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

Archive for October, 2015

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Seeing in the dark

I think it would be an enlightening experience to reflect seriously on our five senses.  Namely: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting.  We take these personal actions as being our most significant contact with and knowledge of people and of the world.

Needless to say, we take the use of these senses for granted.  But let me ask you this.  Which one of these senses would cause you the most grief if you lost it?  Well, think about it.  I did, and decided that the loss of vision would affect me the most.  Why?

I would not be able to appreciate art. Unable to see movies.   Incapable of grasping the beauty of nature around me.  And above all, the inability of seeing the faces of friends.  So, I really feel sorry for the blind.

In the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:46-52), we notice a rather curious encounter between Jesus and a blind man named Bartimaeus.  Although he can’t see him, Bartimaeus “knows” that Jesus is nearby and shouts at the top of his voice, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”  Much of the crowd around him thinks he is making too much noise, so they attempt to quiet him down.  But that only makes Bartimaeus shout even more loudly, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

Jesus is now very well aware of his presence, and asks him, “What do you want for me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus replies, “Master, I want to see.”  Now comes the curious part of this encounter.  Jesus knows that the blind man is requesting a miracle, but but he is also aware that this would be a good opportunity to teach others that there is another form of “vision.”

So, Jesus decides to point out subtly that there are two levels of “seeing:”  The “exterior” and the “interior”.  The “exterior” level is the actual vision itself where one can see other people.  This is the level for which Bartimaeus  asks for the miracle.

There is also the “interior” level which is the level of faith which Jesus thinks is important to have.  Jesus cures the exterior level primarily because Bartimaeus has the interior level–that of faith.  He believes that Jesus can cure him which is why his approach to Jesus is less than subtle.

Remember, Jesus says to Bartimaeus in reference to the miracle: “Your faith has saved you.”  Bartimaeus had the faith that Jesus could and would cure him.  However, keep in mind that the Lord can perform as many miracles as he wants, when we wants,  and how he wants.  The advantage of faith is it gives us the hope to focus on a friend helping a friend.  Namely, Jesus helping those who believe he can do wonders for them.

Though there are many lessons that one can learn from the Gospel, I would like to offer a point of reflection.  Above all, from the time of our Baptism we have received the power and the possibility to strengthen and deepen our faith.  The power comes from the grace of having received the Holy Spirit.  The possibility comes from listening carefully to the ideas of Sacred Scripture, and from attending and understanding classes on the dominant concepts of our belief system.

Since there is much darkness in the world today, via ignorance and purposeful misunderstanding, it would be FAITH that would give us the light and enable us to “see” in the  that darkness.

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Seeking a better life.

It goes without saying that most of us want to “improve” our lives, in spite of the downside that many of us often feel.  How do we do it?  But, to gain clarity in the question, we have to figure out what we mean by “improvement.”  Is it making more money?  Is it having a prestigious job?  Do I need more possessions?

The fact is that we have to know what part of us needs “improvement.”  The inside or the outside?  What God and I see (inside) or what others see (outside)?  We are actually speaking of two levels of “improvement.”  The first level is “outside.”  What do other people think about me? How do they think that I could improve? The second level is “inside.”  What do God and I think about my motivations while dealing with others?

The first level of improvement (outside) can be a relatively selfish one, because it is very important that people have a good impression of me no matter how I gain it. It is important that I look good to others.  The second level of improvement (inside) is the relatively generous one, because only God and myself know my motivations when I am dealing with others.

In the Gospel reading for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:17-27), we have an example of someone who is forced to choose between the two levels of “improvement.”  A well to do man approaches Jesus and asks, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?”  Jesus looks at him and notices that this is a person of wealth who appears to be looking for something more than what he has in order to gain salvation.

So Jesus proposes the dual level approach to see which one the man will choose.  “You should keep the commandments.”  This is the the minimal level for being considered a “good person” in the Christian scheme of things. How does one appear before others?  The man responds,”But I have kept these from my youth.”  Now, the bar of discipleship has been raised.  Jesus is aware that the man is serious about his search for eternal life, so he probes the issue of motivation which is the interior reason for outward action.

Jesus then says, “Only one thing is missing.  Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, then follow me.”  I feel certain that this statement by Jesus was more than the man, with the good will, was able to handle.  What to do?  What to do?  After some thought, the man left somewhat disappointed, quite likely because he felt that Jesus was asking too much.  As the Gospel tells us, the man had many possessions.  No doubt he was unwilling to accept Jesus’ raising the bar of discipleship.

We can learn many things from the Gospel, but I would like to suggest these reflections.  All of us are frequently challenged by the question “Am I doing enough to be called a true disciple of Jesus?”  Keeping the commandments is the minimal level of being called a disciple of Jesus.  But there are many who, like the man in the Gospel, realize that that is not enough.

And it was for this reason that Jesus told the wealthy man that something was missing in his life.  The man was told to sell what he had, give the money to the poor and then follow Jesus.  But he couldn’t do it because he had too many possessions and he couldn’t say “no” to the now.  Jesus does not want all of us to be a Francis of Assisi, but he does want us all to aim higher than just keeping the commandments in our journey to eternal life.

This is why motivation is so important, because it provides the “why?” for the “what?” that we do in dealing with others.  And quite precisely not everyone will be aware of our motivation–that is, except Jesus.  And if we keep this in mind, we will no doubt be seeking a “better” life, namely, by becoming a more effective disciple of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

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Two…or One?

The decade of the sixties was a contentious time.  Ideological polarization was so great that you could almost bump into it.  The Vietnam war, the Second Vatican Council, the Delano grape strike.  These and other similar issues had different levels of interpretation.  And the list could go on….

During that time, one of the more effective ways of expressing an opinion was by way of the “banner.”  You know, place a pithy comment on a decorated sign which can be carried or posted on a wall.

One “banner” that made a deep impression on me, and showed promise at ameliorating the current polarization was: FRIENDSHIP DOUBLES JOY AND DIVIDES GRIEF.  “Friendship” seemed to have that power of doubling your joy and sharing your grief.  There was much of both during that period.  But in order to have an effective friendship, it was necessary that the friendship contain two items: Dialogue and Mutual Service.

Why dialogue?  Well, one has only to look at the word itself to get an idea.  The word “dialogue” comes from the Greek which means “conversation between two.”  And true dialogue is possible only when there is “listening” and “speaking.”  Of the two procedures, “listening” is the more important.  Why?

Because when one listens, one begins to understand the context and background of the other person’s remarks.  If there is only speaking, then you have nothing more than monologue.  It becomes a session of one trying to outshout the other.

Why mutual service?  Because when one understands the context and background of the other, there is often the willingness to be of help, such as doubling joy and dividing grief.

In the Gospel for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:2-12), we note that one of the most common forms of friendship is marriage.  The Pharisees (as is often the case) were testing Jesus.  What did he think about divorce?  Moses gave some laws that made divorce rather easy to obtain.  But Jesus had other plans.  His idea was not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.  (Matthew 5:17)

His way of “fulfillment” was to affirm the unity and permanency of marriage (Mark 10: 6-9).  The unity and permanency of marriage would be possible because of the friendship that existed between husband and wife. Within  the friendship there would be dialogue and mutual service.

What can we learn from the Gospel reading?  Actually, many things.  But I would like to suggest one.  Namely, that we have to remember the importance of friendship.  True friendship depends on dialogue and mutual service.  Some people have the vocation of marriage.  Others do not.  But all of us, without exception, need friends.  We can make this a special prayer–that the Lord help us to find a good friend.

An interesting corollary to this would be to remember to have Jesus as a friend.  The same realities of dialogue (in-depth prayer) and mutual service (take seriously Jesus’ example of how he treated others) would apply.

It seems to me that a greater awareness of our genuine friendship with Jesus and with the spouse (or other person) can actually help us double our joy and divide our grief.  In such friendships we no longer have to worry about dealing with ideological polarities as two people, but as one–because we have a friend.

 

 

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