Weekday Readings (Cycle 2), Weeks 1-11
The Mass Readings, following the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Bible texts are from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version).
These have already appeared on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests, in the homily resources section edited by Fr Pat Rogers, Dublin, Ireland. Many of the Gospel based reflections are from Fr. Martin Hogan, edited here with his permission.
Hannah's grief at being childless; her husband tries to comfort her
There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"
Jesus begins his mission and calls his first disciples
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.
The Scriptures begin where all of us begin, within the warmth of family life, open to the gradual development of hopes and possibilities. The Bible always manifests a healthy respect for the normal ways of human nature. The story of the prophet Samuel's vocation began with his devout parents, as shown in today's reading. The Bible shows a healthy respect for the normal ways of human nature. No spirituality that disdains the bonds of family can claim to be truly Biblical. No spirituality that disdains the bonds of flesh and family can properly claim to be Biblical. Still, there are times when God calls people to leave behind what is known and familiar, and launch out on a new vocation. (Remember Abraham's call, to "Leave your country and your father's house, and go the land that I will show you." So it was for those working fishermen, Simon and Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus called to leave their nets and their families, to travel the countryside with him, spreading his message of love and reconciliation.
Today's Gospel leads us into a prayerful spirit. If at times Jesus may seem only vaguely present to us, he is still nearby, calling us to follow him, not in order to deprive us of ordinary human love, but to enrich and transform it. In the providence of God, transformations take place: Those Galilean fishermen were never the same again. And if to us Jesus says, "Follow me," and we keep trying to respond generously, our life's fulfilment will be safe in his guiding hands.
Any encounter between two or more people has potential to be a lifegiving moment. The meeting that Peter, Andrew, James and John had with Jesus was such a life-giving moment for those four fishermen, the life-giving power of God was present to them in the person of Jesus. That power of God present in Jesus was the power of love, a love that promised forgiveness, healing, acceptance, a love that gave them a mission in life. The kind of encounter that Peter, Andrew, James and John had with Jesus is offered to each one of us. Jesus is not just a figure of history, belonging to the past. He is the living Lord, still present in his church and in the world, constantly calling out to us and meeting with us in the course of our day to day lives, as he met with Simon, Andrew, James and John while they were going about their work as fishermen.
The Lord meets with us and he speaks to us through the Sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, through the Scriptures, through other people, through nature and from deep within our own hearts. Each time the Lord meets with us we will first hear the good news of God's unconditional love for us, "the kingdom of God is close at hand." We will also hear the call to mission, the call to be good news for others, to be the Lord's body in the world, his feet, his hands, his mouth, his eyes, his ears, "I will make you into fishers of people." This morning we pray for the grace to be as open and response to the Lord's presence and call as Peter, Andrew, James and John were.
Eli promises an answer to Hannah's prayer; and she gives birth to a son
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: "O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a Nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head."
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine." But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time." Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." And she said, "Let your servant find favour in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time, Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the Lord."
Jesus teaches with authority and drives out unclean spirits. People are spellbound
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God."
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
As the people were spellbound about Jesus, we too are invited to be impressed by his "new teaching" and his unique "spirit of authority." He brought new life to those who were sitting in darkness, in need of a vision.
In the reading, Hannah shows how to behave with dignity in time of trouble. It was under stress and under a barrage of doubt from others, that she gives her patient response to the high priest who accused her of being drunk. "I am an unhappy woman. I have had drunk neither wine nor liquor; I am only pouring out my troubles to the Lord." What else could Eli reply to such anguished sincerity but "May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
This delighted mother decides to consecrate her new child as a Nazirite. John would be dedicated to the Lord in a special way and manifest that consecration by never drinking wine and strong drink, never shaving the beard nor cutting the hair on his head.
As the Old Testament often describes people's heroism — the long, persevering wait of Hannah for a child; the exacting demands of the Nazirite; Israel's flight from Egypt and trek through the desert towards the promised land — so these struggles are compressed into the drama of Jesus driving out devils and speaking with authority. Today's texts summon us to respond to the deep, creative grace at the root of our existence; to wait patiently and prayerfully; to pour out our soul to God; to be ready for personal struggles with evil through moments of "nazirite" simplicity; to realize that Jesus has experienced all our trials in his own person so that in him we arrive at our true glory and honour as children of God.
There are two quite different activities of Jesus in today's gospel. The first is the activity of healing. Jesus heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law in the house of Simon and Andrew by taking her by the hand and lifting her up, and then goes on to heal many sick people who were brought to the door of the house. This healing activity of Jesus is very public and is greatly appreciated by everyone; the whole town came crowding around the door, according to Mark. The second activity of Jesus is much more private. In the morning, long before dawn, he goes out by himself to a lonely place to pray.
Whereas his healing the sick was much appreciated by all, this second activity of going off by himself to pray is not appreciated by others. Even those closest to him didn't think much of it. Peter, the leading disciple, rebukes Jesus, "Everybody is looking for you," as much as to say, "Why are you wasting time out here on your own." Yet, Jesus knew that the source of his life-giving work was his relationship with God, which finds important expression in his prayer. The activity of prayer was as important to him as his work of healing. Prayer is as important for us as it was for Jesus, indeed, even more important. We need the Lord if we are to live as he desires us to live and if we are to share in some way in the Lord's work. In prayer we acknowledge and give expression to our dependence on the Lord; we open ourselves to the Lord's life-giving presence so as to be channels of that presence to others.
From the sanctuary God calls Samuel, and sends him as a prophet
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
Jesus cures Peter's mother-in-law, withdraws to pray, then preaches the good news
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
The young Samuel ran anxiously to the old priest and said, "Here I am. You called me!" This happened three times, and each time old Eli responded patiently, to calm the anxious youth: "I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep." The Hebrew sounds quiet and mellow, like a whispering play on words: Lo' kerati beni; shub shahab. Finally, old priest advises the young man to reply if God should call again, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." In such a simple way Samuel became a prophet who changed the course of Israel's history. We may be personally afraid that God might lead us to an intense decision and the subsequent struggles entailed in priesthood or the religious life; or even of the vocation to lifelong marriage. Samuel's tranquil home life at the sanctuary at Shiloh is about to be disrupted by the summons placed on him to come forward as God's prophet.
There are some echoes of the disruptive vocation of a prophet in today's gospel. After preaching in the synagogue, Jesus retires quietly to Peter's home in Capernaum and finds Peter's mother-in-law in bed with a fever. How normal it was for Jesus to notice her illness; yet he is never present just as a spectator. He went over to her and grasped her hand and helped her up, "and the fever left her." Then, noticing the needs of her guests, the recovering mother-in-law offers them hospitality. Then the crowds gather, the sick are laid at the doorstep, and mentally deranged people are freed of the demon within them.
All this may have been too much even for Our Lord. Early the next morning, he went off to a lonely place where he was absorbed in prayer. But word had gone out and Jesus was tracked down by Simon and his companions who said, "Everyone is looking for you." Life can never be the same again. He had to move on to the neighbouring villages to preach. "for that is what I have come to do." Like Samuel, Jesus was sent to do God's work. And God expects us also to be faithful to our calling; to take decisions that can be reached only by prayer and reflection. In our own wat, we are never too distant from Jesus' own experience of life.
Despite having the Ark of the Covenant, Israel loses the battle
And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies." So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.
When the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, "Gods have come into the camp." They also said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight."
So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Jesus cures the leper, who then tells everyone about it
A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
In his story about the healing of the leper, Mark stresses the supremacy of faith. Even today our heart must be open to new graces and most of all to God's personal presence. The externals of religion, even sacred dogmas and the holiest objects, are meant to facilitate our interior communion with the Lord. Our hearts, when silence prevails and distraction is kept at bay, are the true Ark of the Covenant and place where miracles happen. God sometimes allows the externals of religion on which we rely seemingly to collapse. The Ark will be captured by the enemy. The tried and true of religious practice suddenly seems inadequate to our needs and leaves us lonely and helpless. We must traverse this desert to find Jesus.
Discerning true religion from false religiosity is not easy. The common folk are hardly to blame for rallying around traditional religious centres, the Ark of the Covenant and the miraculous power of God. Who then is to blame? It seems that religious leaders carry the burden of helping to keep religion pure. Earlier in First Samuel, in a section not mentioned in the liturgy, Eli's sons Hophni and Phinehas were guilty of serious wrongdoing. They were reserving the best part of the people's sacrifices for themselves and offering to God only the remnants; there were other scandalous actions. Religious leaders bear the brunt of blame if superstition and selfishness are rampant among the people, or if the people cannot distinguish true from false forms of religion.
Each one of us has religious influence in one way or another: as parent or teacher, as priest or minister, as neighbour or friend. In all of these capacities we influence others and are responsible for the moral attitude and strength of faith in others. The Scriptures question us: Do I use my position of authority to dominate others or to acquire personal benefits or to further personal career? Do I seek not to be the centre of attention, so that my words and actions lead others to prayer and recollection in God's presence?
Often in the gospels Jesus heals people by means of his word. In healing the leper, however, Jesus not only spoke to him, but he touched him. In touching the leper, Jesus did what no one else would have done. For obvious reasons, people kept lepers at a distance, and lepers were expected to keep their distance from others. Jesus, however, kept no one at a distance, not even lepers. No one was beyond his reach; no one was untouchable. He came to touch our lives in a very tangible way, all of our lives, regardless of our condition. The leper wasn't sure whether Jesus wanted to heal him, as is clear from his opening words to Jesus, "If you want to, you can cure me." Jesus showed he wanted to heal him, by touching him. Jesus wants to touch all of our lives, because he wants to bring life to us all. Nothing we do or fail to do, no circumstance in which we find ourselves, need place us beyond his reach. As Paul says "nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus." The Lord touches our lives, where we are, as we are. All we need is something of the leper's initiative in approaching Jesus.
When the people demand a king, Samuel appoints one, but warns of the dangers
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your locks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day."
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles." When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to their voice and set a king over them." Samuel then said to the people of Israel, "Each of you return home."
A crowd gathers at Jesus' home in Capernaum; he heals a paralytic and forgives his sins.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" – he said to the paralytic – "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
Our texts today focus on the theme of authority. In Samuel's days, Israel's very existence was threatened by the Philistines. Since the traditional tribal structure inherited from Moses was unable to meet the united threat of the Philistines, the Israelites felt they could not survive as separated tribes, loosely united under prophet-priests at various religious sanctuaries. Ambiguously, God directs Samuel to name a king for Israel. Now as in the past God works through human means within imperfect situations. He had shaped Israel's past in the land of the Pharaohs, then by the chastening years in the desert and in their drive to wrestle control of the Promised Land from the Canaanite kings. God is not bound to any single form of government; so Samuel is told to anoint their first king.
Any political system, not excepting Israel's, was bound to lead to excesses in the wielding of power and prestige, and therefore to new forms of oppression. Yet in God's providence the monarchy offered hope and promise in the beginning. It was an open invitation to enter into a phase of peace. The ideal monarchy would give an example to guide us and our society, whether the state or the church.
The Gospel episode shows both the authority of Jesus and the creative helpfulness of the friends of the sick man. Without the paralytic the healthy friends would not have gotten so close to Jesus, and without his friends the paralytic was unable to get anywhere. Then Jesus shows full authority as a healer of body and spirit: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk again'? To enter into God's own joy there must be forgiveness — not only from Jesus, but also from each of us to each other. We can cross the bridge of change and support one another in changing times, patient and forgiving, capable of rallying round, in a bond of love and hope.
The image of the four men carrying the paralytic to Jesus is a very graphic one. They were so determined to get him to Jesus that they opened a hole in the roof above Jesus when their way through the door was blocked because of the crowd. They wanted to get their friend to Jesus because they recognized Jesus as the source of health and life. They were taking their friend to a fuller life. The image of the four men carrying their friend towards the source of life puts me in mind of the many people who are trying to do the same for those still buried under the rubble in Haiti. This morning we remember those who may still be alive under the rubble and we remember those who are working so hard to get to them and to bring them to life and safety. There are times when we can do very little for ourselves and we are completely dependant on others for health, for life, for safety. There are other times when we might find ourselves in the role of the four friends in the gospel, in a position to help others to their feet, to bring others from darkness to light, from death to life. We are called to carry each other's burdens. When we are faithful to that calling we align ourselves with Jesus who said, "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest." The Lord looks to us to help him to carry the burdens of others and to bring them to a greater fullness of life.
Saul is anointed by Samuel as king of Israel, at God's inspiration
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, "Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys." He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.
When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, "Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people." Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, "Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?" Samuel answered Saul, "I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind.
Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, "The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around. Now this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you ruler over his heritage."
Jesus calls a tax collector to be a disciple, and dines with him
Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
We have just heard Mark's account of the call of Levi, the tax collector. In the later gospel of Matthew, this man is given the name Matthew rather than Levi. Some of you may be familiar with the wonderful painting of the call of Matthew by Caravaggio. It is one of my favourite paintings. Levi or Matthew would have seemed an unlikely enough candidate to be a disciple of Jesus. Tax collectors or toll collectors were considered to be very mercenary, with good reason. Yet, in this morning's gospel, Levi got us from his customs house and followed Jesus. He did a complete about turn, going from one way of life to a completely different way of life. There was something about the presence and the word of Jesus, 'Follow me', which brought about a complete transformation in Levi's life. The presence and the word of the Lord continue to have the same transforming power among us today. The most unlikely things can happen in our own lives when we open ourselves fully to the power of the Lord's presence and word. Our relationship with the risen Lord always has the potential to be a truly transforming experience, moving us towards an ever more generous way of life.
Each person is called to exercise leadership of one kind or another, by the grace of God. We are meant to inspire other people by our kindness and our love for truth and justice, the leadership qualities to which God calls us. Today's readings describing the vocations of king Saul and of the apostle Matthew, invite us to reflect on the types of people God calls and the different kinds of leadership they provide.
In king Saul we see the most likely person, and in Matthew the least likely person, called into positions of responsibility. Saul was a tall young man, we are told, standing head and shoulders above his people, royal in stature. By contrast Matthew, as a tax collector under the hated Roman occupiers, was an outcast, barred from synagogue and Temple. He was barred from all contact, even at table, with law-abiding fellow-Jews. It is not that Jesus chooses only the riff-raff for religious leadership, but rather that He whose word penetrates between soul and spirit, sees the value and potential in people whom others too quickly discard. Others may see in the tax-man Matthew only a half-pagan, friendly with the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognizes him as a man of compassionate heart, optimistic and kind to others. He was also aware of Matthew's faults, and in explaining his choice to the grumbling Pharisees, said, "I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous."
Of all the norms for leadership, the most basic is a desire to share our gifts by leading. Leaders ought to recognize and support the good qualities in others. After calling Matthew into his little circle, Jesus also dines in Matthew's home with his friends and colleagues. Matthew's training is already underway, friendship is being deepened, confidence being established. What a model of leadership to be followed by all in the Church, but above all by the bishops and the pope.
For disobeying the prophet Samuel, Saul is deposed as king
Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night." He replied, "Speak." Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, 'Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.' Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?" Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction,to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal."
And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king."
The joy and novelty of the Messianic age. New wine into new wineskins!
Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."
At first sight, today's OT text raises too many problems to be helpful for today. The command to destroy the Amalekites is both baffling and scandalous. By Samuel's command, Saul exterminated this neighbouring tribe that was hostile towards Israel. We are aghast when Saul is deposed as king for not destroying every last one of the Amalekites. By contrast, the problem in the gospel is not so large, yet we are rather surprised that Jesus' disciples do not appear as devout as those of John the Baptist and the Pharisees.
Rather than trying to justify the idea of crushing our enemies, we may more profitably reflect on the Lord's answer about fasting. Jesus does not let himself be trapped into a theological debate about the purpose of fasting but appeals to everyday imagery and asks: "What normal person calls for fasting so long as the bride and bridegroom are celebrating their marriage?" Of course, he is referring to his own presence and message, as a honeymoon period for mankind.
Our Lord's appeal to common sense seems to be paralleled in pope Francis' attitude to resolving moral issues of today. It has has a healthy, levelling effect, for are invited to share in the discussion. After a time when open dialogue was fiercely repressed in the Catholic Church, it seems clear that the less bound by tradition a person is, the fewer the barriers to finding a workable, honest answer, in line with the mercy of Christ. Following the lead of Jesus, pope Francis suggests that unless theology can reflect the accumulated wisdom of good, decent people, that theology is suspect. Theology and common sense must support each other — on the basis that God is one and God's wisdom is lifegiving. We do not worship a remote God, who calls for impossible things. Good theology bears in mind that God created the universe and saw "how good it was" (Gen 1:12). We must hope and pray that into the future the Church's teaching will be enriched and kept realistic by the honestly shared views of married couples.
When Jesus calls himself the "bridegroom," it may seem to us a strange way of speaking. Yet the prophets in the Old Testament often called God the bridegroom and spoke of God's people, Israel, as the bride. It is as if God had married this particular people, for the sake of all the other nations. In using this bridegroom image, Jesus is saying that he is the the divine bridegroom who comes to join himself not just to the people of Israel, but to people of every nation who hear the gospel and respond to it. St Paul also uses marital language in this way. He writes that even when we are faithless, God remains faithful. The Lord is our faithful spouse, who keeps faith with us even when we are unfaithful to him. That is not meant to make us complacent, but it does give us confidence in his love and mercy whenever we fail. It also challenges us to be as faithful to Christ as he is to us. The new wine of his love is always looking for new wine-skins; we need to keep on renewing our relationship with him, in response to his loving presence and call.
Wine is nearly always associated with a wedding feast, as is clear from the marriage feast of Cana. Having spoken of himself as the bridegroom, Jesus goes on to liken his presence to that of new wine. The new wine of the Lord's loving presence and life-giving activity calls for new wine-skins. The Lord's love is a grace but it also makes demands on us, calling on us to keep renewing our lives so that they are worthy receptacles for his love. New wine, fresh skins. We have to keep shedding our old skin and grow new skin. We can never fully settle for where we are.
In Bethlehem Samuel anoints David (Jesse's youngest son) as king
The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the Lord said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you." Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" He said, "Peaceably! I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice." And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord." But the Lord sid to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here." He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Jesus defends eating on the Sabbath, for Sabbath was made for our good
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the Bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for human beings, and not humans for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."
The Scriptures alert us to possibilities that lie hidden within the most ordinary events. Routine encounters with the family and friends we regularly meet, may seem humdrum to us. Yet they can hold the key to our peace and holiness in God's sight. It was not David's older, stronger brothers that God chose; it was the young lad himself, because of what God saw in him. For "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."
Some issues about life-enhancement are raised by today's readings – questions clearly echoed in some of pope Francis' homilies: Do I put my life actively at the service of others, seeking to serve them in the ways that modern people need, if they are to hear the Gospel? Am I appreciative of the potential in other people, and of my own, despite my limitations? Am I minister of life, delighting in all of its expressions, more appreciative than judgmental? How well do I incarnate the mercy principle stated by Jesus, that "The Sabbath was made for humans, and not humans for the Sabbath."? Such questions were urgently raised by pope Francis, promoting a Gospel of Joy, and they invite us (priests especially) to ponder, are we ministering life?
Jesus is in dispute with the Pharisees as to what people can and cannot do on the Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath, as you know is a Saturday, today. For the Pharisees, picking ears of corn and crushing them to eat them constituted work and was forbidden on the Sabbath. For Jesus, however, it was always legitimate to satisfy one's physical hunger on the Sabbath, especially for people like himself and his disciples who were never sure where the next meal was going to come from. The laws of the Pharisees about the Sabbath were not Jesus' master or his Lord. Rather, Jesus declares that he himself is Lord of the Sabbath. Sunday is now the Christian Sabbath. As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus tells us in today's gospel that any work which serves the basic needs of others is always legitimate on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not so much the day when we do no work at all as the day when we try to do God's work, the work of responding to the needs of others and the call they make on us.
David kills Goliath, and saves his people
David said to Saul, "Let no one's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth." David said, "The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine." So Saul said to David, "Go, and may the Lord be with you!"
Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd's bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field." But David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hand."
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David's hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
Good can be done on the Sabbath; Jesus heals a withered hand
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The fight to the death between David and Goliath is told in detail, and the Gospel tells of a conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, about what is proper on the Sabbath. He is "deeply grieved" by their insistence that not even a work of healing should be allowed on the day of the Lord. It invites us to think about the rights and wrongs of conflict in our lives and in our world. The more militaristic a nation is, the more do its citizens need to form a mature view on the nature of war and the limits to be placed on weapons of destruction.
David is absolutely convinced about the outcome of the proposed single-handed conflict: "The Lord will keep me safe from the Philistine's hands!" The question of whether or when warfare is legitimate is a thorny one, to which we cannot find a definitive answer in the Bible, since it offers such a variety of viewpoints on the matter. What it does say, unambiguously, is that we should live our lives responsibly, with justice and compassion. This can mean speaking out against evil and injustice, even at some cost to ourselves.
Jesus could have side-stepped the issue of how to keep the Sabbath, by healing the sick man in private, but he chose to confront the issue squarely and publicly, performing the cure in full view of all. In the debate about what is proper on the Sabbath, he puts his view very clearly: it is a day for life-giving activities above all. He stresses the contrast between "good" deeds that preserve life, and "evil" deeds, that destroy it. For God is Lord of life, not death; of peace, not violence; of justice, not oppression.
We need to remember our Lord's warning that "those who take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52) and his explicit ruling out of violence, even in self-defence (Mt 5:39). These ideals make it very hard for us to justify militaristic adventures for the expansion of one's kingdom or ideas, since our Christian calling is not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) and give one's life in this service.
Jesus does good on the Sabbath; he does God's work on the Sabbath by healing the withered hand of a man in the synagogue. Yet, because of the good that Jesus did, some religious and political leaders immediately began to plot together to destroy Jesus. This is only the beginning of the third chapter of Mark's gospel, and, yet, it points ahead to the end of the gospel story. It was because Jesus was faithful to doing God's work that he was crucified. Jesus' life shows very clearly that the good that we do does not always bring a reward; sometimes it can bring the opposite of a reward. It is a strange paradox, but one that is often true to life, that good can sometimes generate evil. The goodness of some brings out evil in others. Yet Jesus was faithful to the good work that God gave him to do, regardless of how negatively it was received by some. Jesus teaches us that goodness is its own reward. We try to be faithful to what God wants of us, because it is what God wants of us and not because of any benefit it might bring us. We remain faithful to our calling to share in Jesus' work of bringing healing and life to others, even though it may, at times, bring us suffering.
Saul's jealousy threatens David, but Jonathan helps to reconcile them
As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they made merry, "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands." Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, "They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?" So Saul eyed David from that day on.
Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with all his servants about killing David. But Saul's son Jonathan took great delight in David. Jonathan told David, "My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you." Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, "The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?" Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, "As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death." So Jonathan called David and related all these things to him. Jonathan then brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
Throngs around Jesus. Unclean spirits cry out in his presence
Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, "You are the Son of God!" But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Despite the temporary reconciliation between Saul and David, and despite the enthusiasm of the crowd pressing on Jesus, peace is threatened on all sides. The brief pact between Saul and David fails to remove Saul's jealousy and irrational fear. The suspicion of the Pharisees is fanned to hatred by the crowd's enthusiasm for Jesus. As men and women of faith, our life is a pilgrimage to a destiny beyond the horizons of this world. The One who shapes our life invites us to that heaven where Jesus has gone ahead, "beyond the veil," a destiny beyond unaided human ability to reach. We may want a personal bond with Jesus and yet be embarrassed by his demands, or feel some tedium about religious practice. Similarly we experience tensions and paradox in our social relationships. While feeling truly close to our relatives and friends, might there be some jealousy or resentment still hidden in our hearts?
It is good to recognize the tensions inherent in our life and in our faith. Putting our trust in God we can accept as true what we cannot prove or see; we rely on faith that the goal of life lies beyond the present earthly existence. Tension and conflict can lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves, even to mature wisdom. The Scriptures advise us to discern carefully. Some (like King Saul) who seem strong, well-established and effective may prove to be only an illusory passing shadow. What seems to be the blind excitement of the crowd may be the sound instinct of faith. Only when we have gone to God behind the veil will we know the whole truth, even as we are known by him.
Today we see a picture of Jesus with people coming to him, not just from Judea and Galilee, but from much further afield, from Idumea, Transjordania, Tyre and Sidon. This great and diverse crowd had one thing in common; they were all afflicted in some way. The gospel reading says, "all who were afflicted in any way were crowding forward to touch him." A little earlier Mark has Jesus had describe himself as a healer who came not for the healthy but for the sick, for those broken in body, mind or spirit. We all need the doctor from time to time, some less often than others. However, we all need to go to the Lord in our brokenness all of the time. We all belong in that great throng of humanity that made their way to Jesus in the gospel, even though we do not always recognize ourselves as belonging to that great crowd. We all need the Lord, because what we receive from him cannot be received from any merely natural source. That is why he calls on us to seek him, to ask of him, to knock on his door, or in the image of today's gospel, to touch him. We keep reaching out to touch him in our brokenness because we have a need deep within us that only he can satisfy. One of the privileged ways we touch the Lord is in the Eucharist, which has been aptly described as broken bread for a broken people.
David refrains from killing Saul, and gains the moral high ground
He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you."" Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's cloak. Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul's cloak. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord's anointed." So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack aul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way.
Afterwards David also rose up and went out of the cave and called after Saul, "My lord the king!" When Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. David said to Saul, "Why do you listen to the words of those who say, 'David seeks to do you harm'? This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, 'I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord's anointed.' See, my father, see the corner of your cloak in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the corner of your cloak, and did not kill you, you may know for certain that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the ancient proverb says, 'Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness'; but my hand shall not be against you. Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A single flea? May the Lord therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you. May he see to it, and plead my cause, and vindicate me against you."
When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, "Is this your voice, my son David?" Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, "You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. Today you have explained how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. Now I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand."
On a mountain, Jesus commissions the twelve to preach the good news
Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
By going up the mountain to summon his chosen colleagues, Jesus evokes memories of Moses who went up Mount Sinai to receive God's law (Ex 19). But the Gospel will go well beyond keeping the letter of the law. The deeper law of God, written in our hearts, helps us interpret David's clemency toward Saul. The letter of the law would allow David, in self-defense, to attack Saul and even kill him. We learn of David's reverence for his king when he shouts out, "I will not raise a hand against the Lord's anointed." Then Saul, realizing David's magnanimity, "wept aloud." There is a sense of "nobless oblige " in this story, of doing the noble thing for its own sake..
Jesus goes up the mountain to summon his chosen apostles. Often in the Bible mountains are privileged places for prayer and for temples and sanctuaries. Christian mystics have also loved the idea of ascending the mountain of God — to be often alone in prayer, to find our security in the Lord. Not that Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before calling the twelve. The mountain scene calls us to be alone in prayer, alone with God's sovereign majesty over our lives. This spirit raises our life to a new level, our old covenant new and vibrant with the presence of Jesus.
Jesus calls twelve from among the larger group of disciples. There were two elements to the Lord's call. Firstly, he called these twelve to be his companions, to be with him, and, secondly, he called them to be sent out to preach and to heal, to share in his own work. They would first need to be with him before they could go out on his behalf. They needed to get to know the Lord of the work before they could take up the work of the Lord. The pattern that applies to the twelve in our gospel reading applies to all of us, to some degree or another. We too are called to share in the Lord's work, to witness to him, to bring his gospel into the world by our lives. Yet, prior to that, we are called to become the Lord's companions, to be with him. One of the primary ways we spend time with the Lord is prayer. In prayer we attune ourselves to the Lord's presence to us, we become present to him as he is to us. That is true of all prayer, whether it is the public prayer of the church, like the Eucharist, or our own personal and private prayer. Our prayerful presence with the Lord creates space for the Lord to work in and through us. The gospel reading suggests that we need to grow in our relationship with the Lord by spending time with him, before we can go forth in his name, as his ambassadors.
David's grief at the death of Saul and Jonathan
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. On the third day, a man came from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and did obeisance. David said to him, "Where have you come from?" He said to him, "I have escaped from the camp of Israel." David said to him, "How did things go? Tell me!" He answered, "The army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died."
Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stonger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
His relatives think that Jesus is out of his mind
Then Jesus went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind."
Today's readings prompt some insights into our union with Jesus. Our Lord was so caught up in the needs and sorrows of his fellow human beings, according to Mark, that he has no time even to eat. His family thought him no longer responsible for himself and planned to "take him in charge." They actually think him "out of his mind." The two sides of Jesus' personality become very visible here: first, he is neglecting his health and must be forced to take some rest and food. On the other hand, he is so overcome by the sight of human misery and need that he expends himself totally to bring us help.
At the base of our Lord's existence was enormous love and overwhelming compassion. We can just hear Jesus echoing the words of David's dirge: "I grieve for you, my brother. Most dear have you been to me; more precious my love for you, than love for women." The last line may strike us as awkward. Yet it must be said that Jesus freely renounced the possibility of marriage so that he might give himself to each person more completely even than man and woman give themselves to each other in marriage.
Mark suggests strongly that a lot of people did not really understand Jesus during his public ministry. One of the questions that keeps coming up in one form or another is, "Who then is this?" In today's extremely short gospel reading, it is clear that even Jesus' relatives do not understand Jesus or what he is about. When Jesus' workload prevents him from eating properly, Mark tells us that his relatives set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind. They would go on to learn on that occasion that Jesus was not open to being taken charge of by his relatives. The only one who was in charge of Jesus was God. Jesus was doing God's work, and part of that work was to form a new family, a family of disciples, of brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of God. Jesus' own natural family, his relatives, would have to come to terms with that. We are all part of that new family; we are all the fruit of Jesus' work, a work that people struggled hard to understand at the time. For us who are part of this new family, the question, "Who then is this?" remains a relevant question. We are always struggling to know more fully the Son of God whose brothers and sisters we have become.
David is anointed and establishes Jerusalem as capital of both north and south, of Israel and Judah
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel." So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, "You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back" – thinking, "David cannot come in here." Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of avid. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
Jesus does not cast out devils by the power of Satan. Only sins against the Spirit cannot be forgiven
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" – for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."
Unity, its high cost and its great reward, is a central value in today’s readings. As told in the book of Samuel, David creates a single kingdom out of the rival and jealous groups, the people of southern Judah and those of northern Israel. Finally, Jesus summarizes our thinking in a very practical way, "A household, divided according to loyalties, cannot survive." We need to remember that David came from the southern tribe of Judah, an area seldom to the forefront of biblical attention up to this point; Mosaic leadership and tradition had been concentrated in the northern region of Israel. To build unity required a strong theological accord as well as political expertise. These are especially relevant values to reflect on during church unity week.
In the gospel Jesus emphasises loyalty to the Holy Spirit and an unswerving rejection of Satan. In fact, he solemnly warns of the one sin which "will never be forgiven," namely blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We need to reverence the Holy Spirit and let ourselves see the goodness in others; and so judging with sympathy and compassion, be able to forgive others as they forgive us, so as to forge with them a reunited Church.
Guided by the Holy Spirit we will not attribute the good deeds of others to Satan even if their actions threaten us in some way and seem difficult to harmonize with some of our own ideas. The first reading provides hints about this pursuit of peace. When the elders of the northern tribes come to David to sue for peace in the brief civil war that flared up after Saul’s death, their appeal was to the common bonds of humanity, "Here we are, your own flesh and bone." They cut through all kinds of arguments, justifications and disputations, to the basic union of the family of faith. In turn, David chose for the capital of the united kingdom a neutral city where each group would be equally represented. Our union with others should be based on genuine mutual accomodation, not on a demand for unilateral surrender. Christian unity is sought not for selfish advantage or the dominance of one polity over another, but for the shared benefit of all.
David dances before the ark being brought into Jerusalem. The celebration ends with a sacred banquet
It was told King David, "The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God." So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, an with the sound of the trumpet.
They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
Turning to the crowd, Jesus declares:"whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister"
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
Fidelity to the will of God, says today’s gospel, makes us family to Jesus. He identified the true disciple, not by by rank or position, talents or financial resources — only by fidelity in the day by day routine of life. Jesus asks us to undertake all we do as though in the context of a worldwide family, with my neighbour as sister or brother, mother or father to me.
This story seems to show Jesus as superceding traditional family ties in favour of the new unity of his followers with him. When his mother and others of his relatives come to him, one might expect him to drop everything else and devote full attention to them. Evidently, there are moments when we should be with our natural family circle and other moments when we turn outward to share our love with outsiders. Jesus gives example of both these moments. Here he is more conscious of his world family; later from the cross in his dying moments he provides for his mother Mary (John 19:25-27). Yet even this last concern for Mary is linked to his relationship with the entire church. Here as elsewhere in the gospels, Mary is representative of the church, the centre of a praying community (Acts 1:12-14).
God summons us at times to loud celebration, as when David, wearing only a liturgical loincloth came dancing before the Lord with abandon, when he and all the Israelites were bringing up the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. The spontaneity of children can teach grown-ups that such is the Kingdom of God. Children like to be embraced in the close family circle; they can also run through the neighbourhood and wave at total strangers. They are teaching us the meaning of Jesus’ words as he looked out at the wide circle of people from all parts of the land: These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.
Samuel hears God's promise to build up the house of David
That very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
The parable of the sower and the seed
Again Jesus began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:
"Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold." And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'"
And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, an it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."
God's promises are present within our lives, being realised in ways that we struggle to understand. The parable of the Sower links the mysterious working of grace both to the inner life-force of the seed (the Word of God) and to the potential of the soil – whether rocky, shallow or naturally arable. But of course free choice comes into it too. Since God has breathed his own Spirit into us, we human beings are no longer inanimate clods of earth, and are more like malleable clay for the divine potter to form. Somehow, our free response to God's grace makes us both arable and mouldable!
In Our Lord's interpretation of the Sower parable come some of the most difficult words of Holy Scripture, "They will look and not see, listen and not understand, lest perhaps they repent and be forgiven" (quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10.) But the passage ends with hope — for the trunk of the oak remains even when its leaves have fallen. The gospel assures us that hope will blossom in its time; but it insists on the human factor too, the condition of the soil, dealing with the thorns, rocks and obstacles to growth. We are not to wait passively and do nothing, simply waiting for God brings all to fulfillment. While life is often beyond our control and eventually we must leave all to God, we are still expected to be faithful through difficult times. Salvation is the interaction of God's mystery and our dedication. We must achieve what is humanly possible, and then in the end we can say, like Paul, "I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, God made it grow" (1 Cor 3:6.)
The parable of the sower was probably spoken by Jesus as an encouraging word to his disciples. As Mark has been telling the story of Jesus' public ministry prior to Jesus speaking this parable, Jesus and his disciples have been encountering many difficulties and obstacles. The religious leaders have accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath; they have claimed that Jesus heals by the power of Satan. Jesus' own relatives have tried to take him in hand because of the general impression that he has lost the run of himself. In that context Jesus draws the attention of the disciples to the farmer sowing seed in Galilee. The farmer has to deal with all kinds of obstacles, with the result that much of the seed that he sows never takes root, or if it does it never reaches maturity. Yet, in spite of obstacles and setbacks, the harvest is great. Jesus is saying, look beyond the obstacles, the set-backs, the disappointments; God is at work in my ministry and the harvest will be great in the end. We can all become absorbed by what is not going well, by the failures, the losses all around us. The parable encourages us to keep hopeful in the midst of loss and failure, because the Lord is always a work in a life-giving way even when failure and loss seem to dominate the landscape.
David prays with gratitude, about God's everlasting promises to his descendants
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant's house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God! And you established your people Israel for yourself to be your people forever; and you, O Lord, became their God. And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified forever in the saying, 'The Lord of hosts is God over Israel'; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, 'I will build you a house'; therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant; now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you; for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever."
To those who have more will be given; from the have-nots, the little they have will be taken away
He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"
And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."
As we hear David thanking God for the promise of kingship to his family, little did he realize that these promises would find their deepest meaning when Jesus took his place as king, at the Father's right hand. In a way that could not have been understood by David so long before, the Gospel words were fulfilled, that "the measure you give will be the measure you get."
Only by making our own personal contribution in full measure – knowing that we do not fully understand yet continuing to trust that God is writing straight with the crooked lines of history and of life – will we taste the promise, "you will receive, and more besides." By uniting our destiny with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the lamp is taken from beneath the bushel basket and placed on a lampstand. If we can extend that figure of speech a little, the lamp is placed on a stand in the Holy of Holies so that we can perceive the wonderful mystery of God's love for us.
We are not to hide the light of our faith, keeping it under a bushel. Rather, we are to publicly proclaim our faith, our relationship with the Lord, by the lives that we lead, by the deeds that we do. On the other hand, we don't publicly proclaim our faith in order to attract notice, in order to draw attention to ourselves, to bring praise or glory on ourselves. Rather, our public living of our faith is with a view to bringing glory to God. Today's gospel invites us to ask, "Who is being honoured by my public living of my relationship with the Lord? Is it myself or is it God?" Another way of asking that question is, "Who is being served by my good deeds? Is it myself or is it the Lord?" The opening petitions of the Lord's Prayer points us in the right direction, "Hallowed by your name, your kingdom come."
David's adultery and his "executive murder" of Uriah
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, "This is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite." So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant."
So David sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." Uriah went out of the king's house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, "Uriah did not go down to his house," David said to Uriah, "You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?" David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die." As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; and he instructed the messenger, "When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, then, if the king's anger rises, and if he says to you, 'Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?' then you shall say, 'Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead."
The seed grows mysteriously and becomes the largest of shrubs
He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The work of God is full of promise, but comes to fulfillment only after much time, like a seed patiently waiting in the darkness of the earth. There is suffering as the seed breaks apart and loses itself for the new sprout to develop and appear on the surface of the earth. We could try linking this parable about the seed (sown within the dark earth) with the reading from 2 Samuel which reveals David's murky past.
The dark, inert "earth" where the seed nestles, breaks apart and begins its new life is foreshadowed in the account of David's adultery with Bathsheba, where the king first tried to make his dedicated soldier, Uriah, go home and sleep with his wife, to conceal the source of her pregnancy; and then, when Uriah refuses the offer of ease and pleasure, David treacherously has him killed in battle. How the word of God seems to dissolve in the dark earth of human misery.
David's act of marital treachery is just the first of a long series of murders, sexual excesses and revolts within David's family. We are at a loss for an explanation of why God should use such a darkly complex and tangled family to fulfill of his promises about an everlasting dynasty. The very ones through whom the promises were passed on turn out to be Bathsheba and her future son Solomon.
We cannot explain how the seed which falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat providing grain and bread or the largest of all shrubs so that the birds build nests in its shade, any more that we understand God's ways in the history of David. Yet just as wheat provides bread and the mustard tree shade, so also the story of David consoles us secretly and says: God does not give up on us or lose patience with us. We can be restored as David was, and God will do what he has promised to us. The seed of the future is in us right now. Salvation is a patient interaction between God and ourselves. And we must encourage the salvation of each other, by showing patience and confidence in members of our family, community and neighbourhood, through the long dark hours when the seed is in the earth, breaking apart and showing little or no sign of what it can, and eventually will, become.
Sometimes we may feel that our good efforts at something are bearing very little fruit. We can get into a frame of mind that says, 'What good have I been doing with my life?' We can feel that we have precious little to show for our efforts. Yet, we can be doing a lot of good without realizing it or recognizing it. We can sometimes forget that even a little can go a long way. The little efforts we make, the little good we do, can have an impact for the better beyond our imagining. That seems to be the message of the two parables that Jesus speaks in today's gospel reading. The mustard seed is tiny and yet it grows into a very large shrub. What looks completely insignificant takes on a life of its own and develops in a way that is out of proportion to the small beginning. Sometimes in our own lives, the little we do can go on to become something that we had never envisaged, and might never even get to see. The little bit of yeast that a woman places in a large batch of dough has a huge impact on that large batch. Again, in our own lives, the little good we do can impact on those around us in ways that would surprise us. Jesus says, that is what the kingdom of God is like. What is small and seemingly insignificant can turn out to be powerful and beneficial for many.
Nathan warns David; his sin with Bathsheba will be punished within his own family
The Lord sent Nathan to David. He went to him, and said to him, "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him." Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity."
Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun." David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan said to David, "Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die." Then Nathan went to his house.
The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.
Jesus quells the storm at sea, overcoming the forces of nature
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
Even kings share the human weaknesses of other mortals, as is graphically portrayed in the story of David . His affair with Bathsheba was based on lust and arrogance, and in the royal protocol of the ancient Near East was absolutely normal. Yet the prophet Nathan speaks God's judgment which cuts through all excuses, "You are the one who did wrong! Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you despised me in taking the wife of Uriah to be your wife."
Ideals are more than statements in a book, even a book as sacred as the Bible; they have to go beyond philosophical deductions, for the service of God is involved. Nathan, in God's name, tells David, "You despised me in taking the wife of Uriah to be your wife." God is the origin of our ideals, so that in acting as we know we should, we seek God and love God; as on the contrary, when we hurt others, we repudiate and despise God. This is concretised in Jesus' words: "As often as you did it for one of my little ones, you did it for me" (Matthew 25:40).
He is with us always. We are not alone during the storms at sea, when buffeted by raging wind and by waves breaking against our "boat." Jesus says to us, as to the disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Why so little faith?" In him our inabilities are suffused with new strength and our eyes see again a vision of our heavenly home, that enables us while still on earth to forgive, to be patient, to remain faithful, and to put our ideals to work.
When the disciples were in the middle of the storm at sea, they prayed aloud to him, 'Lord, save us.' In this morning's gospel reading we find another prayer of the disciples, 'Lord, increase our faith.' It is a prayer we all probably find easy to make our own. It reminds me of another prayer of someone in the gospels, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.' The prayer of the disciples, 'Lord, increase our faith', comes immediately after Jesus' challenging call to forgive those who offend us and who go on to ask our forgiveness, even if they offend us seven times. Before Jesus' challenging message, the disciples felt their need of more faith, 'Increase our faith.' In reply, Jesus declares that even faith the size of a mustard seed can do extraordinary things. The Lord can work powerfully through our little faith. Even if we feel our faith is weak at times, we can thank God for our little faith, because the Lord can do great things with it. We can never underestimate how the Lord can work in and through our little faith, if we let him.
While fleeing Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt, David is cursed and accepts it as the will of God
A messenger came to David, saying, "The hearts of the Israelites have gone after Absalom." Then David said to all his officials who were with him at Jerusalem, "Get up! Let us flee, or there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Hurry, or he will soon overtake us, and bring disaster down upon us, and attack the city with the edge of the sword." But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went.
When King David came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei son of Gera; he came out cursing. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; now all the people and all the warriors were on his right and on his left. Shimei shouted while he cursed, "Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel! The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood."
Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head." But the king said, "What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?"" David said to Abishai and to all his servants, "My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on my distress, and the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today." So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust at him. The king and all the people who were with him arrived weary at the Jordan; and there he refreshed himself.
Jesus cures a madman and then sends the man to proclaim the good news to the Ten-Cities region
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Some of our sharpest griefs come from divisions within our own family. The hardest trials King David had to endure were caused by members of his family, or as he said himself, from "my own son, who came forth from my loins." His family history is long and complicated, sordid and pathetic at times, brilliant and successful at others, and his troubles go back to his crimes of adultery and homicide in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah. What seemed a smoothly managed affair at the time, later came back to haunt him
No matter how guilty David was, we can admire his humility and compunction when confronted by the facts, and his enduring love even towards a son in revolt who tried to do away with him his father. In today’s episode, David decides that a clansman related to Saul should not be executed for cursing his king–and attributes his own hunted situation to God’s providence. Wearily he declares: Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. Perhaps God will take pity on my affliction and give me favour in return for bearing the curses he is heaping on me. At that moment David seemed heroic in his patience.
The same spirit of mercy is seen in Jesus’ response to the demoniac. When this wild man ran up to Jesus on the southeastern shore of the Lake of Galilee Our Lord showed him exemplary patience and respect. When the mad spirits ask to be sent into the herd of swine, Jesus agreedl and then when the local inhabitants begged him "to go away from their district," Jesus proceeded to get into the boat. Then the man, now cured of his illness and his strange ways, wants to follow as a disciple and Jesus accepts him but sends him forth as a missionary-disciple to proclaim throughout the Ten Cities what had been done for him. Jesus did not delve into the causes of the man’s mental illness nor worry about the consequences of being associated with a former demoniac. What he saw was a brother of good will and fervent enthusiasm, a man deserving of respect. Hence Jesus willingly receives the cured man into the larger group of those who believe in him.
At the centre of the two storiesin this Gospel are two adults who differ greatly from each one. We are given the name of one, Jairus; he was a synagogue official and, therefore, a person of reasonably high social status and probably well to do. The other person is a woman, whose name we are not given; she had a condition which excluded her from the synagogue and had become impoverished because of her illness. Here we have two people from opposite ends of the social and religious spectrum. Yet, they have something in common and that is their trusting faith in Jesus as the Lord and giver of life. Jairus fell at Jesus' feet in a very public way; the woman came up behind Jesus and secretly touched his cloak. One didn't mind being noticed; the other didn't want to be noticed. They approach Jesus in very different ways but their faith is equally strong. Yet, it was the woman that Jesus challenged to be more public about her faith, with the question, 'Who touched me?' The Lord looks to us to publicly witness to our trusting faith in him. Our public witness is a support to the faith of others.
Absalom is executed by Joab. Instead of celebrating the victory, David mourns the death of his son
Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. A man saw it, and told Joab, "I saw Absalom hanging in an oak." Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak.
Now David was sitting between the two gates. The sentinel went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he looked up, he saw a man running alone. he sentinel shouted and told the king. The king said, "If he is alone, there are tidings in his mouth." He kept coming, and drew near. The king said, "Turn aside, and stand here." So he turned aside, and stood still.
It was told Joab, "The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom." So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, "The king is grieving for his son." The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle.
Jesus cures a woman’s haemorrhage; he raises to life the twelve year old daughter of Jairus
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?"" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and waiing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha kum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The texts from 2 Samuel and from Mark remind us of the frailty of life, and of the unavoidable grief that is our lot from time to time. Perhaps no passage in Scripture is more poignant and more revelatory of the loving attachment between parent and child than David’s mournful words over his dead son: "My son Absalom. Oh Absalom, my son. If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son." The bonds and frailty of human life appear again in the gospel account of the woman, for twelve years seeking a cure, submitting to treatments of every sort and having "exhausted her savings in the process," and then of the twelve-year-old daughter of the synagogue official, Jairus, who in his anxety asks Jesus to come and simply lay a hand on his little daughter.
David does not want to see alive just any young man among the Israelites; he longs for his son. Jairus would not have simply adopted another twelve year old girl in place of his dead daughter. In the case of the woman, afflicted for twelve years with a debilitating illness, the details in Mark reflects a very human concern. Matthew and Luke edited them out of the text for their own special reasons, yet they remain in Mark which, like the rest of holy scripture, was "written for our instruction, that we might have hope." (Rom 15:4).
We are encouraged to consecrate our selves body and soul to love and trust. To such a person Jesus will say, "Talitha, koum," arise–as he takes them by the hand. In heaven he may not say to the attendants, as he did to others in the household of Jairus, "Give her something to eat," but then again, who knows? We may be uncertain about food in heaven, but not that each of us will live eternally as a full human person, spirit and resurrected body inseparably one.
Having sinned by counting the people, David wants to pay the price himself
So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, "Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are." Joab reported to the king the number of those who had been recorded: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.
But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly." When David rose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, "Go and say to David: Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, and I will do it to you." So Gad came to David and told him; he asked him, "Shall three years of famine come to you on your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me." Then David said to Gad, "I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands."
So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba. But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, "It is enough; now stay your hand." The angel of the Lord was then by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was destroying the people, he said to the Lord, "I alone have sinned, and I alone have doe wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father's house."
The people of Nazareth reject Jesus and he could work very few cures there
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
A nasty example of jealousy flares up in the gospel, when Jesus' own townspeople now find him "too much" for them. Why should he have more wisdom than any of them, they ask. And why should he be able to work miracles while they can not? Why is the Bible so severe on such "normal" faults as pride and jealousy? We take them for granted in ourselves and others, and presume they are as unavoidable as headaches or the common cold. We don't like to see others getting on too well, and leaving us in the shade. A painful but widespread truth underlies the saying that "No prophet is honoured in his native place." But jealousy hurts most the person who feels it, as in the case of Saul and David. Because his people cheered more loudly for young David, Saul was madly jealous of him; and like a man infected by a virus, Saul was destroyed by his own jealousy.
The people in the gospel who were most lost sight of were the people of Nazareth. Even Jesus could work no miracle there, apart from curing a few who were sick, so much did their lack of faith distress him, and made the rounds of the neighbouring villages instead. What a sad commentary on envy: Jesus made the rounds of the neighbouring villages while Nazareth was left behind in silence. Envy is an incurable diseaseâ€"so that "he could work no miracle there." Close to envy in its symptoms and effects is the fault of stubbornness. God tries in many ways to heal this disease: Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines: he scourges every child he receives. The cure for stubbornness is not to be found in suppression, anger and coercion.
Today's text from Samuel warns against an excessive desire to control others. It is not condemning a census of the people as such; the first part of the Book of Numbers records the results of another census, undertaken with God's blessing. It must have been David's motive that spoiled this census in God's eyes. Yet, as mentioned already, it was an understandable fault. Why shouldn't a ruler be proud of the nation he has built, and whom he intends to tax? Yet we see also how a census can lead to government control, heavier taxation and affluence at the top. The pestilence is halted by David's prayer, a prayer in which he accepts the blame and begs God to be merciful to the sheep of the flock, who have not done wrong. It is the bond of love and loyalty that brings the solution and that heals the disease.
People in Nazareth were slow to recognize the implications of the wisdom of Jesus and his power for good towards the sick and suffering. They should have recognised that God must be working through this man in a special way. Instead, they could not accept him; indeed, they despised him. He was too familiar to them; they knew his mother and his family. He was one of their own; he was too ordinary. He could not possibly be all that different to everyone else in Nazareth. It is a clear case of familiarity breeding contempt. The reading suggests that we can sometimes be slow to recognize the presence of God in the ordinary and the familiar. We don't have to go long distances, or come into contact with extraordinary phenomena to make contact with the wisdom and the power of God. It is all around us in the near and the familiar, in the humdrum and in the ordinary, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The gospel invites us to see the familiar and the ordinary with new eyes. The failure of the people of Nazareth to see in this way inhibited what Jesus could do among them. Our seeing in this way gives the Lord space to work among us in new ways.
The dying David urges Solomon to have courage and stay faithful to God in every way
When David's time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: "I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: 'If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.'
Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly etablished.
Jesus sends out the twelve two by two, to preach, anoint sick people and cure them
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Politicians, tycoons and other media celebrities are not alone in their desire to leave behind some worthwhile legacy. This idea of leaving behind something of value must be almost universal among adult human beings, once a person has come to terms with his or her mortality. Nobody really wants to feel that their transient life is utterly insignificant, something to be blown away like dust in the wind, with nothing to mark our few decades of life in this world. Hence the importance people put on founding a successful business, making their mark in society, making provision for some monument to their memory once they have passed on. But the most universal legacy of all is what parents leave behind to their children, by their example and the wisdom they try to share.
David's deathbed advice to Solomon summarises much that a conscientious father might want to leave as a moral legacy to his son. The old king accepts with resignation that he is "about to go the way of all the earth." He urges his successor to be courageous, but also to be faithful to his religious inheritance, "walking in the ways of the Lord your God." The flavour of the book of Deuteronomy suffuses this account, with those stock phrases, "keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies," and then the explicit reference to the law of Moses as the basic code of morality for Israel. Then he climaxes this moral advice with the recurrent Deuteronomist motivation, "so that you may prosper in all that you do."
The legacy Jesus leaves behind has more to do with sharing the good news of God's love and mercy. He had taught his followers much about the kingdom of God, the state of harmony and renewal God desires among mankind. Life in abundance cannot be selfish and must be shared. Christians reach out to the neighbour whom we are to love equally as ourselves, and share with them our sense of God's nearness. Therefore Jesus sent his disciples two by two, to preach, to anoint, to work miracles, to expel demons and spread his vision. What they have received from him must be shared with all men and women. The task is so urgent that they move onward with no thought of profit for themselves, without traveling bag or even coins in the purse. Sandals are allowed, so that they can move easily in their mission of sharing the good news of Jesus.
Mark shows Jesus sending out the twelve apostles he had chosen to share in his work. He sends them out to do what he was doing, to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. Jesus knows he needs the help of others to do the work he was sent to do. He continues to need us today to do his work. We are to be his eyes, his ears, his hands, his feet and his voice. As risen Lord he wants to work in and through us. Paul understood this very clearly. He understood the church to be the body of Christ in the world. He was very clear that every member of Christ's body had a vital role to play. The body of Christ could not be all Christ wants it to be unless everyone plays the role they are called and equipped to play through their baptism. Each one of us has a unique contribution to make to the life of the body and, thereby, to the work of the Lord in the world today. Each one of us is indispensible and necessary. The 1st Reading from Hebrews puts it very simply. In the church everyone is a "first-born child" and a "citizen of heaven." There are to be no second class citizens in the church. Each of us is a vital member of Christ's body uniquely graced by the Lord for his work and mission in the world.
David's virtues: defender of Israel, psalmist, penitent sinner, blessed by God
As the fat is set apart from the offering of well-being,
so David was set apart from the Israelites.
He played with lions as though they were young goats,
and with bears as though they were lambs of the flock.
In his youth did he not kill a giant,
and take away the people's disgrace,
when he whirled the stone in the sling
and struck down the boasting Goliath?
For he called on the Lord, the Most High,
and he gave strength to his right arm
to strike down a mighty warrior,
and to exalt the power of his people.
So they glorified him for the tens of thousands he conquered,
and praised him for the blessings bestowed by the Lord,
when the glorious diadem was given to him.
For he wiped out his enemies on every side,
and annihilated his adversaries the Philistines;
he crushed their power to our own day.
In all that he did he gave thanks
to the Holy One, the Most High, proclaiming his glory;
he sang praise with all his heart,
and he loved his Maker.
He placed singers before the altar,
to make sweet melody with their voices.
He gave beauty to the festivals,
and arranged their times throughout the year,
while they praised God's holy name,
and the sanctuary resounded from early morning.
The Lord took away his sins,
and exalted his power forever;
he gave him a covenant of kingship
and a glorious throne in Israel.
Herod is curious about John the Baptist — but has him beheaded just the same
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had told Herod: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieed; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Today we commemorate two great precursors of Jesus, John the Baptist in the gospel, and king David in Sirach's text. These precursors are not silent, stiff figures, whose immutable identity is "chiseled on stone" (Job 19:24). Sirach's praise of David indicates the living, suportive presence of God through his long career, from when he battled the Philistine giant as a youth, and later as king extended the boundary of Israel and overcame all opposition, and even when he became guilty of adultery and murder yet repented humbly and publicly. It recalls moments when David sang before the altar, with the sweet melody of his psalms. God was present throughout, as helper, giver of pardon, inspirer of ideals, as one who overcame all opposition to the fulfillment of the divine will in David's life.
That benign view of providence seems to collapse in the gospel account of John the Baptist, ending hideously when the daughter presented her mother with the head of the Baptist on a platter. No wonder the memory of John haunted the sleep of King Herod, so that he hoped that somehow Jesus was John raised from the dead. But, in a way Herod could not comprehend, John was not extinguished, but alive in Jesus who "is the same yesterday, today and forever."
Jesus is present among the marginalised and suffering people of the worldâ€"just as he was the reason for the Baptist's imprisonment and persecution. We must seek him in these areas that are enclosed, narrow, dark, lonely and seemingly hopelessâ€"in prisons, and among the lowest migrant, unwelcome people in our midst. Even in our own personal lives, we may have entertained God's angels unawares.
This gospel scene is one that has inspired artists and playwrights throughout the centuries. The sumptuous banquet in Herod's palace for his birthday turns out to be a banquet of death. Mark follows this scene with the feeding by Jesus of the multitude in the wilderness. It is as if the evangelist wants to set Herod banquet of death over against Jesus' banquet of life. John the Baptist is described in the gospel as a "good and holy man." He courageously spoke God's truth, God's way, and that is why he was beheaded. Jesus was crucified for the same reason, because he proclaimed God's ways, God's purposess, by what he said and did. We are all called to proclaim the ways of God as revealed to us by Jesus. That will call for courage at times, the courage displayed by John the Baptist and Jesus. One of the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage. Today, more than in the past, we need a courageous faith; we need the courage of the Holy Spirit to witness to the values of the gospel, as John and Jesus did. A courageous faith is not an arrogant faith, but it is a firm faith, an enduring faith, a faith that holds firm when the storms come because its roots are deep. We pray today for the gift of such a faith, the kind of faithfulness that shaped John's life and death.
Solomon prays for understanding, to judge God's people and to distinguish right from wrong
The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you."
And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this, your great people?"
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.
Jesus gets the apostles to come and rest awhile; then pities the people, as sheep without a shepherd.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while." For so many were coming and going, that they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
An example of how to seek first the kingdom of God, which is closely linked to the common good of the human community, is in today's reading from 1 Kings. The promise of a great reward to Solomon is made for having asked for the right things, the things that matter. Like an Aladdin with his magic lamp who was given the chance to wish for whatever he liked, Solomon's request was not for a long life, or for riches or victory in battle, but forĂ‚Â understanding. Interestingly, God's message to Solomon came in a dream at night. Dreams imply a time of retreat from the everyday rush, when God can access our subconscious mind, a time of mystical perception, when perhaps we settle into the mystery of our better self, a time when we are not distracted by selfish wants and petty concerns.
Such times of retreat and reflection are necessary, as Jesus remarked to the disciples, "Come apart and rest a little." The peace which we are seeking is not a human creation; it is God's special gift. The rabbis considered the Sabbath, along with the Torah, as God's supreme gift to his chosen people. We need the long stretches of un-programmed silence, when God can appear and speak the right question to the best part of ourselves. Yet, even this solitude was invaded by the people who hurried to the place, searching for him. When Jesus saw the crowd he pitied them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them at length. He leaves behind the sacred solitude, to spread the word of God while mingling with the crowd. Peace means the integral harmony of all these aspects of our life, centred in the mystery of God's presence with us.
A cloud fills the sanctuary, symbolizing the Lord's awesome presence
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up.
King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles.
There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon said, "The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever."
Wherever Jesus went, the sick were brought to him for healing
When they had crossed over the lake, Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The temple in Jerusalem was considered a mirror of God's heavenly home, a reflection of the Lord's presence throughout the universe, the place where God is worshipped, above all by his chosen people. The reading from Mark speaks about the everyday world, where our bodies feel aches and pains and search for healing. The text from First Kings is about the symbolic power of the temple. Symbol does not mean untrue but signifies a deeper meaning within the real and is a means enabling us to savour the mystery of God's presence in the "real" world round about us.
It is important then to note that the sacred ceremonies of the sanctuary , whether it be the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple or the central area of our churches with eucharistic table and tabernacle , lose their meaning if they lose contact with the physical world of earth and sky (even with the adornments of each, like stars or animals or fishes) or if they are no longer vivid reminders of God's redemptive power healing us in our sickness, forgiving us in our weakness, inspiring us with hope. At the same time, without sanctuaries and church liturgy we can lose sight of the mysterious presence of God in our universe and in our daily living in this world.
This morning's gospel conveys a sense of the great popularity of Jesus among the ordinary people of Galilee. In particular, it was the sick and broken that he attracted, because God's healing power was at work through him. People begged him to let him touch even the fringe of his cloak, as the woman had done who was healed of her flow of blood. The gospel says that people were hurrying to bring the sick to him. The broken and needy, especially, were desperate to get to him and to connect with him. In our own lives too, it is often in our brokenness that we seek out the Lord with the greatest urgency. Something happens to us that brings home to us our vulnerability, our weakness, our inability to manage. In those situations, when we come face to face with our limitations, we can seek out the Lord with a greater energy and an urgency we don't normally show. It is those experiences, where we come face to face with our frailties, that bring home to us our need of the Lord and our dependence on him. It is often the darker and more painful experiences of life that open us up to the Lord.
The temple dedication ends with a beautiful prayer
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, "O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
Attachment to traditional practices can nullify our moral sense
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition." Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban' (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this."
Jesus accuses the religious leaders of putting aside the commandments of God, the word of God, so as to cling to human traditions. Jesus recognized that the religious traditions of his time did not always correspond to God's will as revealed in the Scriptures, and as revealed in a much fuller way now by Jesus himself. The church always has to be on the alert to ensure that its own traditions conform to God's word to us, especially as spoken by Jesus. Every so often the church has to renew itself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to purify its traditions so that they correspond more closely to the true spirit of the gospel. We can understand the second Vatican council as a significant attempt to do just that. In our own personal lives too we can get into traditional ways of doing things that are not in keeping with the core of God's message to us in and through the Scriptures. Our own personal tradition, whether it is our religious tradition, or our tradition in the broader sense, is always in need of reform in the light of the gospel. We need to keep on hearing the word of the Lord afresh, and to invoke the Holy Spirit to help us to do so.
The core of biblical teaching is that whatever God made is indeed very good. From this angle we can examine today's texts, the better to understand the words of both Solomon and Jesus. In his new-built temple Solomon ponders, "Can it be that God indeed dwells among us on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built?" And Jesus excoriates the lawyers for "making a fine art of setting aside God's commandment [i.e. that the world, as blessed by God, is very good] just for the sake of keeping your traditions."
Solomon's prayer reminds us that God's normal temple is the universe, and for that reason the king asks how a mere human construction can contain God. Jesus argues that the produce of the world, its fruits and vegetables, are all clean because they have been created and blessed by God. Nonetheless, Solomon did build the temple; and Jesus did sanction fasting and abstinence from food. The Bible holds together these diverse statements about eating and about fasting, about the entire world as God's temple and about constructing a temple or church for prayer. This diversity is not meant to cancel out or neutralize but rather to balance, nuance and enrich.
We build a temple for the community for the same reason that we build a home for a family. A home is necessary, at least for the large majority of humankind, in order to remain closely knit in love and intimacy, in order to share sorrow and joy and thereby support one another, in order to nourish and protect during sickness and old age. We need the home in order to learn how to love properly. Only then are we capable of extending our genuine love to the larger human family. Likewise, we benefit greatly from a church. Here we learn to be family or covenanted people, bonded to one another and to God. Through the church, we have a place for prayer and instruction and a community where people undertake various offices of teaching, of leading in prayer, and of prophetically challenging. Without the church we would have been deprived of the Scriptures, of the sacraments and the memory of saints.
To wash ourselves or our food before eating is good, if it induces respect, cleanliness and a relaxed spirit. Yet if it divides, leads to arguments and a better-than-thou spirit (as seems to have happened), it violates the plan of God to form one large human family made in his own likeness. The Bible is continually cutting down the barriers which we raise. If the word of God sanctions walls for temple and home, it is with the intention of training us to live in the world outside those walls. When we are thoroughly at home in the outside world, then we are ready for heaven, "the highest heavens," where all God's children are at home. Therefore, Jesus could not tolerate separations that divide and split apart. People who favour such divisiveness are the hypocrites condemned by the Scripture: This people pays me lip service but their heart is far from me.
The Queen of Sheba admires Solomon's splendour and his wisdom
When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, (fame due to the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. So she said to the king, "The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had eard. Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness." Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones; never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
What degrades us is not food from outside but evil from within
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
In the story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon our attention may be first drawn to the splendour of the scene, but the author puts Solomon's wisdom at the centre of all the glitter and wealth. A little earlier we heard the young king's prayer at Gibeon, for an understanding heart to judge the people. Because he valued wisdom over wealth or long life, God promised Solomon riches and glory beyond other kings. This wisdom remained at the heart of his good fortune, integrating and balancing all the external splendour.
Jesus' words in the Gospel develop this traditional idea, that external things are part of God's good creation and meant to enhance our life. What we eat or drink is clean and healthy, gifts from the God of life. Evil comes from within the human heart, from which flow those crimes and offenses which corrode and corrupt the world about us. Without wisdom, wicked impulses can take hold of our heart. Jesus names some of these, like the reverse of the Decalogue: theft, fornication, murder, greed, arrogance, an obtuse spirit. The wisdom by which we direct our lives must be sincere open always to the breath of God's Holy Spirit. Central to every good life lies this intuitive, secret wisdom, responding humbly to the movements of God's spirit within us.
Solomon's sins are traced to the influence of his pagan wives; as punishment his kingdom will be divided.
When Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord, as his father David had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods.
Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded. Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. I will not, however, tear away the entire kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen."
By her persevering faith, a Syro-Phoenician woman induces Jesus to cure her daughter
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." The he said to her, "For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Women hold the centre stage in today's readings. The pagan women he has married are held responsible, at least in part, for the apostasy of Solomon. But then in the gospel a pagan woman surprises Jesus with her faith and humble perseverance. These texts invite a reflection about the right relationship between the sexes, in family and friendship as well as in the wider community. Our gender distinction as men or women along with diversity in personality, talents and interests help us to complement each other and challenge one another to grow to our full potential. In the first chapter of Genesis the union by which the first woman and man complement one another is because both are made in the image of God.
Many of the women in the Scriptures are models for men as well as women, just as men provide examples for both women and men. What is scattered and fragmented must be reunited in Jesus, for as Paul says: "among you it is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28-29). Belonging to Jesus in a radical way should heal all tension and fragmentation arising from gender.
In his response to the pagan, Syro-Phoenician woman Jesus at first seems reluctant to pay any attention to her request. There is no simple way to soften the harsh reply of Jesus, except perhaps that he would not repeat the mistakes of Solomon and interact closely with foreign women. The apparent rejection is healed by the woman's humility, perseverance and love for her child. Not for selfish pleasure or personal gain, but for the sake of her daughter, does the woman turn aside Jesus' harsh words by replying: "but even the dogs under the table eat the family's leavings." This answer overcomes his first objections, and Jesus heals the woman's daughter - a splendid example of gentle perseverance rewarded.
The prophet Ahijah announces the breakup of David's kingdom
About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, "See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
Jesus cures a man who was deaf and dumb, and the people are amazed as his power
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
If the Book of Genesis tells of paradise lost, today's gospel suggests how paradise may be regained. The physical prospects of our earthly paradise show up in the gospel, where, in order to cure the deaf and dumb man, Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears and touched his tongue with saliva, and looked up to heaven with a groan. Jesus' words and action, even his distress over the man's disability, manifest the human way by which the man was led back into paradise. That Mark intends this scene to point to the start of the final age, of paradise regained, is clear from hints later in the text. The phrase, "he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" is from the prophecy of Isaiah, where "those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy." In his work of healing, Jesus gives a hint of universal salvation, something already observed in yesterday's story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. With joyful spontaneity the cured man forgets the injunction not to tell anyone and announces the good news of what Jesus has acomplished.
In the first reading we heard the tragic story of how the kingdom of David is rent apart, when ten of the twelve tribes will transfer their loyalty from the house of David to Jeroboam. The northern ten tribes revolt in punishment for the excesses of Solomon and his son Roboam, but they will also be God's instrument for preserving important Mosaic traditions and for advancing the prophetic movement. In that northern kingdom will emerge the first two of the classical, writing prophets, Amos and Hosea, and the paradisal section from Isaiah 35, quoted earlier, seems to come from a northern influence. It is clear that the outsider is not simply converted but brings a richness of insight into the mystery of God which we may otherwise overlook.
Jeroboam, king of the north, rebels and he makes his own sanctuaries and priests
Then Jeroboam said to himself, "Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah." So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one at Bethel and before the other as far as Dan. He also made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites.
Jeroboam appointed a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the festival that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.
Even after this event Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people; any who wanted to be priests he consecrated for the high places. This matter became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.
Jesus, out of compassion for hungry people, multiplies bread and fish
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way - and some of them have come from a great distance." His disciples replied, "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?" He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" They said, "Seven." Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
The ways that lead to death can present themselves in either secular or in the religious form. In the Garden of Eden scene, the first man and woman were drawn to secular values. Driven by pride and by an overweening ambition to control everything, Adam and Eve sinned by turning from God to prefer material things. In today's story from the Book of Kings, the departure from God came through misuse of the religious realm. Jeroboam uses the instruments of religion, the priesthood, sanctuaries and feastdays to control the riches of the northern kingdom and to prevent peace and reunion with the south. By envy he kept north and south, which both professed the same religion, at each other's throat.
The orientation towards life or death is not "out there" but inside ourselves, in how we react to God and to share with others as God has shared, indifferent to personal ambition. It is amazing how quickly and simply today's gospel text ends. After the magnificent miracle of feeding "about four thousand" from seven loaves of bread and a few small fishes, the story ends abruptly. He dismissed them and got into the boat with his disciples to go to the neighbourhood of Dalmanutha. Acting out of compassion, not ambition, Jesus did not make a living from miracles. The happiness of seeing others restored to life and strength was his driving force: promoting life was nourishment to him.
The testing of your faith produces endurance
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.
Jesus refuses to give signs to his critics
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
If faith is central to biblical religion, we must inquire about what is at the heart of faith. Negatively, we learn from the gospel that faith does not primarily have to do with miracles. When some suspicious people test Jesus and look for some heavenly sign from him, he sighs about the weakness of their faith.
The Epistle of James points out another way to test faith, if it enables us to retain our joy even amid every sort of trial. He says that when faith is tested this makes for endurance. For him, faith is linked with loyalty and steadiness. It is not self-confidence but rather confidence arising from God's fidelity. Faith enables our love for God and for others to survive the darkness and see hope and new life.
God tempts no one, but is the giver of every good gift
Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, "I am being tempted by God;" for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved. Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Jesus is amazed at the blindness of his disciples
Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out - beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod." They said to one another, "It is because we have no bread." And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" They said to him, "Twelve." "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" And they said to him, "Seven." Then he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"
James enthuses about the gifts of life and warns against the penalties of death; and in Mark the disciples are worried that they have too little bread, as they embark on a hard pull across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus' response to the disciples' anxiety turns into a volley of questions showing his surprise that his followers were slow to understand the meaning of his life: "Do you still not see or comprehend? Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight, ears but no hearing? Do you not remember how I broke the five loaves...?" The gospel ends on the question: "Do you still not understand?"
Likewise James urges us to attend to the spiritual dimension of our lives. How else can anyone persevere till the end unless by God's gifts of fidelity and patience and having a deeply rooted hope. In this light we can interpret James' final phrase, that God wants to make us " a kind of first-fruit of his creatures." God's word, rooted within our heart, induces good fruit in our lives. If at times, we are left with a questions, he wants us to remain contemplating, wondering, seeking, and most of all just being in God's presence.
Be doers of the word, not merely listeners
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act - they will be blessed in their doing.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Jesus cures the blind man with spittle and the touch of his hands
They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, "Can you see anything?" And the man looked up and said, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even go into the village."
The gospel suggests the gradual process by which we come to the light of truth and the persistence needed to follow the way of truth. James offers a compressed dictionary of moral instructions, and we soon realise how much time is needed to comply such with a list. Today's miracle story is told only by Mark; it was not even adapted by Matthew and Luke, even though these evangelists relied heavily on Mark for their material. This is also the only miracle which Jesus worked in stages. Jesus even uses such lowly human substance as spittle.
Jesus' willingness to live on our human level is clear in this story. There is an empathic consideration in the way he dealt with the blind man's need. He first took him by the hand and quietly led him outside the village. Then, away from the crowd, he put spittle on the man's eyes and touched the closed eyelids with his fingers. One could say that Jesus bonded deeply with the man. This poor blind man could not see the sorrow in Jesus' eyes at the sight of this disability, but could feel the clasp of his hand and touch of his fingers. How fully Jesus adapted himself to the human condition of need.
The stages of this miracle are noteworthy: first, people looked like walking trees; then, "he could see everything clearly." These too are the stages of our growth in faith. We might argue that we do not have the time, or the material or financial resources to help the poor and needy of our times. But Jesus can put his healing spittle on our eyelids, and gently stroke our eyes until to our amazement - to paraphrase the gospel, our generous sight is restored and we can see everything in a new light. We could find our way for helping, finding the time and locating resources to be of service where we are needed.
In light of this, the admonition from St James may not seem too abrupt: "Strip away all that is filthy, every vicious excess. Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you. Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves." Jesus never deceived himself, he acted on the word that was his very life and so possessed the power to save.
We may be grateful to Mark for suggesting Jesus' respect for the stages of our life and growth to sanctity. We cannot walk the path alone but must be like the blind man whom Jesus took by the hand and led him outside the village. We will find to our surprise the hand we clasp is leading us to our salvation, just as Jesus led the blind man into a new way of seeing the world.
Show no favouritism, but love your neighbour as yourself
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah; then he is reprimanded
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
No one can look at a cross, no matter how ornate it may be, without remembering the excruciating death of Jesus. Yet the cross is lifted high on our churches and is worn as the sign and emblem of our victory over sin and despair, for Jesus' resurrection is the pledge of our own future life. Both cross and rainbow carry a message of universal salvation. They belong to the world and in fact come to our attention first from the secular sphere of life. The cross was the dreaded Roman form of execution; the rainbow is visible to every human eye, whatever the person's religion may be.
St James helps us examine whether the universal saving sign of the cross is operative in our own lives. He says, "Your faith must not allow of favouritism." We are not to value people's worth by the externals of wealth, power, prestige or social rank. Whoever operates by these standards is thinking corruptly. Under the symbol of the cross everyone is valued as a human being created by God in the divine likeness. James will not have us defer to those who are fashionably dressed, while despising those who are dressed more shabbily, for in God's eyes we are all poor and naked, beautiful and equal, called to treat others with goodness and fidelity, in imitation of God's own way.
Before concluding his critique of favouritism, James cites the injunction: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" listed by Jesus as the second commandment and repeated by Paul in Romans (Rom 13:9). Such ideals are hard to put into practice, just as is the call to carry our cross with Jesus. It is little wonder that Peter took Jesus aside and began to argue this point, until the Lord had to sternly reply "Out of my sight, you satan!" Jesus' final words on that occasion resonate in James' epistle for today, "You are not judging by God's standards but by human standards."
The word of the cross is beautiful and demanding, hopeful and distressing, , deeply personal and fully universal. In its light we can truly answer Jesus' question to the disciples, "Who do you say that l am?"
Faith without works is like a body without breath
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
One must lose one's life in order to save it
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
The gospel contrasts two forms of activity: taking up one's cross or acting for personal aggrandizement. The action which threatens to destroy us is the one which gives permanence of our life; the action which seems to affirm and build us up turns on us and destroys us. "Whoever would save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
In talking about good works, James cites two unusual examples from the many available in the Hebrew Scriptures. First, he pictures Abraham, who sets out willing to kill his long-awaited son Isaac, ignorantly thinking that he must worship God in the fashion of his Canaanite neighbours. Second, he lists the harlot Rahab, who though misguided in her profession, welcomes the invaders as the wave of the future.
The Scripture affirms that God can see a brighter future and even a purer holiness in people whose hearts are sincere and honest than in others whose external behaviour wraps them in mantles of splendid display, yet whose mind is shallow with its treasure located in esteem and reputation. The latter can always say the proper formula to the unfortunate needy neighbour, while doing nothing to meet their actual needs. "What good is that?" James trenchantly asks.
To act against our selfish inclinations and set aside all pious camouflage, and reach out with practical help to the neighbour in need, means to take up one's cross. To stand by someone in need is to follow the way of Jesus who befriended prostitutes and tax collectors. It's what he means by losing one's life; and in so doing we will have a glimpse of the true "kingdom of God."
Guard the tongue and speak with decency
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue - a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
Jesus' transfiguration, between Moses and Elijah
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him."
Even the experience of visions does not remove the need for faith. Even seeing Jesus' transfiguration led to further questions for the disciples - Peter, James and John, who were with him on the shining mountain. Visions do not stop the clock but are a momentary insight that can leave us more restless and unsettled than before.
The transfiguration of Jesus, like his baptism and prayer in Gethsemane, lets us see for a moment the intimate personal closeness of Jesus to his Heavenly Father. We see also his close contact with us in our earthly life that is heading towards death, and the promise of future glory with him. At the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus was being baptized, the heavens were opened and a voice proclaimed with loving approval, "You are my beloved Son" (Mark 1:11).
James brings us down to earth by saying how careful we must be in talking about others, not to spread gossip and half-truths. If we aspire to be teachers, let it be with patience and humility. Perhaps our instruction ought to give insights to ourselves too, showing the splendour God invests in our human lives - and even in our death.
Jesus felt the profound mystery of God the Father's presence along the path of his human life on its various stages towards his death. Death will be the supreme moment of God's intimate presence to us as it was to Jesus. Only after traveling that passage from life through death into life, can we fully understand what we have seen in the course of our life.
At his transfiguration the disciples saw Jesus as they had never seen him before. It was a foretaste of the experience they would have of the risen Lord. It was an experience that was full of light and joy, so much so that Peter exclaimed, 'Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here.' It is possible that we might all be able to remember a moment when we too were able to say, 'It is wonderful for us to be here.' Perhaps it was a moment when we had a very strong sense of the Lord's presence to us, an overwhelming sense of his love for us.
In Mark's account the disciples experience on the mount of transfiguration came just after Jesus and his disciples had set out on the long and difficult road to Jerusalem, the way to the cross. Jesus had just spoken of himself as the Son of Man who must suffer and die; these were words which the disciples found very disturbing and distressing. As they set out on this difficult road, they were given this wonderful grace on the mount of transfiguration. In our own lives too when we are struggling with something very painful, the Lord will grace us in some way. When we seem to be at our weakest, he will give us his strength. When darkness seems to envelope us, he will touch us with the light of his presence.
A wise spirit is not imbued by envy but by leniency and peace
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
The evil spirit within the boy is driven out by Jesus' faith and prayer
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" Someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so." He answered them, "You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me." And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; butif you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us." Jesus said to him, "If you are able! - All things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!" After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "This kind can come out only through prayer."
Today's episode of the boy cured of dumbness ends with the statement, "This can be driven out only by prayer." In the garden Jesus admonishes his disciples, "Be on guard and pray that you may not be put to the test" 14:38).
The reading from James provides another aspect of true prayer, that it is linked with the spirit of wisdom. For James, the wisdom that leads us to pray comes from above... is is innocent, peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. Such a spirituality "reaps the harvest of justice that has been sown in peace."
When we review these qualities of prayer, we too cry out with the father of the mute, epileptic boy, "I do believe. Help my unbelief." What we strive to reach, we already possess at the depths of ourselves. Through Jesus we discover who we are, as children of God, provided we balance our prayer with true and healthy humility and good sense.
Many people down the centuries have found it easy to identify with the prayer of the man who said 'I do have faith. Help the little faith I have.' His coming to Jesus was itself a sign of faith, but he knew that his faith was weak. There was unbelief mixed it with his belief. Perhaps, that is where many of us can find ourselves from time to time. Our faith can take a knock especially when some great trial or tribulation comes our way. We can find it difficult to reconcile our faith in the Lord with the experience of the cross in our lives. Our faith can be put to the test when we struggle with the darker side of life.
Jesus' own faith was put to the test as he faced into his passion and as he hung from the cross. He faced the test by praying. He prayed out of the testing experience, out of the depths. The gospel writers give us his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and his prayer from the cross. When our faith is put to the test, we need to pray all the more, and to pray in a way that gives expression to the struggle we are experiencing. When our faith seems weak we need to keep praying out of our little faith, like the man in the gospel today.
Recommendation to sincerity, shunning worldliness and selfishness
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your ravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
To welcome a child for Jesus' sake is welcoming Jesus himself
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
Jesus' call to welcome a child as one would welcome himself rounds off today's gospel. It says that we can find him among the apparently least important people. Just as children easily find other children and quickly begin enjoy their company at play, so we should gravitate towards those who are least self-important. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. A person who is lonely may also be waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open one's arms to life's infinite possibilities.
In the text from James we seem to have left the child's world behind. There is talk of "conflicts and disputes," of murder and envy. The key to conversion in the phrase: "God resists the proud but bestows his favour on the lowly." This is drawn from the Greek version of the Book of Proverbs, 3:34. James is drawing on ancient bits of wisdom circulating in his time, traditions that fill out what has been handed down from Jesus.
We do not know what kind of life will be ours tomorrow
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
Jesus allows others to cast out devils in his name
John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.
It is generally agreed that wisdom is a quality that is dearly won, and whose acquisition depends on often painful experience. As a man of wisdom, Jesus reprimanded his disciples for their envy and fear. Feeling threatened, or at least slighted, by some villager who went about using the name of Jesus to expel demons, they said indignantly to Jesus, "We tried to stop him, because he is not of our company!" But his reply was decisive, based on his unique wisdom. He did not inquire about the doctrinal position of the other man but landed on solid, common sense ground. "No one can perform a miracle in my name and at the same time speak ill of me. Anyone who is not against us is with us." Such a response, totally free of envy and fear, totally relaxed with nothing to lose, is not easily learned, but is the fruit of wise reflection. It reflects a person at peace, and therefore strong and secure.
A bridge with this gospel text is offered by St James whose central injunction advises against arrogance, pretentious claims and selfish hoarding of resources. Such a life can easily fall apart, "You have no idea what kind of life will be yours tomorrow." Truly wise persons are rooted in genuine values, not persons who quickly make their profit and move off somewhere else. If we walk life's path with wisdom, we become relaxed, generous and trustful, and walk along that path with Jesus.
In Mark's gospel we often find a clash between Jesus and his disciples. Some of them (the disciples) had a somewhat black and white view of ofther people. Only those who were 'one of us', as they put it, could be trusted to do the Lord's work. Jesus had a much more nuanced view of people than they had. He could see that even those whom he had not formally called as disciples could be doing God's life-giving work. Indeed, he makes the very generous statement, 'Anyone who is not against us is for us.' That might be a good principle to take to heart in the times in which we live.
There are a lot of people who are not explicitly for the church, in the sense of practising their faith in the way we have come to understand that, and, yet, they are not against the church either. The spirit of today's gospel is that we work to build bridges with all those who in some way share the church's mission to bring life where there is death, wholeness where there is brokenness, relief where there is suffering. We can be partners in mission with those who are 'not one of us' in the strict sense. In these times we need the vision Jesus displays in today's gospel rather than that displayed by his disciples.
Those who get rich by injustice will suffer at the judgment
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
A drink of water given to a follower of Christ will be rewarded
Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward."
"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
Some lurid statements must be taken only figuratively, for in no way does Jesus demand that we disfigure ourselves, or gouge out an eye. His words reflect the primacy of the eternal over the temporal, of heavenly over earthly life: "Whoever would save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospels' will save it" (Mark 8:35). Paraphrasing, one might put it: "If we use our hands, feet, eyes and our other faculties exclusively for selfish pleasure and not for loving service, we will lose everything in the end. But if we lose ourselves for the sake of goodness and for living by the gospel we will be saved for all eternity." Life is for sharing what we possess with others and forming one body with them. In such a loving lifestyle, even small acts of helpfulness take on a very special meaning: "Anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to Christ will not go unrewarded."
The Epistle of James puts this view in another way, but just as sharply. Whatever we acquire unjustly, and whatever we selfishly retain, to the harm of brother and sister, will turn against us: Your wealth will rot, your fine wardrobe will grow moth-eaten, your gold and silver will corrode. All these will devour your flesh like a fire. James takes a robust stand about social justice, convinced that God does not forget the helpless person of whom others take advantage, and that the cries of the defenseless "reach the ears of the Lord of hosts."
Take the prophets as your models in speaking the truth
Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is sanding at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Jesus' rejection of divorce and remarriage
He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
The true friend, the "treasure... beyond price," may eventually become one's spouse, since the transition from friendship to marriage is part of most people's life-plan. Still, the sturdiness of such relationships will be tested, and when hardships and misunderstandings come our way, we are helped by the advice of St. James not to grumble at each other. Rather, we should to look to the prophets as models in "bearing hardships and practicing patience" and think of the steadfastness of Job. Patience and steadfastness are the virtues that enable friendship and marriage to survive the mountain passes and so to reach the sunshine on the other side.
Much can be lost by simply giving up, and betraying a love that we have pledged. In the stern language of Jesus such a break can be called by the blunt word, "adultery," and is not what God intended, when in the beginning he made them male and female. "For this reason a person shall leave father and mother and the two shall become as one... let no human agency separate what God has joined." Just as Sirach instructs us not to commit to a friendship lightly or quickly, so our Gospel for today warns us not to disrupt what God has personally blessed and united.
In the gospel today, Jesus presents God's vision of marriage, as found in the book of Genesis, involving a man and a woman coming together and giving themselves to each other for life, so that their two lives are joined to become one. In Jesus' own day there were reservations about this vision of lifelong married life. Some would have seen it as too idealistic and not taking sufficient account of the reality of people's lives. Yet, Jesus reiterates the teaching of the book of Genesis. There is much resistance to this vision in modern times as well, when many want to define marriage in much broader and looser terms.
Marriages break down, we all know that. I suspect many of us here present will have friends or family members whose marriages have not lasted. I certainly have. Yet, we need to hold on to the vision given in today's gospel, which corresponds to God's understanding of marriage. Jesus regarded marriage as a relationship of love between a man and a woman, which reflected loving God's relationship with his people. The early church saw marriage as a relationship of love between a man and a woman that reflected Christ's loving relationship with his church. The love of husband and wife in marriage is a special expression of Christ's love for his church, although not the only one. That vision is worth fighting for, especially in a culture so often unsympathetic to it. It is worth fighting for because it is worthy off what is best and deepest in people.
Anointing with oil and confession of sins, for a cure
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Jesus embraces and blesses the children
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
St Mark has Jesus turn attention to the children, while James shows our need of the advice, prayers and blessing of the elders; and then Mark teaches how children model for us the correct attitude for belonging to the Kingdom of God.
James concentrates on the elderly and the sick members. Weakness and estrangement come on every family, one way or another. Reconciliation reaches outward to include the spiritual or moral aspects-sin. It does not overlook the physical tensions that arise through sickness and offers prayers, anointing and the gathering of the elders around the sick person.
The healing is expected to be complete and integral, physical and spiritual. In answer to the question, "Is there anyone sick among you?" James recommends, "ask for the elders of the church... to pray over the sick person, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord... Declare your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may find healing.
And if someone should stray away, the other members of the community are not to ignore that neighbour, "Remember this: the person who brings a sinner back from the evil way will save their own soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins." At the heart, motivating this action we find kindliness and concern. At another place in Scripture we read, "Above all, let your love for one another be constant, for love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8).
Mark today draws us to the children within the family. Here Jesus states a message inscribed deeply in the gospel and in our memory: It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
From children the adults are asked to learn about the kingdom of peace and forgiveness, of life and hope, of trust and faith. We must never be too busy or too preoccupied to seek these virtues. The disciples considered Jesus' time and energy too precious for the Master to be distracted and bothered with the children whom "people were bringing... to have him touch them." At this Jesus became "indignant." Jesus, we are told, "embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them." This human touch unites all three readings: Jesus embracing the children; the elders laying hands on the sick and anointing them, God forming the tongues and eyes and ears of the human body. We must reach out and touch, of such is the Kingdom of God.
Peter praises the saving mercy of God, on the occasion of a baptism
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith (being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire) may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Jesus invites the rich young man to give away his money and be a disciple.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
The paradox of voluntarily losing something in order to gain something else appears both in 1 Peter and in Mark, and is a hallmark of Markan (and of Petrine) theology, for Mark was Saint Peter's disciple and helper in Rome. This principle also has a number of practical applications outside the religious sphere. The gambler knows that she or he stands to lose the wagered amount--but risks it just the same, in hope of the prize to be won, whether on the card-table, the racetrack or the stock-market. The farmer knows what must first be spent on seed, grain and fertilizer, in order to ensure a crop. And how many physicians urge their patients to lose some weight, in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.
This imperative is echoed in today's austere message, where in a memorable image Jesus expresses the no pain, no gain philosophy. "It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." The anonymous rich young man was ready for other aspects of discipleship, perhaps: the learning, the travelling, the companionship--but not this stark call to renunciation. The riches and talents of life can block and stultify us unless they are enjoyed in accordance with God's will and in a spirit of service and of sharing with our neighbour. That other haunting statement of Jesus comes back to mind: "Whoever loses his life will save it" (Mark 8:35).
While First Peter is among the most life-affirming documents in the New Testament, it too has more than a hint of the world-renouncing principle. Peter sees the glory of the Risen Jesus transforming us from within, we who have been reborn by baptism into an imperishable inheritance. It looks as if this epistle began as a baptismal homily, possibly in Rome, when entering the outlawed early church carried with it the risk of martyrdom. This risk to one's life and freedom lends special quality to what Peter says about the life-enhancing grace of baptism. Through it we begin a new life, the glorious life of Jesus, a source of extraordinary joy and strength now, a pledge of what is "to be revealed in the last days."
Sometimes after we've asked a question, we can find the answer to our question difficult to deal with. That is the case with the rich man who ran up to Jesus with the question, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?' When Jesus asked him to go beyond the Ten Commandments he had been keeping and to sell all he owned and follow Jesus along the way, he couldn't live with that answer. We are told that he walked away sad. Jesus did not ask everybody he met to sell everything and to journey with him, but he did ask this man. This was this man's particular calling. Like this man, we can often find ourselves faced with a call to do something which seems beyond us. The temptation can be to walk away from the call, even though to say 'yes' to the call would be the path to life for us. The Lord can call any one of us beyond where we are; he can call on us to grow in our relationship with him, to be more generous in our response to his presence. We may not be able to answer that call in our own strength, but we will be able to answer it with the Lord's strength. In the gospel, Jesus declares that 'everything is possible for God.' When Mary was called to become the mother of Jesus and she hesitated, that was the message she heard. The angel declared to her 'Nothing will be impossible with God.' It is the message we too will hear whenever we seek to answer the Lord's call to us.
The Passion of Christ was revealed, and we must share in it
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look!
Therefore prepare for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
Repaid a hundred times over for anything we have given up for Jesus' sake
Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
The encouraging style of pope Francis a clear resonance of the pastoral style of Saint Peter. In his pep-talk to the newly-baptised adults who must face the risks of living as Christians under the reign of mad, megalomaniacal Nero, Peter urges them to "prepare for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace of Jesus Christ." His epistle sets the bar of holiness very high for all the baptized. Much of what was said back at Vatican II about the universal Christian vocation to holiness and to a close, personal bond with Christ, was drawn from this Petrine epistle. Peter’s message is much more inspiring than any number of papal encyclicals and decrees in subsequent centuries, purporting to end all discussion on controversial issues of current concern. What could most benefit our Church today would be a clear return to those basic principles of Christian living, building on the centrality of the Risen Jesus. Theologians could then be allowed greater freedom to explore how this can shed light on the hot topics of today.
In the Gospel, Jesus promises a rich reward in the coming Kingdom of God to all who have given up comforts for his sake. Clearly Peter and the others are to follow the example of Our Lord, who identified with the poor, gravitated towards them and spoke up in their defence. The lifestyle of Gospel messengers will not be opulent, or even materially secure. Like Jesus, they will take risks when reaching out, even–literally or figuratively–"touch the leper" and be rendered unclean, unfit to share in temple ritual. Yet this option renders us holy with the Jesus who declared that "The last shall be first." The "hundredfold" now in this age will presumably have to be taken in the sense of spiritual joy in doing worthwhile work, rather than as a promise of material wealth in this present life, pace our Calvinist brethren, some of whom still link Christian virtue too closely with material prosperity.
Today's gospel begins with a question from Peter, "What about us? We have left everything and followed you." Peter and the other members of the twelve had given up a great deal to become followers of Jesus. They may have been wondering if it was really worth it all. We too have responded to the Lord's call, although not in the same very radical way that those intimate associates of Jesus had answered the call, leaving livelihood and family for a very uncertain future. Perhaps on our off days we might be tempted to ask a similar question to that of Peter; "Is it worth the effort, this following of Jesus, this struggle to live by the values of the gospel day in and day out." The answer of Jesus to Peter and to us all is that, "yes, it is worth the effort." Jesus promises us in that gospel reading that when we respond to his call, when we give of ourselves for his sake, we will receive far more than we will give. In particular, he says that we will gain a new experience of family, far beyond the confines of our blood family, the family of believers. We will find ourselves co-travellers with others who are trying to take the same path as ourselves; we will experience the richness of the church, the community of the Lord's followers. That community embraces not only those of us still on our pilgrim way, but all who have passed beyond this life, including the saints, that "great cloud of witnesses."
We are ransomed with the precious blood of Christ
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever." That word is the good news that was announced to you.
There will be no rank and privilege in God's kingdom.
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again." ServiceJames and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able. Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Although Jesus encountered opposition from the disciples, he did not back down or change tack, but continued on his way to Jerusalem, where, he knew, the Son of Man will be handed over, to be mocked and spat him, flogged and finally killed. Little wonder that his followers were amazed and afraid, despite the fact that he also promised, "after three days he will rise again."
By contrast with this exalted vision of hope and life, of martyrdom and self-giving for others, the action of Zebedee’s sons, James and John, seems petty and contemptible. How could they intrigue for privileged places in the kingdom, seeking to outrank their colleagues, when Jesus has announced the giving of his life for everyone? How could they want to lord it over others (as prelates? ) ust as the Gentiles do? He had taught a spirit of loving service, but still they were scheming and dreaming of profit and of gaining the inside track. And yet, we must be grateful to the candid pair, for drawing from Jesus the clearest and most radical statement of his life’s purpose, when he declared that "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Here is one of several clashes between Jesus and his disciples in Mark's gospel, as they make their way to Jerusalem, the city where Jesus will be crucified. Jesus and his disciples are clearly on different wavelengths. The difference between them finds expression in the very different questions they ask of each other. The question the two disciples, James and John, ask Jesus focuses on glory, honour, status. The question that Jesus asks James and John focuses on the experience of rejection and suffering that he has to face into, "Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?" Jesus was referring to the cup of suffering and the baptism of fire. The question of James and John showed their interest in self-promotion. The question of Jesus showed his interest in self-giving. At the heart of being his disciple is self-giving love, becoming the servant of others, and this will often mean taking the way of the cross, as Jesus knew from his own experience. James and John, and all of us, are being called to follow the one who did not come to be served but to serve, whose purpose in life was not to promote himself but to empty himself for others. It is only in following this way that we will receive that share in Jesus' glory that was the focus of James and John's request.
Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
Jesus heals Bartimaeus of blindness because of his faith.
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
A lovely stained-glass window in church I know depicts the healing of the man born blind. Below it is written the exchange between Jesus and the man, "What do you want me to do for you?," "Lord, let me see again." At first, apparently this man almost did not get close enough to Jesus to really talk with him. When he first cried out, from his place by the roadside, "Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me," some friends of Jesus scolded the man and told him to keep quiet.
Jesus was critical of those who prevented others from coming to believe in him. He reproved his disciples for preventing children being brought for his blessing. He ignored those who tried to prevent blind Bartimaeus from making contact with him. Rather than shutting doors in people’s faces, Jesus wants his followers to open up the kingdom of heaven to others. We are to lead each other to the Lord, reveal the Lord to each other, and, in so doing, to support one another on our journey towards God. We can only admire the efforts made by pope Francis in this direction.
Jesus stopped his walk and told those who were insisting that the man keep quiet that, instead, they call him to come over. These well-meaning followers of Jesus were preventing this man from relating to Jesus, much to Jesus’ annoyance. Our calling is to do the very opposite; it is to help each other meet the Lord, to bring each other to the Lord in some way, to support one another in our efforts to follow the Lord along the road.
The end of all things is near; be glad and shout for joy
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
The barren fig-tree; the driving out of money-changers
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer or all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you your trespasses."
Both Peter's letter and Jesus' driving out from the temple those engaged in buying and selling confront us with the fearful topic of life's ending. We read in Peter that the end is close at hand, and in the gospel the withering of the fig tree signals the end of the Jerusalem temple. Yet in all three biblical passages for today it is clear that life goes on and that our response must not be mere passive submission to events.
Mark's gospel sets Jesus' cleansing the temple in some association with his cursing the fig tree and its withering, since the story of the fig tree envelops the other incident, a style quite common in Mark. Jesus was doing more than cleansing the temple, for his words, drawn from the Old Testament, announce a new type of temple: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people." In those days, non-Jews were forbidden under pain of death to advance beyond the outer court of the gentiles, and the Roman authorities ratified this prescription. But Jesus draws from an Old Testament passage (Isaiah, 56) from a tradition which was not dominant in the life of Israel, though the words give an understanding of God's plans for the future of his people. Clearly, he wants them to live more prayerfully and more generously towards others, and allow outsiders to share in the Jewish prayerful awareness of God's presence.
In Peter, the link with the ancestors is kept very firm. In cleansing the temple, Jesus also referred back to Isaiah. Peter advises us, "Be mutually hospitable without complaining… put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure that each has received." Even while doing one's best, we are not to be surprised if "a trial by fire" may occur, but instead, "Rejoice insofar as you share in Christ's sufferings." Sorrow can put us in contact with the greatest of our ancestors, Jesus Christ, who continues to live through the bond of the new covenant. We can overcome our trials, and look to the future because of the bond of God's love for us in Christ Jesus. No matter what may happen, the mercy of Christ is there to help us.
Mark often links two stories together that he perceives to have something in common. In today's gospel he links the story of Jesus in the temple with the story of Jesus and the fig tree. Jesus could not find any fruit on the fig tree, and he declared that the tree had no future. Mark is implying that when Jesus entered the temple he found that it was not bearing the fruit it was meant to bear. Instead of being a house of prayer it had become a robber's den. Like the fig tree, it too had no future.
Jesus speaks again about prayer. The temple is to be replaced by a new house of prayer, a new praying community, the community of those who do the will of God as Jesus has revealed it, the community of Jesus' brothers and sisters, what came to be called the church. The church is to be a prayerful community. It is also to be a community that is marked by forgiveness. When Jesus speaks about prayer at the end of that gospel, he links it to forgiveness. 'When you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.' The readiness to forgive as we have been forgiven is one of the primary fruits that God would expect to find among this new community of prayer.
Persevere in God’s love, and welcome the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ
My beloved, you must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. But build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Jesus will explain his authority if others will state their judgment on John's ministry.
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me." They argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?" - they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
God requires honesty in us, in order to properly relate to Him.Dishonesty sets up a more formidable barrier to God's presence with us than many of our more identifiable sins. These can be forgiven by God's great mercy, but only if we are honest enough to admit that we have sins to be forgiven. Jude deals with this kind of honesty, when he writes: "Correct those who are confused; the others you must rescue, snatching them from the fire."
Jesus makes a similar demand, when religious leaders feel that their monopoly of truth and holiness dispenses them from being honest and above board. To protect their status they permit themselves to lie or to be devious. In the early church, some people felt so spiritually sanctified that they could ignore normal discipline in their lives, particularly in acts such as eating or physical expressions of love. They were not honest enough to admit the integral unity between body and soul, physical and spiritual.
Today's gospel is set just after Jesus cleansed the temple. It was a very daring thing to do. There were people in charge of the temple. Jesus certainly had not been authorized by them to do what he did. The question of the authorities who administered the temple is very understandable, "What authority have you for acting like this? Who gave you this authority? This happened towards the end of Jesus' public ministry. At the start of his ministry, according to Mark, the ordinary people were impressed by the authority with which Jesus spoke and acted. Far from being disturbed by his claim to authority, as the religious leaders were, they were greatly impressed by it. They kept asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching, with authority."
Basically, Jesus spoke and acted with the authority of God. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, it was a liberating authority. We all need an authority of some sort as a reference point in life. The real issue is who or what will we take as our authority. The gospels assure is that Jesus embodies the authentic authority of God, an authority that empowers us to become fully human and fully alive.
God has given us all we need to live well, sharing in divine life
May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
The wicked tenants kill the vineyard-owner's son, but justice is restored.
Then he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyrd to others. Have you not read this scrpture: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes'?"
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
The story Jesus tells in today's gospel is about rejection. A vineyard owner sent his servants to collect his share of the fruits of the vineyard; all of them were rejected out of hand. He then sent his son who was not only rejected but killed. At the end of the story Jesus declares that the stone rejected by the builders went on to become the keystone, the most important stone in a building. The story is a veiled reference to what had happened to the prophets before Jesus came and what would soon happen to Jesus himself. He would be rejected and put to death, but God would raise him from the dead and make him the keystone of a new spiritual building, the church. The feeling of rejection is a common enough human experience. People can feel themselves rejected by others, often by significant others, at various stages of their lives. Jesus who knew the pain of rejection identifies with us in our own moments of rejection. He also assures us that there can be life and love beyond rejection; the rejected stone can become the keystone. God can work in a life-giving way in and through all the various painful experiences that we struggle with in life. Experiences that we might judge to be completely negative can turn out to be foundational for our lives. The Lord's power often manifests itself in surprising ways in our moments of greatest weakness.
The second letter of Peter was one of the last books of the New Testament to be composed. The author takes up a question which the apostle Peter never had to face: will the glorious second coming of Jesus be delayed indefinitely? It seems that once the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and later unleashed violent persecution against the Christians, yet Jesus did not return as victorious Messiah, some Christians felt betrayed by their new religion, and lost in a quagmire of doubt. The apostle Peter had already been martyred in A.D. 65 or 66. The inspired author of this epistle placed his writing within the setting of Peter’s lifetime, and drew on the earliest Christian traditions and the lifetime of Jesus, now seven decades past, in order to insist on the continuity of past and future, from God’s manifest presence then to God’s hidden presence now.
The gospel anticipates just this kind of problem. The owner of the vineyard seems to have vanished, so the tenant farmers can live recklessly, even killing the owner’s son to seize total control of the property. When Jesus first spoke this parable, he had in mind the puzzling but familiar text: "The stone rejected by the builders has become the keystone of the structure." This passage states that God will always be faithful and will choose even the least likely person or the abandoned talent, and turn it into the keystone of the new life. Christians later reinterpreted this text to announce God’s transfer of his ancient promises to the gentile world after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 66-70. Peter instructs us further in ethics by linking the virtues of piety, self-control, perseverance, faith and care for one’s neighbour.
We are waiting for the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.
You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it."
The question put to Jesus in today's gospel is not a sincere one. It is an effort to trap him. If he were to say, "Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar," he would lose the esteem of most of the Jewish people who resented the Roman presence; if he says, "No, do not pay your taxes to Caesar" he would be liable to arrest and trial by the Romans. Jesus was asked many questions in the course of his public ministry and when the question came from a heart that was genuinely searching he took it very seriously. On this occasion, however, Jesus' questioners were simply out to get him. Yet, Jesus did not stay silent before this question, insincere as it was. In a very succinct and somewhat enigmatic fashion he declared that people should give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give back to God what belongs to God. The coin can be given to Caesar because it belongs to him, but what is to be given to God is something much more fundamental. A little later in that same chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus will spell out what is due to God -- God is to be loved with all our heart, soul and mind. God is to be our first and greatest love, our primary commitment. That certainly can never be said of any human authority, be it political or otherwise. Jesus is saying that no Caesar, no political institution, no human institution can ever take the place of God in our lives.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to God - whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did - when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.
I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.
In the resurrection, they will not marry. God of the living, not of the dead.
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that 'if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.' There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her."
Jesus said to them, "Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong."
While some of Jesus' remarks about marriage leave us rather baffled, he clearly affirms that a heavenly future is open to us. We will rise from the dead, in such continuity with our earthly existence that what we do on earth our joy or punishment in the hereafter. Yet, we will be radically different, and so will the entire earth be transformed. Yesterday, 2 Peter announced "new heavens and a new earth" and the Book of Revelation speaks of "no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away" (Rev 21:4).
Even marriage and family will be different, transformed, yes, but hardly destroyed. If earthly existence affects our heavenly life, one expects that marriages and families will have a strong impact as well, since love is the determining factor. Our final judgment will be decided on whether or not we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, comforted the sick, visited prisoners (Matthew 25:40). If love for strangers and for the ministers of the gospel is so rewarded and so remembered, then surely the love and self-sacrifice in marriage and family life, also.
The close tie between marriage and eternity becomes more apparent from the first readings for today's liturgy. The text from Tobit not only joins Tobit and the distant Sarah in prayer, but it also hints to the answer of each one's prayer: the marriage of Tobit's son to Sarah. This marriage came as a result of Tobit's blindness and the search for the son's security. The marriage itself brought a cure to Tobit's blindness, enabled him to see his grandchildren and to enter eternity with peace.
Another bonding of heaven and earth through marriage is seen in 2 Timothy just before the passage for today, in a warm testimony to Timothy's family and Paul's friendship with them. "I find myself thinking of your sincere faith, faith which first belonged to your grandmother Lois and to your mother Eunice, and which is in you also" (2 Tim 1:4-5). When Paul was awaiting his death by execution and martyrdom, his mind was reaching back serenely and gratefully to the family ties of his disciple Timothy.
The question of the afterlife has intrigued people from very earliest times. In today's gospel, Jesus is approached by the members of a party in Judaism, the Sadducees, who did not believe in life after death. The Sadducees recognized only the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, as Sacred Scripture, and they saw no evidence in those five books to suggest that there was a life beyond this earthly life. They approach Jesus as someone whom they know has a different view on this issue to themselves. The kind of scenario the Sadducees put to Jesus indicates that they understood eternal life as simply and extension of this earthly life. However, Jesus' reply suggests otherwise. "When they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven." Life in heaven is not just a continuation of life on earth; it is qualitatively different. In his first letter to the Corinthians St Paul speaks about this life beyond death in terms of transformation. "We shall all be changed." In that same letter he states that "love endures"; love endures into eternity. Our love for the Lord and for each other will be perfected in heaven, even though it will be expressed in a very different way to how it is expressed on earth. We can be sure, therefore, that because of the transformation that awaits us we will be more like the person God wills us to be and always intended us to be.
Remenber and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David - that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
Love of God and love of neighbour excel all ritual sacrifice.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other;' and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,'--this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
The gospel links love and commandment. Normally we do not think of love as a law but as a spontaneous response of one person to another. The noblest form of love is a giving of self, "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." It reaches out to others and loves them for themselves, to "love your neighbour as yourself." Such love is "worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice." Without love everything else loses in value, while with it we are "not far from the reign of God."
Writing to Timothy, Paul speaks of difficulties to be mastered and overcome: even to the point of being thrown into chains, or to die with the other, that we may live with them... to hold out to the end... always to remain faithful. stop disputing about mere words... all this, to gain God's approval.
We badly need each other's help, for first this one suffers and then the other. We support one another, the strong taking care of the weak; for sooner or later the tables are turned and the strong one will turn to the partner for aid. Yet even if we fail one another, there is still hope, as Paul writes: "If we are unfaithful God still remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself."
Jesus is asked a number of questions that are fundamental to our relationship with God. One of these is at the beginning of today's gospel. A Jewish scribe comes up to Jesus and asks him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" There were a lot of rules and regulations in the Jewish religion at that time. He wanted to know which one was the most important. In his answer Jesus gave more that he was asked for. He was asked for the first commandment; he gave the first and second commandment, the first being to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second being to love our neighbour as ourselves. In that way Jesus was showing that these two commandments are inseparable. We cannot love God without loving our neighbour, and in loving our neighbour we are, at the same time, loving God. Yet, the two commandments are not on the same level, one is first and one is second. It is the love of God which is to be the primary love in our lives. We owe the greatest devotion to God. As Jesus says in one of the other gospels, "Seek first the kingdom of God." God as revealed in Jesus is to be our greatest love. If we are caught up into a loving relationship with God, it will overflow into a love of all those whom God loves, and our various human loves for other people will reflect something of God's love for them.
Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Wicked people and impostors, however, will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Jesus explains that David was not the Messiah
While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet." ' David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?" And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
Our formation comes first of all from the home and then from our circle of friends, later reinforced by membership of the church. Paul refers to this kind of background when writing to Timothy, "From your infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures." Earlier he refers to the sincere faith "which belonged to your grandmother Lois and to your mother Eunice." A good rearing at home prepared Timothy for his apostolic ministry.
Such a home setting ought to be reflected in our churches and synagogues. The Jerusalem temple was called the "house of God." In the Hebrew this word "house" once referred to a nomad’s tent that covered the entire family under one roof. Tent-dwelling required intimacy, trust and a common sharing of sorrow or joys. The first dwelling for the ark of the covenant was such a tent. David was blocked from building a house of cedar and mighty stones, because, God says, "from the day I led the Israelites out of Egypt to the present… I have been going about in a tent" (2 Samuel 7:6). The family home then determines the attitudes for church and temple, and also provides the context for our interpreting Scripture.
When we turn to today’s gospel, the predominant sense is of sorrow and regret. Religion has been turned into a business or profession, and the temple into a place for controversy. How easily this can happen if church people put more stress on such esoteric questions as the timing of the end of the world rather than on the elementary virtues of love, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and prayer.
Jesus refuses to answer the question about the messianic age on the grounds set by the questioners. We may recall another time when, on being asked when the reign of God would come, he replied, "It is not it a matter of reporting that it is ‘here’ or ‘there.’ The reign of God is already in your midst" (Luke 17:21).
In today's gospel, there is an argument going on between Jesus and the Jewish scribes about the identity of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Jesus is confronting the teaching of the scribes according to which the Messiah will be the son of David. Jesus quotes from one of the psalms to show that Messiah was to be not simply David's son but David's Lord. Although a descendant of David, Jesus, as Messiah, is declaring himself to be David's Lord. In other words, there is more to Israel's Messiah than the scribes appreciate. As the long awaited Jewish Messiah, Jesus is Lord, Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of David, Lord of all. One of the great confessions of the early church was, "Jesus is Lord." That was a very striking confession in a Jewish context, because up until the time of Jesus, the title "Lord" was given only to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of Israel. Today's responsorial psalm, a Jewish prayer, declares "My soul, give praise to the Lord" -- to God. Jesus is Lord of Israel's greatest king, David; he is our Lord, Lord of each one of us, Lord of the church. Our calling is to live our lives under his Lordship, or, to put it in another way, to live as his servants, placing ourselves at the service of his purpose for our world.
Paul's legacy: carry out your ministry fully
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn awy from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Not external religion but sincere self-giving
Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
Religion loses its essential meaning and focus if it degenerates into a concern for splendid vestments, guaranteed front seats in synagogues and churches, places of honour at banquets, long prayers. To correct any such version of religion, Jesus praises the old woman who put two small copper coins, worth about a cent, into the collection box. She contributed more than all the others; for they gave from their surplus while she gave from her poverty. This is another way of arriving at the end of the journey and of finishing the race. The widow gave herself totally to the Lord.
The phrase widow's mite has made its way into the English language. It often refers to something small which, nonetheless, displays a tremendous generosity of spirit. The widow gave a very small amount of money to the temple treasure, but in giving that very little, she was giving everything she had to live on. Jesus identifies her to his own disciples as an example of a wonderful generosity of spirit. Jesus often encouraged his disciples to learn from people who were not his disciples. At this point in the gospel Jesus is in the Jerusalem, about to face into his passion. This woman who gave everything was a figure of Jesus who was soon to give everything on the cross. This seemingly insignificant widow who seemed to give next to nothing was, in reality, a living witness of divine generosity. The widow reminds us that there are saints in our midst that we don't often notice. A wonderful generosity of spirit can reveal itself in gestures that appear very ordinary and even insignificant to those observing. There can be times in our lives when we appear to have very little, in all kinds of ways, but if we give generously out of the little we have, we are rich in the eyes of the Lord.
In the dry Wadi Cherith, Elijah is fed by divine providence
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." The word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there." So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi.
The Beatitudes, our basic principles for living.
When he saw the crowds, Jesus went up the mountain; and after he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
People who are more poor and neglected are not necessarily holier or more spiritual. Poverty is not in itself a biblical ideal, but sometimes it brings out the finest qualities in a disciple. Paul makes a connection between our need and God's gracious help; and then the gift of being able to console others. But poverty can just as easily lead to vice, to stealing, disregard for the property and even the lives of others. Of course these vices are also found among the wealthy, only under more sophisticated forms of greed, dominance or arrogance. Without money or rank, we are forced to rely on basic human resources.
Notably, the first of the beatitudes is spoken to the "poor in spirit"--a kind of humility based upon dependence on God rather than on fame and fortune. It is linked to the patience and compassion which mark people as true disciples of Jesus. Poverty and mildness of spirit can be the school of compassion as well as purity of heart. More people are attracted to the faith by the compassion of its religious leaders than by any other virtue; more are turned away from religion by arrogance and dominance than by all other faults of those in charge of others, whether parents, teachers, priests or ministers. Today's texts are a call to merciful spirit of servant-leadership and point to the good results to be achieved. Such leadership from our bishops and priests fosters a strong, caring Catholic community, a persevering community and foreshadows the kingdome of God. In such a community, those who have shared the suffering of Christ will richly share in his consolation. When we are poor in spirit, we let God accomplish the beatitudes in us, and then through us for others.
Portrait painting is a very specialized skill. When I am in London I love to visit the portrait gallery just off Trafalgar Square. There are wonderful portraits there of all kinds of people from the present time back through the centuries. People like to have their portraits painted. If you are ever in Rome and you go to Piazza Navona you will find people sitting to have their portraits pained by local artists. I like to think of the beatitudes as painting a portrait. When Jesus spoke those beatitudes he was painting a portrait of himself. He is poor in spirit, in that he depends on God for everything; he is gentle and humble of heart; he mourns because God's will is not being done on earth as in heaven; he hungers and thirst for what is right, for what God wants, and is prepared to suffer to bring that about; he is merciful to the broken and the sinner; he has a purity of intention, wanting only what God wants; he works to make peace between God and humanity and among human beings. In painting a portrait of himself, Jesus was also painting a portrait of his followers. It is our portrait, and we are called to try and fit that portrait. We cannot become the person of the beatitudes on our own; we need the help of the Holy Spirit who works within us to mould us into the image and likeness of Christ.
The widow of Zarephath provides for Elijah, so her own food-supply lasts to the end of the famine.
After a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil ail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under-foot.
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Just as salt sharpens the flavour of food and light lets us see what is there in a room, so the special salt and light provided by Christ's Spirit within us, enable us to say a generous "yes" to God's promptings, and see things as they are. The Holy Spirit of Pentecost puts into our mind this love for God and passion for truth so we can discover what God wants us to see. Sharpened in taste by the salt of this Gospel, and enlightened by the Spirit, we can respond to God with full hearts. A special kind of "yes" was spoken by the widow of Zarephath when the prophet Elijah asked her for food and water. Her generous, spontaneous answer was prompted by trust in God and her belief in Elijah's miraculous powers. Her faith, and her willingness to share with this stranger her last reserves of food and drink, brings to a spectacular blessing, to which Jesus refers, centuries later, as a classic instance of the powers of a prophet.
To return to Christ's words about salt and light, when they share his message with others his disciples do not add anything totally new but by their wit and expressive power they helped people recognize and value what they already were, as creatures of God, redeemed by Jesus. What the disciple says and does should be like a candle set on a lampstand to give light to the house. "So your light must shine, so that they may see your goodness in action and give praise to your heavenly Father." As disciples and as ministers of his blessing we are all called to be light and salt, enabling others to see how much love God has invested in them. We can lead others, and ourselves, to know the hidden presence of the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus who has anointed and sealed us with the Spirit in our hearts. This Holy Spirit is our down payment, our first reception of the full glory and joy of heaven, the beginning of the final "yes" when God will receive us home.
In the gospel, Jesus the Jew is respectful of his own Jewish tradition, "don't imagine that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets." However, he also declares that he has come to complete the Law and the Prophets, to bring their true intention to fulfilment. Jesus valued the good in his religious tradition, but was also open to the ways that God was working to enrich that tradition. We too are called to value the good in our own religious tradition, to critique the shadow side to that tradition and to be open and receptive to the ways that the Lord is constantly renewing and enriching that tradition. God is like the potter who takes what is there and reshapes it so that it serves his purposes more fully. God is always ahead of us in that sense; our task is to keep up with what God is trying to do.
Elijah's contest with the prophets of Ba'al
[At Elijah's prompting] Ahab sent to all the Israelites and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." The people did not answer him a word.
Then Elijah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God." All the people answered, "Well spoken!" Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it." So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, "O Baal, answer us!" But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made.
At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come closer to me"; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, "Israel shall be your name"; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, "Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." Then he said, "Do it a second time"; and they did it a second time. Again he said, "Do it a third time"; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, "The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God."
Not one letter of the law will be abolished until all is accomplished
Jesus said to his disciples,
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
"There is a time for everything.... A time of war, and a time of peace" (3:1, 7-8). The Scriptures often describe the prophets in conflict with the status quo. As we reflect on them, we recognize that tough decisions need to be made, such as when Elijah says: "How long will you sit on the fence? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him." Yet at other times, we are called to reconcile apparent opposites. Such is the spirit of the Gospel Gospel:, part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus supports the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, right down to the letter, while still announcing a new, more interior, set of values. According to Sirach, there is "a time to plant and a time to uproot". To uproot means that the old must go and we must embrace the new. As St Paul would put it, we are not to follow the dead letter of a law that has lost its meaing but the new, living law of the Spirit.
Our challenge is to discern when to harmonize with alternate viewpoints, and when to make a clean break. We are back again with Sirach's famous question of timing. We must study issues carefully to avoid bad decisions and impulsive reactions. Clearly, such a stand as that taken by Elijah must be preceded by a long road of other attempts to reconcile and change. That his stance on Mount Carmel was the last resort, becomes clear when he ordered the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal seized, dragged down to brook Kishon, and killed (1 Kings 18:40). We leave such a final day of judgement to God himself, and until it comes, we are to call others to conversion and reconciliation.
In Matthew's gospel, Jesus the Jew is shown as deeply respectful of his own Jewish tradition. So Matthew quotes him as saying that he has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. However, he also declares that he has come to complete the Law and the Prophets, to bring their true intention to fulfilment. Jesus valued the good in his religious tradition, but was also open to the ways that God was working to enrich that tradition.
We too are called to value the good in our own religious tradition, to critique the shadow side to that tradition and to be open and receptive to the ways that the Lord is constantly renewing and enriching that tradition. God is like the potter who takes what is there and reshapes it so that it serves his purposes more fully. God is always ahead of us in that sense; our task is to keep up with what God is trying to do.
A small dark cloud develops into a heavy rainstorm
Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain." So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." He went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." Then he said, "Go again seven times." At the seventh time he said, "Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person's hand is rising out of the sea." Then he said, "Go say to Ahab, 'Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'" In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
More is required by the grace of the Gospel
Jesus said to them,
"I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny."
Today's gospel has a sharp edge to it. The language Jesus uses is strange to our ears, 'If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…' Jesus is speaking in a exaggerated way to get our attention; he clearly does not intend to be taken literally. This image of tearing out our right eye links back to his understanding of adultery not just as a physical act but as an intention or a desire, 'whoever looks at a woman lustfully… .' Jesus goes behind the actions that the Ten Commandments prohibit to the roots of those actions in the human heart. This is the deeper virtue that he referred to a few verses earlier. Jesus calls for not just a change of behaviour but a change of heart, a purifying of desire and intention.
This interior transformation is understood elsewhere in the Scriptures to be the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who renews the human heart. It is above all in prayer that we open ourselves to the Spirit of God. As Elijah in the first reading sought out the mountain of God, we need to seek out the mountain of prayer. On the mountain, Elijah experienced the presence of the Lord in 'the sound of a gentle breeze', as another translation expresses it 'in the sound of sheer silence.' It is above all in silence that we seek the Lord's face, in the words of today's responsorial psalm, and open ourselves to the coming of the Lord's Spirit, who works within us to create in us a heart that reflects the heart of Jesus.
Elijah's encounter with God, at the cave on Mount Horeb
Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
Jesus' words about chastity, scandal and divorce
Jesus said to his disciples,
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Today's responsorial psalm is the prayer of one who sincerely seeks the true God. "It is your face, O Lord, that I seek." We can identify with that psalm, because we are all to some extent seekers. What we are ultimately searching for is none other than God, the origin of our being and the final destiny of our lives. As St Augustine famously put it, "You have made us for yourself, o Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." It is the seeker in all of us that makes us pilgrims, on a journey towards the fully disclosed presence of our God. Elijah the prophet was clearly such a seeker as he set out on his journey to the mountain of God, Mount Sinai, or Mount Horeb, as it was also called. When he reached that mountain, he met the divine presence, but not in the way he would have expected. Within Elijah's religious culture, it was thought God that God was found in the more extraordinary phenomena of nature, in fire or storm or earthquake. But on this occasion, God's presence was revealed in a much more subtle and quiet way -- in what the reading calls, "the sound of a gentle breeze." Another modern translation of the phrase expresses it as a "sound of sheer silence." Such sheer silence is not easy to come by in our noisy times with amplifiers blaring, or earphones in such constant use. Yet, it is in silence that the Lord can be most clearly heard. And since silence is not a salient feature of our modern culture, we often have to seek it out. To seek silence is, in a very real way, to seek the Lord, because it is in silence that we become most attuned to the Lord's passing by.
The words of Jesus about the ideal of perfect chastity may cause some unrest in light of today's widespread laxity towards this virtue. Apart from the challenge to couples of remaining faithful to their marriage covenant, today's Gospel has a stern warning against unchaste thoughts and desires. Some time back, in a cover story about "The Sex Addiction Epidemic" Newsweek magazine flagged the fact that internet pornography is rampant and proves addictive to many today. People have written about the cybersex compulsion and priests have noted anecdotally how one of the sins most frequently brought to the Sacrament of Penance is addiction to pornography, particularly on the internet.
It's a big problem, and a big business. Online pornography is driven by three factors: 1. Anonymity (real or imagined); 2. availability (24/7); and 3. affordability (many sites are free or inexpensive). A number of factors may be at work in drawing viewers to internet pornography, such as overwork, loneliness and an immature spirituality. For a workaholic pornography may seem a risk-free stress-reliever; for a lonely or socially anxious person it offers the illusion of being connected with others; and for an immature character it can be the shadow side of a double life, often marked by a perfect observance of external rules and rigid, black-and-white thinking. People with other addictive behaviours are at risk of adopting internet pornography as a form of self-medication.
People may express scandal or dismay when they hear of priests and religious using internet pornography, particularly in light of our vow of chastity or commitment to celibacy. But priests and religious are human too and need to take the same decision as others to resist this widespread miasma in our society. Pornography is a symptom of a wide de-emphasis on the virtue of chastity in our day and age. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in par. 2339 calls chastity an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom . - We guard our dignity when, getting rid of slavery to the passions, we press on with freely choosing what is good. Later, in par. 2520 ("The Battle for Purity") it says: "The baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires."
Elisha is called to a prophetic ministry by his patron, Elijah
Elijah set out from Mount Horeb and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
High ideals about chastity and marriage, proposed in the sermon on the mount
Jesus said to his disciples,
"You have heard how it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell. ‘It has also been said, Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of an illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Spiritually, we are still in our adolescent stage, old enough to be responsible but young enough to blunder and fall; far enough along to glimpse the new heavens and the new earth and yet at the same time still looking backward and in need of God’s forgiveness and patience. In so many of his talks, Pope Francis manages to beautifully enshrine both idealism and a gritty awareness of our flawed, human condition. Despite our awareness of personal imperfections, he says, we should reach out to the future in hope, full of the joy of the Gospel.
Some sense of belonging to "a new creation" shows up in both readings. Elijah threw his cloak over the young man Elisha, showing that the older generation was passing from the scene and a new generation was taking its place. A similarly radical challenge is heard from Jesus in today’s gospel: "Do not swear at all. Take no oaths, but say Yes when you mean Yes and No when you mean No."
The kingdom of God is a wonderful idea and glorious dream, but are Jesus’ directives in the Sermon on the Mount literally possible in this world of ours? Some Christian groups try to follow them literally, keeping their speech simple and exact, neverexaggerating or "embroidering". Most people, however, and certainly Irish people, feel the need to say more than a crisp "Yes" or an absolute "No." We consider it fair that others need to check out our ID card and our driver’s license, and we are willing in court to swear on the Bible that our words are true. We and our world are not yet fully there, in kingdom mode!
Jesus opposes the kind of oath taking that seeks to control God for one's own purposes, swearing by heaven, God's throne, or by earth, God's footstool, or by Jerusalem, the city of God. The temptation to control God for one's own purpose has been deeply rooted in the human spirit. Ancient magic was an attempt to control the spirit world for one's own purpose, and, indeed, the same could be said of certain forms of contemporary magic. Instead, the Lord's Prayer calls on us to begin by surrendering ourselves to God's purpose, 'your name be held holy, your kingdom come, your will be done.'
Jesus whole life teaches us that God's purpose for our lives is ultimately life-giving. In trust we can invite God to have God's way in our lives because that way is one that will lead to authentic life. It is not a case of manipulating God to serve our purposes but of giving ourselves over to serve God's purpose for our lives and for his creation, after the example of Jesus, who in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed, 'Father... not my will but yours be done', and after the example of Mary whose response to God's messenger was, 'Let it be to me according to your word.'
Ahab and Jezebel rob and kill Naboth the Jezreelite
Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." But Naboth said to Ahab, "The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
His wife Jezebel came to him and said, "Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?" He said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it'; but he answered, 'I will not give you my vineyrd.'" His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."
So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, 'You have cursed God and the king.' Then take him out, and stone him to death." The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned; he is dead."
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
The challenge to offer the other cheek and go the extra mile.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
In the gospel Jesus calls on his disciples not to repay evil with evil, but to respond to evil with goodness. The worst instinct in human nature is to respond in an evil way to goodness; the crucifixion of Jesus was an example of that instinct. The best instinct of human nature is to overcome evil with good. This in fact could be termed the divine instinct, God's instinct. It was the way of Jesus. He overcame the evil that was done to him with good. In the very moment when he was being violently rejected he revealed his love most fully. He lived and died to overcome evil with good. It is not easy to remain good in the face of evil, to remain loving in the face of hostility, to be faithful in the face of unfaithfulness, to be peacemakers in the face of violence done to us. We cannot live in this way drawing on our own strength and resources alone. We need God's strength, God's resources, God's Spirit, because such a way of life is the fruit of God's Spirit at work within us. In the first reading today Paul calls on us "not to neglect the grace of God you have received." God is always gracing us and if we rely on his grace we will be able to keep giving expression to that divine instinct of overcoming evil with good.
Under Elijah's threat, King Ahab repents and is forgiven
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."
Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, 'The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.' Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat."
(Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)
When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: "Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster on his house."
Love your enemies and so be perfect--just like your heavenly Father.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Whenever we hear the gospel command to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors, we think of Jesus' own heroic example, praying for his executioners, as he hung on the cross (Luke 22:34). Paul, today, also pleads for generosity as he tells the church at Corinth about the evident kindness of the churches of Macedonia. He was now collecting alms from the Corinthians for the church at Jerusalem, coming to the aid of a church that had persecuted him, blocked his apostolic work for the gentiles and even questioned his right to be an apostle.
These Scriptures focus on the spirit of forgiveness. We are asked to swallow our pride and turn away from our any instinctively harsh judgment of others. If even King Ahab repented, it shows how others can change. No matter how justified our anger or how eloquent our condemnation, like the prophet Elijah we too must look to the Lord God and seek to be forgiving and thus perfect as our Father is perfect.
Jesus called on people not to take vengeance on the enemy. In today's gospel, Jesus goes further and calls on us to love the enemy. As one commentator on this passage puts it, "Who else is left to love, after one has loved the enemy?" The love Jesus speaks of is not just a feeling but finds expression in active service. We might think of the parable of the good Samaritan, in which the Samaritan renders loving service to the injured Jew, who would have been regarded by the Samaritan as an enemy. Such a love of the enemy will also find expression in prayer for the enemy, as when Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who were responsible for his crucifixion.
The natural, human tendency is to focus our love on those for whom we have strong feelings of warmth and affection. This is natural, but according to today's gospel, it is not exceptional. Jesus calls on us to stretch beyond those our love would naturally embrace. This is one of the gospel texts that does indeed stretch us. Jesus is calling on us to reveal, by our way of relating to others, the God who in love causes the sun to rise on bad people as well as good, and the rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike. This way of life that Jesus calls us towards is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives among us and within us.
Elijah is carried up to heaven
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he rasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Beware of practicing your piety in public
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Today's gospel begins with Jesus saying, "Be careful not to parade your good deeds before others to attract their notice." Yet, a little earlier in the same sermon, Jesus appears to have said the very opposite of that, "Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven." There seems to be a tension between both of these sayings. Yet, there is truth in both. We are not to hide the light of our faith, keeping it under a bushel. Rather, we are to publicly proclaim our faith, our relationship with the Lord, by the lives that we lead, by the deeds that we do.
On the other hand, we don't publicly proclaim our faith in order to attract notice, in order to draw attention to ourselves, to bring praise or glory on ourselves. Rather, our public living of our faith is with a view to bringing glory to God. Today's gospel invites us to ask, "Who is being honoured by my public living of my relationship with the Lord? Is it myself or is it God?" Another way of asking that question is, "Who is being served by my good deeds? Is it myself or is it the Lord?" The opening petitions of the Lord's Prayer points us in the right direction, "Hallowed by your name, your kingdom come."
Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire, and his word burned like a torch.
He brought a famine upon them, and by his zeal he made them few in number.
By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens, and also three times brought down fire.
How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You raised a corpse from death and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.
You sent kings down to destruction, and famous men, from their sickbeds.
You heard rebuke at Sinai and judgments of vengeance at Horeb.
You anointed kings to inflict retribution, and prophets to succeed you.
You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with horses of fire.
At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
Happy are those who saw you and were adorned with your love!
For we also shall surely live.
When Elijah was enveloped in the whirlwind,
Elisha was filled with his spirit.
He performed twice as many signs, and marvels with every utterance of his mouth.
Never in his lifetime did he tremble before any ruler, nor could anyone intimidate him at all.
Nothing was too hard for him, and when he was dead, his body prophesied.
In his life he did wonders, and in death his deeds were marvellous.
Our prayer must not be too wordy and must include a spirit of forgiveness.
Jesus said, "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Jesus' giving of what has come to be known as the Lord's Prayer is to be found in two gospels, Matthew and Luke. In Matthew's gospel Jesus prefaces the giving of the prayer by calling on his disciples not to use many words, not to babble, when praying to God, as the pagans do. Jesus is referring to the pagan practice of bombarding the gods with various formulae, with the intention to forcing the gods to behave in a way that is favourable to humankind. However, the disciples of Jesus are not to relate to his heavenly Father in that way. God is not there to be manipulated by our many words. Rather, as the opening petitions of the Lord's Prayer suggests, we begin by surrendering to whatever God may want. What matters is God's name, God's kingdom, God's will. We don't try to force God to do what we want; we surrender to what God wants. After doing that, as the prayer indicates, we acknowledge our dependence on God, for our basic needs -- for food for the day, for forgiveness, for strength when our faith is put to the test. The Lord's Prayer is powerful in its simplicity. It is not simply one prayer among many; it is a teaching on how to pray always.
The priest Johoiada saves the life of prince Joash from Athaliah's fury
Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah's mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family. But Jehosheba, King Joram's daughter, Ahaziah's sister, took Joash son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king's children who were about to be killed; she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus she hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not killed; he remained with her six years, hidden in the house of the Lord, while Athaliah reigned over the land.
But in the seventh year Jehoiada summoned the captains of the Carites and of the guards and had them come to him in the house of the Lord. He made a covenant with them and put them under oath in the house of the Lord; then he showed them the king's son.
The captains did according to all that the priest Jehoiada commanded; each brought his men who were to go off duty on the sabbath, with those who were to come on duty on the sabbath, and came to the priest Jehoiada. The priest delivered to the captains the spears and shields that had been King David's, which were in the house of the Lord; the guards stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, from the south side of the house to the north side of the house, around the altar and the house, to guard the king on every side. Then he brought out the king's son, put the crown on him, and gave him the covenant; they proclaimed him king, and anointed him; they clapped their hands and shouted, "Long live the king!"
When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she went into the house of the Lord to the people; when she looked, there was the king standing by the pillar, according to custom, with the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, "Treason! Treason!" Then the priest Jehoiada commanded the captains who were set over the army, "Bring her out between the ranks, and kill with the sword anyone who follows her." For the priest said, "Let her not be killed in the house of the Lord." So they laid hands on her; she went through the horses' entrance to the king's house, and there she was put to death.
Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord's people; also between the king and the people. Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan, the priest of Baal, before the altars. The priest posted guards over the house of the Lord. So all the people of the land rejoiced; and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been killed with the sword at the king's house.
Do not lay up earthly treasure where moths and rust corrode.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
We can easily recognize the truth of Jesus' saying in this morning's gospel, 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.' We give our heart to whatever or whoever we treasure or value. We spend our lives trying to discern what it is that is truly valuable, valuable enough to give our heart to, to give our life to. In the course of our lives we meet people whom we come to value and treasure, people who mean a great deal to us, to whom we give our hearts, in one way or another. It is people who tend to be our greatest earthly treasures. People will always mean more to us than the material possessions we might accumulate. In this morning's gospel, Jesus suggests that he is our ultimate treasure, the one who is worthy of all our heart and mind and soul. When he becomes our greatest treasure, then, in the words of the gospel, we store up treasures for ourselves in heaven. He is the treasure beyond all human treasures because he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is the pearl of great price. In his letter to the Philippians Paul declares, 'I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.' Jesus was Paul's greatest treasure; it was to him that Paul gave his heart. Because he gave his heart to Jesus, he had a heart for others, for all those for whom Jesus died and rose to new life. When we give our heart to Jesus, it is not withdrawn from others. Rather our heart expands to embrace all whom Jesus embraces.
King Joash murders Zechariah son of the priest who save his life
Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen.
Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, "Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you." But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah's father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, "May the Lord see and avenge!"
At the end of the year the army of Aram came up against Joash. They came to Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the officials of the people from among them, and sent all the booty they took to the king of Damascus. Although the army of Aram had come with few men, the Lord delivered into their hand a very great army, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. Thus they executed judgment on Joash.
When they had withdrawn, leaving him severely wounded, his servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of the priest Jehoiada, and they killed him on his bed. So he died; and they buried him in the city of David, but they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings.
We cannot serve two masters. Do not be anxious for tomorrow
"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first or the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.
Worrying is part of the human condition. Parents worry about their children. Family members worry about each other. Young people worry about their future. Jesus must have worried about his disciples, about the lack of response on the part of some of his contemporaries to his message, about many things. In the gospel this morning Jesus is not saying 'don't ever worry about anything.' The focus of worry in that gospel is food, drink and clothing, and the worry in question is excessive worry or preoccupation. Jesus makes reference in that reading to 'the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.'
What is at issue here is setting our hearts on things that is not of ultimate importance. To that extent, it is really about getting our priorities right, getting them into line with God's priorities. That is why Jesus calls us to 'Set your hearts on God's kingdom first, and on his righteousness.' Don't be so preoccupied about food, drink and clothing, Jesus is saying, that there is no room in your heart for concern about the coming of God's kingdom or the doing of God's will. The first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer relate to what might be termed God's priorities, 'Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.' These were Jesus' priorities and he calls on us to make them our own as well.