Gospel Reflection for July 25, 2021 – 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Ephesians 4.1-6; John 6.1-15
“The people sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up. From the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.”Mark 6.10-13
Jesus feeds a huge crowd on a boy’s five loaves and two fish. John’s gospel refers to Jesus’ healing and feeding actions not as miracles but as signs. A sign involves a concrete and physical action that points beyond what we see or experience.

A stop sign points to an intersection with busy cross traffic people may not see. A billboard with someone in cap and gown points to the unseen benefits of a college degree. In John’s gospel five loaves that feed thousands become a sign of who Jesus is and who we are as his disciples — the Body of Christ.

Starting this Sunday, the Church breaks off from reading Mark’s gospel for five Sundays and reads instead from John 6 with its theological reflection on Jesus as the bread of life. The mathematics alone — 5 loaves, 2 fish, 5,000 people, 12 baskets of leftovers — signals this feeding points to more than we see and draws us into deeper reflection.

The twelve baskets of leftovers point to universality. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel, so enough for all. Twelve is a number symbolizing abundance. The food Jesus gives increases in being given. The crowd has more food left over than there was to start. It works like love.
What hungers does sharing Sunday Eucharist satisfy for you?

Gospel Reflection for July 18, 2021 – 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-14
“As he went ashore Jesus saw a great crowd.  He had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  He began to teach them many things.” – Mark 6.34
The lectionary organizes our Sunday hearing of the gospels in short snippets. In this Sunday’s snippet the twelve return from a mission that Jesus sent them out to do in last Sunday’s snippet (Mark 6.7-13). Jesus’ growing popularity prevents them from taking time to eat or rest, let alone debrief.

This gospel is part of a a literary sandwich, story within a story. Last Sunday the lectionary served us the first slice of story — Jesus sending out the twelve in pairs (6.7-12). This Sunday we hear the second slice of story — the return of the twelve (6.30-34). The key to interpreting the whole lies in the omitted verses, the account of John the Baptist’s senseless and gruesome beheading. This account is the meat in the middle of the sandwich that interprets the whole.

The missing 17 verses tell us that Jesus’ ministry has stirred up people in Galilee. They think Elijah or another prophet has returned. King Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead.

In Mark’s plot, telling the story of John’s beheading does more than supply time for the twelve to be away on mission. More importantly, John’s senseless death at the whimsy of a drunken king foreshadows the cost of prophetic ministry. What happens to John the Baptist may happen to Jesus and the disciples who follow him.

By A.D. 70 when Mark writes, Jesus’ apostles have spread the good news of his death and resurrection around the Mediterranean Sea. They have grown old or been martyred. Who will continue the work Jesus began? Who will follow the disciples that have given their lives to spreading his message? 
What insights does the literary sandwich suggest for you? What is a way you continue Jesus’ mission in your family life?

Be a friend. Write a note. Enclose it in beauty.

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Gospel Reflection for July 11, 2021 – 15th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Amos 7.12-15; Ephesians 1.2-14; Mark 6.7-13

Jesus called the twelve, began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits . . . So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” – Mark 6.7, 13

In this gospel the twelve perform three actions that cultivate Christian community. First, they preach. Their message is to repent, to turn afresh toward God, and open our hearts to the Spirit’s purposes for us.

Second, Jesus’ disciples cast out demons. Today psychology helps us name the demons of the human spirit, the destructive drives and addictions that keep us from possessing ourselves, that erode our capacity to love and keep faith. In Jesus’ time these demons probably also included mental illnesses. Jesus’ mission aims to free people to love and listen, to value one another, and care for one another in community.

Third, the twelve anoint and heal the sick as Jesus did. Oil soothes and salves. In anointing and attending to the sick, Jesus’ disciples in his time and we today keep people connected to the community, in its weave where people share their burdens, pain, and joy. Simple listening to their stories can help people in anxious economic situations. Listening can open up ways to help.

We continue Jesus’ mission in our time just as the twelve do in Sunday’s gospel. We can testify to God’s presence in our lives. We can participate in helping friends and family members free their capacity to love from too much work or drink, or too little voice or purpose. We can attend the sick.

Who have you helped through listening? How have you helped people stay connected during the pandemic?

Gospel Reflection for July 4, 2021 – 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Ezekiel 2.2-5; 2 Corinthians 12.7-10; Mark 6.1-6
Jesus came to his native place with his disciples. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” They took offense at him….Jesus could do no deed of power there. – Mark 6.1-3
Surprisingly, Jesus can work no miracles is his hometown, Nazareth. Jesus’ homefolks can’t get beyond their certainty that they know who he is. His preaching astounds some, but the majority can’t accept him as a wise and prophetic teacher. He is a tradesman who can terrace your hillside or build a wall.

This is a story of rejection, of dismissing the gifts of a homegrown prophet. This is our story, too, every time we refuse to change or doom new possibilities to fail.

A doctor commented about certainty in our small Christian community. “Certainty can kill a patient,” he says. “I teach medical students to stay curious, look further, keep probing for diagnosis and cure. It’s so easy to miss clues.”

“The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty,” theologian Bernard Lonergan writes. Doubt implies questioning, challenging, actively engaging a person or a thought. But certainty dismisses the need for further search and for living with questions.

What is valuable about doubt and curiosity in your experience and dangerous about certainty?

Summer Refreshment

Summer is about taking time to garden, to read, to sit on the porch, to visit. We will send you a poem now and again this summer that might help you find a place to be peaceful. The one here is from Hafiz, the most beloved poet of Persia who lived over 600 years ago. Of his 5,000 poems, only 700 or so have survived. This is one of them.


Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Far too

Gospel Reflection for June 27, 2021 – 13th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 1.13-15; 2.23-24; 2 Corinthians 8.7,9,13-15; Mark 5.21-4

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”  He looked around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth” – Mark 5.30-33

The two stories in Sunday’s gospel are about daughters. The child is a daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leaders. Jesus addresses the hemorrhaging woman as daughter after she tells the whole truth of her healing. She is a daughter of his new community — a believer.

Twelve is an important number in both stories. The child is 12 years old, an approximate age for menstruation to begin. The woman has suffered a flow of blood for 12 years and has for these years been excluded, according to the law of Moses, from the worship of her people in the temple.

Mark connects these two stories with Jesus’ own story. Mark calls the woman’s flow of blood a scourge. In Acts 22.24 and Hebrews 11.36 this word refers to floggings or scourgings. The word makes the woman’s suffering resonate with Jesus’ own in his passion and death. The woman’s lifeblood keeps hemorrhaging from her body just as Jesus’ lifeblood pours out in his suffering and death.
While the woman’s story emphasizes a long-time daily suffering, the child’s story emphasizes Jesus raising her up from near death. Jesus commands her, “Arise.” This is the same word that describes Jesus raising up Peter’s mother-in-law and his own rising from the dead. Together the stories of the two daughters echo in ordinary people’s lives Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

This gospel is one of Mark’s literary sandwiches, a story with in a story.  As in a sandwich, the meat is in the middle. The woman healed of hemorrhage hears about Jesus, touches his cloak from behind in a crowd, and is healed. She makes public witness in the crowd, telling he whole truth of what has happened to her. She is an anonymous one of us who testifies to her faith and builds up the community in her generation. Her witness is the model to which the gospel calls us.

From whom did you first heard about Jesus? How do you give witness to your faith in Jesus?

Bishops and Communion

“I want to write a longer piece about those bishops who seek to keep some from the table of Christ, but for now I will say this: it is not your table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (“all you who labor”); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (“Take this, all of you. . .this is my body, this is my blood”). We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”

John D. Whitney, SJ

Live simply. Live prayerfully. Live in peace.

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