for the final resurrection. Believers do not yet have the fullness of the resurrected life, but something starting in the inner person that will be clothed by the resurrection body.

The gospel uses what scholars call the “Marcan sandwich” technique to tell two conflict stories at once: a conflict with religious authorities and a conflict within a family. The actions are as follows:

  • The family conflict (part 1). Jesus is in his new home in Capernaum, teaching and healing. He is so successful, he doesn’t have time to eat. Back in Nazareth, his family hears what’s going on and are worried; they think he is crazy. Jesus has attracted the attention of the “scribes from Jerusalem;” his family may be genuinely worried that the authorities will execute Jesus for his words and actions. If the family declares Jesus insane, they can legally protect him from execution.


    Because Jesus’ family needs time to travel from Nazareth to Capernaum, Mark cuts to the related religious controversy story.
  • Conflict with religious authorities. The scribes from Jerusalem want to shame and discredit Jesus. They make two charges against him. First, that Jesus is possessed. Second (and more serious), that Jesus is an agent of the “ruler of demons.” Using the ruler of demons’ power/authority to cast out lower demons is the same as practicing magic, actions forbidden in Jewish law (Dt 18:10-12).
     

    Jesus refutes their charges first by pointing out that a kingdom or house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus then attacks their statement that Jesus’ power/authority comes from the devil. Using a parable about a strong one (Satan), Jesus shows that he is the stronger one (or “mightier one”) who binds Satan, as foretold by the Baptist (Mk 1:7). Finally, Jesus shames the scribes by saying they have insulted God (blasphemed). Because the scribes interpret the goodness of Jesus’ actions as evil, they have closed themselves to the actions of God’s holy Spirit. This “unforgivable sin” is similar to Hebrew scripture’s phrase “hardness of heart.”
     

    With the religious authorities’ conflict settled, Mark turns back to the family conflict story.

  • The family conflict (part 2). The crowd informs Jesus that his family is outside, seeking him. Jesus contrasts his misunderstanding family gathered outside with the attentive listeners gathered inside the house. Jesus’ work is to establish a new family: a family of God united by love, familiarity, and loyalty, stronger than blood relationships. Discipleship in God’s kingdom is more important than family and tribal ties. Jesus is not rejecting his earthly family, but resetting his family’s claim on him.

The readings confront RCIA candidates and the believing community with the reality of who Jesus is and his call to discipleship. Do we see Jesus and the more powerful one who binds Satan to heal and save us, or are we distracted from the actions of God’s Spirit? Do we choose discipleship’s attentive listening, or are our human relationships so comfortable we can’t hear Jesus’ message?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 June 2018: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

 

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ex 24:3-8   Ps 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18   Heb 9:11-15   Mk 14:12-16, 22-26

Covenant: rights and duties

White_gold_banner_sm The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi asks RCIA participants and believing community to recall God’s covenant with each of us and to examine our covenantal responsibilities.

In the first reading from Exodus, Moses seals the covenant between God and the Israelites with the blood from sacrificed bulls. In the ancient world, parties ratified a covenant by sacrificing and eating an animal as part of a shared meal. Moses collects the bulls’ blood (the life force) and splashes half the blood on the altar (representing God) and sprinkles the remaining blood over the people. This sacrificial blood seals the covenant between God and the Israelites. In the gospel Jesus explains to his disciples how his broken body and poured-out blood will renew the covenant.

In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author compares the actions of the Jewish high priest to the actions of Christ as a new high priest. Annually on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the human high priest entered the human-built Temple’s Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for human transgressions. Christ, the perfect high priest, entered God’s sanctuary in the heavens, and offered his own blood once, granting eternal redemption to all people for all time. The Hebrews’ author connects Christ’s blood to the ratification of the covenant in the first reading, and to the renewal of the covenant in the gospel.

Mark’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ prophecy-in-action. Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus speaks and acts prophetically. Mark’s Last Supper narrative brings Jesus’ prophetic speech and actions together:

  • This is my blood of the covenant. As he did with the bread (“this is my body”), Jesus interprets the meaning of the cup. By associating “blood” and “covenant,” Jesus prophetically connects this meal with the covenant ratification in Ex 24:1-8 (the first reading). Just as the Mosaic covenant established the people of Israel as God’s people, so also in this meal Jesus’ covenant renews a new people for God.

    Because blood is life, blood (the life of an animal) was the greatest offering that could be made to the gods or God. This is why blood makes atonement for transgressions (Lv 17:11). Jesus’ life-blood is being poured out for all. Jesus understands that his death brings about a covenant community that will benefit all humans.
  • Until that day when I drink it new in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ vow to fast from eating and drinking is a prophetic action pointing to his coming death as well as the coming messianic banquet of God’s kingdom. In this way, Jesus connects this meal with the past (Passover meal and Mosaic covenant), with the present (the renewed covenant), and with the future (Jesus’ coming passion, death, and resurrection and future coming of God’s kingdom).

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us that we are in covenant with God. God ratified this covenant not with the blood of animals, but with his own blood. Can we imagine a deeper or more serious bond? The covenant gives us both rights (forgiveness, eternal life) and duties (follow me, love one another). How much time do we spend claiming our rights? How often do we exercise our duties?

—Terence Sherlock

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