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Sunday, 18 July 2021 / Published in Church Reflections

JEREMIAH 23:1-6 EPHESIANS 2:13-18 MARK 6:30-34

In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus had given the apostles authority over unclean spirits and commissioned them to preach. “So, they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” In today’s gospel passage, the apostles had just returned from what proved to have be a very successful missionary excursion. They were tremendously excited but had trouble sharing their experiences because “people were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.”

Like a mother hen caring for her chicks, Jesus hustled them on to a boat to retreat to a favorite hideaway of theirs for some peace and quiet. It was a shock to them that the people guessed where they were going and were waiting for them on the shore along with many others they had picked up as they walked there. The only peace and quiet that the disciples managed to get was during the boat trip across the lake.

When Jesus 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.” The lessons gleaned from this first missionary experience weren’t over yet. In fact, they had just begun.

There wasn’t any time for rest. The people weren’t at peace. Their spirits weren’t at rest. Immediately, Jesus reached out and touched their hearts with his teaching.

Did the apostles realize that, in his response to the crowd, Jesus was teaching them, too? Did they realize that the “Jesus ministry” would demand that they pour themselves out “like a libation?” Did they realize that mere words would never be able to satisfy the deep hunger of the people? Did they realize that they would have to place their entire lives in the hands of God before they could respond to the needs of this crowd? Not yet. First, they would have to look helplessly at the crowd of five thousand as Jesus’ command echoed in their ears. “Give them some food yourselves.”

PRAYER

Jesus, I offer my life to you.

I give you my all, my strengths and my weaknesses.

Use me to continue your ministry

to satisfy the hungers of the human family.

Sunday, 11 July 2021 / Published in Church Reflections

AMOS 7:12-15 EPHESIANS 1:3-14 MARK 6:78-13

We have a very interesting passage to think about today. It consists of a series of instructions that Jesus gave his twelve apostles before he sent them out on their first missionary excursion. Let’s look at the details and then see what their implications are for these early missionaries and us.

“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Why would Jesus send them out in pairs?

In Jewish tradition two witnesses were needed to convict a person of a crime. In our tradition the presence of two witnesses are needed to legalize a wedding. These men were to be witnesses of the coming kingdom of God. The power of two is much greater than the power of one.

To strengthen their witness Jesus gave them the authority over unclean spirits. In addition to the proclamation of the kingdom the Twelve were armed with proof that the kingdom was coming; the children of the kingdom had power 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.” What did the ordinary person wear in Jesus’ day, and why did Jesus think it necessary to specify the clothing the Twelve were to wear?

The basic garb for men and women was the tunic. It was made from a piece of cloth that was folded in half and sewn on one side. Holes were cut for the arms to go through. No hole was cut for the head. This would prove to the buyer that it had never been used but also allowed the new owner to make an appropriately sized hole for his/her head to fit through

propriately sized hole for his/her head to fit through. The neckline was therefore totally left to the discretion of the purchaser. A woman, for example, might want a low-cut neckline if she was nursing a baby.

The outer garment was something like a poncho. It was a large piece of cloth, six to seven feet wide and eight to nine feet long. It could be two pieces of cloth sewn together or one large piece, as was the case with Jesus’ cloak that the soldiers gambled for at the foot of the cross. The outer garment was used as a cloak by day and a blanket at night.

A girdle, or belt, was fastened around the waist over the tunic and outer garment giving the wearer the ability to alter the length of the garments as needed.

A kind of sack was worn over the shoulder. It could be large enough to carry food and essentials that a traveler might need. It could also be used as a money pouch. These money pouches were commonly used by traveling missionaries to carry the donations they picked up during their travels.

So, what was Jesus telling the Twelve by spelling out how they should dress? He was telling them that they must rely totally on God. They should travel without a back-up of food or clothing or money. They were to depend totally God and on the generosity of the people who would hear and accept their message.

He was also saying something about the attitude the Twelve should have when they enter someone’s home. It was rabbinic law that when people entered the courts in the temple they had to leave their staff, sandals and money bag outside. Here Jesus is saying that the home that accepts his message is a place as sacred as the temple.

“He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. What place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.’”

Here, Jesus is directing his missionaries to be the catalysts of a new community. By staying in one home they could gently make the place a center for future instruction. When they left, their hosts could continue what they began or, at least, be a place from which future missionaries could preach.

His instruction to shake the dust of the town off their feet if they weren’t accepted there would have been a bit shocking for the Twelve to hear. Rabbinic law said that the dust of a Gentile land was defiled. When Jews had to enter Gentile territory they were obliged to shake off every bit of defiled dust from their feet before entering Jewish territory. In this statement Jesus is comparing Jews who don’t listen to, or accept, the message of the kingdom to the Gentiles who were not among the chosen people.

“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.”

Here we discover the message of the Twelve’s preaching: repentance. The word used in the scripture is metanoia. It doesn’t mean simply admitting wrongs done in the past and making the commitment not to repeat them. It means changing the entire direction of one’s life. It means becoming a new person, one who sees differently, thinks differently, relates differently. It means taking on the attitude of the disciple who depends totally on God. It means committing to a new community – a kingdom community. It means freeing people from their demons. It means not accepting this world and its values as our only alternative. It means becoming a new person, a new people, in the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve applies to each one of us. This week we’re asked to question our own discipleship. To what degree do I place my trust in God? How do I share my faith? Do I believe that I have been given a role to play in the kingdom of God? Am I open to hearing Jesus’ call for personal and communal repentance? Do I hear Jesus’ invitation to be his missionary?

Sunday, 04 July 2021 / Published in Church Reflections

EZEKIEL 2:2-5 2 CORINTHIANS 12:7-10 MARK 6:1-6

This is the third week that “faith” is the theme of the gospel passage. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus question the shaky faith of his disciples when they panicked during a storm at sea. The following Sunday, we witnessed the unwavering faith of two people: a woman who was cured of chronic hemorrhaging, and Jairus, the president of the town’s synagogue, who knelt at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to heal his daughter. This week we see Jesus “amazed” at the lack of faith exhibited by the people of his hometown, Nazareth. Let’s focus our reflection on the town folk’s disbelief.

Jesus left his family and his hometown when he was about 30 years old. Being the son of a carpenter, he most likely worked at the same trade. The specific Greek word that Mark chose for carpenter extends way beyond a wood-worker. The word describes a general handy-man and a jack of all trades. He could fix a broken chair, or build a house.

In the scene, Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, returned to his home town as an itinerate Rabbi accompanied by his entourage of disciples. His reputation as a healer and miracle worker preceded him. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the town’s synagogue. The people had quite a response to him.

“They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

The people’s reaction is puzzling. They acknowledged his wisdom as a teacher. They recognized him as a miracle worker and healer. But they hardened their hearts against him. In Luke’s gospel, we’re told that they were so upset with him when he said he was the Messiah that they tried to throw him off a cliff!

Mark tells us that Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them.” What can we learn about faith from this incident in Jesus’ life?

One startling realization is that their lack of faith actually blocked the flow of divine energy through Jesus. In contrast, the woman suffering from hemorrhages believed that if she only touched a tassel on Jesus’ cloak she would be healed. Her faith connected so powerfully with Jesus that at the moment of her touch he felt a release of healing power.

Jairus’ story teaches us that humility is an essential component of faith. By acknowledging our powerlessness and total dependence on God we make space for God’s power, which is love, to enter us and heal us or, in the case of Jairus, to heal his daughter.

Faith is more than saying yes to a creed; it’s a spiritual way of life. It’s the relinquishing of our power to the All-powerful so that the life-giving love of God may find a place of welcome in our hearts.

Sunday, 27 June 2021 / Published in Church Reflections
Food photo created by wirestock - www.freepik.com

WISDOM 1:13-15, 2:23-24 2 CORINTHIANS 8:7, 9, 13-15 MARK 5:21-43

Last week, the gospel left us with the image of Jesus sleeping at the rear of a boat as his disciples desperately tried to keep the boat afloat when a sudden storm descended on the lake. The disciples woke him up screaming, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

He stood up and calmed the storm and the wind. They were safe. But we left the scene with Jesus’ response to the disciples ringing in our ears, “Do you not yet have faith?” This week’s gospel develops the theme by showing us two people of tremendous faith.

There was a woman who had been suffering with hemorrhages for twelve years. She was physically worn out and financially depleted because of her doctor bills. Perhaps her greatest suffering came from isolation. In Jewish culture, any ailment involving loss of blood separated an individual from society. She was forbidden to touch people, to eat with people or to attend the synagogue.

She had heard that Jesus was a powerful healer. When she learned that he was nearby she lingered near the crowd that was surrounding him. She hoped to be able to touch him. She managed to get close enough to reach out her hand to touch one the ritual tassels he was wearing. Jesus immediately felt a jolt of power leave him. She felt his power streaming through her. She knew that she had been healed. But then Jesus suddenly shouted out, “Who touched Me?” She became frightened but approached him. He calmed her fears. “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

This woman’s faith was so strong that it attracted Jesus’ healing energy. Besides her

physical healing she received the gift of inner peace.

The second example of tremendous faith was the president of the local synagogue, Jairus. Remember that Jesus was popular among the ordinary people but not with the religious authorities. The word was already out to be cautious of this Jesus. He was very loose in his interpretation of the law and even did public theological battle with the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jairus, a public figure, took a big chance by coming to Jesus. His daughter was at death’s door. People were saying that Jesus was a great healer. No matter what the religious authorities were saying about Jesus, Jairus, in his desperation, had nowhere to turn but to Jesus. A father’s love drove him to humble himself before this healer. “He fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him.” Jesus immediately responded to his request. On the way to his home Jairus witnessed the cure of the woman with the hemorrhage. This must have bolstered his confidence in Jesus but only for the moment. As soon as the crowd neared Jairus’ house they heard flutes playing a dirge and mourners wailing. It was too late. The girl was dead. Jesus admonished the mourners saying that the girl was asleep, not dead. “They ridiculed him.”

Jesus then gathered a small community of faith, Jairus and his wife and his band of three witnesses, Peter, James and John. Before he entered the girl’s room he instructed them. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

A mere touch and a simple command was all that was needed. “He took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Little girl, arise.’” Awe fell upon the entire crowd.

Last week’s account of the storm at sea left us with a question; “Do you not yet have faith.” This week’s stories show us the power of faith. The woman with the hemorrhage suffered for twelve years until she found Jesus. As a public figure, Jairus’ request that Jesus pray over his daughter, was a humbling experience.

What do these examples of faith teach us? The woman taught us that a person of faith never gives up. She fought her way through the crowd. Nothing would stop her from reaching out to Jesus. Jairus taught us that the foundation of faith is humility. This prominent man fell to his knees before Jesus. Faith involves trust and reliance, conviction and assurance. Faith can’t be tentative. Faith dwells deep in the heart.

I’m concluding this reflection on faith with the opening passage from a short work entitled, A RULE FOR A NEW BROTHER. It was written by an SSS Community in Holland in 1973 as an inspirational Rule of Life for a lay community. It contains a beautiful description of faith.

You want to seek God with all your life, and love him with all your heart. But you would be wrong if you thought you could reach him. Your arms are too short, your eyes are too dim, your heart and understanding too small. To seek God means first of all to let yourself be found by him. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of Jesus Christ. He is your God, not because he is yours but because you are his. To choose God is to realize that you are known and loved in a way surpassing anything one can imagine, loved before anyone had a thought of you or spoken your name. To choose God means giving yourself up to him in faith. Let your life be built on this faith as on an invisible foundation. Let yourself be carried by this faith like a child in her mother’s womb. And so, don’t talk too much about God, but live in the certainty that he has written your name on the palm of his hand.

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