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

Blog Archives

Link

You take the high road

Seems that the only thing missing was…the proverbial “backpack.”  In the Gospel for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 6:7-13), Jesus is sending his apostles on a long journey.  For that reason, he is telling them what to take and what not to take.  Ultimately, the idea is that they should travel lightly.

What are the apostles supposed to take?  First, a walking stick.  Second, strapped up sandals.  Third, only one tunic.  Why, these three items?

First, some background is necessary. The “journey” in the Bible is meant to be more than just going from here to there.  The journey quite often refers to the “life experience.” You walk and often come upon crossroads.  You choose one over another based on your motives.  The tendency is to experience good things and bad things while on the chosen road.  Then you encounter other crossroads and the above pattern repeats itself.

A classical biblical example is the Exodus.  The Israelites were on a journey leaving servitude in Egypt for freedom in the promised land.  They had to cross the Sinai desert, and during that life experience the people were faced with many challenges. They accepted some and rejected others.  Much of the book of Exodus tells us about that journey. This is what a “life experience” is all about.  Facing challenges and rejecting or accepting them.

Secondly, it seems to me that the three items that the apostles were asked to take were not only practical but valuable as well.  For example, the walking stick not only aided walking but also was a defensive weapon against dangerous animals.  In addition, the strapped up sandals signified that one was always ready to  move ahead–if one had to.  Finally, the single tunic suggested light packing which meant the journey would be easier.

So, what can this Sunday Gospel mean to me?  A positive answer could be found if we look at the three items Jesus asked his followers to take and see them symbolically.  For their journey (our “life experience”) they were to take a walking stick, strapped up sandals, and one tunic.

The walking stick was used as an aid to walking, and as a possible weapon to defend oneself against possible dangers.  Assistance in stability and a defense from harm.  For example, what is it that keeps me stable in my life journey?  My faith?  My use of the Sacraments?  My prayer life?  What defense to I have when others reject Jesus’ message to them?

The strapped up sandal was used as a symbol of readiness to move on when the message of Jesus (as well as the messenger) of peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding  was not accepted. Instead of arguing, it was much better to move on to the next town.  One needs to have an open heart to listen and accept Jesus’ message.  If the messenger does not find an open heart, the messenger must be ready to move on.

The one tunic definitely indicates the notion of packing lightly. If you have ever taken an airplane trip, you would definitely understand the need of packing lightly.  For the follower of Jesus, this necessity of packing lightly means that one must have faith in God to help provide what is needed.  What is emphasized here is the belief that God will help us out, in spite of our fears.

Keep in mind that our life experience is a journey.  We will encounter challenges.  And if we take the items that Jesus  told his disciples to carry (our version of the “walking stick” “laced up sandals” and “one tunic”) then for certain we have chosen what is often called the “high road” because it is, most likely, the better road.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Link

Handling temptations

How many times have we been confronted with the question: “Should I do this…or not?”  The welfare of someone else would be affected, so the moral choice should be made very carefully.

I’m speaking of temptation which very often makes us ask the above question.  Keep in mind that temptation, in itself, is not a sin but rather an occasion to commit a sin.  The sin is in the choice made.

How does one deal with temptation?  The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent (Mark 1:12-15) gives us some ideas.  The brief gospel appears to be divided into two parts: Temptation and Belief.

In the first part (Mark 1:12-13), Jesus is driven to the desert (by the Holy Spirit) where he was tempted.  Unlike Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) where the temptations are specified, none are specified in Mark.  Simply put, Jesus is tempted but does not fall into temptation.

In the second part (Mark 1:14-15), Jesus is proclaiming the “Good News” in and around Galilee.  What part of the “Good News” was Jesus proclaiming?  “Repent” and “Believe,” two key issues which prepared the listeners to have an open heart to hear the fuller message.

Concerning “repentance” the Greek uses the word metanoeite which means “turning around.”  A change in behavior was what was being demanded by Jesus.  That “turning around” would make it possible to hear the whole of the Good News.  After the “turning around” what was asked was to “believe” in the rest of the Good News.

Now would be a good time to ask what the above Gospel reading would have to say to us.  This may seem weird, but I think that the underlying element of this gospel message was that of taking seriously our own Baptism.  Why?

The few verses before the above gospel reading speak of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11) and the role of the Holy Spirit  is specifically mentioned.  The Holy Spirit is the one who brings Jesus into the desert where Jesus is to overcome temptation.  Then Jesus goes into Galilee “proclaiming” the Good News.  It is fair to conclude that because of his baptism, Jesus was able to resist temptation and proclaim the Good News, because he had the support of the Holy Spirit.

So it is with us.  Because of our having been baptized, we are able to confront temptation with the support of the Holy Spirit.  If we consent to the temptation, repentance (Sacrament of Reconciliation) will help us open our hearts to listen to the Good News.

Our belief in the Good News will be conditioned by what our knowledge tells us about the Nicene Creed and our reading/hearing of the Holy Scriptures.  Remember that people will judge us according to our behavior. Then they will decide whether we are true disciples of Jesus…or not.

Link

Keys unlocking doors of hopelessness

Who of us has not had problems over the years?  When we planned for success, there was often failure.  No matter what we did, there was little if any success.  Failure seemed to become the regular outcome. In this and other kinds of similar situations, the result often appeared hopeless.  It was as if the doors of hopelessness were slamming shut all around us, so what we needed were keys of “hope” to unlock those doors.

And where could we find these keys?  The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Job 7:1-7 and Mark 11:29-39) would make good candidates.  In the reading from Job we note that he appears to be in a hopeless situation because of what happened to him earlier.  His children have died, he has no belongings, and he seems to be suffering from a rare disease. He cannot understand why God has abandoned him.  His condition appears hopeless.

In the Gospel reading (Mark 1:29-39), Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law thus manifesting his healing power.  Whereas in the reading from Job we find Job experiencing hopelessness, nevertheless we note that in the Gospel reading that Peter’s mother-in-law experiences hope in having been healed by Jesus.

There are three phrases in the Gospel that seem to play a significant part of the healing process.  (1)-“He came and took her by the hand…”  There was actual contact between Jesus and Peter’s mother in law.  (2)-“…lifted her up…”  Jesus helped her to rise. Reminder of the resurrection.  (3)-“Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.”

Regarding the first phrase, “taking her by the hand,” manifests the healing power of Jesus which is communicated by physical contact.  This suggests that action is necessary to bring about healing.  We heal others by doing something on their behalf.

Concerning the second phrase, “…he lifted her up,” we can assume that illness is not the only thing that makes us fall.  The spiritual illness of sin can make our spirits fall, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation can raise us up again.

It is interesting to note that later in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 5:41), Jesus raises a little girl from the dead using similar words as in the current reading.  “(He) took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,” which means “Little girl, get up.”  The first phrase had to do with touch, the second deals with lifting up.

The third phrase is: “…She began to serve them…” In the Greek the word is almost the same as for “deacon” who is  ordained principally to serve.  Every baptized Christian has the basic responsibility to serve others.

What can we learn from this Gospel?  Keeping the above three points in mind, we can reflect on them by trying to answer these questions.

TOUCH:  How are we touched by Jesus?  He touches us by virtue of the sacraments, esp. the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I touch others by virtue of my good example, namely, by doing things on their behalf.

LIFTING UP:  How seriously have I fallen into sin, especially if observed by others?  Constant images of the resurrection  should be the dominant image for me in terms of being lifted up.

SERVICE:  Is my sense of service geared principally for my benefit, or do I actually intend to serve others by my good example?

I strongly suggest that “touch,” “lift,” and “service” can function as serviceable keys of hope to unlock the doors of hopelessness that are all around us now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

acrament of

 

 

 

 

Link

Are you talking to me?

During the celebration of the Oscar awards ceremony, the most anticipated moment is not the gawking at the somewhat “de rigeur” dresses the actresses are wearing, but, rather, the  moment that the names of the winners are called.  “Is my name going to be called…or not?”

The first reading for for the second Sunday in Ordinary Time (I Samuel 3:3-19) and the Gospel (John 1:35-42) speak to us in terms of names and responses.

In the first reading from the book of Samuel, the boy hears his being name called and thinks it is his mentor Eli the elder. It was late at night.  So the boy runs to Eli and tells him that he heard his name called, and went to see what he wanted.  Eli said he didn’t call and to go back to sleep.

This call-response event occurred twice again, and finally Eli told Samuel that it was the Lord calling him.  The fourth and final time Samuel heard his name called, he responded “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist and two of his disciples saw Jesus walk by and  John blurts out, “Look, here is the ‘Lamb of God'”   The disciples started to follow Jesus.  Andrew, one of the disciples of John, found his brother Simon and told him that they had found the Messiah (=the one sent), and then took him to Jesus.

Jesus sized up Simon and told him, “You are Simon, son of John, from now on you will be called Cephas (=Peter).”  What we note in these two readings is the name being called and a response.

In the first reading Samuel hears his name, and when he realizes it is the Lord calling him, he responds, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  In the Gospel, Simon not only hears his name called by Jesus, but also his name is changed to Peter.  His response is one of discipleship which we see in the rest of the Gospels.

What does this mean for us?  First of all, the Lord is calling each of us by name to be of service to others, for example: justice, compassion, forgiveness, and other virtues of service.  It is up to us to recognize Jesus wherever we see him, likely in the poor, sick, homeless, and others in need.  The response of Samuel is crucial when our name is called: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is  listening.”  It is only by listening that we can hear the word.

Secondly, as in the Gospel Simon’s name was changed to Cephas (=Peter) which means “rock,” so our name is changed when we are baptized.  Because of Baptism, we officially called “disciple of Jesus” which means we continue his work on earth.

The fundamental question in this call-response dynamic seems to be: “Is there anything that is making me too deaf to hear the voice of the Lord?”  Attitude?  Temptation?

There is no response if I am not certain that I hear the voice of the Lord by asking  “Are you talking to me?”

 

Link

Why our “talent” should be useful.

There are people who say, “It sure would be nice if I could  play a musical instrument, or be a star athlete.  I would be famous.  But I don’t, so I’m not.  Why?”  These people feel cheated because they don’t have the skills that they hoped to have.

Somehow, it seems unfair to blame God for not giving us the gifts that we wanted.  St. Paul tells us that we have all received gifts. Different ones but gifts just the same.  In fact, no one has been cheated.  (I Cor. 12:4-11, esp. v.7).

In the Gospel for the thirty third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 25:14-30) Jesus speaks to his disciples, in the form of a parable, of a man who entrusts others with money loans.

A man about to go on a journey calls in his servants for a very specific task.  He is going to entrust them with some money so that they may gain more while he  is away.

To the first servant he gives 5 “talents”  (a”talent”in Jesus’ time was a piece of silver worth much money).  To the second servant he gives 2 “talents.”  To the third servant he gives one “talent.”  The request was to see if the servants would utilize the money well.

When the man returned, he asked the servants for an accounting.  The servant who received 5 “talents” wound up doubling them, and this made the owner happy, so he rewarded the servant.

The servant who received 2 “talents” also doubled them, so he received praise and a reward.  But the servant who received 1 “talent” buried it.  This servant was chastised because he did nothing with the “talent.”

So, what could this Gospel be saying to us?  First of all, the word “talent” refers not only to the coinage in the parable, but it can also refer  to the “gift” that God has given us.  When we use the word “talent” regarding ourselves, we refer to the gift that we have, for example. being  able play a musical instrument or being a successful athlete.

Secondly, we are all born with talent/s, to be distinguished from the limitations which we have.  The challenge is to be able to tell the difference between the two so that our limitations do not dominate our relationships with other people.  The talents (gifts) should do that.

For instance, people who come asking for advice may be more open to listening to us rather than to our non existent piano playing.  Yet, there could be some who would be better soothed by our piano playing than by our constant chatter.  Depends upon the gift.

In other words, we are all born with certain talents (gifts) AND limitations.  That is to say that there are things that we can do easily, and other things that would be virtually impossible to do well.

Practice makes perfect.  Whenever we are in contact with other people, we should display our talents (“gifts” such as justice, compassion, understanding, and the like) rather than our limitations (the lack of the above).

The servants who  were given 5 and 2 talents wound up doubling them.  They were praised and rewarded.  We who have received several “talents” (gifts) should be using them for the benefit of others, thus “doubling” them, thus bettering the situation.

The servant who received 1 “talent” buried it. For this he was punished. We who have received one”talent” (gift) should use it to benefit the welfare of others.  For this was the gift given.  Simply put, we should thank God for the gifts that he has given us whatever they are.

And that gratitude should contain the request to help us be very aware of the differences between limitations and gifts.  Because that knowledge will make our “talent” (gift) very useful

Link

Who is in charge?

Many people have trouble with authority figures.  Most likely, it is because they think that the authority figures have control over them since they are their “bosses.”

Recently, in the news there has been much coverage of how some men have “taken advantage” of women because these men have been the women’s “bosses.”  How does one deal with something like this grave disparity?

In the Gospel for the Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 23:1-12) , Jesus deals with authority figures and offers appropriate responses.  He does so by speaking of two significant issues.  The one internal, and the other external.

First, the internal.  Speaking to the crowds  and to his disciples, Jesus says regarding the Scribes and the Pharisees (authority figures during Jesus’ times), “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to help them.  All their works are performed to be seen.”

Jesus’ response to the present crowd and to his disciples regarding their “religious” bosses”?  The simple statement, “You are all brothers,” calls to mind the Genesis perception that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.  (Gen. 1:26)

The Greek word used here for “brother” is adelphos which refers directly to the family member. This means that among family members there should not be “bosses” who feel they have control over other members.  Jobs of responsibility, in which one gives orders and another accepts them, for the betterment of society—yes.  Jobs of control over others—no.

The internal aspect of this relationship (boss and worker) is the realization that we are all family, hence brother and sister to each other, so there should be the treatment of mutual dignity.  However, this internal aspect must be expressed in order for the relationship to be functional.  How does this happen?

Second, the external.  Jesus’ response to the internal expression of  this family relationship is to be of genuine service to others.  (Matt. 23-11)  The Greek word is diakonos which is a word that deals with concrete issues, for example, doing justice, being compassionate, expressing forgiveness, and the rest of Jesus’ teachings.  This is how members of God’s family should deal with each other.

In sum, we take seriously what Jesus alludes to in the Gospel.  Internally, we are all members of God’s family (including bosses/workers). This internal realization expresses itself externally by way of service.

The final statement in this Gospel is, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  What does it mean to be “humble”?  Fundamentally, it means being yourself, aware of your gifts and limitations.  No one has been cheated, we all have gifts.  We simply have to find out what they are. Limitations become clearer as time goes on.  So, humility means being aware of our gifts and employ those while dealing with others.  Humility also means being aware of our limitations and not allowing them to become more prominent than the gifts.

What we say and do tells people how humble we are.  When gifts are more evident than the limitations in our human relationships, then people will know that we are in charge.

 

 

 

Link

Where is your “wedding garment?”?

Have you ever been invited to a party which was celebrating something special?  Wedding? Birthday?  Anniversary?  And would there be any problem if you didn’t go?

The Gospel for the Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 22:1-14) shows Jesus dealing with a somewhat analogous situation.  Again he is speaking principally to the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Once more he teaches his lesson by way of a parable.

A “parable” is a story in which people, places, and things have another meaning.  For instance, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven IS LIKE a king who gave a wedding party for his son…”  Here the analogue begins.

Most likely, the “kingdom of heaven” refers to God’s law which deals with treating others with dignity, justice, compassion, understanding and forgiveness.  There is to be order in human relationships.  The “king” quite likely is God.  The “wedding feast” could easily refer to the completed work of Jesus on earth (passion, death, resurrection, examples, and teachings.  This continues the notion of the “kingdom of God”)  Obviously, the “Son” is Jesus.

The parable continues.  “The king sent his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come…”  The invited guests are the people of Israel.  The invitation was made as the Sinai covenant, where Moses was the spokesperson and, on behalf of God, told 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)

This is a bi-lateral covenant.  That is to say, if the people kept the covenant (primarily the ten commandments), then God would give them protection.  The decision was Israel’s whether to be God’s people or not.

The “servants” were the prophets.  In reading the Old Testament we know that Israel did not always choose to keep the requirements of the Sinai covenant.

So the king sent out another set of servants to invite the uninvited to the wedding feast.  Those who could, came.  But a rather curious event occurred at the feast itself.  The king spotted an individual without a wedding garment, something presupposed at an occasion like this.  But the fellow simply walked in off the streets and, presumably, had no occasion to obtain a wedding garment.  Why was the king so rough on him?

Remember that this is a parable, which means that items here represent something else.  Those listening to Jesus have a pretty good sense of Israel’s history, so it was not too difficult to establish the analogies.

Most likely, the “wedding garment” was the necessary form of identifying that someone wearing one belonged at the wedding feast.  And as Jesus began the parable by saying, “The kingdom of God is like a wedding feast…”  we suspect that the wedding garment  carries on the notion of compassion, justice, forgiveness, and respect for others as the Sinai covenant and Jesus’ life and teachings requested.

What the Gospel reading can teach us is that our Baptism made us disciples of Jesus which means that we have the obligation to proclaim his life and teachings to others.  Our Baptism is our invitation to the “wedding feast,” and we have the choice of either accepting it or not.  And if we accept the invitation, we must not forget our “wedding garment” which is the promotion of peace, justice, and compassion.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: