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

Archive for April, 2019

“Mary, Mary. quite contrary…”

In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalen is the first person to become aware of Jesus’ resurrection.

Why Mary Magdalen?  Over the years she has had the reputation of being a sinful woman.  How she received that reputation, I don’t know, but the only thing that the Gospels say about her background is that “she had seven devils cast out.”  (Luke 8:2) This phrase could mean many things.

Anyway, she had the reputation of being a sinner.  Yet, she was a close follower of Jesus, one of his female friends (Luke 8:1-3).  She was such a good friend that she was present at Jesus’ crucifixion (John 19:25). With him until the end of his life.

However, Mary was also present at the beginning of Jesus’ resurrected life.  Based on that experience she went and told the other disciples what she had seen and heard.

In spite of her reputation, Mary had become a close friend of Jesus, being present at the end of his earthly life as well as the beginning of his resurrected life.  This “sandwich” style of presence makes Mary a special type of person.

What do these reflections tell us? I suspect that they tell us many things, but I would like to share with you a couple of ideas that make particularly good sense.  Both have to do with Mary Magdalen and sinfulness.

First, Mary Magdalen, considered a sinful woman, was such a good friend of Jesus that she was present for the beginning and end of his key moments.  This “sinfulness” was definitely not an obstacle to a friendship with Jesus.  If we are honest with ourselves, we also are truly sinners.  As with Mary Magdalen so with us. Our state of sinfulness is not an obstacle to a close relationship with Jesus, but we must have that state of willingness to be his friend. Sorrowfulness is what counts.

Second, since Mary Magdalen was present for Jesus’ “death and resurrection” we can take notice that all of us sinners experience a “death and resurrection.”  Every time that we have problems or difficulties which seem insoluble, that is the “passion/death.”  But our belief in the friendship with Jesus gives us hope for a “resurrection.”

This is to say, that all of us often experience problems/difficulties which seem like a “passion and death.”  And yet, because of our friendship with Jesus there is always the hope for a “resurrection.”

Mary Magdalen, considered a sinful woman, was visibly present for Jesus’ “passion, death, and resurrection,” because she was a faithful friend.  So, we sinners also experience difficult problems, which seem like “a passion/death,” but because of our willing friendship with Jesus we have high hope for a “resurrection,” that is, a workable solution.

As the nursery rhyme goes, “Mary, Mary quite contrary…” the contrary may well have to do here with the change from sinfulness to friendship.  The change in us from sinfulness to friendship may be a model from Mary Magdalen given to us.  This is reason enough to shout ALLELUIA.

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Sorry about that…

When you say you are “sorry,” people assume that you have done something which is considered sinful.  It seems that much depends upon the value system under which one operates to call any situation sinful.

In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32), we note that the Scribes and Pharisees are fully aware that Jesus associates with sinners and also eats with them.  I wonder if that value system was one that wanted to keep  class distinction separate so that Jesus would not “soil” himself by associating with sinners.

At any rate, when Jesus heard this complaint from the Scribes and Pharisees, he spoke of the parable about the Prodigal Son to show what sinfulness really was.  Many of you know the story.  A father has two sons.  The younger son wants his share of the belongings that belong to him.  He takes off, spends the money unwisely, and soon a famine strikes that land, and the son is left without anything.

He hires himself out for the sake of survival, and lands a job feeding swine.  He realizes what he has done to his father, and that the servants at his father’s house have it better than he does.  He expresses regret at what he has done, and decides to go home to his father and asks to be a servant at his father’s house.

The father sees him coming from a distance, goes out to greet him, and tells his servants to prepare a feast.  The older brother is angered by the father’s reaction toward his younger sibling, and refuses to enter the house.  The father tells him that his brother was “lost” but now has been “found.”  Because his brother has been “found”, the older brother should rejoice.

What is this Gospel telling us?   First, that when we sin, we are “lost,” but when we repent, we are”found.”  Second, that God, much like the father in the parable, loves us even at the moment of our sinfulness.  In fact, there is no sin so great that cannot be forgiven by a loving and merciful God.  I’m reminded that the prophet Hosea touches on this subject when he says, speaking about the Israelites, “I will heal their disloyalty.  I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.”  (Hosea 14.4)  The key word is “freely” because  it assures us of God’s gratuitous love.

Our lesson is this.  God loves us even when we are sinning, but, as the younger son does in the parable, first there has to be some kind of repentance on our part.  It is God’s gratuitous love that makes repentance possible.  And that repentance for us would be the sacrament of Confession.  During this time of Lent it would be a good thing to take advantage of that repentance.  So that when we do harm to anyone, it would be easier to say “Sorry about that,” and then repent.

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