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Finding Prophets Among Scribes

5 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Prophets tend to have a difficult life. It’s a tough gig. They see society as it really is, and speak truth to power. They are rarely taken seriously, often ignored, because we are pretty sure we don’t want to hear what they have to say. They give a comforting word to those suffering, and judge those who hold power harshly. They promise justice, which is not good news for those perpetuating injustice. They offer hope to the mourners while clearly pointing out the source of the grief.

We are in desperate need of some prophets– people who can imagine the world without war and hatred and violence– to call us to a higher place. What if we could see each other as God sees us, and act accordingly, so that compassion ruled the day?

Prophets rarely make it into the limelight. They are on the outskirts, calling for us to turn around and pay attention. They are running grassroots protests and feeding people and asking policy makers to show more humanity in a way that makes us uncomfortable because they are right. They are living in a way that seems like they may have a more direct line to God, who is tirelessly trying to work through our broken humanity.

During campaign season, we look to our candidates in hopes of finding a prophet. We look for people who have this God-inspired vision of what our country could and should look like. I can’t help but wonder, though, if our fast moving, media- driven society hushes prophets and glorifies scribes.

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! –Mark 12:39

In this presidential campaign season, we will hear a few people do a lot of talking, and several more people talk about those people talking. It is a season to beware. Who are we giving authority to? Who are we listening to–prophets or scribes? We do need to pay attention to the campaign, of course. We need to vote with our ballots and vote with our billfolds and television remotes and laptop mice. Meanwhile, I will keep searching for prophets and preparing my heart to listen.

 

Gospel Reflection for November 15, 2015, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time

10 Nov

Sunday Readings: Daniel 12.1-3; Hebrews 10.11-14,18; Mark 13.24-32

“About the day or hour when these things will happen, no one knows.”

(Mark 13.32)

Sunday’s gospel comes Mark 13, often called the  “little apocalypse.” Apocalyptic writing is a literary genre akin to science fiction or dystopian fiction today. It’s a resistance literature that looks at the struggle between good and evil in the world from the point of view of the oppressed. Apocalyptic writing creates symbols, codes, and visionary journeys that project how good will triumph but keep it secret from the oppressors. In much this same way spirituals expressed slaves’ desire for freedom but kept their meaning hidden from owners.

We worry today about cataclysmic ends of the world today, too. Star Wars describes a great cosmic battle in which good finally triumphs over evil. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings explores in the symbol of the ring the lure to power and evil and in its characters the qualities that will save Middle Earth. Through the mentoring of Dumbledore, Harry Potter learns as he grows up and hones his wizardry skills what will stop the evil V0ldemort and his Death Eaters. The secret for J.K. Rowling is not magic but Harry’s willingness to sacrifice himself out of love as his mother did to protect him.

Dystopian fiction enchants kids. We sympathize with divergents trying to transform a highly controlled society. Advertising for the final Hunger Games film has begun. We await what Katniss Everdeen, the Mockingjay, will do in the final film. Readers of the series know.

What worries you most about our society?

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Gospel Reflection for November 8, 2015, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time

3 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Tiger Pixel

Photo via Flickr user Tiger Pixel

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 17.10-16; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44

“I want you to observe that this poor widow gave more to the treasury than all the others.”

(Mark 12.43)

Widows and orphans were among the poorest people in ancient Israel. The law made care of widows and orphans the measure of Israel’s commitment to keeping the covenant. Like ourselves people throughout history have found forgetting the vulnerable easy and taking advantage of them tempting. The widow is the person in the story most like Jesus; she gives wholeheartedly all she has.

The widow in Sunday’s first reading also gives her all. She uses her last bit of flour and oil to make cakes for the prophet Elijah. She takes Elijah at his word and finds her jar of flour never goes empty and her jar of oil never runs dry.

What is the measure of your generosity?

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Gospel Reflection for October 25, 2015, 30th Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Oct

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.7-9; Hebrews 5.1-6; Mark 10.46-52

Bartimaeus threw of his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Teacher, I want to see again”.

(Mark 10.50-51)

Even before Jesus heals his blindness, Bartimaeus throws away his cloak, in which he probably collected the money passersby threw his way.  He accepts the call to discipleship before Jesus gives it.  His desire to see transforms Bartimaeus.  Their desire for status impedes the visions of James and John, over confident they can drink the cup Jesus drinks.  His desire for belonging keeps the rich young man from following Jesus.  The blind beggar who sees with eyes of faith becomes the model disciple.  Bartimaeus must have come to faith in Jesus through hearing others talk about him.  In that sense he is like all of us today who believe on the testimony of others.

What keeps you from throwing away your cloak?

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Gospel Reflection for October 18, 2015, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time

13 Oct

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 53.10-11; Hebrews 3.14-16; Mark 10.35-45

“Can you drink the cup that I drink?”

(Mark 10.38)

“We can,” James and John respond to Jesus’ question in Sunday’s gospel.  The irony of their brash response is that they do the opposite.  They forsake Jesus when he gets arrested and flee with all of Jesus’ men disciples except Peter, who denies knowing Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard.  When following becomes life-threatening, neither James or John nor the others stay the course.  Their commitment evaporates.  They shrink from drinking the cup of suffering Jesus is about to drink.  The gospel writer Mark wants us to recognize Jesus’ first disciples had to grow into their commitment as we can.

At every eucharist we drink the cup that Jesus drank.  We brashly say amen, agreeing this is the lifeblood of Christ poured out for us.  It becomes part of us, a commitment to live into each day.

To what do you commit when at Mass you drink the cup that Jesus drank?

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Gospel Reflection for October 11, 2015, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Oct

Cath-Worker-SBS

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 7.7-11; Hebrews 4.12-13; Mark 19.17-27

“All things are possible with God.”

(Mark 10.27)

More than half the world people live on $2-$10 per day.  In our country we hear calls to keep our economy humming, to buy and consume.  Now the Catholic Church has a leader who comes from a continent where most people fit this low-income category.  In his new encyclical on climate change Pope Francis repeatedly gives voice to people who are poor and quotes the words of other bishops from the developing nations of the global south.

Pope Francis is calling us to protect our common home, to find ways to reduce climate change and its imperiling effects on Earth’s poorest people.  The pope urges peoples, nations, and multinational corporations beyond borders and self-interest to pursue the most basic of common goods — a home for future generations.

What have you experienced of how people live in developing countries or of living at a low-income level $2-$10 per day?  How has this affected your outlook on climate change?

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Gospel Reflection for October 4, 2015, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Sep
Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Photo via Flickr user RebeccaVC1

Sunday Readings: Genesis 2.18-24; Hebrews 2.9-11; Mark 10.2-12

“Tell us, does the Law allow a husband to divorce his wife?”

(Mark 10.2)

Marriage is the topic in Sunday’s gospel.  In Rome this Sunday the Synod on the Family begins.  Second marriages is one topic on the agenda.  Many people in the pews pray the Spirit will breathe the embers of Vatican II into flame again.

Church documents praise the family but not in the everyday language we might use.  The Church describes the family as —

  1. a domestic church.
  2. the living cell of society and church.
  3. a school for social virtues.
  4. the first school of faith.
  5. a cradle of life.
  6. a value and goal most people seek.
  7. an icon of the Trinity.

How does your family fit the Church’s descriptions?  Who do you consider family members?

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Gospel Reflection for September 27, 2015, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Sep

Sunday Readings: Numbers 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-48

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

(Mark 9.40)

Jesus claims broad middle ground in this saying.  Often activists, liberal or conservative, reverse Jesus’ saying and eliminate middle ground.  In mobilizing advocates for change in public policies, they insist whoever is not for us is against us.  Middle ground is valuable space to preserve.  There we can explore what we have in common with others, what they have experienced, why they think the ways they do.  Middle ground is where people share their stories.  What is the experience of a stay-at-home suburban mom, a refugee from violence in Syria, an undocumented immigrant working a minimum-wage job at a hotel, or an African American nurse who has experienced people shunning his or her touch?

Middle ground is where real people meet and liberate each other from the demons of prejudice and unexamined certainty.  Middle ground is where someone else’s lived experience can broaden and transform our own.

What experience of middle ground becoming common ground have you had?

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Porousness

18 Sep

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5: 24-34

In Jesus’ time, things like nosebleeds and hemorrhaging marginalized people. Strength and health were associated with dryness. You were supposed to be contained. Bleeding showed signs of being out of control, irregular, weak, and feminine. Like so often still today, a hemorrhaging person would have been avoided as cursed, fearing contamination or contagion.

We can imagine, then, that this woman had been shunned for twelve years. She was so desperate for wholeness, love, healing, and touch that she snuck up on Jesus. And how interesting that Jesus shows his own porousness in healing this bleeding woman. In the story, he did not consciously heal the woman, he just felt the power flow from his cloak. It seemed to alarm him a bit, yet when he saw the freedom that the seeping power offered to her through restoration, he was at peace.

Have you felt the porous nature of love? We call it lovesick when we can’t sleep or focus due to daydreaming about a new person. We extend ourselves out of love. Teachers stay late to help struggling students. Activist march and fast and cross lines in the name of what they believe. Mothers know a messy love. In pregnancy, where does one body stop and the other begin? Or take breast feeding, for example. In The Stranger, Angela Garbes writes:

To produce breast milk, mothers melt their own body fat. Are you with me? We literally dissolve parts of ourselves….

Mothers dissolve their bodies to feed their children. The porousness runs deep:

When a baby suckles at its mother’s breast, a vacuum is created. Within that vacuum, the infant’s saliva is sucked back into the mother’s nipple, where receptors in her mammary gland read its signals. This “baby spit backwash,” contains information about the baby’s immune status. Everything scientists know about physiology indicates that baby spit backwash is one of the ways that breast milk adjusts its immunological composition. At the same time that it is medicine, breast milk is a private conversation between mother and child.

We are still encouraged, in today’s society, to be self-contained, clean, dry and put together. Yet so many forms of true love undo us. When we deeply love another, it is not clean and contained. We do become more porous. Boundaries dissolve, leading to freedom. When love leaves me a little tired and drained, a little messy and undone, I think of Jesus love and ministry, so generous that it flowed from his being and his clothes.

Gospel Reflection for September 20, 2015, 25th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 2.12, 17-20; James 3.16-4.3; Mark 9.30-37

“Whoever wants to be first must be last and the servant of all.”

(Mark 9.35)

When Jesus begins to tell his disciples that suffering lies ahead, that he will be put to death and rise again, they find themselves too afraid to ask questions. But they did not feel too afraid to argue who among them was greatest. So Jesus has to sit them down and explain that in his company those who serve are greatest. He uses welcoming a child as an example. In the ancient world children were invisible, non-people. To receive a child is to receive him. Jesus’ teaching gives us a very different picture of Christian community than the hierarchical one in which we live. Often those who live Jesus’ teaching are invisible to us.

Whose service is vital to your day to day existence at home, at work?

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