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

Archive for the ‘Religion-Bible’ Category

What about the “Free Lunch” issue?

Usually, when entrepreneurs  try to sell something, they have a “free lunch” for potential customers in order to make them subsequent buyers.  Presumably, the “free lunch” is the come-on.

In the Gospel for the feast of Corpus Christi  (Luke 9:11-19), Jesus wound up giving a “free lunch” to the people present, but it was not a come-on to buy anything, but, rather, to provide a significant lesson.  And the lesson was to understand the importance of bread for the nourishment of life.

The story went something like this.  Jesus was preaching to many people in a relatively deserted place.  His disciples realized that it was close to lunch time, so they asked Jesus to let them go in order to find food for themselves.

Instead, Jesus said to the disciples,  “Feed them yourselves.”  No doubt, they were surprised at this.  In effect, they said, “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish.”  According to the text there were several thousand people there.

But Jesus had a plan.  He had all the people sit down, and then asked for the loaves and fish.  Then he did something curious.  He blessed the bread, broke it, and had the disciples give the bread to the people.

What was curious was the similarity of the pattern of: bless-break-give the bread. Interestingly enough this tripartite pattern was used at the last supper.  “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, and gave to his disciples, and said, ‘Take and Eat.  This is my body.'” (Matthew 26:26)

Consequently, we can surmise that whenever the pattern of bless-break-give appears in the New Testament, we can legitimately assume that the pattern is within a Eucharistic content.  In fact, this pattern is used in the Mass today.  During the Offertory, the bread and wine are blessed.  During the Consecration,  the host is broken and part of it is placed in the chalice.  At Communion time, the Eucharist is given to those who come to receive.

One of the things that we can learn from the day’s Gospel is to appreciate the importance of the nourishment of bread.  When we are physically hungry, bread nourishes us.  When we are spiritually hungry the Eucharist can nourish us.  Temptation often makes us spiritually weak.  The Lord knows that we can use all he help that we can get, even if it means taking advantage of this “free lunch” every time that we go to Mass.

 

 

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That’s the “Spirit” !

In frequent conversations with his disciples, Jesus often spoke about the relationship between himself and his Father.  In today’s Gospel (John 14:23-29) Jesus speaks not only about his relationship with his Father, but also about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, “…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…”  This is most certainly a trinitarian reference.

However, it raises the question, “Who/what is the Holy Spirit?”  John’s Gospel was written in Greek, so the word for “spirit” is pneuma, which means “breath.”  The Old Testament equivalent for “breath, wind” is ruach.  A classic example of the real meaning of ruah besides “breath, wind” is “power.”

The citation is from the early Genesis account of creation.  “…the earth  was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (ruah) from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)  And creation took place.  What came from God was “power” that brought things into being.

Interestingly enough, there was a strong belief, at the time of Jesus, that professional healers often breathed on the sick individual with the understanding that “wellness” was transferred through the health of the healer to the sick individual through the process of breathing.

The task of the Spirit (power of God) was to teach disciples the message of Jesus, which they were primarily to do by example.  Jesus promoted justice, was compassionate, forgave others and was very understanding.  The Pentecost experience was the proving point.  And how was this teaching to be done?  Through belief in strength and encouragement coming from the Spirit.

What can we learn from today’s Gospel?  Most importantly, that we all receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Baptism.  Then through our belief in the strength and encouragement coming from the Spirit, which is actually the ruah (power) of God.  And with that encouragement and strength we are able to give good example to others in what we say and do.

The fact is that we become believable because we believe in what we do.  And that is that we can teach others by means of our example, because we have received the spirit (power) of God at Baptism.  With that in mind, supported by strength and encouragement, we can actually say… that’s the “Spirit” in action.

 

 

 

The truth about the “Witness” program

A  job given to the witness in a court trial is to bring out personal knowledge about the accused.  It may sway the jury one way or another.  A typical question may well be “Is the accused individual generally a good or bad person?” Personal knowledge is very important in witness evaluation.

In the Gospel for the Third Sunday in Advent (Luke 3:10-18), John the Baptist is a “witness” so has much to say about Jesus.  We can assume that John was well aware of much that Jesus was teaching and so was able to share it with others.  John was effectively preaching to a crowd .  I suspect that the crowd wanted to be baptized and thus “become” clean.

Different groups basically asked the same question: “What can I do?” John’s basic response was one of sharing with others.  He also pointed out that Tax collectors were told not to collect more than what is due.  Soldiers were told not to practice extortion nor to falsely accuse anyone.

Quite likely the people were moved by what John had said and wanted to be baptized by him so as to be thoroughly cleansed.  Then, John began to “witness” Jesus.  “Baptism” as a cleansing agent is what the people wanted, and John made a specific distinction between his baptism and that of Jesus.

John’s baptizing was with water only.  Jesus would baptize with the “Holy Spirit” and “fire.” No doubt a strange combination. Most likely, “fire” came from a later Tradition which referred it to Pentecost, thus making Jesus’ Baptism a plan of “action” fueled by the Holy Spirit.  (“Spirit” from the Hebrew [ruah] can also be translated as”power.”)

That is to say that for Jesus, the Baptism is basically a plan of action as exemplified by Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost who went out and preached Jesus’ message.  God’s Spirit (“power”) is what made this possible.

What does this mean ?  John was a witness testifying to the reality of Jesus’ teaching.  For example, justice, compassion, forgiveness among other things (summaries found in Matthew chapters 5-7).  Displaying our Baptismal responsibilities is a form of accepting Jesus’ teaching.

The fact is , if we display our Baptismal  responsibilities consistently, then others will notice and become aware that there is truth regarding our “witness” program.  That is to say, live what you believe.

 

One of the “good guys”

During Jesus’ day, the Scribes were generally antagonistic toward Jesus and his message.  However, in the Gospel for the Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time  (Mark 12:28-34), there is one scribe who appears to be open to Jesus and his cause.

He is open to what Jesus has to say, but wants some clarification about the Law, since the Scribes were strict interpreters of the Law.  One might guess that the Scribe had heard about Jesus and how he dealt with other people.  For example, healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, feeding the hungry, forgiveness of sins, and the list could go on.

All of this good work seems to have come from some sense of the law.  So the Scribe asked Jesus directly, perhaps to get a sense of priority of what Jesus thought important enough to heal in relationship to the Law.  So he asks,  “Which is the greatest of all the commandments?”

Instead of pointing out a list, Jesus goes to “motive.”  He begins by stating the all important Jewish prayer the “SHEMA.” (which means “hear”)  “Hear, O  Israel.  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”  (Deut. 6:4-5)  That is to say, totally.  For “loving” means “serving.”  Loving God totally is a long tradition for Israel.

After citing the SHEMA prayer, Jesus added “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There are no commandments greater than these.” In effect, keeping these two (love of God and neighbor) was the same as keeping all ten of the commandments.

Curiously enough, the Scribe agreed with Jesus and pointed out that this love of God and service to neighbor “…is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mk. 12:23b)  Wow!  That was really saying something about motive and perspective.  It even enabled Jesus to say to the Scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Keeping the Commandments is a key factor in being a “good guy.” If it can be summed up in “loving God and serving neighbor” as a way of keeping the Commandments, then we can also be called
“good guys”  which is what being an effective disciple of Jesus is all about.

All of the above actually comes from the crucial Sinai covenant.  What is so important about the Sinai covenant?  It firmly established the relationship between God and His people because the covenant was mutual.  That is, both God and the people had a responsibility to each other because the Sinai covenant was bi-lateral and conditional.  How so?

During Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Moses goes up to God on Mount Sinai who tells him what he is to say to the Israelites .  “Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples….”  (Exodus 19:5-6)  The people agreed to keep the covenant on those terms, (Cf. Ex. 19:7-8) thus making the covenant bi-lateral and conditional.

Keeping the Commandments has long been a challenge, no doubt because of the temptations not to keep them.  And as long as we keep them, what Jesus said to the Scribe can be said of us, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Keeping this is mind can actually make each of us a “good guy.”

 

 

 

Can you make “sense”?

If you had the chance of keeping your five senses (touch, taste, hear, see, smell) which one would it be?  Why?  If you would lose sight, would you not miss the magnificent landscapes, sunsets, sunrises, color of leaves, beautiful natural wonders?  What about losing hearing?  No more favorite music.  And the rest of the list could go on.

For me, it would be vision.  Not only would I not be able to see the beauties of nature, but also reading, visiting museums, and the like.  This would be depressing. This is probably why I feel a special sadness for Bartimaeus the blind in the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  (Mark 10:46-52)

A brief recount of the Gospel.  Jesus is leaving Jericho, and by the roadside, Bartimaeus the blind is begging.  He hears that it is Jesus passing by.  Having heard some things about Jesus, he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”  The more others tried to calm him down, the louder was his shout.

Jesus heard him and came and asked what he wanted.  He said, “Master, I want to see.”  Quite likely Jesus looked at him, paused, and said,”Go your way, your faith has saved you.”  Immediately, Bartimaeus’ vision was restored.

Doesn’t it seem strange that there is no touching or praying between Jesus and Bartimaeus as there was in other miracles of healing?  What do you think Jesus was trying to convey?  I suspect that Jesus wanted to point out the importance of faith.  It is Bartimaeus’ faith that was the basis for the miracle.  Why is this so important?

Quite likely, I suspect that faith is the basis for our judgements about people.  For example.  What do I really believe about Jesus?  Do I believe what the Gospels say about Jesus?  What about the Creed that I recite during Sunday Mass?  Do I truly believe what it says about the Holy Trinity?

Also, what do I believe about other people?  Do I believe what the book of Genesis say about all of us (Genesis 1:26-27), namely, that all of humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, no matter ethnic origin, place of birth, color of skin, economic status?  Our faith is telling us that there is equality among us all.

Bartimaeus was healed because he truly believed in Jesus.  Not only did he believe that Jesus could heal him but believed that he would heal him.  This miracle was an act of physical healing.

We can be healed from our spiritual blindness if we believe and do what our faith teaches us about Jesus and our fellow human beings.  Regarding Jesus, do we believe in what our faith tells us by way of the Bible and official church teaching?  Regarding our fellow human beings, do we believe and do what Jesus teaches in the Gospels, namely, treat all others with justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness.  Is there that feeling of equality in our interaction?

In fact, every time that we see again (spiritual insight) in terms of how we see and treat our fellow human beings, it is a miracle of God’s love.  This is really “making sense” of our spiritual insight.

 

 

 

 

What do you do with your money?

One of the people I feel most sorry for is the man who is asked to sell his belongings and follow Jesus.  (Mark 10:17-30)  He seems to be a good person, wants to be better, but couldn’t say “no” to his wealth.  Apparently, he had a good intention but a questionable motivation.

What do I mean by that?  Reflection on the Gospel reading might give us an answer.  A man runs up to Jesus, and asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?”  Simple question demands a simple answer.  Jesus responds, “…Keep the commandments.”  So he recites a few of them to reinforce the idea.

The man responds, ” Teacher, I have kept these for a long time.”  Clearly the man is not satisfied with the minimum, so he wants a greater challenge.  Jesus then gives him one.  It is in the response to this choice where the motivation is tested.

Jesus states, “You are lacking one thing.  Go, sell what you have and give to the poor…then come follow me.”  I strongly suspect that the man gave this some serious thought.  One could almost feel the silence.  Then the man’s motivation was prompted by his reaction.  The Gospel tells us:  “The man went away sad, for he had many possessions.”  He just couldn’t say “no” to his belongings.

The same choice is given to us in the sense that we are asked to share our gifts (and talents) with others.  This is our baptismal responsibility as professed disciples of Jesus.  Regarding talents, remember that no one has been cheated.  St. Paul brings this out clearly.  (I Cor. 12:4-11) All of us can do something that few others can.

The Lord does not expect everyone to be a St. Francis of Assissi giving away all one’s possessions.  But he does expect all of us to account for our gifts and talents.  The major question then becomes one of “motivation.” Why do we give or keep our gifts/talents?

We have to ask ourselves,”What do I do with my money after paying the bills?”  Do I buy some trivial items because I think they might be fun or interesting?  Or do I send some money to a missionary group taking care of very poor people in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, or people in these United States?

So much for the money.  But what about my gifts/talents?  Do I bother to share with others or not?  All of us have something to give. For example, singing, playing an instrument, being a good listener, an excellent reader for Mass readings, and the list could go on. Why I do it or not becomes the motivation.  Keep in mind that Jesus asks the difficult, but not the impossible.

The man in the Gospel was asked to do the difficult and not the impossible. But he was not ready. He had a faulty motivation in that he was too tied to his belongings. Because of our Baptism, we are also asked to do the difficult by sharing with others our gifts and talents.   Our question is constant.  What do I do with my money and/or gifts?Only my “motivation” can answer this, be it a “yes” (share it with others) or a “no” (keep it for myself.)

 

 

Dealing with “hyperbole”?

The Gospel for the 26th Sunday in ordinary time (Mark 9:38-48) tells us that Jesus discussed a two-fold message with his disciples, namely, working in Jesus’ name and reward and punishment in the after life.

The first part of the message was “working in Jesus’ name.”  To “work in someone’s name” means that the work was done with the implied authority of that person.

The disciple John raises the problem. “Teacher, someone is driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.”  Note the key words in this complaint:  “you” and “us.”

In John’s eyes these words of necessity belong together.  But from Jesus’ point of view, one cancels out the us, because as he says in the Gospel reading, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40)  So he tells the disciples to leave the man alone.

In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who provides the “authority” and not the institution.  Whoever is not against Jesus is, by supposition, for him.

The second part of Jesus’ message to his disciples is “reward and punishment in the afterlife.”  It was becoming clear to the disciples that being a follower of Jesus could well result in suffering, betrayal and death as was true in the case of Jesus himself.  So, Jesus explained to his disciples that what you do in this life will affect what will happen in the after life.

If you do good things in this life, good things will happen to you in the next life.  For example, “…Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”  (Mark 9:41)

Jesus was serious in the sense of good behavior especially for anyone who would be preaching in his name.  Thus when he spoke of bad things his followers might do, he emphasized the point by speaking in hyperbole.  This means that in order to get a point across one emphasizes it by virtue of exaggeration.  What does this mean?

We often do it ourselves.  For instance, when I tell someone, “I told you a million times not to do that.”  In fact, it may have been only two or three time, but by exaggerating the number there is the likelihood the person will be more easily convinced.

The three body parts that Jesus discusses are: hand, foot, and eye.  If the hand or foot is a cause of sin, cut it off.  If the eye is a cause of sin, pluck it out.  These are hyperbolic ways of dealing with sins.  The hand is often an instrument of sin (e.g. stealing).  The feet are means of transport to get you to commit the sin.  And the eye provides the source of temptation.

What is it that the Gospel reading can tell us?  First of all, because of our Baptism, we are disciples of Jesus and have the responsibility to speak and act in his name.  So our words and actions are very important in order for others to make a judgement about us.

Secondly, our speech and behavior in this life will definitely affect us in the next life.  By speaking hyperbolically, Jesus most likely convinced his listeners that hands, feet, and eyes would  be more effective by being of service to others rather than by giving them bad example.  Being of service to others would probably mean being hyperbolic in our own self judgement.  After all, we claim do things in Jesus’ name.

 

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