Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Prophet without Honor

                           14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s first reading the prophet Ezekiel is warned that his mission will be difficult. Though he is being sent to his own people, the Israelites, he should not expect a warm welcome.

"Hard of face and obstinate of heart
Are they to whom I am sending you."

This passage from the Hebrew scriptures is obviously an introduction to today’s gospel reading. Today’s passage from Mark picks up right after the words we heard last week where Jesus had worked some miracles in a land with a mixed population of Jews and pagans. Even though he was not a native of this territory, his reputation had preceded him and crowds swarmed around him. A woman just had to touch his cloak to be healed, and he had even raised the young daughter of a synagogue official from her deathbed. In both cases it was faith that worked the miracle.

But today we read that Jesus returned to his own native land and rather than receiving a hero’s welcome the people who knew him could not believe. Even when the wisdom of his words when he spoke in the synagogue amazed them, they could not believe their ears.

How could he be so smart? They knew he was just a carpenter or the son of a carpenter. They knew his mother, Mary. Was she any different from any other Jewish mother? They knew his brothers and sisters. Scholars tell us not to take these words literally. The words brother and sister could mean just cousins or kinfolk. In any case, there was nothing special about any of his relatives.

We are told that his neighbors took offense at Him leading Jesus to utter the famous reply.

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place 
And among his own kin and in his own house.

It is always good for us to put ourselves in the place of those mentioned in the gospels. Today we should put ourselves in the place of the hard hearted or hard headed Israelites of Ezekiel’s time, or the neighbors of Jesus who could not believe or understand.

Haven’t we all had the experience of underestimating someone that we knew very well? Aren’t we surprised sometimes to find out that a brother or sister, a son or daughter has done very well in their chosen profession? Has any of us had the experience of going to an awards banquet and discovering that someone we thought we knew was highly regarded by strangers? Sadly, don’t we all often fail to realize how gifted or talented our own husbands and wives might be? We all love to get recognition but it is so hard to give it.

On the other hand, it is hard when we fail to receive recognition for what we have done or for who we are. From children to senior citizens we all want to get our just desserts. The gospel says that Jesus was amazed by the lack of faith of his hometown neighbors. We can understand because we are often ignored by those closest to us. It has often been said that if business men or women would treat their spouses with the same respect they treat their clients, their marriages would be much happier.

In today’s second reading St. Paul expresses a similar kind of disappointment. He knows that God has given him a great gift but that God has also humbled him so that he will not become puffed up.  He knows that he will not always succeed or get the recognition he desires but still he will carry on. It is better to trust in God than in yourself.

I am content with weaknesses, insults, 
Hardships, persecutions and constraints,  
For the sake of Christ,  
For when I am weak, then I am strong. 


Reading 1.  Ezekiel 2: 2-5
Reading II. 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
Gospel. Mark 6:1-6 (a prophet without honor)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Tabitha Koum

                                    13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Starting last week and continuing on for this week and the weeks to come, we will be going through the gospel of Mark almost word for word. In his teaching Jesus mainly relied on parables as a way to convey his core message.  Even so, many of his hearers were mystified by the parables. However, his actions usually spoke louder than his words although they often also left the onlookers mystified.

Last week we saw that he calmed a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. Although they were experienced fishermen, the disciples were terrified by the raging storm but then were mystified when Jesus rebuked the storm and calmed the waters. They asked themselves “what kind of a man is this?” Being observant Jews they could never imagine that Jesus was anything but a man who had magical powers. However, the disciples could hardly have imagined that the magical powers of Jesus would even extend to life and death.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom gives us an insight into the traditional Jewish teaching on death.

God did not make death,
Nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living…
For God formed man to be imperishable;
The image of His own nature he made him.

In other words, we were meant to be immortal but somehow sin entered into the world, and death is one of the consequences of sin for both the good and the bad.

Anyone who had trouble believing that Jesus could calm a storm at sea will have even more trouble with the two miracles recorded in today’s gospel. In the first case, after Jesus lands on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he is surrounded by crowds who have heard of his reputation. A synagogue official works his way through the crowd and begs Jesus to come to his home and heal his daughter who is “at the point of death.” The official believes that Jesus just has to lay his hands on the child to heal her.

Jesus agrees to accompany the man home but on the way they are met by people who inform them that the girl has died and that there is no need to trouble Jesus any further. However, Jesus disregards the news and tells the father, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.” When they arrive at the house, they are met by a crowd of weeping mourners who ridicule Jesus when he tells them that the child “is not dead but asleep.” He puts all the mourners out and then enters the girl’s room with just her father and mother, and his three disciples, Peter, James, and John. Mark was a disciple of Peter and here is his account of what happened.

He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means,
“Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.

Just as at the storm at sea, the onlookers were “utterly astounded.” Not only does Jesus seem to have power over the wind and the waves; he also has power over death, the great enemy of us all. I know that there are some who will say that there must have been a natural cause for the girl’s recovery. Perhaps she was in a coma. But then how could Jesus have known the girl’s condition or been so confident that he could save her? How could he have pressed on even after he was informed that the girl had died? If this was a natural case of healing, how could he have known that merely touching the girl would bring her out of the coma?

The answer to these questions might be found in the other cure featured in today’s gospel.
On the way to the girl’s home a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years came through the crowd surrounding Jesus hoping that if she could only touch his clothes, she might be healed. When she touched his cloak, she was healed immediately without a word from Jesus. He only sensed that power had gone out of him and turned around to ask, “who has touched my clothes”?

Even after miracles like these it appears that the crowds and the disciples could not realize who He was. At the most I suspect they thought of him as a great magician. It would take his own resurrection before they finally began to realize where his power came from.

In our time it is easy to think of Jesus as a good man who went about saying good things and doing good deeds. But Mark’s gospel will not let us leave it at that. Why do we underestimate Jesus today? Why do people feel it’s ok to ignore him or even ridicule him as the mourners did before he revived the little girl? Why do modern TV personalities think they can insult and demean someone who never hurt a fly and spent his life for others even to the point of torture and death on a cross?

In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the disciple is urging the community in Corinth to provide assistance to their fellow Christians who are not so well off. He uses Jesus as an example they should follow.

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
That though he was rich, for your sake He became poor,
So that by his poverty you might become rich.

For those who believe, the power is still coming out of Jesus.


Reading 1.  Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Reading II. 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Gospel. Mark 5: 21-43 (Talitha koum)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Baptism of Repentance

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Michelangelo: The Doni Tondo
Behold the lamb of God
The young Baptist looks on
as Mary elevates her Son

Today is usually the 12th Sunday in Ordinary time. By "ordinary" the Church means the time of year not marked by great feasts like Christmas and Easter. But today just happens to be the feast day of the birth or nativity of St. John the Baptist and that feast is so great that it supersedes the ordinary Sunday readings.

In the readings for this special feast day the Church talks of John, the precursor, the messenger, the herald of Jesus. The Church has always interpreted the words of Isaiah as referring to John.

The Lord called me from birth,
from my mother's womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword...
He made me a polished arrow, ...
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Who was John? The gospels from today's Mass as well as from yesterday's vigil Mass give us an account of the birth of John. The story as narrated by St. Luke bears a remarkable resemblance to the birth of Jesus. Commentators have noted that both accounts are like plays or dramas which can be broken down into acts and scenes. But first, let's look at the cast of characters. In the first account we have Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John. Then, we have Mary, the future mother of Jesus. The angel Gabriel appears in both accounts.

Zechariah's name means "Yahweh remembers." He was one of the 800 priests of the Temple and he could trace his ancestry back to Aaron, the first high priest. The name of his wife, Elizabeth, means, "God swears." Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, was a good, holy woman but advanced in years and childless. The name John, which has such importance in today's reading, means "God is gracious." Mary, in Hebrew Miriam, means "the exalted one." Jesus, or Yeshua, means "God's salvation or savior."

The names alone would indicate the importance in Luke's gospel of this account of the births of John and Jesus. But we should also notice the similarities between the two dramas. God's messenger, the angel Gabriel, appears to Zachary in the inner sanctum of the Temple. Later he appears to Mary. Both of them express anxiety at the appearance but are told, "Do not fear."

The angel makes a mysterious announcement and both Zachary and Mary respond with a question. Zachary's doubt causes him to be struck dumb until after the birth of John when his acceptance restores his speech. But Mary's acceptance; "Be it done unto me according to thy word" is immediate.

There are even more parallels but it is enough to say that St. Luke didn't mean these accounts to be merely charming little stories. The life and mission of John is linked with the life and mission of Jesus from the beginning. John preached repentance while the gospel of Jesus is all about the completion of repentance--forgiveness and healing. Now we don't have to go out into the desert to find repentance. In fact, the Church makes it kind of easy for us. Forget for a moment the great sacrament of Penance. Did you ever notice how often during the Mass we are given opportunities for repentance and forgiveness?

Right at the beginning we ask for mercy from the Trinity in the Kyrie, one of the oldest prayers in the liturgy. "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." Right after that in the Confiteor we confess our sins. "I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters...."

Later we all say the "Our Father" that famous prayer composed by Jesus, himself. In it we say, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." The great St. Augustine said that the sincere recitation of these words of repentance was enough to gain forgiveness for most of our sins. Right after the Lord's Prayer we turn to each other and offer the Lord's "Kiss of Peace," a sign of our reconciliation with our neighbor.

Finally, before receiving our Lord in Communion we prepare ourselves with another act of repentance. We join together and say the "Agnus Dei"

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Then, we follow by paraphrasing the words of the Roman soldier who asked our Lord to heal his son. "Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

A few years ago there was a saying that became very popular. It was, " Happiness is never having to say you're sorry." This sounded good but was mistaken. I think that most psychologists would agree that a sincere expression of sorrow or repentance is the first step toward happiness for us and for those we've offended. 

What I have always liked most about John the Baptist is his humility. Jesus called John the greatest of the Apostles but in today's second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul noted these words of the Baptist. 
What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me. I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.
We all tend to think that our words and our deeds are so important but they are really important when they prepare the way of the Lord.


Reading 1. Isaiah 49: 1-6
Reading II. Acts 13:22-26
Gospel. Luke 1: 57-66, 80 (He will be called John)