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REFLECTIONS

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

After last Sunday's experience, Jesus who was rendered a "stranger at home," is instructing his community to learn to be "at home with strangers."  Where the gospel is received and embraced, disciples are to remain; where it is rejected, they are to move on. This severs evangelism from any practice of domination or conquest. How different the history of the world would have been had Christian missionaries heeded this directive. I'm reminded of the movie "The Mission" and the conquests in South America, Mexico and the U.S., Japan, Africa . . .

Another aspect of evangelism and a shift that has taken place comes to me from this experience.  A hospital chaplain once told me that her change of attitude helps her to be a better chaplain to the people to whom she is sent.  Instead of thinking I’m bringing Christ to others, I now reflect that I am finding and receiving Jesus from others.

Jesus instruction to be "at home with strangers" has a particular application in the world wide phenomenon of refugees.  Pope Francis, a year ago ahead of the Roman Catholic Church's observance of World Day of Migrants and Refugees in a wide ranging statement said prophetically: "The principle of the centrality of the human person . . . obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security.”  In words that certainly speak to the chaos on the U.S. border: He called for “alternative solutions to detention” for illegal immigrants and said “collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions." Jesus in vs.11 of today's Gospel tells the disciples to expect rejection.  He tells them to move on, I believe Pope Francis, despite the rejection he receives calls for active Resistance to the current policies.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This Sunday in the readings we hear a brief part of the life of three very different people: Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus.  Though very different personalities they shared some things in common.  Explicitly today in the first reading and Gospel we hear about rejection.

What has rejection done to us in our lives?  Some people live out of the hurt of rejection for their entire lives.  Others go on and live fully.

1)  Ezekiel was a man of prayer, spirit and visions.  He was taken into captivity around 592 B.C.  In Babylon he was called to preach and be a prophet.  But prior to his captivity, for seven years his message was:  reproach, doom, denunciation, destruction of the Temple, fall of Jerusalem, exile of the Jewish people.  In 587 the destruction of Jerusalem took place and he was called to preach a different message:  hope, salvation, restoration of the Temple, Jerusalem, Israel, a new heart and new spirit.  We have the famous restoration vision of the dry bones.

Ezekiel was considered odd.  He did some odd things with symbolic actions; building a model of Jerusalem and having toy armies destroy it; cutting his hair off, etc.

2)   Paul is known as a great missionary.  He too was a man of prayer, spirit and visions.  But today’s readings share with us a certain pain that he had to live with, a thorn in the flesh.  He tells us that three times he begged the Lord that this might leave him.  We don’t know exactly what that thorn in the flesh was.  This ambiguity allows us to speculate.  It might have been rejection.  After Paul’s conversion experience on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus he began preaching in Damascus.  He was rejected there.  He had to be let down in a basket out of the city to escape.  He then returned to Jerusalem and was rejected there.  After these rejections he returned to his home of Tarsus.  For three years we hear nothing of Paul.  Some speculate that he was depressed.  The Church in Jerusalem wished to send missionaries to Antioch.  Barnabas was among those chosen.  But Barnabas went to Tarsus searched out Paul and took him with him to Antioch.  Barnabas introduced Paul to the People of Antioch and secured him a position as a teacher.  Barnabas is not as famous as Paul, but had not Barnabas been the instrument to affirm and seek out Paul and in a sense rehabilitate him, we wouldn’t have the famous Paul. 

3)   Jesus too is a man of prayer, spirit and visions.  The account of the rejection in Nazareth in Luke’s gospel makes more sense to me.  There Jesus tells about God’s healing coming not to Israelites but to two foreigners, a leper and a widow.  Jesus was in the prophetic tradition:  calling for change and critiquing the present system.  His values of compassion, inclusiveness, acceptance, love and peace clashed with some of the values of the official religion of the time.

And what about us?  Are we people of prayer and Spirit? Where do we get our values from? Jesus' values clearly clashed with some of the values of the official religion of his time. In our time Pope Francis has spoken out about consumerism, indifference, climate change.  He has declared a year of Mercy. These are not just his personal values, they are Gospel values.  We need to heed the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians Chapter 5 vs. 20 : Do not despise prophetic utterances.  21 Test everything; retain what is good. 22 Refrain from every kind of evil.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson


THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Today’s Gospel has a number of people in it.  The two principal characters are Jairus and an unnamed (anonymous) woman “afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years." Other people are the disciples, the crowd, the people from the synagogue, the mourners making a commotion in Jairus’ house. 

The Gospel writer Mark is at pains to establish a stark contrast between Jairus and the no name woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.

Jairus is a synagogue official.  He is head of his family and appeals on behalf of his twelve year old daughter.

The no name woman is poor and alone, lost in the crowd. She is economically poor (“spent all that she had”)  This could indicate that at one time she was wealthy.  She is ritually unclean according to Jewish law (“afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years”).  She has been exploited (“she had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors” . . . . ”yet she was not helped but only grew worse”  We must not forget her inner pain.  She can have no relationship, no tenderness, no affection, no warmth for 12 years.  For as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive this woman has been alone.  The situation was impossible, but so was her hope.

Jairus makes an assertive approach to Jesus as befits male social equals.  He falls down at Jesus’ feet, a proper granting of honor prior to asking a favor. He lays expectations upon Jesus, “Come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”  And we are told that “He (Jesus)  went off with him, and a large crowd followed.”  It appears that the first will be first and the last will be last.

But Jesus’ mission to lay hands on the 12 year old daughter of Jairus is interrupted by the touch of a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  The woman is a no name figure who is part of the crowd (who would have been predominantly poor people). She makes an ashamed and covert attempt to gain healing.  Her action would thus be doubly audacious,  1) a violation of social codes for proper female behavior (For a woman to touch a male in public is highly improper.) AND 2)  a violation of religious law (because she was considered impure, because of the flow of blood, her touch would transfer her impurity to Jesus.)

In the case of Jairus he begins with a gesture of kneeling before Jesus.  The anonymous woman when singled out by Jesus comes forth  “ . . . in fear and trembling.” There is good reason to believe that these words here do not mean fear as in afraid but fear as in awe.  They indicate a human being not only overwhelmed but gladdened and changed by divine power.  “She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.”  The healing of the body of this woman is dramatized by the two references to physical sensations, 1) “she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. ” 2) “Jesus was aware at once that power had gone out of him.”

Jesus addresses this woman with the title, “daughter” he makes her a member of his family.  She has gone from being an outsider to being an insider.

What is the meaning of these stories for us?  There is clearly the level of restoration of bodily wholeness.  Both women are restored to health.  The woman with the hemorrhaging demonstrates a particular kind of active aggressive faith.  Some have questioned whether it was desperation with her condition that got her through what was forbidden by social codes and religious law.  She should not have touched Jesus.  Or was it her faith that impelled her to do what she did.  This woman has become an important figure for those speaking and writing about the need for liberation for women.

In the case of the twelve year old girl it was her father’s appeal that brought her to Jesus.  He too must have felt a sense of desperation and impossibility in his daughter’s condition.

In both stories there are people who are obstacles.  In the first story the 1) apostles deride Jesus for asking, “who touched me.” Jesus looks around to see who did it.    2) In the case of Jairus’ daughter the people who come from the synagogue tell him, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer.”  Now it is Jesus who exhorts (the roles are reversed):  “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” 3)  At Jairus’ home the professional mourners deride Jesus when he comes to the  house and says “the child is not dead but asleep.” “He put them all out.” and you know the rest of the story.

But this story is also working at another LEVEL.--REVERSAL AND REJECTION.

In this story as in the story of the cleansing of the Leper (1:40-45) the purity code is very much at issue.  Jesus again both violates and reverses the contagion by his “touching."

Jesus accepts the priority of the (“highly inappropriate”) importunity of this woman over the (“correct”) request of the synagogue leader.  Here is an example of the last becoming first and the first last. REVERSAL   JESUS’ mission to “lay his hands on Jairus’s daughter” touch Jairus’ daughter,  is interrupted by the “touch;” of the doubly poor (economically and socially) woman, and now she is the one who falls at the feet of Jesus.  Jesus accepts her touch and rejects the purity laws of the Jews.  He also speaks to a woman in public and lets her touch him which would be against social norms.  REJECTS PURITY CODE AND SOCIAL NORMS From the bottom of the honor scale this woman intrudes upon an important mission on behalf of the daughter of someone on the top of the honor scale.  And by the end of this part of the Gospel she has become the “daughter” at the center of the story.  REVERSAL   From being excluded she is now included and accepted as a member of Jesus family by the name “daughter”.  She is hailed as a person of faith in contrast to the lack of faith of the apostles.  And this delay results in the apparent failure of the original mission and violation of the agreement of honor that had been made: “As he was saying this” the synagogue ruler is informed  that his daughter has died.

Jesus advises this prominent man to be a person of faith as was the ritually unclean poor no named woman.  Jairus’ contact with Jesus started with him exhorting Jesus to do something. Jairus a prominent man came to Jesus as a folk healer.   Now Jesus exhorts him, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”  The folk healer teaches the official of the synagogue and the woman, poor, unclean, anonymous, without name is hailed as the example of faith that the prominent synagogue official, named Jairus, should imitate.  The REVERSAL is complete: the last woman has become first and the first Jairus has now become last and must learn from the faith of the last, the no name woman.

This passage is teaching us how Jesus again bursts through certain obstacles of the Jewish religion to teach the people of his time and us what is really important. What would Jesus say to President Trump and Attorney General Sessions about their policies of separating children?  The Catholic Bishops at their recent meeting declared these actions immoral.  It is a start in the right direction. Where do we find ourselves in this story?

Source of Reflection: Dave Jackson

 

SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST


The feast of the birth of John the Baptist is important enough to dislodge the observance of the 12th Sunday of Ordinary time.  There are many ways to approach the Scriptures selected for this observance.

Writing in Catholic Women Preach, Elizabeth M Stewart identifies with an experience of Elizabeth in the passage from Luke’s Gospel.  “However she may have learned of her baby’s name must have been a strong, divine experience, for this experience becomes her conviction. When we know our truths deep down, especially when these truths come from the sacred space in our hearts where God speaks to us, we must speak."

And Elizabeth speaks up. She says no to her community when they insist on naming the baby after his father. His name is to be John. And they don’t believe her. Mute, Zechariah then writes the same name on a tablet and they are amazed.

The common sexism of this situation is not lost on women. Many of us have been in positions where we say aloud our ideas and are not heard, and then a man says the exact same thing and it's brilliant.

I wonder if Elizabeth was hurt. The community honored more the written words of a man (her husband’s) than the spoken words of a woman.”

For my part I have often wondered how and when John ended up in the desert. Luke describes his parents this way: Lk 1, 6, 7 “Both (Zechariah and Elizabeth) were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child.”  His father was a priest, actually ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem when the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Luke amplifies even further: Lk. 1: 8, 9 “Once when he was serving as priest in his divisions turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.” When John is born fear comes upon the neighbors and they discussed all these matters throughout the hill country of Judea.  The people took them to heart and said: Lk.1: 66 “What then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

What indeed “will this child be?” How and when did he end up in the desert? This is such a radical break from Jerusalem, from the temple, from his father as a priest. Was it something dramatic (like the appearance of an angel)? Similar to Jesus we have gaps in the story of John. Luke takes pains to situate the adult John in the time of the Roman Emperor, the governor of Judea, and the tetrarch of Galilee, religiously in the time of two high priests. He doesn’t tell us how or when John ended up in the desert.  He skips over this to tell us: Lk 3: 3 “ . . . the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” Surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Each of us was born to two parents. No doubt there are some birth stories that circulate about our birth. Even the best biographers are at a loss to present all the gaps in the lives of their subjects.  For us too there are gaps, gaps which perhaps we are selves cannot fill in. But through it all we too have “become” who we are.

John’s preaching attracted crowds.  Word of it even got to Jesus. Some thought John was the expected Messiah. The Gospels strain to inform us  “not so." Matthew complicates the matter when he puts the same words in the mouth of John, ( Mt. 3: 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”) and Jesus ( Mt. 4: 17 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”) But though their initial summary preaching is exactly the same, the further amplification of this initial preaching goes in very different directions.  The difference culminates when John (from prison according to Matthew) sends his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”     

For me there is puzzlement and disillusionment in the question that John sends with his disciples.  Jesus ministry was quite different than that of John.  In fact for me there appears to be a lack of continuity.  The footnote in the NABr attempts to clarify this: “Jesus identifies John as precisely the person John envisioned Jesus to be: the Elijah who prepares the way for the coming of the day of the Lord.” Not sure I clearly understand that. This I do understand: puzzlement and disillusionment have been part of my life.

So the birth of John and beyond offers us things to contemplate. We can reflect on sexism in our own life and our society. We too can reflect on our birth family, on the question that was posed or presumed at our birth “What then will this child be?” We can ponder what we have become and what we are becoming. When has the hand of the Lord been upon us? John evidently was separated from his family by choice.  What are we called to do about the immoral forced separation of children from their families?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Today’s Gospel passage takes up the Jesus story after Jesus has been involved in public engagement (calling disciples, exorcisms  and other miracles). Jesus follows a certain rhythm of public engagement followed by private withdrawal. The two parables chosen for this Sunday are the 2nd and 3rd of three parables.  The first parable, in this series of three, is the familiar Parable of the Sower which tells us: "some seed fell on the path . . . other seed fell on rocky ground . . . some seed fell among the thorns . . . and some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.” Only the 2nd and 3rd parables are compared to God’s kingdom.

 In her 2006 commentary on Mark (New Collegeville Bible Commentary, with imprimatur and nihil obstat), Marie Noonan Sabin writes:  “If we now read the three parables as a connected unit, we can see how they form a conversation about God’s kingdom.  The first parable presents a view of God’s kingdom that was typical of apocalyptic writing of the time--that is, it suggests that God had created many people in this world but not all of them will be saved or arrive at God’s kingdom.  Some are destined to be lost. The labored allegorical explanation that is given in 4: 14-20 . . . makes salvation the responsibility of the individual soul (or soil).  The soil (or soul), moreover, appears predestined.  There is no suggestion that the soil could change or that God’s grace might intervene.

The second and third parables, however present an entirely different point of view.  The second parable, in fact..functions as a direct, almost comic refutation of the first, suggesting that no matter what, God’s seed will grow and God’s harvest will come.  Its insistence on the unstoppable dynamism of God’s seed prepares the way for the third parable, in which God’s kingdom grows surprisingly out of common and ordinary seed.”

She continues: “Through the second parable, he (Jesus) reminds his listeners of the wisdom of not trying to control everything, but to let go and trust in God’s providence.  Through the third parable, he reminds them that God created every human being (not just a few special ones) for the fullness of life.”

In a different commentary, Binding the Strong Man, 1997, Ched Myers begins his reflection on this section of the Gospel with 4: 24, 25 “He also told them ‘Take care what you hear.  The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”” Myers quotes the scholar Joachim Jeremias on the second proverb.:  “Jeremias calls 4: 25 a pessimistic proverb, paraphrasing it: “That’s what life is like, unjust”.  Myers asks: “But what if both (proverbs) are popular adages that Mark is citing in order to repudiate?” Chapter 4: 24a  begins with an exhortation (warning)  to discern what one hears. Myers interprets the first proverb as meaning: “ . . . the only way to survive in the system is to play the game by the rules. This is then followed by an insistence that the system will never change: the ‘haves’ will get richer and the ‘have-nots’ will get poorer.”  Myers sees the exhortation to discern as a sharp warning, “Beware what you hear!” against the “conventional wisdom” (represented by the proverbs of 4: 24b-25), which assert the futility of trying to alter the ordering of power and privilege in the world.  Against this cynical realism Jesus offers two more seed similitudes, one calling for revolutionary patience (the growth of the kingdom will be neither obvious nor controllable, God’s word is a seed that will come to fruition no matter what.) (4: 26-29), the other for revolutionary vision and hope despite the odds (God’s word is a seed that is common and accessible, yet grows to be shade and shelter for all creatures)  (4: 30-32)."

 In 4: 35 Mark reports that Jesus invites his disciples to accompany him to cross “to the other side” of the Sea of Galilee.  Mark is making a major narrative transition, for this boat trip represents a new departure. (It is the first of several different boat trips across the Lake.)  In Mark’s Gospel the West side of the Sea of Galilee is Jewish territory it is from here they are leaving. .  The East side is pagan territory.  They will arrive to be confronted by a terrifying demon.  We now (Myers writes) “ . . . join Jesus on a new journey “to the other side” (4: 35).  This crossing will prove to be difficult, indeed one that almost takes our lives (4: 38).  And Jesus’ calming of the storm is no mere nature-miracle, rather it pivots the narrative into the beginning of a new campaign of symbolic action that will more deeply reveal the messianic way.

Source of reflection: David Jackson

TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The liturgical year this cycle is focused heavily on the Gospel of Mark. This 10th Sunday we return to Ordinary time and the Gospel is Mark 3: 20-35. Way back in January from the Jan 21st – Feb. 11 we also heard in Ordinary time Mark’s Gospel proclaimed.  On consecutive Sundays we heard from Mark 1: 14-20 up to Mk 1: 40-45. So this year we will hear nothing at Mass of Mark’s 2nd chapter. And on this return to Ordinary time for the 10th Sunday B we start with a bang.

My favorite commentary on Mark’s Gospel is titled Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers. Ched introduces today’s passage this way: “Jesus spins a parable so shocking that it not only polarizes the political climate, but provokes a rift with family and friends.  He compares himself to a thief struggling to break into the house of a “strong man,” whom he intends to bind and whose captives he intends to liberate.  And he claims that in this criminal venture, his accomplice is none other than the Holy Spirit!” p. 137.

For Mark two forces are at work to domesticate people.  The two pillars of authority are the clan (the family) and the state (the scribal investigators). Here Mark uses his “sandwich technique." (He begins with one story, interrupts it with another, and then returns to the original story.) So in this passage he begins with the family: Jesus’ family is concerned for his well being and the good name of the family. Can anyone not be shocked by these words: “He came home.  Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”  In the closing scene Jesus will redefine “family” as whoever does the will of God.

The middle of the “sandwich” has Jesus dealing with the official investigators from Jerusalem, the scribes.  Jesus has previously repudiated the authority of the scribes.  Now they attempt to demonize him.  This strategy to neutralize an opponent has historically taken on various forms.  During the cold war years it was done by referring to someone as a “Communist."  In our present age it is done by calling someone a “terrorist (Muslims), a rapist, criminal, a drug provider (immigrants), etc.”  The scribes said of Jesus “He is possessed by Beelzebul and by the Prince of demons he drives out demons." Jesus poses to them a riddle. The three times repeated words “cannot stand” speak of the inevitability of insurrection.  In these passages Jesus rejects the domesticating family and the dominating state.

The two pillars of authority are part of our experience as well, the clan (family) and state.  Around holidays we here of people having fears of conflict at their dinner table (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc).  Some families set a rule “no politics or religion."  Others find different ways to neutralize people of different persuasions. What can we learn from the way that Jesus deals with family and state?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

Sociological studies point out with hard facts that Christians in Western countries are giving up Sunday Mass.  The structure that the celebration of Mass has acquired over the centuries is no longer capable of nourishing the faith of people or bringing them to bond with the community of Jesus.

The surprising thing is that we are allowing the Mass to be lost to us without this fact causing hardly any reaction among us.  Isn’t the Eucharist the center of Christian life?  How can we remain passive without being able to take any action?  Why does the hierarchy remain silent and stuck?  Why don’t we believers express our concern and pain more forcefully?

The dislike for the Mass keeps growing even among those who unconditionally take part in it in a responsible manner.  It is the exemplary fidelity of these minorities that sustains communities, but can the Mass continue to survive based on preventive measures to assure compliance with the present rite?

Inevitably these questions must be asked:

Does not the church at the center need an experience of a livelier and culturally adapted supper of the Lord than the present liturgy provides?

Are we so sure that we are doing today what Jesus wished us to do in memory of him?

Is the liturgy we have been repeating for hundreds of years the best way to help believers live what Jesus lived in that unforgettable supper in which is concentrated, recapitulated and manifested what he lived and died for?

Is it what can most draw us to live as his disciples at the service of his project of the kingdom of God?

Today everything seems to be working against the reform of the Mass.  Yet reform seems more necessary than ever if the church wishes to live in vital contact with Jesus.  It will be a long journey.  The change will come about when the church feels an urgent need to remember Jesus and live by his Spirit.  For that, even now, it will be most responsible not to absent ourselves from Mass, but to contribute to the conversion to Jesus Christ.

Source of Reflection: Dave Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 


 
   

 

 

 
 
 
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