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

Archive for January, 2016

Following Mom’s advice

Mothers generally have the reputation of being rather insightful without the help of any outside influence.  Somehow, they just seem to know what is going on without being told.  It seems rather spooky, especially if this insight occurs more than once.  Could be a gut feeling.  Maybe that condition could have been genetically caused, or perhaps it comes from being a good mother.  My mom was like that.

In the gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 2:1-11) Mary, Jesus and some of his disciples are invited to a wedding feast at Cana.  Utilizing the maternal insight, Mary notices that the wine is nearly gone–and the fiesta is far from being over. No one told her anything.  So, what does she do?  She goes over to her son Jesus and simply tells him, “They have no wine.”  Apparently, Jesus will do something about it–so the mother hopes.

Jesus says in reply, “So what?”  I suspect that Mary paused,  looked at her son, gave a wry smile, walked over and told the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now there must have been some kind of nonverbal communication between Jesus and Mary.  Somehow, as a dutiful and loving son, Jesus knew that he had to do something, but what?  According to John’s gospel, the time for Jesus’ public ministry had not yet arrived.

So, Jesus decided to advance his ministerial moment in time and performed a miracle by changing water into wine.  All because he was following mom’s advise to do something about the problematic situation.  After this miracle, not only did this new wine taste better than the previous wine, but also the disciples began to take Jesus seriously.

Now, what does this mean?  Well, it could mean several things, but let me suggest a few.  In addition to making very good wine and definitely impressing his disciples, Jesus’ miracle did something else.  It made him respond positively to his mother’s implied recommendation.  There was no demand, imposition, or obligation to do anything.  Just an observation that someone was in trouble and needed help.  Consequently, Jesus responded quickly.

The lesson for us?  Whenever someone is in trouble and needs help, our “mother” (in our case, the “Church”) lets us know about this because of our Baptismal responsibilities to be of service to others.  All the years spent growing up and maturing, have taught us how to behave with/for others through studying the life of Jesus, particularly his sense of justice, together with compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.

In other words, whenever and wherever we respond to the needs of others, we are taking mom’s (the “Church”) advice to help out the best way that we can.  That, for us is the miracle.



Have you been “born again”?

Recently, the church celebrated the feast of the baptism of Jesus.  (Luke 3:15-22).  This feast ends the Christmas season, namely:  Advent (preparing for the future coming of Jesus); Christmas (his physical arrival); Epiphany (which means manifestation.)  Manifestation to outsiders here indicates the magi from the East, namely non-Jews.  And in Luke’s gospel the baptism of Jesus also celebrates the beginning of his public ministry.

In order to understand the feast, a little background is necessary.  John is baptizing many people in the river Jordan.  Many folk seem to think that he is the Messiah because of his impressive activities.  He says that he is not the Messiah but begins to speak of Jesus who turns out to be the actual Messiah.

A major difference between John and Jesus is the manner by which each baptizes.  John’s baptism is by water and Jesus’ is by the Holy Spirit and fire. What does this difference mean?

John’s baptism by water means that there is an admission of sin which is why John calls for penance before baptism.  This form of baptism seems to be external. Water symbolizes the cleansing agent

Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire quite likely has the reference to Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came down upon some of the disciples in the form of fire.  (Acts 2:1-4)  This “baptism” gave the recipients the energy and motivation to proclaim to others the message of Jesus.  This form of baptism seems to be internal, in terms of the motivation provided.  And each time that justice, compassion, forgiveness, is performed this process can be called  being “born again.”

And what was the message of Jesus?  A careful reading of the gospels would show us that this new life of baptism makes possible Jesus’ ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and all the other virtues Jesus manifested to others.  This kind of baptism could be considered internal in the sense that the Holy Spirit provides motivation for relating to others as Jesus did.

A second major theme of the day’s gospel is the very notion of Jesus’ own baptism.  While Jesus was in the water praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove (significant symbol), and a voice from above said, “You are my Son, the Beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”  That is to say, that at Jesus’ baptism the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit established a presence.

What does this mean?  I would suspect that as Jesus was about to begin his public ministry after his baptism,  he was accompanied by the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It seems that at our own baptism the same thing happens to us.

This can be an important lesson for us today. When we are baptized two things happen.  First, we all becomes members of God’s family (Gen. 1:27).  Second, since all the other people are our brothers and sisters, we have a serious responsibility to protect them.  We do this by realizing that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are accompanying us while we visibly proclaim Jesus’ message to others, namely that of peace, justice, forgiveness, and compassion.

Family membership with God and Trinitarian accompaniment during our relationship with others, will remind us that every thought, gesture, or action that we do to our brothers and sisters will be a way of letting us know that our baptism actually means something.  It’s a way of being “born again.”

A Family Affair

Parents of families well know the challenge of raising boys, especially as they approach the teen years.  Basically, it is a problem of mutual misunderstanding between parent and child.  Each has an idea that explains the reality in question, and through mutual dialogue and understanding the problem is eventually resolved.

In the Gospel for the feast of the Holy Family (Luke 2:41-52), Joseph and Mary have a bit of trouble with the twelve year old Jesus. They are on their way home to Nazareth from Jerusalem after celebrating the Paschal feast.  While travelling in caravan they assume that Jesus is with them– until they find out that he is not.

This absence becomes a bit of concern as it would for any parent.  “Where is that child?” they undoubtedly ask themselves.  Not finding him in the caravan means that they return to Jerusalem and ultimately encounter him in the Temple,  listening to the teachers and asking them questions.  The parents want answers–and quickly.

The dialogue between Jesus and Mary seems odd in terms of explaining why the child was not with his mother when they left Jerusalem.  Looking for explanations, Mary asks “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been in great distress looking for you.”  To which Jesus answers “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be about my father’s interests?  (Lk. 2:48-49.  The Greek has the word “tois” which means “things”)

What are the interests (“things”) of the Father?  Keep in mind that Jesus is   talking about his father–in heaven. This is an important theological point for Luke.  God has made a covenant with Israel that is bilateral and conditional. (Exodus 19:1-6)  That is, God and Israel commit themselves to  each other.  “I will be your God and you will be my people IF you keep my commandments.”

So the commandments (the “Law”)  were the binding link in Israel’s relationship with God.  Jesus was to facilitate that relationship by manifesting his dealing with the Law.  In order to see this, we should notice that in spite of the struggle that Jesus had with the Scribes and Pharisees concerning the Law (intent vs. letter of), Jesus early in his Sermon on the Mount stated “Do not  think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.”  (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus’ method of fulfillment was to underscore that the Law was more internal than external.  His life of compassion, justice, understanding, and forgiveness was an example of this.  His life experience was an example to us.

But one thing was important.  That is, that we belong to several families and family members have responsibilities to one another, namely, parents, children, siblings, and relatives.

The families to which we belong are: 1)-The family of God to which we belong via Baptism; 2)-The natural family of parents, children, siblings, and relatives; and 3)-The human family based on the belief that we are all created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27).

This means that we are obligated to respond to the needs of members of our natural and world families because of our membership in God’s family.  After all, it was Jesus our brother who showed us that our responsibility to family members is, above all, a family affair.



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