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.
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.
JOB 38:1, 8-11 2 CORINTHIANS 5:14-17 MARK 4:35-41
This is a stormy kind of Sunday! In the first reading of the day we see Job caught in a spiritual crisis. His friends have ridiculed him for his unfailing faith and trust in God. Job has begun to wonder why God has allowed so many disasters to befall him. He’s wondering what God’s plan for him might be. What was the reason for his suffering? He’s caught in a storm of doubt.
In this passage God reveals his power and majesty to Job through a series of poetic images. “Who shut the doors of the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness it swaddling bands?” The bottom line is this. God is telling him: “Job, look and see. I created everything, and I maintain its existence! Do you think you can ever fathom the depth of my wisdom? Trust me, Job!”
The gospel passage, Mark’s account of the storm at sea, pictures Jesus sleeping at the stern of the boat when a sudden squall threatens to sink it. Terrified, the disciples wake him up. He simply tells the wind to cease and the water to calm. But he’s concerned: “Why are you terrified? Do you not have faith yet?” Jesus is reassuring them. Storms will always come. You’ll be safe. I’m with you even when you
think I’m sleeping. Just trust me.
Let’s connect these two passages using St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians. Here, he articulates the dynamic nature of redemption. Redemption isn’t an event of the past. Jesus’ sacrificial love is eternally being poured out for every person who ever was, is, and will be. Sacrificial love is redeeming love.
Today we’re being asked to trust Jesus and to fearlessly model in our lives his sacrificial love, even in the midst of our personal storms. United with him in this way, we’ll partake in his work of redemption.
trusting in your love
I consecrate myself
to your Sacred Heart.
Use me as a vehicle
of your redemptive love.
Help me to live no longer for myself
but for others.
EZEKIEL 17:22-24 2 CORINTHIANS 5:6-10 MARK 4:26-34
The key words for today are patience, perseverance and hope. The passage from Ezekiel is an allegory about a messianic age to come. Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians. The king, his nobles and all leading citizens have been deported to Babylon. A new Jewish king has been set up by Babylon but he has reached out to Egypt for help to revolt against Babylon. Terrible days are ahead when Babylon will bring retribution on Israel.
However, Ezekiel’s prophecy is looking into the future. He sees an end to the violence and destruction. In this allegory of the cedar tree he sees God re-planting Israel like a small clipping taken from a mighty Lebanon cedar. God won’t abandon Israel. In time, Israel will again flourish in a golden age to come. Patience!
In today’s second reading, St. Paul urges the Corinthians to remain strong and courageous as they navigate the daily challenges and temptations of life. He reminds them that they’re merely passing through this world. He tells them that they must rely on their faith to generate the strength they’ll need to successfully complete their journey home to God who eagerly awaits them. Perseverance!
Jesus shares an insight about the kingdom of God in the gospel passage. He uses two images: the mysterious process that evolves a seed into a grain of wheat, and the miracle of the mustard seed that grows from the smallest of seeds into one of the largest bushes. His examples tell us very little about the kingdom itself. He’s focusing on the process of the kingdom’s formation. Its growth is both mysterious and powerful. The kingdom WILL come, in its own time and in its own way. Hope!
While I was reflecting on the interpretation of these passages I realized that I live with great frustration and anger. Every day I pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Then, every day, I look at this world I live in.
I was born in 1948, four years after my 18year-old father stormed the beach at Normandy, and three years after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities. I was born at the beginning of the Cold War when everyone lived in fear of a Communist take-over and an imminent nuclear war. I was in grade school when I first saw pictures of the Nazi concentration camps. I was in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was in college when Senator Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. I marched in civil rights marches. I protested the Vietnam war. I stood by men who burned their draft cards. And every day I prayed, “Thy kingdom come.”
I look at the world today and my frustration and anger twist in my gut. But I can still close my eyes, and I can see a beautiful world – a world at peace – a world where children don’t starve – a world without concentration camps and prisons. I see a world with clean skies and pristine oceans. I see a world where people care for one another. I see a world where love isn’t laughed at.
Ezekiel taught the Jewish people a lesson. St. Paul taught Christians a lesson. Jesus taught humanity a lesson. Of all the people in the world who carry heavy burdens, the person of faith has the heaviest burden to carry – the burden of hope. Hope in the midst of war. Hope in time of famine. Hope during a pandemic. Hope when the very structures of our society are in peril.
This Sunday is the first Sunday when the liturgical color green has been used since February 17 th , Ash Wednesday. Green, the color of new life, the color of hope. Today, I’ll adjust the heavy burden on my back. I’ll straighten up as much as I can. I’ll pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Today we’re going reflect on the feast of the Body of the Body and Blood of Christ through the prism of Covenant. The Jewish scriptures note a number of covenants – legal agreements between God and the people. The three most important were with Abraham, Noah and Moses.
God called to Abraham asking him to leave his home and his people. He promised him that he would be the father of a great people who would be as numerous as the sand of the seashore. The covenant was ratified in the context of a sacred sacrifice. Abraham slaughtered a number of animals as God had directed him. He then cut them in two and separated the parts placing them a few feet from each other. God put Abraham into a trance and then appeared as a column of fire. Walking between the sacrificial animals God consumed them in the fire. This ratified the covenant between God and Abraham. Abraham and his children would be faithful to God and, in turn, God would make Abraham a great nation. The sign of this covenant was circumcision.
After the great flood God made a covenant between himself and creation. Leaving the ark, Noah slaughtered a number of animals and burned the carcasses as a sacrificial offering pleasing to God. God promised that he would never again destroy the world by a flood re-establishing his relationship with creation. He made the rainbow the sign of this covenant.
During the great theophany at Mount Sinai God entered into a covenant with the Jewish people. He renewed the covenant he made with Abraham and gave them the law that they were to follow. Moses built an altar and gathered the people before it. He slaughtered a number of bulls and drained their blood into basins. To ratify the covenant Moses poured some of the blood onto the altar. The remaining blood he sprinkled over the people. This was a sacred covenant between God and the Jewish people – it was ratified in the blood of a sacrifice. Having a sense of the sacredness of these blood covenants we can move to a deeper understanding of the account of the Last Supper that we’ve read in today’s Gospel.
The passage begins with these words: “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?’” This Passover will be Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. In a matter of hours, he will be sacrificed on the cross. There, he will be the priest offering the sacrifice, like Abraham, Noah and Moses, and the sacrificial victim. His blood will ratify the covenant. At this meal Jesus will establish the everlasting sign of this covenant. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘Take it. This is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.’”
In this meal, this Eucharist, Jesus offered the bread of his body. They accepted it. They ate it. He offered the wine of his blood. They drank it. In this Eucharist they entered into the most sacred ever imagined. It was sealed in the blood of Christ.
Today, the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we take our place at the table of the Last Supper with him. Today, we stand at the foot of the cross. We see him poured out in sacrifice. Today, we remember his words, “Do this in memory of me,” and re-affirm the terms of this most sacred covenant. We eat his body, broken. We drink his blood, shed. We sing out, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the death of the Lord.” In each Eucharist we accept to follow his new law, to love one another as he loved us. We seal this covenant in the blood of the Lamb.
DEUTERONOMY 4:32-34, 39-40 ROMANS 8:14-17 MATTHEW 28:16-20
The three readings follow each other in an interesting sequence this week as we celebrate Trinity Sunday. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses, in his final address to the people, reminds them of their special relationship with God by pointing out the tremendous ways God manifested himself to them. God, almighty and all-powerful, was their protector. He showed his might by sending ten plagues upon the Egyptians and then guiding them out of Egypt. He recalls the theophany at Mount Sinai when God descended on the mountain in fire and thunder and lightning, gave them the Law and sealed the covenant that claimed them as his chosen people.
In the second reading, taken from the letter to the Romans, Paul moves away from the image of God as the almighty and all-powerful. He stresses that through Christ each of us has been adopted by God, and so we’re elevated as children of God. The Spirit, present in us, continually gives witness to this adoption.
As God’s children we now have confidence to address God as Abba, father – daddy – papa. In the gospel passage the resurrected Jesus commissions the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and Holy Spirit.” Now, everyone is special, and everyone is chosen to enter this intimate relationship with God.
God revealed himself most clearly and definitively in the person of Jesus who, in his life and preaching, brought to light the very essence of God – love. That love is extended to us through the Spirit who’s always with us and in us, drawing us into a profound and intimate relationship with God.
Through Christ, the Word of God made flesh, we’re drawn into the life of the Trinity – the life of love. This is what we celebrate today.
We have arrived at Pentecost – the exclamation point that ends our seven -week celebration of Easter. During those weeks, many scripture passages were given to us for our prayerful contemplation.
We listened to the account of the two disciples who came to recognize Jesus when he broke bread with them. We witnessed Thomas abandon his disbelief to acknowledge Jesus as his personal Lord and God. We heard Jesus promise us that he would be our shepherd never failing to care for us. He revealed his profound connection with us when he told us that he was the vine and we were the branches. He went on to call us his friends and special confidants. He consecrated us and commissioned us to continue the work he began. Finally, he promised to send us the Spirit of truth.
In preparation for the Spirit’s anointing today I invite you to, first and foremost, open your hearts and minds to the peace Jesus offers us. He greets us with the same greeting he extended to the apostles, Shalom. It’s the peace that rests in the heart of God – the peace that banishes fear – the peace that gives power to our witness. It’s the peace that opens our ears to the meaning of the scriptures.
fire that would purify the world. This is the lamp put on the lamp stand to bring light to all in the house.
“And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Recreated, purified, their hearts opened to the word of God, the Spirit destroyed the barriers preventing them from witnessing to the resurrected Lord.
Loving Father, gathered in your name we implore you drive all our fears from us.
Pour your holy peace into our hearts. Purify us and speak your name to us from the eternal fire of your love.
Loosen our tongues that we might speak only your word that we might witness to, and be one with, your Word made flesh that our word may heal as his healed that our word may speak your truth as his did.
May we bring your fire to the earth.
May we be salt for the earth and light for the world.
ACTS 1:15-17, 20A-26. 1 JOHN 4:11-16 JOHN 17:11A-19
We’ve come to the last Sunday of Easter, concluding the great Week of Weeks. The gospel message couldn’t be more appropriate or more powerful as we anticipate the feast of Pentecost. The passage is taken from the prayer Jesus lifted up for his disciples at the Last Supper. They’re the last words he spoke to them before his arrest. This is what he prayed: “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.”
In a few hours Jesus would give witness to Pilate. He boldly declared, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” Jesus not only testified to the truth, he was the truth, the very Word of God made flesh. He stood in confrontation to the world that hates the truth the religious leadership that condemned him and the politicians that executed him. From the judgment seat of the cross he would judge them. And from the altar of the cross he would sacrifice himself to redeemed them.
Jesus continued his prayer. “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.” Jesus’ prayer reached far beyond the supper table. He was praying for you and me. He was consecrating us in the truth, just as he consecrated those first disciples.
Consecrated by that sacred anointing, he sent us out. We’re to carry Christ, the way, the truth, and the life into the world that has lost its way, that doesn’t know truth, that’s barely alive. We’re the mustard seed Jesus planted. We’re the yeast he folded into a bowl of flour. The mustard seed will become a tree where the birds will find a place to roost. The yeast will coax the flour to become the bread of life. Dying to ourselves we’ll show the way; we’ll reveal the truth; we’ll celebrate a new life.
Ending the prayer, he said: “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” With him in us, God’s love will conquer the world slowly transforming it into the kingdom of heaven.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the vine, and we are your branches. Consecrate us in the truth that the world might drink of the new wine of your kingdom. Amen
There’s a very special message in the Gospel reading today. At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples who were at table with him, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from the Father.”
It sounds very strange to us to hear Jesus referring to his disciples as slaves. But those who heard him would have asked themselves why isn’t he calling us slaves any longer?
The word for slave is doulos. Moses, Joshua and David were given the title, doulos of God. In his letter to Titus, St. Paul refers to himself as the doulos of God. This was a title of great honor. Mary, in the gospel of Luke, tells the angel Gabriel that she’s the doula of the Lord. She’s no common handmaid, as the word doula is usually translated – she’s the slave of God, just as Moses was the slave of God God’s own possession, devoted exclusively to him.
Jesus goes on to say that he now calls his disciples friends. This word, too, has a historical background. Abraham was called the friend of God, a term that came from the royal court of eastern kings. The friends of the emperor had access to the king at any time. They were his most trusted confidants even before his generals and statesmen.
Jesus is telling his disciples that they’ve been called to serve God with the intensity and devotion of Moses and Mary but not at the status of a slave who simply takes orders. Jesus is making them his partners – his personal confidants -his friends. They’re privileged members of God’s inner circle.
He then sends them all on a mission. I “have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” And what’s the fruit that they’re to bear? He tells them very clearly, “This I command you: love one another.”
John, the author of this gospel teaches, in his first letter, that “God is love.” Jesus is taking his disciples – all his disciples, not just those at the Last Supper – into the intimacy of God’s friendship. To do so, he asks us to follow his commandment with the commitment and devotion of a slave, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
What a tremendous revelation! What a tremendous invitation! As slaves, we joyfully bear the burden of love. As friends, we draw the power of love by touching the very heart of God.
A Brief Reflection for the Feast of the Ascension
I want to call your attention to a sentence in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We’re told that Jesus’ last message to his disciples was that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could give witness to him “to the ends of the earth.” He was then lifted up and returned to the Father. They were still watching him ascend when “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.” They then spoke these words:
“MEN OF GALILEE, WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE LOOKING AT THE SKY?”
What’s the message of these two men dressed in white garments? It’s simple. Get your heads out of the clouds! Come back down to earth! You’ve just been given a commission to witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth. There’s serious work to do! Get going!
The Gospel passage reinforces their words with the words of Jesus. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature!”
What do you hear today? What are you going to do about it? Where do you go from here?
ACTS 9:26-31 1 JOHN 3:18-24 JOHN 15:1-8
As a preacher and teacher Jesus was quite down to earth. He took simple, common, everyday occurrences and used them to make a point that could be easily understood and retained. Today we’re reflecting on an image he used to illustrate our connection with him and the Father. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch from me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
In Jesus’ day vines were everywhere. They were grown on trellises on the side of homes. They were on balconies and rooftops. They were cultivated in vineyards. The people were very knowledgeable about the care and maintenance of the vine.
As Jesus spoke about the vine and the branches the people would also have been thinking of the many scriptures that referred to Israel as the vine. Psalm 80, praising God for taking care of Israel, says, “You brought a vine out of Egypt.” Isaiah said, “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” But the psalms and the prophets also used the image of the vine to describe the corruption of Israel. Jeremiah and Isaiah condemned Israel for becoming a “wild vine,” unpruned, and bearing little fruit.
In this teaching Jesus presents himself as the TRUE vine. He’s not like Israel, the vine gone wild; he submits to the Father who continually prunes and nurtures the vine. He’s reminding his listeners that they’re the branches; they bear the fruit. He’s reassuring them that as long as they stay connected to him, the vine, the Father will care for them like a gardener. With his care, they’ll bear abundant fruit. But he cautions that “anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”
This a spiritual life-cycle that Jesus is describing in this image of the vine and the branches. John the Baptist articulated this same spiritual truth when he proclaimed, “He must increase – I must decrease.” Jesus is intimately connected with the Father, the source of all life. In the same way, when we’re connected to Jesus, the Father will nurture and strengthen us. The divine life will flow through us and we’ll bear fruit of the kingdom.