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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

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?

Gospel Reflection for July 12, 2015, 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Jul

Sunday Readings: Amos 7.12-15; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.7-13

“Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two…They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

(Mark 6.7, 13)

Why does Jesus send out twelve? Jesus’ intimate circle of followers includes many more than twelve. In fact, Mark tells us that many women followed and served Jesus throughout his ministry from its beginning in Galilee; they came with him to Jerusalem and witnessed his death, burial, and resurrection (Mark 15.40-41).

Twelve has its significance as a symbol of the universality of Jesus’ mission. The number twelve looks back in history to the number of tribes of ancient Israel. Sending out twelve apostles represents sending one missionary to every tribe. Jesus’ mission is to all Israel and ultimately to all the peoples of the world. In the book of Revelation the number twelve looks toward the future where the city of God has twelve gates, always open, for people to bring into it the glory of the nations (Revelations 21.21, 25-26).

How wide open are our church doors to every tribe? What do you think the women did while the twelve were away?

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Gospel Reflection for July 5, 2015, 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

30 Jun

Gospel-42-WDF

Sunday Readings: Ezekiel 2.2-5; 2 Corinthians 12.7-10; Mark 6.1-6

“Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house.”

(Mark 6.4)

Sunday’s gospel tells a terrible story about a town where Jesus can work no miracles. Jesus’ home folks can’t get beyond their certainty that they know who he is. His preaching astounds some, but certainty and cynicism quickly tame the amazement. The majority can’t accept Jesus as a wise and prophetic teacher. He is a tradesman who builds chairs, tables, walls, terraces with his hands. The people of Nazareth — hearers of the scriptures, sufferers under Roman rule and taxes, people yearning for the messiah — will not be carried away at the words of one of their own. They will not listen one another into new possibilities.

What is possible if we listen one another into vision?

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Gospel Reflection for June 28, 2015, 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

24 Jun

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 1.13-15, 2.23-24; 2 Corinthians 8.7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5.21-43

Jesus took the girl by the hand, saying, “Talitha cum, Little girl, arise.”

The Gospel has two daughters of faith. A girl of 12 near death whose dad begs Jesus for help. A woman whose hemorrhaging has lasted 12 years. If she lived today, she’d be filing for bankruptcy because of her medical bills.

The Gospel calls her bleeding a scourge, the same word used to describe Jesus’ bloody beating at the hands of Roman soldiers. The word identifies her suffering with Jesus’ suffering. When the woman risks everything to touch Jesus’ life-giving power and she’s healed, she tells the whole truth of what happened to her in the midst of the crowd. She preaches and gives witness. This is when Jesus calls her, “Daughter,” and affirms “your faith has healed you.”

This Gospel is a death and resurrection story. Jesus raises the girl to life when to all appearances she’s dead. Jesus’ command to the girl, “Arise,” is the same word Mark’s gospel uses to announce, “Jesus is risen.” Peter, James, and John witness the this healing. In Mark’s gospel they don’t witness Jesus’ death and resurrection but they do witness this life-giving miracle.

These two daughters of faith challenge us to identify the sufferings in our lives with Jesus’ suffering and to live Jesus’ call to arise and live the gospel.

To what new life do you hear you should arise?

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Gospel Reflection for June 21, 2015, 12th Sunday Ordinary Time

16 Jun

!SBS-41-Gospel-boatSunday Readings: Job 38.1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5.14-17; Mark 4.35-41

“Leaving the crowd behind, his disciples took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. Other boats were with him. A terrible windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that it was being swamped.”

“Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” That is what his disciples say after they wake Jesus up from a nap in the stern. Their question puts the crisis on Jesus. He is the one to save them. Jesus puts the crisis back on his disciples. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Faith is not what we believe; it is the way we set our hearts, the way we choose to live, the way we name the mystery in which we live.

So many have become non-affiliated Catholics and for clear reasons. Services rock somewhere else. Preaching against same sex marriage has alienated them. There’s too little room for women’s gifts. Sexual abuse and slow response to it has scandalized them.

How have you set your heart?

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Gospel Reflection for June 14, 2015, 11th Sunday Ordinary Time

9 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Kamil Porembinski

Photo via Flickr user Kamil Porembinski

Sunday Readings: Ezekiel 17.22-24; 2 Corinthians 5.6-10; Mark 4.26-34

“This is how it is with the reign of God. A farmer scatters seed on the ground, goes to bed, and gets up day after day. Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the farmer knowing how it happens. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.”

(Mark 4.26-28)

We live in a long history of God’s love unfolding in our evolving cosmos. Some four billion years ago simple cells appeared; two billion years ago cells with nuclei appeared. A farmer in Jesus’ time and all of us who grow plants today inherit the leap from the ocean to land that early cellular life made. We can ready the field, sow the seed, and sleep until harvest time. We depend on the miracle of life in seeds to grow and become food for us.

We live in a dynamic world in which all that is has the capacity to become more, to self-organize into new wholes. This image of growth calls us to value our own potential for outgrowing present flaws. Like the seed our spiritual growth flourishes with our willingness to trust the potential and future within our real selves.

Jesus identifies the seed with the word of God. Like seed Jesus’ teachings take root and grow in us. The person of faith realizes our lives of eating, sleeping, working, and playing are more than meets the eye. God is present in our lives in every here and now.

What does the story of evolution tell us about God and God’s reign? About ourselves?

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Gospel Reflection for June 7, 2015, Body and Blood of Christ

1 Jun
Photo via Flickr user Alex Leung

Photo via Flickr user Alex Leung

Sunday Readings: Exodus 24.3-8; Hebrews 9.11-15; Mark 14.12-16, 22-26

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Take this; this is my body.”

(Mark 14.23-24)

Perhaps a parent or grandparent has cautioned: if you eat any more chocolate chip cookies, you will turn into one. The caution explains well why we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and why we celebrate Eucharist weekly and daily. We gather as the Body of Christ to become to Body of Christ. Joining in Eucharist can become a school of transformation. We want to turn into the Body of Christ — to embody who Jesus is, people in our lives, and people in need in our world. At Jesus’ table we share the food that fuels us to become his feet, hands, eyes, ears, and heart in the world.

As what part of the Body of Christ do you think of yourself — feet, hands, eyes, ears, heart?

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Gospel Reflection for May 17, 2015, Ascension

11 May

Sunday Readings: Acts 1.1-11; Ephesians 1.17-23; Mark 16.15-20

“Go to the whole world and preach the gospel.”

(Mark 16.15)

The ascension is the hinge event between Jesus’ resurrection and his sending of the Spirit. Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus’ ascension and the Acts of the Apostles begins with the same scene. Luke draws on ancient imagery of God’s heavenly court to picture Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, returning to reign with God, to take his place at God’s right hand. As God’s incarnate Son, human and divine, Jesus is the firstborn of a new creation — the promise of who we are to become.

What are you looking to heaven for that you should be doing on Earth?

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Gospel Reflection for March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday

24 Mar

Sunday Readings: Mark 11.1-10; Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; Mark 14.1-15.47

“When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve…. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is pour out for many.  I will never drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God'”.

(Mark 14.17, 22-25)

 Jesus refers to sharing the cup as a covenant, a new agreement about our relationship with God.  Ancient Israel ratified its covenant in blood, signifying that the people pledged with their lives to keep the terms of the covenant, the ten commandments.  The community that tells Jesus’ story understands his gestures at the last supper as a new covenant that expresses his willingness to love them unto death.

What do you promise with your life?

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