A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for February, 2015

Further benefits of water

It’s a curious thing about water.  It can be harmful and life saving.  We have heard of its harmful effects during tsunamis and floods.  In the Bible we have the  example of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-7).  Some of its positive effects are noted in the Bible, for example one of the key theological beliefs for Israel was the belief that the Lord saved them from the Egyptians when crossing the sea during the Exodus (Exodus 14:15-31).

The Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent (Mark 1:12-15) is very short but carries a significant message.  It seems to deal with two themes: challenge and victory.  And in Mark’s Gospel this section is preceded by Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:9-11).  So it appears that the themes  of challenge and victory are met by the saving waters of Jesus’ baptism.

The “challenge” can be seen, first of all, in the locus of Jesus’ experience–the desert.  In the Bible the desert is often seen as a place of testing, most likely a temptation.  Secondly, it is Satan who provides the temptations.  Thirdly, and this is interesting, Jesus was with the wild animals.  Why?

Many scholars see this in the sense that Jesus is presented as the new Adam.  Before the Fall there was a harmony within creation, and Jesus’ resurrection would make possible the opportunity to bring about that harmony once again.  The serpent in Genesis (3:1-23) who provided the temptation parallels Satan tempting Jesus in the desert.  Jesus’ resurrection would bring about a new possibility for harmony, a new “garden of Eden.”

The “victory” is presented in terms of Jesus proclaiming the good news of  God, which is that the the time for fulfillment has come beginning with Jesus’ ministry and the dominion of God is at hand.  The way to bring about the fulfillment is through repentance and belief in the Gospel.  According to Mark,  Jesus began his ministry through the reception of the saving waters of Baptism, which gave him the motivation and power to proclaim his message, which was one of justice, compassion, undersanding, forgiveness.  This was the Gospel he shared with his disciples.

What probable lessons can we learn from the Gospel reading (Mark 1:12-15)?  First of all, in Mark’s gospel Jesus’ baptism occurs before the above themes of challenge and victory.  We should try to be more reflective of our own Baptism, namely, its saving waters and the responsibilities it puts on us in terms of how we should treat others.

Secondly, at our Baptism we are filled with the Holy Spirit (“creative power of God”) which means that we have the ability to effectively challenge Satan and his multiple temptations.

Thirdly, when we received ashes on Ash Wednesday we were told to “repent” and “believe” in the Gospel.  Lent would be a good time to repent by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (“Confession”). Belief in the Gospel is not just an intellectual process.  It really means do the Gospel by repeating Jesus’ actions of compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.

Lent has come.  We will be challenged by many temptations.  We can meet those challenges effectively by repenting and believing (“doing”) the Gospel.  But above all we must constantly keep in mind that possible victory comes to us through the saving waters of Baptism which gives us the courage and strength to act.  Truly we can say that water does have a further benefit–reminding us of our Baptism.

















What time is it?

How often have we heard questions regarding time?  From youngsters traveling cross country by car asking “Are we there yet,” to people in a hurry often  asking for the time.  It isn’t difficult to gain the impression that time has become a major source of concern to  many.

In fact, the concern for time has become so dominant that we appear to panic if we haven’t completed the tasks expected of us at a given moment.  This attitude often results in frustration–or something worse.

Curiously enough, the early Greeks had a way of dealing with this issue.  They spoke about two kinds of time.  “Chronos” and “Kairos.”  “Chronos” (from which we get the word chronology) has to do with clock time.  “Kairos” means the critical moment, the time when something special takes place.  So, from the understanding of two different types of time, we can better understand the biblical message.

In two of the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Job 7:1-7 and Mark 1:29-39) we note the occurrence of the above stated differences.  In the reading from Job we are left with the impression that for the most part, life has its many “moments of misery.”  This is because Job seems to be functioning primarily out of “chronos.”  All life seems to be the way Job presents it.  But it isn’t.

In the Gospel reading from Mark, we notice that Jesus is combining both “chronos” and “kairos” with the latter superseding the former in importance.  It is the focus of his attention.  Regarding “chronos,” Jesus leaves the synagogue and enters Peter’s house.  He approaches Peter’s sick mother-in-law, touches her hand and raises her up.  (Anticipation of the resurrection?)

Yet those moments of “chronos” become moments of “kairos.”  Why?  Because they are critical moments when something special takes place.  That is to say that the special moments become expressions of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus heals not only Peter’s mother-in-law but also other people.  Jesus also casts out demons.  Both gestures are part of his ministry.  To legitimate these “kairos” moments, arising out of “chronos” moments, Jesus prayed.  This he did because prayer reminded him of his closeness to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

What can we learn from these readings?  First of all, we should not see our lives as being totally dominated by “chronos.”  This would mean that we would be dependent on outside forces, and our activity would primarily be a reaction to what is happening around us.  We would have little or no control of events which, quite likely, can lead to anger, depression, and the like.

Secondly, we should let our lives be totally dominated by “kairos.”  That is to say, our actions would be special moments when something significant occurs, namely, our ministry to others:  Justice; Compassion; Understanding; Forgiveness. We would be responding to the inside forces of baptismal convictions and prayers.  We would choose to be of service, thereby making “kairos” moments out of “chronos” moments.  Consequently we would be more  in control over events.

Our Baptism reminds us not only to be of service to others, but also of the constant awareness of  God’s presence with us–a continuity of the Immanuel (Heb.  “God with us”) promise made at Christmas.  It is time for us to make “kairos” a significant factor in our lives.





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