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Divine Spit

19 Feb

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” –Mark 8:22-26

I love this little passage. I come back to it all the time. It’s visual and tactile, it’s relational, and it seems to be a moment to pay attention to in the sometimes overwhelming call to “Follow Jesus.” Earlier in the gospel Mark, Jesus heals people by showing his very “God on earth” power. He snaps his fingers, says it will be so, and it happens. For example, he rebukes the unclean spirit at the temple in 1:23-28 and he tells the paralyzed man he is forgiven in 2:5. These healings that only require Jesus’ words draw a crowd, indeed. But instead of love and faith, people react to him with fear and awe.

via flickr user timparkinson

via flickr user timparkinson

By Ch 8, Jesus has shifted his approach. His tactics have changed immensely. With this blind man, Jesus touches him- he takes him by the hand and leads him away from the crowds. This is not about the spectacle or showing off. This is about the man being able to see. Instead of just words, and even more intimate than a touch, Jesus uses his own spit to heal the man. This always makes me think of a loving mother using her own spit to wipe some spaghetti sauce of the chin of her child. It’s very intimate.

But Jesus’ divine spit doesn’t work the first time. And the man is brave enough to admit it to Jesus. Can you imagine this man, being taken by the hand of the one who is whispered about as the Messiah, and saying to him that he didn’t fully restore his sight? Seeing people look like trees is not enough. What works? Jesus looking at the man intently. It takes relationship. Time. Intention. It takes Jesus fully seeing the man for the man to be able to fully see.

This is a gem of a passage. It is so accessible to me that if I were to read it every morning, I know I would become a better person. In a society that values independence and anonymity, intimacy feels counter-cultural. Friends take the time to see each other clearly. We grow to love each other deeply. Jesus shows us that we have to put some skin in the game if we want to come out transformed. We can form life-long relationships with people human-made boundaries are separating us from. Maybe most importantly, if Jesus didn’t get it right the first time, it’s okay for us to keep working every day to look intently and really see people clearly.

Part of the work of the gospel, I think, in our paid and unpaid life, to follow Jesus by taking unexpected and vulnerable friends by the hand away from the crowds, looking at them intently, and seeking mutual healing. By searching for the humanity of another, may we more clearly see the world and find our own humanity as well.

Gospel Reflection for November 18, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

12 Nov

Jesus was talking to his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man.

Jesus said, “About the day or hour when these things will happen, no one knows.  Neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son, only the Father.”

Mark 13.32

Why is the gospel ambiguous about when the world will end?  To answer that question we have to understand what a gospel is and is not.  A gospel is not a news report of Jesus’ words and activities such as we expect today.  No one videoed Jesus teaching in the temple courtyard.  People passed on Jesus’ teaching orally for 40 years before Mark wrote it down.

Mark is writing in the wake of a cataclysmic event that demands interpretation—the destruction of the temple (AD 70), which ends Israel’s ancient temple-centered religion. This event coincides with Jesus’ eyewitness disciples reaching old age and with the deaths of Peter and Paul, martyred in the mid 60s.  Do these endings signal the end of the world?  Some thought they did at the time.  We know they didn’t.

The gospel records a second Christian voice that insists that only God knows when the end will come.  We live in God’s embrace from beginning to end.

What losses have you experienced in your life that seemed like the end of the world as you knew it?

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Gospel Reflection for November 11, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

5 Nov

Jesus was teaching in the temple and spoke out against the scribes being showy in their faith, looking for status.

Jesus said, “I want you to observe that this poor widow gave more to the treasury than all the others.  They gave from their loose change what they could spare.  But she in her poverty gave the pennies she had to live on.”

Mark 12.43-44

The scribes in this Sunday’s gospel seem unable to penetrate the heart of the law.  They like to benefit from their positions as respected teachers, even at the expense of powerless people like widows.  Jesus warns people to beware of such self-centered, greedy teachers.

Jesus values authentic faith and piety.  He values the widow’s simple gift more than long, public prayers for show.  The widow is like Jesus himself, who gives his entire life for love of God and neighbor.

In what measure are you a Christian in appearance?  In what measure an authentic Christian?

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Gospel Reflection for November 4, 2012, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

30 Oct

One of the scribes asked Jesus which was the greatest of all the commandments.

Jesus answered, “The greatest of all the commandments is ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God is Lord alone. Therefore, love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these.”

Mark 12.29-31

For Jesus, as for all good Jews, no religious obligation is more sacred than keeping the Law of Moses, the commands of the Torah, all 613 of them. The Pharisees saw this as an easy way to entrap Jesus—get him to pick one commandment as the greatest, then he accuse him of being soft on all the others.

But Jesus chooses wisely. He gives them, and gives us in a couple sentences his epitaph. It is his summation of what it’s all about, what the meaning of his whole life boils down to. Love God and your neighbor as yourself.

What might your epitaph be?

Gospel Reflection for October 28, 2012, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

23 Oct

Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Teacher, I want to see again,” Bartimaeus answered.
“Go,” said Jesus.  “Your faith has made you well.”  At once Bartimaeus was able to see and followed Jesus up the road.

Mark 10.51-52

Sunday’s gospel portrays the blind beggar Bartimaeus as an ideal disciple.   He hears about Jesus, believes in him, and follows unhesitatingly.  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.  He throws off the trappings of a life of begging and signals his readiness to follow Jesus.

What keeps you from throwing off your cloak? Whose lives challenge you to live gospel values rather than work for social status?



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Gospel Reflection for October 21st, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

15 Oct

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10.45


Jesus calls his disciples together when he hears the rest complaining about James and John seeking status.  He defines himself as one who serves, who gives his life to redeem all.  Jesus challenges his disciples to see they are following a servant, who wants to gather a community of equals for whom serving the rest is the most important activity.  Jesus’ instruction to his disciples continues to challenge us to service rather than status.

Whose lives challenge you to live gospel values rather than work for social status?

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More from this week’s Sunday By Sunday:Life coaches might well promote the attitude of James and John in Sunday’s gospel. When Jesus asks if they can drink the cup he will drink, they speak a bold and brash, “We can.”These two words in Latin form the motto of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet - possumus. The pioneering sisters in our community and other religious communities indeed lived bold and brash lives, building up the schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages that serve people to this day.

Read the full issue (pdf)

Gospel Reflection for October 14, 2012, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

8 Oct

Jesus said, “How hard for those trusting riches to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 10.24

In his lifetime, Jesus was an itinerant preacher, who possessed no belongings and owned no home.  Jesus sent his disciples out in the same way—with no food, money, bags, or second tunic.

Christians for whom Mark writes in A.D. 70 struggle with issues of wealth and human purpose.  This problem persists and worsens in our world.  Benedict XVI reviews the Catholic social teaching on economic inequality in the 2009 encyclical Caritas et Veritate.

Economics always involves moral decisions that affect the common good.  The holy father challenges a right to excess.  Our interpersonal relationships define us, he insists.  These relations bind us in love and respect to other people and to God, source of the gift of existence.

What makes investing yourself or money difficult?

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More from this week’s Sunday By Sunday:Cover of Sunday By Sunday volume 22 issue 2

Jesus makes a suggestion that proves outrageous in Sunday’s gospel. He invites a rich young man to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The young man walks away. All three synoptic gospels tell this story.

Sisters are among the followers of Jesus who choose the lifestyle Jesus proposes. To be a sister is to invest one’s life energies and gifts in serving and empowering our neighbors, especially the poor, 85% of whom are women and their children.

Read the full issue (pdf)

Gospel Reflection for October 7, 2012, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

4 Oct

Some Pharisees ask Jesus if the Law allows for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, and for this reason men and women leave their fathers and mothers and the two become one. They are no longer two but one. Let no one separate what God has joined.”

Mark 10.6-9

In our time the Pharisee’s question may seem one-sided and outdated. Their question addresses only what the law allows a husband to do. It does not give a wife the equal rights we expect in a democratic society.

Jesus sidesteps this legal controversy hotly debated among rabbis of his time. Rather than look at what is permissible, Jesus focuses on what is ideal. He puts the Pharisees’ question in the context of the creation stories that begin the book of Genesis, the first of the five books that form the Torah. In this context men and women are equal.

What message for today do you hear in Jesus’ teaching?

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Gospel Reflection for September 23, 2012, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17 Sep

Jesus took a little child and stood the child among them. Jesus took the child in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”

 

Mark 9.36-37


In the ancient world children were invisible, non-people of little consequence. Jesus taking a child in his arms must have shocked the boasting, arguing disciples. Jesus tells them that they must invert their basic beliefs about first and last. They must abandon the usual benchmarks of accomplishment and acclaim. In Jesus’ company the invisible become visible, servants are first, and those with higher status fade into the background.

When have you recognized the amazing presence of someone long invisible to you?

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More from this week’s issue of Sunday By Sunday:

“…The help my father needed with personal tasks insulted his sense of privacy. Wheelchair bound, he spoke and swallowed with difficulty. Reading was impossible without assistance from a family member or friend. He became increasingly dependent on my mother for emotional support. Then she died, and I took over her habit of daily visits.”
Read the rest of this story (pdf)

If you enjoy this excerpt from Sunday By Sunday,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.
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