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Gospel Reflection for September 6, 2015, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.4-7; James 2.1-5; Mark 7.31-37

“He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

(Mark 7.37)

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus heals a man who is deaf.  His lack of hearing separate the man from his society.  He experiences the world as silent.  Worse, his deafness impedes his speech and silences his voice in the conversation of the human community.  These challenges marginalize the man and leave the seeing of his eyes and the commitments of his heart without words.  Yet this man communicates.  He has friends.  His friends beg Jesus to lay his hand on him.

Jesus opens his ears.  The miracle shows us in cameo that God wants wholeness for people.  It shows Jesus reaching out to the marginalized.  It invites us to identify who is silent in our society.  Active listening shows value for others’ words.  We can listen others into speech.

Who have you listened into speech?

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Gospel Reflection for August 30, 2015, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

25 Aug

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8; James 1.17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

“Nothing that enters a person from outside can make a person impure; it is the things that come out that defile.  It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

(Mark 7.18-21)

Every generation has to discern which traditions are life-giving and which are no longer helping us become holy.  What traditions come from God and what are simply human rules?  In Sunday’s gospel Jesus is breaking down the wall of the law that protects Jewish identity.  He declares all foods clean and insists laws that last must lead to the praise and glory of God and justice and peace toward neighbor.

What rule do you practice that keeps you open to God and neighbor?  What is the most life-giving rule you learned in your family?

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Gospel Reflection for August 23, 2015, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

19 Aug

Sunday Readings: Joshua 24.2-3, 15-17, 18; Ephesians 5.21-32; John 6.60-69

“Many of his disciples were listening to Jesus’ teaching.  They said, ‘This teaching is difficult.  How can anyone take it seriously'”?

(John 6.60)

Jesus’ disciples face a choice.  Will they stay with him or drift off with the crowds?  The long reflection on Jesus as the bread of life becomes increasingly challenging to believe, especially the way John’s gospel pushes the literalness of the image.  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  This is part of last Sunday’s gospel.  This is the difficult teaching.  Their reaction invites us into the dizzying experience of realizing that like them, we have taken Jesus’ words too literally rather than sacramentally.  In John’s gospel Jesus often makes statements that hearers misunderstand and that call us to reflect on his teaching.  The bread and wine the priest consecrates at Mass signifies Jesus’ gift of his life and love on the cross.

How do you understand the mystery of the Eucharist?

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Gospel Reflection for August 16, 2015, 20th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Aug

Sunday Readings: Proverbs 9.6-1; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.51-58

“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

(John 6.58)

What kind of food do you crave? Chocolate? Popcorn? Anything salty, greasy, fried? What if there is a good that we can have a real relationship with? What if it’s a food we can not only desire but a food that craves us? What if there is a food that we can actually love and that can love us back? This can be said of Eucharist.

Eucharist can be absolutely harmless, even boring perhaps, or it can shake us and the world with its explosive force. What if there is no such thing as Eucharist that is thoroughly private? What if Eucharist either draws me into a relationship with every other Christian or it’s phony? What if, just like all interpersonal relationships, the right kind of chemistry can release astonishing power when together we are fed living food?

How does joining in Eucharist give you life?

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Gospel Reflection for August 9, 2015, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

4 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19.4-8; Ephesians 4.30-5.2; John 6.41-51

“I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.”

(John 6.51)

All three groups in Sunday’s gospel passage — the disciples, the crowd, the Jews — miss the point about Jesus. His disciples doubt their resources to feed the crowd. The crowd mistakes Jesus for a popular pork-barrel hero. “The Jews” opening disbelieve Jesus’ claims that he, rather than the manna in the desert, is the real bread of life from God.

Where do you best fit — among the doubting disciples, the fair weather crowd, or the Jews faithful to Moses’ law and the past?

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Gospel Reflection for August 2, 2015, 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Jonathan Assink

Photo via Flickr user Jonathan Assink

Sunday Readings: Exodus 16.2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4.17, 20-24; John 6.24-35

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

(John 6.35)

When Jesus sits at table with his friends, he has little more to say to them than what he has been trying to say through the whole witness of his life: “Here I am, like this bread and this cup — take it, let me be broken and poured out for you, so that the kingdom may come.” Jesus is not about being the strongest or most intimidating guy in the room or coercing and threatening people into believing the way he wants. Eucharist celebrates the one who chose to put himself on the line as a person for others.

Who in your life is a person for others?

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Gospel Reflection for July 26, 2015, 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

20 Jul

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Ephesians 4.1-6; John 6.1-15

“Jesus said, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat'”?

(John 6.5)

Like a jazz musician who plays a simple melody before spinning countless variations, John tells the core story of Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes before he begins reflecting at length on all this sign expresses. The disciples’ conversation with Jesus shows they keep bumping into limits, hitting the wall. Their limitations become the Church’s limitations.

Philip sees they can’t possibly feed the crowd. Voices today echo the limitation Philip sees. “There are not enough priests, so we cannot keep this church open.” Andrew notices a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he asks, “But what are they among so many people?” But the food Jesus gives the crowd increases in being given.

What are our hungers today?

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Running Toward

17 Jul
via Flickr user Lawrence OP

via Flickr user Lawrence OP

The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things. –Mark 6:30-34

Can you feel Jesus’s fatigue in this passage? I can, viscerally. It is so important to retreat, to regroup, to recharge. It is so important to eat and rest and spend time in deserted places when your work is in high demand. These first verses need to illicit real fatigue in us, the readers, in order for the story to work. Then, when we get to the end of the passage, we are truly struck by Jesus compassion. Instead of getting upset and being short with the people, like I would if I were in dire need of retreat and it was ruined by a mob of needy people, he is moved. They move him to be more open. He takes a deep breath and continues to teach. Thank goodness.

For they were like sheep without a shepherd. This visual is so strong for me. I see this in the teenagers I work with. They are in a developmental stage when it is healthy for them to question authority and be critical of institution. They are beginning to define themselves against their peer group instead of their families. They are forming herds, and it feels exciting to them to move as a herd without a shepherd. Many of them turn away from religion, the church, the stories their parents taught them. They want to be free from these things, that all of a sudden feel suffocating, restricting, confining. They have a deep desire to wander the field without direction. I encourage young people to go, wander, frolic, play. Enjoy what it feels like to run away without heeding the call back. Often their instinct is healthy. They are running from what they see as hypocritical in the church, in organized religion. They are running from the ways that we as humans fall short. So run, I tell them. Run from those things. Just make sure you are running toward something good. Don’t mistake the love of God with the sin of humanity. Wander, frolic, question, yes. But run toward love, beauty, forgiveness, truth, and you will find Jesus again.

This is not just a teenage tendency. Don’t we all get lost? Prone to wander, as the hymn says. Prone to leave the God I love.

We may not be running from authority, but we allow our busy lives, our ego, our pain to pull us away. Maybe we get so swept up in thinking we don’t deserve love or forgiveness that it is too hard to stay. Or maybe we don’t want to admit that we need a shepherd’s help. We all have times when Jesus pities us, seeing us like sheep without a shepherd. And it’s okay, as long as we can hear the sound of his voice, feel the compassion of his love, and know when it is time to wander back into the unending fold of his care. There is no fatigue there. Jesus is ready to teach us many things.

My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me. –JN 10:27

Gospel Reflection for July 19, 2015, 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

15 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Sarah Joy

Photo via Flickr user Sarah Joy

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-34

Crowds follow Jesus’ disciples back to Jesus. People’s hunger for his teaching and healing keep swelling. Mark writes the first gospel to tell Jesus’ story about A.D. 70, some 40 years after the events in the gospel. The disciples Jesus sends on mission and then welcomes back have in history grown old or, in the case of Peter, James, and Paul, been martyred. Who will continue the work Jesus began? Who will follow the disciples that have given their lives to spreading the gospel message — Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome? Mark writes to call for the new disciples in his time and our own.

What is a way you continue Jesus’ mission in your family life?

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Repentance Preached

10 Jul
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. –Mark 6:7-13
     I’ve read the Gospel for this Sunday numerous times, and each time something different comes to light. This week, it is the last three lines that are replaying in my mind and turning over and over again in my heart. It struck me that they went off to preach repentance. Often we hear that the disciples preached the good news, which I think of as an announcement, a truth, a reality. Jesus died and was raised from the dead. Life wins. God loves us. We are promised eternal life with God. It is too good to be true, so the disciples must preach it over and over again so we remember to live out of that radical joy.
     Repentance I think of as an active verb. It is something we do that leads to deep transformation in our hearts and in the world. It is part of our faith practice, part of what Jesus calls us to do, but the wording here in Mark puts it at the utter center of what it means to follow Jesus. The disciples went out to preach repentance. How interesting to think of our preachers now focusing week in and week on repentance. How curious to think how repentance and the good news may be connected and at times interchangeable.
     And then we learn in the following lines that demons were driven out and people were cured in this preaching of repentance. It is easy to hang onto anger without realizing it, or shutting out the hurt we have caused others. Not tending to these times when we have fallen short, the hurt can fester and grow methodically. We can think too highly of ourselves. We can live without letting God in to refine our being. Repentance is difficult, messy, time-consuming, and often scary. There are real consequences in the work of repentance. We can find healing and rest. We can know peace. We can retrieve joyful quiet in our minds and hearts and bodies. There is real physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation in the act of repentance. God offers us freedom.
     The Gospel of Mark is calling me to focus on repentance this week. What demons am I clinging to? What healing can I know and claim if I am brave enough to ask for forgiveness and be open to the change of heart that will flow from God’s unconditional love?
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