15th Sunday Cycle B

See the readings here.

Many would have thought of Amos as a fairly uneducated peasant farmer, but it was this man who was called to go into the cities and reprimand the people for their lifestyle.  In the book of his name he seems to have done this in a very skillful way; he felt called by God but was also drawing upon his natural dislike for their fancy way of living in the city.  At the time of our reading he was preaching in Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel; he has heard threats from God of a plague of locusts to punish them, then of a fire burning up the land; but Amos begs God and He relents, but then God has had enough of people failing His expectations and Amos has to convey this message – the king will die, the people will go into exile.  At this point the priest addresses Amos in our reading for today (Amos 7:12-15); he tells him he is not a real prophet and should leave them alone and go back to where he came from; but Amos retorts that it is not by choice that he does this but is impelled by a command from God Himself.  In the words of the responsorial psalm (Psalm 85: 8-14) we seem to overlook any message Amos might have for us, expecting rather God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The second reading is from (Ephesians 1:3-14).  This passage is just after the usual Christian opening to a letter. This is a letter that was intended to be passed around the different churches that Paul had established, like an encyclical nowadays; we have the copy that had the Ephesians as its addressees, but in some of the oldest manuscripts no addressee is named.  After the introduction there is a grand accolade in the style of Jewish hymns of praise to God for all the blessings received.  It is positive like the Psalm read before it, and we praise God for it tells us of the remarkable privilege it is to be who we are – children of God.  The eleven verses in our translation are just one sentence in the original Greek and it details the believers’ great benefits within the overall scheme and process of God’s creating, leading eventually to His final and glorious kingdom for all, and the hymn praises God for it all.  Notice the strength and positivity of the words used: by the Father we are blest, chosen, destined and graced; through the Son we have adoption, forgiveness, revelation and vocation; and we have heard and believed and are guaranteed our redemption through the Spirit of Christ and God.

In Mark’s gospel there are accounts of two pairs of followers called by Jesus (1:16ff) then the twelve appointed (3:13ff) followed by accounts of Jesus’ parables (chapter 4), miracles (chapter 5) and rejection in His home village,  and now we read, this Sunday, in Mark 6:7-13 of Jesus sending out the twelve on a mission.   However, were you to read the rest of the gospel you would realise that they knew very little about Jesus and never really grasped what he was about – until perhaps after the resurrection.  This circumstance is a reminder to us that a gospel is neither history nor biography that we are reading, but it is good news for the readers and for us.  The original recipients lived in the late part of the first century when the church was expanding through the work of what we might call today, missionaries.  The instructions about what to take and even what to wear on this mission are in some places the opposite of how this is told in Matthew (10:5-15) and Luke (9:1-6); the reason for this is the different intentions and primary recipients from those of Mark’s gospel.  Now we live in a quite different setting and even with more developed understanding of Jesus and God’s intentions for His creation, intentions which as a community we have to try to grasp and fulfill.

14thSunday Ordinary Time

See the readings here.

Chapter 1 of Ezekiel describes in an excessively elaborated way a vision of God speaking to the man as he reached the age (of 30) for practicing as a priest, and initiating him as a prophet among the exiles by the rivers of Babylon. Our reading (2: 2 -5) tells of God calling Ezekiel to be the mouthpiece of God (that’s what being a prophet meant). It seems to be a harsh message that God wants delivered to what He calls a rebellious people, though we notice that God does not tell him specifically what to say. However we know that it is going to be a telling-off for neglecting their religion. Prophets generally interpreted any misfortune or disaster that befell the chosen people as a punishment from God; the foreign conquest of the chosen people is not what is to be condemned, but the people’s rebellion against God. We notice that even in this 6th century BC the Old Testament will use the terms spirit of God and word of God which later will be seen a reflecting the novel Christian doctrine of the Trinity; and at the time of Christ the phrase ‘son of man’ had in addition to just meaning ‘a human,’ the more specific reference to some heavenly being who would come at the end of time to bring liberation to the people of God – with the definite article it is used by Jesus of Himself (the Son of man).

The Second reading is from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians (12 : 7 – 10).  It is an extract from  a letter to a particular group or situation in the church at Corinth. It seems he may have been accused by them of  being too gentle or hesitant in his preaching, or perhaps of having his own ideas rather than Christ’s.  He seems to have been compared unfavourably with some charismatic preachers who even charged for preaching or with others who are trained public speakers.  Paul is led to boast; like any of them, he is a Jew and a servant of Christ, indeed he has suffered many beatings and imprisonments for his work, many mishaps and catastrophes.  He also boasts, just before the passage we have, that he has had visions, revelations and even mystical experiences.  But we read that he has some ‘thorn in the flesh’ – and no one knows what that could have been.  But he knows he shouldn’t boast except of his weaknesses given to him by Christ.

The gospel is from the first 6 verses of Mark chapter 6.  At the time Mark is writing, the number of Christians was increasing, but mostly not from those who were Jews, but from Gentiles.  This seemed strange because it was the Jews that God had prepared and who were expecting the Messiah and it was among them that he worked and taught and he himself was a Jew.  The gospel reading today is yet another attempt to make some sense of this.  Jesus comes to his home town where he is known as just an ordinary person, even the son of Joseph a local carpenter; it is difficult for those who knew him this way to think of him as the Messiah even though he seemed to have wisdom and miraculous powers.  The proverb about the prophet not being accepted by his own and being powerless to work miracles among them, is in other gospels, but Matthew (13:53-58) and Luke (4:14-30) soften Mark’s bland statement that he was powerless to work miracles among his own people.

 

13th Sunday of Ordinary time.

1st July

The book of Wisdom is thought to come from the Jewish intellectual setting of Alexandria in Egypt.  It was written in the Greek language and was not part of the Jewish Hebrew Bible.  For this reason it is not part of most Christian Bibles yet Roman Catholics have it as part of their Old Testament; it was written only about 50 years before the birth of Christ and is classed in a group of books called deutero-canonical (roughly meaning of secondary value).  It shows the influence of its origin in two ways; firstly its literary quality is very systematically and attractively structured with sections and subsections with definite numbers of poetic lines; and secondly though it draws on the earlier books of the Bible, it deals with issues that arise from the philosophical thinking in the Greek culture at that time.  This approach is somewhat parallel to that of the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World), but the author’s purpose may also be to oppose those Jews who had taken on the secular and worldly style and aims of life common among many citizens of Alexandria at the time.  Our reading today comes from two separate sections (chapters 1:13-15 and  2:23-24) but both are parts of the first six chapters in praise of wisdom.  Firstly God’s Spirit organises creation wisely and we should live accordingly for we are made for life in a world that is basically good.  The second section is based on the Greek belief in a real life after death (unlike that of most of the Hebrew Bible) and so we should not live selfishly which is the work of the devil bringing the fear of death into the world; indeed in the book of Genesis, death was seen as a punishment by God for sin.

The second reading, as you can see by the reference (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), has some of the sentences missed out in between the three groups that the five verses are in.  Despite this arrangement it doesn’t make bad sense as an enchanting appeal for a donation from a richer group towards another to bring about some equality.  Yet we might be more interested in the whole section (Chapter 8:1-15) and in learning something about the early churches in the third quarter of the first century AD.  In the Corinthian Church two groups are significant; one comprises converts from the Jewish religion who do not want to abandon the religious beliefs and practices that they were familiar with and think that all Christians should be like them; the other group are influenced by and enthusiastic for modern thinking and their new Christian religious beliefs and practices.  But, surprisingly, the two are in some sort of agreement in their opposition to Paul; the Judaizers (as they are called) disliked Paul’s disregard for some Jewish rules – about food for example; and the more sophisticated and self-assured group were disappointed with his easy-going and non-dogmatic attitude to beliefs and practices.  He sees this tentative unity as an opening and so praises them highly for many virtues and invites them to make a donation for the less well-off Christians in Macedonia from where he writes.

The gospel is from Mark (chapter 5:21-43).  The permitted shorted reading leaves out  verses 25 to 34, (the cure of the woman with an issue of blood), and presents us with the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  Two things stand out in this story; that Jesus raised the twelve year old who was considered dead, and that he asked the few people with him to tell no one what had happened.  Christians believe that death is not the end of life, but a dramatic development of the life of Christ which they share even here and now.  As to the call to keep this all hush-hush, it clearly was not adhered to; it is quite likely that Mark puts this in many of his accounts, because he couldn’t imagine how any Jew wouldn’t have become a Christian if he had known all the miracles that Jesus did.  Jairus, as elected president of the local synagogue, would have been a respected person and like the majority of Jews scornful of upstart and fake but popular preachers even working miracles – and Jesus came under that heading.  But when his daughter is on the point of death he steps out of his social position and even begs Jesus for help.

The Solemnity of St John the Baptist

 

See the readings here

The first reading from Isaiah 49:1-6, reveals to us the message of a prophet for the Jews in exile in Babylon.  They were feeling let down by God; they did realise that they had not been as faithful to God as they should have been, but they had always thought that God had chosen them and they were his special people and he was the God who would always see them alright.  The prophet, who might have felt the same, had drawn from this experience a deeper understanding of what being chosen by God meant.  The people were chosen for a purpose and for a service in God’s purpose; they were chosen to show the favour of God to everyone, for all the nations of the world.  This was a hard message for the exiles to accept!

In the second reading, from Acts 13:22-26, Luke tells us the way the St Paul saw this notion of being chosen.  In the past king David was especially set up by God, to start a whole line of successors who would look after the people.  John started preaching and baptising people to express their re-dedication to the work of God, their change of heart – that’s what the word ‘repentance’ means here.  But John was not to be the ultimate saviour of people – that was to be Jesus.

The Gospel is from the first chapter of Luke, verses 57 to 66 with verse 80 tagged on to the end.  It leaves out the words of an ancient hymn, which is known nowadays, by some, as the Benedictus – “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He has visited His people…”   What the reading tells us is about Mary’s cousin Elisabeth giving birth at a great age to this son who became John the Baptist.  Luke has previous told the readers how an angel appeared to the father, Zechariah, to announce this birth, but he had been struck dumb, for he couldn’t believe it was happening to him and his wife at their age; but he did know that the child should be called John which means ‘God is good to us.’

Comment

It is easy for a Christian sometimes, to feel special to God in a possessive and proud way, but to the purpose of being chosen by God, is always to contribute to the enterprise of God, namely to creating an ideal world of people, not only loved by God, but loving God and being entirely pleasing to him.  During this life here, when God’s work is not complete, there are many things in the world and society (even in the Church) which are quite a lot less than they should be; this is for us, like being in exile, but from it we should learn that the purpose of our life is to work towards the all-embracing completion of God’s work, at least in our own small little way.

11th Sunday cycle B

17th June 2018

At the time of the writing of our first reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24) the empire of Babylon, west of Israel, has taken many of the aristocracy from Jerusalem as captives and now controls their land.  Ezekiel himself is in exile in Babylon and writes to help his people through these difficult times.  He is a bit of a poet or even mystic, and uses allegories for what he wants to say.  Here he uses the image of a tree, and encourages the people, who have deserved the trouble they are in, with the expectation that a messiah will come from their race who will make them great again and as grand as they could want.  A sprig from the failed tree will grow into a new all-embracing tree under which the big empires will submit.  The idea lives on in Christianity to this day in the prayer attributed to Mary – “… He has put down the mighty from their seat and exulted the humble…” (The Magnificat).

The NT book called the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians appears to be a collection of excerpts from as many as four separate letters from Paul, but it is still, for us, the Word of God.  In 2 Cor 5:6-10, Paul was obviously addressing some particular problem his addressees had.  You might confidently think, he seems to say, that the next life would be preferable to the present – your future, true home to your home here and now – but for now you had better get on with this life here, pleasing God as best you can and as you should.  The word ‘body’ that he uses carried with it the connotation of presence in the world, so its use here does not necessarily imply a belief which many Westerners have in two parts of a person, a body and a soul; it refers rather to our presence in this world in contrast to our being as it will be in the after-life – the world to come.  Paul is saying that although we have both confidence and hope of the world to come, we should concentrate on living in the right way here and now.  These words are not just for the early Christians that he is addressing, but, as the word of God, also have something to say to us.

The Gospel reading is from Mark 4:26-34.  The whole chapter is a collection Mark has made of parables he has heard of that Jesus told, but by the time of his writing they have been preached and adapted to new situations and Mark now intends them for his readers – and they have something to say to us.  The message originally from Jesus to his first hearers, has to be changed for different audiences in order to convey the same basic meaning.  It is like the simple equation M = W r C, (Message arises from Words related to Context); if C changes then W must change as well to produce the same M.  The two parables that we have read today are suited to a local farming community.  In general the first recommends patience with life, as God is really the one in control of things, just as the farmer leaves the crop to grow once it is planted.  The second takes up the well understood experience, that the very tiny mustard seed grows, most surprisingly, into a large vegetable bush – rather like Ezekiel’s tree it will be a shelter for many.  Big things can come from small beginnings.  To a large extent we still understand the basics of crop and seed growth so it is up to us individually and as a community to see what these parables might say to us today in our particular situations. 

10th Sunday of the Year

Find the readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061018.cfm

The first reading (Gen3:9-15) is about God confronting Adam and Eve because they had disobeyed Him.  It is an explanation of the evil and things that go wrong in creation; it is like stories found among other nations as well.  The tempter is humiliated and forewarned that eventually humanity will overcome evil.  It has been read by Christians to allude to Jesus the son of Mary who will be the ideal human to seriously start this process of overcoming evil.  And we know from our experience that it is a long and tedious process but one in which we must all try to play our part – till all will be fulfilled in the end.

The second reading (2 Cor 4:13-5:1) is a great comfort after the realisation that the world and we ourselves are still not free of all wrongdoing and evil.  Paul has this comforting vision that – eventually – we and all people will join in the life of God that we Christians recognise as the divine/human life of Jesus, now having lived here is in the glory of heaven – yet also of course He is with us in our struggles here and now.  These thought might remove and depression caused by the meaning of the first reading.

The Gospel from Mark 3, is made up of several distinguishable sections.  After he returns home with his following, the worry from his own that he is ‘losing it.’  Then the charge from the Jerusalem scholars that he is possessed; followed by two illustrative responses from him in the form of parables.  And the passage ends with a final remark that such an accusation is unforgivable.  It is clear that Jesus is now popular and that (like some others) had been responsible for some miracles.   Matthew and Luke when writing their gospels had access to the text of Mark as well as other sources, but it is quite noticeable that the first section of our Gospel reading today is not used by either Matthew or Luke.  It is this short section that tells of the relationship at this point in time between ‘his own folk’ and He Himself – being accused of ‘beside himself.’  I would say that it most likely is a true representation of their attitude but it is also understandable how the other gospel writers didn’t want to expose this – the group would have included his close followers and friends as well as his mother.  As good news this part of the gospel can tell us that sometimes what is right can seem quite ‘uncomfortable’ to say the least.

10th Sunday

10th Sunday

Find the readings here:

The first reading (Gen3:9-15) is about God confronting Adam and Eve because they had disobeyed Him.  It is an explanation of the evil and things that go wrong in creation; it is like stories found among other nations as well.  The tempter is humiliated and forewarned that eventually humanity will overcome evil.  It has been read by Christians to allude to Jesus the son of Mary who will be the ideal human to start this process of overcoming evil.  And we know from our experience that it is a long and tedious process but one in which we must all try to play our part – till all will be fulfilled in the end.

The second reading (2 Cor 4:13-5:1) is a great comfort after the realisation that the world and we ourselves are still not free of all wrongdoing and evil.  Paul has this comforting vision that – eventually – we and all people will join in the life of God that we Christians recognise as as the divine/human life of Jesus, now having live here is in the glory of heaven – yet also of course with us in our struggles here and now.  These thought might remove and depression caused by the meaning of the first reading.

The Gospel from Mark 3, is made up of several distinguishable sections.  After he returns home with his following, the worry from his own that he is ‘losing it.’  Then the charge from the Jerusalem scholars that he is possessed; followed by two illustrative responses from him in the form of parables.  And the passage ends with a final remark that such an accusation is unforgivable.  It is clear that Jesus is now popular and that (like some others) had been responsible for some miracles.   Matthew and Luke when writing their gospels had access to the text of Mark as well as other sources, but it is quite noticeable that the first section of our Gospel reading today is not used by either Matthew or Luke.  It is this short section that tells of the relationship at this point in time between ‘his own folk’ and He Himself – being accused of ‘beside himself.’  I would say that it most likely is a true representation of their attitude but it is also understandable how how the other gospel writers didn’t want to expose this – the group would have included his close followers and friends as well as his mother.  As good news this part of the gospel can tell us that sometimes what is right can seem quite ‘uncomfortable’ to say the least.