Sunday, January 28, 2018
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people that the Lord will one day bring them a Messiah, a new Prophet,
I will raise up for them a prophet like you…
And will put my words into his mouth;
He shall tell them all that I command him.
In other words this new Prophet will speak with the authority of God, Himself. Sure enough in today’s gospel we see Jesus, at the outset of his public life, impressing the people in the synagogue at Capernaum as one speaking with authority. This passage in Mark’s gospel comes right after last week’s account of the calling of the first Apostles.
You may remember that last week Jesus called the brothers Andrew and Peter, and then James and John, the sons of the fisherman Zebedee. Jesus had met these fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and archaeologists have discovered ruins of an ancient synagogue at the seaside city of Capernaum.
What does it mean to speak with authority? Scholars tell us that it might refer to the methods used by the ancient scribes. Whenever they were asked for an opinion on some issue, it was their practice to search their books for the opinions of learned rabbis. Typically, there would be many opinions that had to be reconciled. Sometimes the opinions would even be contradictory. Sometimes this method could even provide loopholes that could allow any kind of behavior.
Doesn’t this sound terribly familiar to us today? Look at our cable talk shows. People literally screaming at each other-- some arguing that white is black, or black is white, or that their particular shade of gray is the only correct one. We have come to expect “spin” from any political or social commentator. During our political campaigns didn’t we wait to hear the supporters of each candidate provide their spin immediately following each debate?
What we see in the media reflects what goes on in society. In politics it seems that corruption has become the normal way of doing business. What authority can a governor or mayor have whose been caught with hands in the cookie jar of bribery or payoffs? Only a fool would listen to their words or be guided by them. In business it’s much the same. Even in sports and entertainment we should know better than to trust the words of celebrities whose words are often belied by their private lives.
There’s an old saying that “It’s not enough to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.” Some examples. I once heard of a business owner who developed a unique plan to save his company when it got into financial trouble. He cut his own salary and the salary of the top third of his employees by 15%. The middle third were cut 10% and the bottom third 5%. This action saved the company without anyone losing their job. This owner spoke with real authority. I knew a sales manager who would never ask his salespeople to do anything that he was reluctant to do himself. He led by example, not by words.
One of the greatest coaches of all time was John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of UCLA when they won 4 national championships in a row. Never would you see him jumping off the bench yelling at his players as so many do. He must have realized that if his team was not prepared, it was his fault, not theirs.
In today’s gospel St. Mark says that the people were astounded at the teaching of Jesus for “he taught them as one having authority.” Nevertheless, there was someone there who questioned his authority as many do today,
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
In our Missal we translate the answer of Jesus as, “Quiet,” but it literally means be “muzzled.” He then cures the man as He often did to show that His teaching had authority, an authority that sprang from who He was. He would not agree with those people today who say that their private lives can be separated from their public lives. If parents neglect their children, will they care for their clients? If politicians lie to their spouses, will they tell the truth to their constituents? People speak with authority if they possess real personal integrity.
Certainly, the people of Corinth thought that St. Paul spoke with authority. Today, we have a somewhat difficult to understand excerpt from the seventh chapter of his famous letter to the Corinthians. If we read the whole chapter, we would see that he had been asked to advise them on some difficult matters of personal behavior. He admits that he can find no specific rule or commandment in most of these matters and only offers what he calls his own opinion.
In general, he urges the converts to remain in their current situation and work within to achieve the kingdom of God. It is not a question of whether you are married or unmarried, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, male or female. You can do the work of God in any station in life. That’s speaking with authority. For Paul, love transcends all.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Reading 1. Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Reading II. I Corinthians 7:32-35
Gospel. Mark 1: 21-28 (teaching with authority).
Sunday, January 21, 2018
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Everyone knows about Jonah, the reluctant prophet who was cast overboard by frightened sailors who believed that Jonah’s bad luck had put them in danger during a storm. Today, the word Jonah is still a symbol of bad luck. Nevertheless, in today’s reading Jonah brings good luck to the people of Nineveh. Jonah’s preaching convinced the people of Nineveh to depart from their evil ways and repent. As a result, we are told, the whole great city was saved from destruction.
Jonah has always been regarded as a precursor of Jesus who was sent by the Father to save the whole world from sin and destruction. Some even go so far as to say that the three days that Jonah supposedly spent in the belly of a whale or great fish were a symbol of the three days that Jesus spent between his own death and Resurrection.
In any event, in today’s gospel St. Mark wastes no time in preliminaries. He brings Jesus immediately on stage to announce the purpose of his mission. Like Jonah, he has a message of repentance to proclaim.
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Practically the first thing that Jesus does when he sets out on his public mission is to call disciples to follow Him and assist Him in His work of healing. In today’s gospel we see Him walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when He sees Peter and his brother, Andrew. They were fishermen and He says to them, “come after Me and I will make you fishers of men.” We are told that immediately “they abandoned their nets and followed him.”
Then he saw two other fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and called them as well. They also “left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.”
What strikes me most about this passage is how quickly these fishermen were converted. They did not require instruction or lessons in theology. They did not have to go through an extended course of study. They seemed to have asked no questions or made any inquiries about His background. From what follows in the gospels we know that these first disciples did not have a clear idea of who He was or what He was going to do. Like most of us when we embark on life’s great adventures, they did not know what they were getting into or where they would wind up.
There must have been something about Him that made them immediately give up their jobs and families to follow Him. There was something that led them to put their full faith in Him. They certainly could not have thought themselves worthy or able.
This passage reminded me of a book I once read about Brother Andre, a recently canonized Canadian saint, who had as little theological knowledge and book learning as his namesake, Andrew, in today’s gospel. Andre was a poor orphan who received practically no education beyond what his mother taught him before she died when he was only 12. Thereafter, he had to work to help support himself and help out with his brothers and sisters. Eventually, a local priest, impressed with his holiness, asked the Holy Cross Fathers in Montreal to take him in. Since he did not appear to be very intelligent, he could not even be made a brother, but they gave him a job as doorkeeper or porter at their school.
To make a long story short, within a few years people were flocking to the school because Andre had gained the reputation as a healer. Some would come on crutches but go away walking on their own, leaving their crutches behind. Many of these crutches can still be seen today in St. Joseph’s Oratory, the magnificent church eventually built to accommodate all the pilgrims who wanted to visit him. When Brother Andre died in 1937 over a million people filed by his casket.
I mention Brother Andre because during his whole life he denied that he was a miracle worker possessed with great healing powers. Like Jesus, Andre often used material objects like oil and medals in healing people but he also denied that these had any magical powers. He had a special devotion to St. Joseph and asked all who came to him to pray to St. Joseph but even that he regarded as only a means for them to enhance their faith in Jesus, the light of the world. Andre always gave the credit for all of his accomplishments to faith in Jesus Christ.
If Jonah is a precursor of Jesus, he is also a precursor of the first Apostles, Brother Andre, and even us. In today’s second reading from the Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warned those early Christians that “time is running out,” and that they must change their behavior. We don’t know when the end of the world will come, but we do know that it came to an end for some of the members of our community last year. We also know that some of us will not make it through this new year.
For most of us New Year’s resolutions are a joke, but we should all consider ways to change for the better and get our priorities in order. Hopefully, in the days to come we will all have the opportunity to follow Jesus like those fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Reading 1. Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Gospel. Mark 1: 14-20 (fishers of men)
Monday, January 15, 2018
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today is the second Sunday in Ordinary time. Ordinary time signifies that part of the church year which is not part of any particular feast, like Christmas or Easter. We might ask what happened to the first Sunday in Ordinary time? Well, it was last week but the readings were superseded by the readings for the great feast of the Epiphany. Usually, the first Sunday in Ordinary time will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It marks the beginning of the public life of Jesus with his baptism by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. Today, we follow up on that important event.
But let's begin by taking a look at our today’s first reading from the book of Samuel. It tells of the calling of Samuel, one of the great figures in Hebrew history. Samuel had been placed in the service of the Temple to fulfill a promise his mother, Hannah, had made to the Lord. While sleeping he hears a call but thinks it is the priest Eli, his mentor. Eli tells him to go back to sleep but after a third call, he realizes that something special is happening. He instructs the young Samuel to respond if he hears the call again: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Once Samuel responded to the call, the Lord was with him, or, to put it another way, he was with the Lord.
Something similar happens in today’s gospel reading. After the Baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist points to Him and tells his own followers that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the Christ. Two of them, Andrew and another unnamed one whom scholars assume to be the gospel writer, respond to their mentor’s guidance and follow Jesus that very day. Almost immediately they realize that He is the Messiah. Andrew goes off to tell his brother, Simon, and bring him to Jesus. When he arrives, Jesus calls him.
“You are Simon, the son of John,
You will be called Cephas” –which is translated Peter.
Just as the life of Samuel would never be the same after he listens to and responds to the call of the Lord, the lives of Peter, Andrew, John and the other disciples would never be the same after their initial contact with the Lord. They have been called and they will have to spread the word to others. In the same way, we who have heard the Word have the same responsibility. We may not realize that we have been called, and it will probably not be as dramatic as the call to Samuel or Peter.
Jesus is going to embark on a mission that will end with his crucifixion and death. Fortunately, the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for us. Most of us will not have to face torture and a cruel death. But if we call ourselves followers of Christ, we will have to give up, in our own little way, our own lives in the service of others.
Husbands will give up their lives for their wives, and wives for their husbands. Both will have to sacrifice for their children. When they grow older, the children will have to sacrifice for their parents. Scripture tells us that people without spouses and children are called to even greater sacrifice. Not one of us is exempt. To save our life, we must lose it.
We all love sports but don’t we admire those players who sacrifice themselves for the good of the team? Even baseball has a special play called a “sacrifice” where a player gives himself up to advance a teammate.
So in today’s second reading when St. Paul tells the Corinthians that their bodies are members of Christ, he is not telling them to become plaster saints. He is calling them to a life of hard work and sacrifice in doing the work of the Lord. He is calling us to become disciples, and “take one for the team.” He asks,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Reading 1. 1 Samuel 3: 3b-10, 15
Reading II. 1 Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20
Gospel. John 1: 35-42 (Behold the Lamb of God).