Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was teaching his disciples. He had already rebuked their weakness in faith describing them as an unbelieving generation. Now he began to teach them about humility in service taking a little child as his example. His message is, anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. It is at this point that we begin today’s passage. Note what happens. It is as if John interrupts Jesus, drawing attention to himself. It is as if he is trying to change the subject, as if he is resisting what Jesus is trying to say. Try an experiment. Open your Bible and read Mark 9:35-37, then skip John’s story and Jesus’ reply about the cup of water to read verses 42-48. The message is clear: to forbid the exorcist is akin to making a little one stumble! In our day the Church has colluded with much suffering among the little ones and the vulnerable and needs to meditate long and hard on Mark’s teaching. Are we open-minded disciples on the way who understand the paradox of the child or mean-spirited disciples getting in people’s way? Are we approachable, truly open to Jesus’ way or are we seeking to impose our own more rigid and exclusive visions? Or do we continue to collude with corruption and cover-up? The time for changing the subject like John is long over!

 

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Czech theologian Tomas Halik says, “If we never had the feeling that what Jesus wants of us is absurd, crazy, and impossible, then we’ve probably either been too hasty in taming or diluting the radical nature of his teaching with soothing intellectualizing interpretations, or have too easily forgotten to what extent our thinking, customs, and actions rooted ‘in this world.’”  Jesus offers “God’s thinking,” the thinking by which we save our lives by losing them and build a kingdom whose divine power is seen as human weakness.

 

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we reflect on the first of two miracle stories that are found only in Mark. The other is the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida. While the other evangelists depict Jesus as healing solely through a word in these two stories Mark depicts him employing healing technique. But Mark is also concerned with the journey of the disciples and in these two stories suggests that they were deaf and blind. Where does discipleship begin? What am I deaf (or blind) to in the gospel, in the teaching of Jesus? Do my ears need to be opened? Does my tongue need to be released? What aspects of Christian belief do I refuse to speak? How defensive am I? How taciturn? Can I say about Jesus, He has done all things welleven if scandals are rife in the Church? The challenge today is to seek ways to be open to Jesus’ loving touch, to let Jesus break the chain that keeps my tongue a prisoner of culture, to praise God.

 

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our gospel passage today begins with an introduction on Jewish practices for Mark’s gentile audience. Note also that the quotation from Isaiah 29:13 comes from the Greek translation familiar to gentile Christians rather than the Hebrew familiar to Jesus and the first disciples. We then encounter one of several controversies Jesus had with the Scribes and Pharisees, this one focussed on traditional purification rituals. And this is where the link to the first reading comes to the fore: You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. Unfortunately, phariseeism is a risk for every believer, something that happens every time we turn the gospel into a list of dos and don’ts and judge people who in our view do not keep the rules. Look at the state of the Church in Ireland and elsewhere for a reality check. We all hold onto patterns, processes, institutions and behaviours that have nothing to do with the gospel. Mark then offers us a parable about the key significance of the inner life. It is what is in the heart that counts, and it is the heart that determines our Christian and human integrity. We forget that the inner life becomes real though concrete gestures grounded in love, empathy, generosity and compassion. It can also reveal the hard heart, the closed mind, the rigid attitude, and the victory of darkness. Where do we stand when radical change is needed? Jesus is always doing something new. Are we truly open to his loving action?

 

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Once again, we are listening to the discourse at Capernaum on the Bread from heaven. By now, the disciples knew that they had to make a choice, one that proved far from easy. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” They took Jesus literally, following their own frames of reference. How do we cope with our own human nature, our own limitations? How do we manage our own emotional immaturity? Because what is at stake here is not so much Eucharist as sacrament, but us confronted by Jesus as heavenly Wisdom incarnate, God’s true revelation. That is one reason why this passage ends with many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. That is one reason why this passage ends with a confession from Peter on behalf of the Twelve: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Here is the stark choice. Do we stay with Jesus intentionally as Peter did and the Twelve, or do we go our own way as many are doing in our own days? Do we follow Jesus or do our own thing? Am I an intentional disciple choosing Spirit and Life in Christ? The choice is always ours.

 

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is a Oneness between God and Jesus, and this makes all the difference. Those who truly know God know Jesus as Son of God. At the end of last week’s gospel he said, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. The people’s, or rather their leaders’ murmured response opening our gospel today reveals more than a lack of awareness and understanding. It is part of a pattern of rejection: Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? In effect, how could he be the son of God? Jesus’s response is twofold. He first appeals to God’s authority as the one who sent him. Then he suggests that understanding who he is, is a matter of cooperating with God’s grace. Some, like the woman at the well, get it. Others, like Nicodemus, do not. There are those who have learned from God and are drawn to Jesus, drawn to the One who is the Bread of Life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Eucharist brings us to the heart of Trinity and the transforming dance of a vast, undreamed of, eternal Love. Manna was for a specific time. Eucharist is forever. Do we get the message? Or do we sit murmuring?

 

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Jewish tradition the manna in the desert was associated with the giving of the Torah, and the wisdom of God is often portrayed by the metaphor of food.  While speaking of the bread of life, Jesus use language of believing, drawing near, and listening, terms associated more with assimilation of wisdom than eating.  Full participation in eating the body drinking the blood of Jesus follows upon personal commitment and love which draws a person to absorb the teaching of Jesus and imitate his life given for others.

 

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rather than continuing with Mark’s version of the feeding of the five thousand we turn instead to John’s account. John reveals the full significance of the event and shows us that the miracle is not only a work of power but a sign pointing to realities of another order, a sign that address our whole being, our whole identity, and every aspect of our personhood. He went across the sea of Galilee. He climbed a mountain and sat with his disciples on the green grass. A crowd spontaneously gathered with him on the mountain across the sea. All aspects of a mysterious sign unfolding in the shadow of the Passover feast. The request to Philip is addressed to all of us today. Unleavened barley loaves used for the offering are multiplied. Twelve baskets of fragments are collected. There is more than Moses and manna here, more than Elisha. Can you hear the soft echoes of Eucharist resounding down the centuries? Can you sense Jesus drawing us all into unity? Will you withdraw with Jesus to the mountain when they seek to make him king? Will you sit with him and the Father on the green grass of the Spirit?

 

Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark’s gospel is full of paradox and full of many kinds of miracles. Our short reading today invites us to meditate on the introduction to one of them (the feeding of five thousand). Jesus had invited his disciples, whom he had sent out two by two, to come apart with him by boat to a remote place so that they could rest awhile. But it was not to be! The crowds heard what was happening and going to the place on foot got there first. Seeing them Jesus felt compassion for the crowd and began to share spiritually with them. Notice how Jesus puts other people’s needs first. Notice how the links he creates between prayerfulness and loving-kindness. Notice how he links compassion and deep spiritual sharing. Notice the link to the prophesied Good Shepherd who would ensure that the people would no longer be victims of famine… or bear the scorn of the nations (read Ezekiel 34). Are we open to learning these lessons? Are we ready to put other people first or are rooted in selfish ways?

 

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The longer form of the gospel recounts two miracle stories, one concerning a little girl who is terminally ill and the other a woman suffering from a long illness. The short form focuses on the healing of the little girl, the daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus. Notice the importance of faith in both stories. Jairus opens the way for God to act in his daughter’s life and the woman opens the way for power to go out of Jesus and liberate her from a debilitating condition. Notice how Jesus praises her courage in reaching out to touch what she needed. How do we care for those who are ill? How open are we to the gift of life? How generous are we? In both of these stories Jesus gives witness to a God of life. He also shows us the true generosity of compassion and mercy: Jesus allows himself to be touched and interrupted. Do we?