33rd Sunday Cycle B

See Jeffs Jottings –

The first reading is from Daniel, a book positioned differently in different versions of the Bible.  It is also unusual in that the earliest versions that we have of it show parts written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) and parts in Greek, the language of the Jews in the Diaspora (outside of the land of Israel). The word Daniel means ‘God is my judge’ and this neatly sums up the passage we read today.  It is one of those writings sometimes called apocalyptic which were around from the year 200 BC to 200 AD.  Apocalyptic writing is usually full of allegory and dramatic revelation concerning the dealings of God with the world through remarkable events and the activity of angels, it especially relates to the future culmination of world history and God’s final judgment and fulfillment of it.  Probably the influence of the literature of other nations helped the development of the traditional thought of the Jewish people with new ideas.  In today’s reading (12:1-3) we see for the first time in this development two ideas that would play an important part in the belief of Christians; firstly there is a reference to life after death in  the text “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” and secondly the reference to eternal life in the phrase “some shall live forever.”  

The second reading (Hebrews 10:11-14,18) continues the thoughts about the priesthood of Christ.  The  high priests of the Jewish Temple offered sacrifices to God in the belief and expectation that this would destroy/appease  sin.  But it is only the self-sacrifice of an individual that can achieve this sanctity.  Jesus, our example and rescuer, is such a person of total self sacrifice; His role is already completed and He sits at the right hand of God waiting for this success to work itself out in our world by the gradual (and sometimes violent) entanglement with evil.  Our salvation is won, but we have to take it up.  This is the ambiguity and duality of our situation – saved, but still to be worked out in our life here on earth; the enemies must be subdued, we must give ourselves complete in love.

Mark chapter 13 is what is called apocalyptic writing.  It uses sometimes obscure and extravagant language, it is about disasters and evils that we shall encounter; it tells of the imminent and cataclysmic end of the world with the condemnation of evil and the triumph of Christ (the Son of Man) for those who are chosen – it is these for whom it is written.  Since the section we read (Chapter 13:24-32) is about the triumph after the fearful signs of its coming, it is a message of Jesus’ completed work; this work is spelt out in different stages in other gospels as Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection followed by Ascension and Exultation at the right hand of God; but here, the sequence of his life is all spoken of as one great victorious event.  Mark sees this as one great action of God in relation to us and our world, completed from God’s standpoint but still to emerge within the turmoil of our lives.  At the time of his writing Christians generally seem to have thought that the End of the world was imminent, but as time goes on this needs re-interpretation.  In the 16th century some Christians realised that these events are in some way ongoing throughout the life of the Church and the well-known Protestant reformer John Calvin wrote:

“Whenever, therefore, we perceive the Church scattered by the wiles of Satan, or torn in pieces by the cruelty of the ungodly, or disturbed by false doctrines, or tossed about by storms, let us learn to turn our eyes to this gathering of the elect. And if it appear to us a thing difficult to be believed, let us call to remembrance the power of the angels, which Christ holds out to us for the express purpose of raising our views above human means. For, though the Church be now tormented by the malice of men, or even broken by the violence of the billows, and miserably torn in pieces, so as to have no stability in the world, yet we ought always to cherish confident hope, because it will not be by human means, but by heavenly power, which will be far superior to every obstacle, that the Lord will gather his Church.”

(Calvin’s Commentaries Ch 33, part 3; tr. by John King)

32nd Sunday B

The first reading (1 Kings 17:10-16) is from a group of books in the Bible called History.  History writing is always subjective and selective, as the author or editor wants to make some point or other; stories and anecdotes are retold to fit in with what the writers or editors think and want to tell their readers.  The story we read today is to illustrate how God deals with people; Elijah His prophet had to announce the drought on the land as God’s response to the peoples’ unfaithfulness, but he himself would be cared for by God through a good-living woman whom God would reward appropriately.  We could speculate what tale is behind this and how it got into this history, and it may help us get something of the message, but more important is what it now says to us.  It is a message about  God’s care for those who are chosen by him and for those who care for their fellow human beings whatever their situation is; and it says something about the ‘natural’ disasters that might be caused by human misuse of earth’s resources.

The second reading (Hebrews 9:24-28) continues the thoughts about the Jewish Temple priesthood and the  role of Christ in our salvation.  It is an exposition of the relationship between the time and activity of Jesus with the period before His coming and the fulfilling of His human life – the difference between the Jewish situation and that of the Christians; the former is like a shadow and the latter is the real thing itself.  So there is just one death to seal the covenant (the agreement between God and people) instead of regular sacrifices by different priests; the old covenant is replaced by the New Testament era.  There is now hope for those who die, of forgiveness and life with God after death, secured by the entry of Jesus as one of us into heaven whence He came. Once the Jewish Temple was destroyed in the year 70 AD their religion left behind all this activity of sacrifice and benefitted from the change; but a Christian’s sacrifice should be the way one lives for others – not a death but a way of life!

The third reading (Mark 12:38-44) expresses the Christian teaching about the style of life one should have, and its driving force.  So Mark tells of Jesus speaking against those Scribes who gad about in fine attire, seek the admiration of people and honour amongst others, who take advantage of the defenseless and perform elaborate prayers.  But Mark doesn’t mean this to apply to all Scribes for he has written just before this how Jesus praised one of them (the gospel for the 31st Sunday cycle B).  But Mark’s story is drawing towards the end of Jesus’ life and it is becoming more urgent for certain points to be made. Hence Jesus goes on to praise a demur and self-effacing approach with minimal material value yet expressing a genuine and generous religious attitude; He goes on to contrast the supposedly religious experts and officials with a financially poor yet spiritually devout widow.  This expresses in practical terms what was expressed more theoretically the the reading we had from the letter to the Hebrews.

See Jeffs Jottings –

All Saints

see Jeffs Jottings – Blest and happy

The first reading is from the Book of Revelations; the writing is to a large extent visionary, utilizing Old Testament interpretations of history, images of heavenly realities and hopes for the future completion of God’s creation.  At one point the author dreams of the opening of seven sealed documents about disasters in the history of the world, past, present or future; but just before he reaches the perfect number seven, he inserts the passage from which we read today (Revelations 7:2 -14).  This opens with the suspension of the stormy elements of disaster brought by the four angels, and the signing with a seal for rescue on those to be saved; at first the perfect number of 144,000 is given for the tribes of the chosen people as those to be saved (the mention of each tribe is omitted from the reading), but that is followed by a countless number of every variety of person one might find in the world; all are rescued by the Lamb of God – salvation from the great disaster – for which there is celebratory thanksgiving.

The second reading is from 1 John 3:1-3 (the first of three short letters to Christians in the tradition of John’s Gospel); it seems to be written by one who has an oversight of a number of church communities, and that there are two groups of Christians who interpret things differently and have split from each other.  The writer is trying to encourage faithfulness to the early teaching and to the tradition that goes back to Christ himself.  But the message of Jesus and the beliefs of Christians were from the start developing to suit differing contexts and to express further reflection on the mysteries of God and Incarnation.  It seems that the ‘elder’ writing the letter is upbraiding those whom, he thinks, have taken this development too far, though in exactly what way is not clear.  This short passage is stressing the changed relationship that Christians have with God through the reality of the Incarnation; he uses the word ‘children’ to express this though admits the mystery of what this will be in the future when Christ reveals Himself in some fuller way.  However he contrasts the Christians with other people (‘the world’) in a way that might shock us nowadays; at least in the Catholic Church for the last 50 years the values of others have been respected: “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons [and daughters ed.], that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among them.” (Nostra aetate).

The third reading is Matthew 5:1-12a expresses the qualities, attitudes and actions that we should strive for if we are to be truly happy (be blessed), usually referred to as the beatitudes.  Although you might count nine or even ten of them Matthew has put the first eight of them poetically together in a section opening and closing with the same second part of the couplet: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  They are drawn to a large extent from thoughts in the Old Testament (Matthew’s Bible).  The setting is from a mountain which is a place of special revelation, for example at the transfiguration (chapter 17) and after the resurrection; the disciples are close to Jesus to learn about the new laws for life, just as Moses received the Commandments on mount Sinai; Jesus sits, which is the customary way for a Rabbi to teach; His teaching is to be passed – the last words of Jesus to His disciples in this gospel are a commission to pass His teaching on to others (Matthew 28:16ff).  Matthew clarifies what is mean by poor – it is not necessarily those on low income, or beggars, but those living a simple spiritual life free from attachment to earthly goods.  Being pure in heart might mean avoiding desires of a sexual or avaricious nature (lust or greed) but the phrase can also mean having a healthy and spiritual vision of what one is to do with one’s life.  The rest of the chapter might expand on the beatitudes in the reverse order of the eight.

28th Sunday B

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom.  We had a reading from this book on the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time and comments there explained something about the book in general and the first 5 chapters in particular.  The books that are in the Christian bible are called canonical (from the Greek κανων meaning rule or standard), because they are approved by the Church as giving reliable teaching about God and how we should live.  However, non-Catholic Christians generally don’t recognise the Book of Wisdom as belonging to this group, as it was only regarded as special by the Jews living outwith Israel.  For this reason it is regarded as of secondary value and is called deutero-canonical.  The passage we have today (7:7-11) is all about the gift of true wisdom which Solomon prayed for and from which we learn how true wisdom  surpasses many things that might tempt us.   The name ‘Sophie’ comes from the Greek for wisdom which is personified as a lady.

The second reading is just two verses from the Book of Hebrews (4:12f).  The author of the letter to the Hebrews as a knowledgeable and thoughtful Christian in the first century after Christ, has taken historical events and theological ideas from the Old Testament and used them to express his religious ideas .  In the unit that is our short reading he begins with the relevance and vitality of the word of God, referring ambiguously between the words of the Hebrew Scriptures that he knows so well and Jesus Christ the very Word of God incarnate into our world: literally “Living indeed (is) the word of God and effective…” This Christ is dynamically challenging to the way of life that we lead: “sharper than any two-edged sword”; not just to the way that we live in this secular society: “penetrating into (the) division of soul and spirit” but also sensitive to the inner thoughts and intentions that we have: “judging of thoughts and heart’s intentions”.  And it is to Him that we have to give a report, literally “the word,” thus rounding off this poetic passage with the word word with which he began.  The writer must think that the convert Jews whom he addresses are getting lax even by the standard of the Wisdom in their Book of that name; so he speaks of the wise word of God that strikes at their inner attitudes (and seems to find them wanting).

The third reading is a unit from the gospel of Mark (10:17-30) as his account draws towards the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem.  He is wanting to focus the reader more on the essential core attitude of being a follower of Christ, telling us how Jesus tries to bring his disciples to some sort of understanding.  The unit is not difficult in itself but two points might be noticeable.  The man seeking advice from Jesus refers to him as “Good teacher.”  We live in a time when there has been some sorting out of the language we might use about God in relation to the three Persons of the Trinity and to the divinity of Christ; so that when Mark writes that Jesus replies “No one is good but God,” we are given cause for pause.  Matthew, when copying this story into his gospel avoids this difficulty altogether with “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good…” (Matthew 19:16f).  We are reminded by this that the revelation of the Incarnation and of the Trinity presents us with a mystery that only through the centuries has come to be expressed in what we think of as precise and clear wording.  In addition to being reminded of this mystery we might also be surprised by Jesus referring to the disciples as children.  It was, we are told, fairly normal for a Jewish teacher to refer to his ‘students’ in this way, but it can also remind us of our relationship with God in Christ, as disciples – people not only struggling to understand, but also to follow in the way that we live.

see Jeffs Jottings – here

29th Sunday B

The middle section of the long Old Testament book of Isaiah is particularly about the peoples’ sorry state in exile in Babylon and the encouragement forf them that all will be well eventually.  The section begins at chapter 40 with comforting words and ends in Chapter 55 with a confidence for the future.   And the section contains four songs about the servant of the Lord.  In the first song (Isaiah 42:1-9) the servant will gently bring peace to the people and to all nations in line with God’s intentions.  The second is at the beginning of chapter 49, about the nation of Israel itself as in some way the servant accomplishing God’s will.  The third song in chapter 50 speaks of the servant as an individual prophet announcing the good news of God in the face of all difficulties.  And our reading today is just a small part of the final song (Isaiah 53:10-11); it speaks of the servant as a righteous person overcoming all sinfulness so all might be righteous.  Christians apply many of the descriptions of the servant in these songs to Christ Himself, for He, through much suffering, maintains His righteousness and enables it freely for all to attain; we see Jesus as the ultimate case of unselfishness and suffering that benefits others.

In the letter to the Hebrews the author interprets the history of the chosen people with all its ups and downs, and constantly points out the message it has for the Christians he addresses. The second reading is the next three verses after last week’s reading (Hebrews 4:14-16).  It develops this Christian interpretation of the suffering servant, but sees Jesus as the genuine priest, unlike all the others with their own sins, for He has not just symbolically entered the inner sanctum of the Temple, but has actually entered heaven itself.  Being one of us, Jesus has won the possibility of ultimate success for everyone – the culmination of God’s creative act of unselfishness and risk-taking.

Mark wrote the good news of Jesus Christ for the early followers of the Way of Jesus.  The purpose of this gospel is to give the people some understanding of the transformation potential that Jesus should have on the readers’ lives.  Mark does this through the format of a report of the public life and death of Jesus, his sayings and his deeds and the reaction of those around him, especially the disciples; it expresses his understanding of the significance of it all for life in his time (and in ours today).  The third reading (Mark 10:32-45) we have for today is one of undoubted reliability, for no gospel writer would have portrayed the disciples in such a bad light had it not been past down to them from the disciples themselves, who admitted their unworthiness.  The story is made public here so as to remind us Christians even to this day, that we can easily get the message of the Kingdom of God quite wrong because of our self-confidence and selfishness.  The disciples thought the kingdom was to do with earthly power politics and selfish promotion.  They just had not understood the main message Jesus was trying to put across to them; until He had actually died and it began to dawn on them what it was all about then they began to see things differently..

see Jeffs Jottings – here

27th Sunday B

The first reading comes at the beginning of the Bible (Genesis chapter 2, verses 18 to 24), just after the beautiful poem about God’s work of creation which He saw as very good.  The passage is an extract from a story about the creation of people and their fall from grace.  The extract tells of God after creating a man, making all the animals, but finally forming a woman as a suitable partner for him; it ends with an expression of the most desirable arrangement for marriage in the situation of the writer and of the original hearers of the story, with the need to keep their numbers up and to have a close knit community – “.. a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to a wife, and they become one body;”  a similar family situation is the blessing of the Psalm (128) which is used as a response to the reading.

Singing of the wonderful works of God in Psalm 8, the Jews would recall that humans were made just a little lower than angels and were to be crowned with glory and splendour.  But the writer of our second reading (Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 9 to 11) realises that prior to the coming of Jesus humans had failed to live up to this grand position they had been given in God’s creative scheme.  As a Christian with knowledge of the Hebrew bible, the writer chose a legitimate alternative translation of ‘a little lower than’  and applied verse 5 of psalm 8 to Jesus, writing that He was ‘for a short while made lower than the angels and is now crowned with glory and splendour’ – the Son of God was made man (human), lived and died and is now risen and seated at the right hand of God.  The reading then says that now there is a human like ourselves, Who can lead us who are failing, along the way to salvation – that Person is Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

In the gospel reading (Mark, chapter 10, verses 2 to 16), Mark tells his readers of Pharisees coming to Jesus to question Him about divorce.  There were at the time two different views among Jewish groups, both accepting that a man could give a writ of divorce to his wife according to the Law (Deut 24:1ff), but one group thought this was only in the case of her adultery, the other in the case of much lesser dissatisfaction.  Mark writes that Jesus replied by referring to the original plan of God that was written in Genesis (and is the last part of the first reading) adding that the Law they referred to was only an inferior application because of human weakness.  In the story, the disciples are surprised and quiz Jesus when they are alone, but He re-affirms his original reply and even adds that a woman shouldn’t divorce a man (something not really thought possible by most Jews).  It is likely that this whole issue was a matter of some discussion in the early church, for in Matthew’s gospel, in a parallel story, Jesus seems to support the Deuteronomy ruling.  Much earlier, when Paul thought the plan of God was about to be completed and the world come to an end, he wrote that it was best not to marry at all, though if one did, the rights of husband and wife over each other were equal.   So even in the early church there were different views about marriage and divorce..

see Jeffs Jottings – here

26th Sunday Cycle B

The first reading is from Numbers chapter 11, verses 25-29.  The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Pentateuch which is a name for the first five books of the Bible, called by the Jews, the Law.  Probably largely put together in the 8th century BC, the Pentateuch has the pattern of the whole creative plan of God: it starts with creation then the failings of the human race, and so God choosing a group of humans for special attention to try to begin to recover the situation; this is followed by migration to Egypt and their being enslaved there; eventually they are rescued by God and, wandering through the desert for years are, supposedly, made into a better people, ready to enter the Promised land, a title which stands for the completing of God’s whole plan for the universe – not that it has worked itself out yet.  The same pattern is poetically expressed in the poem at the beginning of the Bible (Genesis chapter 1).  In the first reading the organisation of the group in the desert is developing – is developing problems; for there are some ‘unauthorised’ charismatic people playing a part in their emerging organisation; many think that the gift of God should be limited to those at the head of the structure, but  Moses, in our account, thinks not, but rather that the spirit should be on all. 

From the reading of James (5:1-6) we get a glimpse of some of the problems with some of the people who count themselves as Christians.  It is an easily understood passage, not unlike a lot of the messages in the books of the prophets and even in preaching to this day.  Positively it is an encouragement to social justice – a message that is appreciated by the less well-off more than by the richer people; but it is they who are the real targets of the diatribe.  The reference to “the murder of the righteous one”, could well refer to the crucifixion of Jesus, but it might also apply to suppression of the talents of those who are innocent, which is partly the message of the gospel reading.

The gospel reading (Mark 9:38-48) brings together in an interesting way, two passages that at first seem quite disconnected, and includes a universal proverb.  The first incident is very like the message of the first reading; it is about someone who has not been appointed to do so (to exercises a spiritual power), who is casting out a devil in Jesus’ name; and when the disciples complain to Jesus about this, He makes much the same judgment about it as did Moses in the book of Numbers in a somewhat similar case (in the first reading); He uses the proverb ‘who is not against us is for us;’ so Mark represents Jesus’ view as not seeing the followers of Jesus as an exclusive group, nor even one with a monopoly on doing good, and even using the power of His name.  The second part of the reading is about scandalising a child, where it is quite possible that ‘child’ refers to a disciple or to an innocent enthusiast; if this is the case then it makes more sense in this context and even could link with the end of the reading from James. It goes on then to stress how radically we must act in order to rid ourselves of any evil we have.

see Jeffs Jottings – about grace – sanctifying grace.

25th Sunday Cycle B

The book of Wisdom from where the first reading (Ch  2:12, 17-20) comes, is from the first section of the book (chapters 1-5) which illustrates the attitude that others might well have towards the believing Jews, who think themselves superior.  The whole book seems to have been written originally in Greek and probably in Egypt where there was a ‘colony’ of Jews; it probably dates from the first century BC.  The reading suggests that the way of the ‘godless’ may be troublesome to the Jews; but these were not really godless in the sense of being wicked people, many of them had good standards of behaviour both private and public, and what they wanted out of life was a pleasant and satisfying life for themselves and for others.  The Jews in Israel at the time of Jesus did not accept this Book as part of their Scriptures and even now it is Catholics, not the Protestants, who have this book in their Bible.  However, the writer is picking up on a theme in Isaiah and elsewhere, that those who are righteous will be opposed by others who will treat them badly and even condemn them to death (as we saw in the suffering servant song in last week’s reading from Isaiah).  The responsorial psalm is the congregation’s response to the reading and is very aptly chosen.

The reading from James (3:16-4:3) comes across like preaching in the early church and has the same pattern and general sense as Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5:19-23) namely, a longish list of sins then “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”  where James has “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy…”   But it is the list of evils and sins that makes us wonder at the state of the early followers of the Way of Jesus – it seems that they were not all the saintly enthusiasts we might imagine.

The gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37.) takes us further into the second half of the Gospel the beginning of which we had last week.  The plot is moving now towards the fulfillment and completion of Jesus’ life on earth.  We read a second prediction of Jesus’ passion and resurrection; it is what might be expected by those who have grasped the message of the first reading; so Jesus is now worried about too much public exposure and especially about the use of the word Christ which has for most of his contemporaries the implication of some grand almost secular political power on the side of the Jews.  We see this as we read of the disciples, upon hearing the prediction, arguing about who will share positions of power in the coming kingdom.   Again and again Mark indicates that the disciples just don’t understand what Jesus is talking about.  But the message of Jesus is not to be understood so much as to be lived out in our attitude to others different from ourselves “whoever wants to be first must be last.”

see Jeffs Jottings – here

24th Sunday Cycle B

The first reading is the third of four ‘Servant Songs’ found in this part of the book of Isaiah.  These songs focus on and develop the idea of being a servant of God and of others – of living for other people.  They introduce the notion of inevitable suffering, of disappointment, difficulties and even disaster; these must be faced up to with dignity and with faithfulness to the cause of serving others whatever the trials or troubles encountered; the aim of the servant is the good of others.  Sometimes these songs may have been applied to a prophet who had the role of pointing out in words and by the example of his own life, the message of God and the way that folk should live.  Prophets often suffered for their delivery of an unwelcome message so that these poems sometimes merit the title ‘Suffering Servant Songs.’  But at other times these songs may apply to the nation of the Jews as a whole; for they fell into the temptation of thinking that being chosen by God was a privilege that elevated them above others and should defend them from foreign interference, whereas being chosen is being challenged with the humble task of living for the good of others and suffering any consequent troubles.  Christians, following the lead of the New Testament writers, applied these songs to the life of Jesus, God who became a man to dwell among us in order to benefit the whole of humanity for all time, but whose message was disturbing to many, especially the leading lights among the Jews at the time – those in authority, the Scribes and the Pharisees; some of the words of our reading today from Isaiah 50:5-9  have been used in describing the passion and suffering of Jesus.

The second reading from James 2:14-18 deals with the relationship of faith and good works, which must have been something of a contention between Christians in James’ day, as it was at the time of the Reformation; but the issue can arise for any of us at any time when we think that because we have faith it means that we are safe and secure, and when this confidence leads to a neglect of living how we  ought to live – living for the sake of others – as Jesus gave his whole life for the love of us all.  Believing is not just accepting certain doctrines, nor just an emotional devotion to the person of Christ, but more than anything it is living in a particular way.

The gospel reading is the central turning point in Mark’s Gospel (Chapter 8: 27-35) where Mark has Jesus explicitly moving towards his passion and death.  With regard to the name Christ which for Mark, his readers and all Christians may be taken as a sort of surname of Jesus or as referring to the sum of one’s beliefs about this Son of God made man; but for Peter at the time and most of the crowd that followed or heard of Jesus, it would have had the connotation of an earthly leader who would establish Israel in its ideal grandeur and forcibly subdue all opposing regimes bringing the expected time of fulfillment foretold in their Scriptures.  It must be partly because of this expectation that Mark has Jesus wanting to keep this hush-hush yet not to deny the title a more spiritual meaning.  Jesus doesn’t really fulfill the earthly expectations of a glorious King like David was imagined to be; but Jesus is much more the suffering servant  who lives and dies for others.  Like most Jews, Peter couldn’t accept this notion of being a servant, especially a suffering one.  And we notice that when Jesus says to Peter “Get behind me” it is an ambiguous phrase, and could equally mean ‘back me up’ or ‘be a follower of mine.’  Indeed the same Greek phrase is used by Mark later when he has Jesus say “if anyone would ‘come after me’ let him deny himself…”

see Jeffs Jottings – nine eleven

23rd Sunday Cycle B

At the end of the creation poem in Genesis chapter 1, we read that “God looked at all He had done and behold (it was) extremely good.”  But the rest of the Old testament is largely about the mess that people are making of this creation.  It was probably when Moses led enslaved tribes out of Egypt to freedom, that they adopted Yahweh as their god – or rather he adopted them.  It sowed the belief that God would always see them alright.  But about 500 years later, after a lot of ups and downs, they lost the land they believed God had given them and almost lost faith too.  But a prophet, one of the guardians of the faith, in his role of discerning the original and future plan of God for creation, told the people in dire straits that God would one day restore them to prosperity; we read of this expectation of the restoration of damaged creation in poetic and symbolic form in the first reading from Isaiah 35:4 – 7 – the blind will see, the deaf will hear etc. 

About 600 years after Isaiah’s pronouncement, and after many disappointments and disagreements amongst the Jews, Jesus became one of them – one of us.  It is probably a cousin of His who wrote the letter of James, where chapter 2, verses 1 – 5 are an example of the many wise things that he points out to those Jews living outwith their homeland and who had become followers of Jesus’ Way (Christians).  Although he tells them to treat people fairly, he makes no mention in the whole letter of the non-Jews among whom they were living.  Yet we know that Paul had worked widely in the area particularly welcoming Gentile converts.  This might be one of the many aspects of this letter that made the early church hesitant about adopting it as part of their scriptures.  However James’ suggestions for relationships with others is good and applicable also to us today, and we would even want to develop the idea to cover relationships with people of other faiths and of none, and extend them to cover people with other differences from what we might feel is the norm.

We know that Paul and Peter didn’t always see eye to eye about what attitude to have towards Gentile converts – Peter wanting to hold on to his Jewish customs and regulations.  Mark was more in favour of Paul’s liberal attitude, but when writing his Gospel he could find little evidence of Jesus’ attitude to non-Jews.  But he does tell the story of a Syro-phœnician woman where she says, even the dogs can eat the scraps under the table; and he improves on that in today’s gospel reading (Mark 7:31-37), where Jesus cures a deaf mute in Gentile territory.  In this passage Mark seems to have in mind the words of the prophet that were in the first reading; indeed, Mark uses the same, vary rare word for the speech defect (μογιλαλον) that is in Isaiah.  Yet he may not have also knowingly reflected the words of God at the end of the creation poem (quoted above) when he writes about the onlookers of the miracle, saying “He has done all things well.”

see Jeffs Jottings – here