TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 26, 2021
NUMBERS 11:25-29 JAMES 5:1-6 MARK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
In the first part of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus addresses an incident that involved the apostle John castigating an exorcist who was using the name of Jesus to dispel a demon. John told him that he had to be a part of Jesus’ company in order to use his name. What was going on here?
In Jesus’ day, people believed that malevolent spirits were everywhere. Note Psalm 91:7. “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrows that fly by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come.” The thousands and ten thousand refer to demonic spirits wandering throughout the night in search of vulnerable people upon whom they could inflict pestilence and plague.
Illness, especially mental illness and epilepsy, was perceived as demonic possession. Part of the work of the exorcist was to align himself with a spirit more powerful than the spirit possessing the person. He would invoke the stronger spirit by name using its superior power to free the person from the grip of that particular demon.
Recall the incident from Matthew 12:22. “They brought him a demonic who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. All the crowd was astounded and said, ‘Could this perhaps be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard this they said, ‘This man drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’” Jesus must have exhibited tremendous power for the Pharisees to accuse him of aligning himself with the most powerful of all demons, Beelzebul.
As Christianity evolved, this “practice” of invoking a superior power to liberate a person from possession by a demon took the form of invoking the name of Jesus to cure a person from “illness” or possession. This incident from the Acts 3:26 is a good example. “A man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.’ Then Peter took him by the hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles became strong.”
Let’s get back to today’s gospel passage. Jesus listened to John’s report of the confrontation he had with the exorcist who was using Jesus’ name to perform the exorcism. His response was simple. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can, at the same time, speak ill of me.” But his response reached beyond this particular incident. There are other “mighty deeds” that people can, and will, perform in the name of Christ. “Anyone who gives you a cup of water because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
This response is so very interesting. The “mighty deeds” that can be performed in the name of Christ are exorcism, curing illnesses and…..charity. Jesus is teaching two things here, and both are important. Reaching out to people who are suffering in any way – even simply giving a cup a water to someone who is thirsty – can become a powerful event when connected to Christ because Christ can, and will, work through us. So, we call on the power of Christ to heal. We call on the power of Christ to liberate a person’s spirit. We can also call on the power of Christ to address the needs of suffering humanity. This is a challenge for us.
We might believe in faith healing. We might believe in exorcism. But it’s often difficult for us to believe that Christ’s power, working through you and me, can heal a society, or end starvation, or eradicate poverty? We tend to invoke the power of Christ to heal individuals of illness but shy away from calling on that same power to heal toxic governments or oppressive societal systems.
It’s something for us to think about. It’s something we can integrate into our personal prayer.
- Published in Church Reflections
TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 19, 2021
WISDOM 2:12,17-20 JAMES 3:16-4:3 MARK 9:30-37
In today’s short passage from Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus introducing the Paschal Mystery to his disciples by prophesying his death and resurrection. We’re told “they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.” Were they really afraid of questioning Jesus? Or were they afraid of what this saying might mean for them? They weren’t touching this. It was best to remain silent.
So, unwilling to let this important moment go by unaddressed, Jesus asked them a seemingly unrelated question. “What were you arguing about on the way?” Again, the disciples remained silent. They were like children caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. This was very revealing.
At the beginning of this chapter Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John. They saw his glory in a blaze of light, and in the light, they saw him conversing with Moses and Elijah. Luke’s Gospel tells us that they were discussing Jesus’ coming departure, his death, his Passover. The disciples focused on the glory they saw. They ignored the road to that glory that Jesus was discussing with Moses and Elijah. And they weren’t even focusing on his glory, but on the glory that could be
theirs as his special disciples. They were looking for golden crowns, not crowns of thorns. They needed another teaching. “Then he sat down and called the Twelve.”
He showed them the road to glory. It would take them a long time to digest the power of the simple statement he shared with them.
Take off the polished shoes of privilege. Barefoot, like a slave, become “the servant of all.” Don’t work for a place with the powerful. Embrace the powerless, the childlike. Follow the example of the children. Let them guide you to the glory road. Once on that road don’t falter. Keep walking, even when you see a cross.
Lord, your teaching seemed clear enough to me.
“Unless you turn and become like little children,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
I only understood part of your teaching.
I never thought it involved the cross.
Lord, increase my faith.
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TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 12, 2021
ISAIAH 50:5-9A JAMES 2:14-18 MARK 8:27-35
We witness quite a scene as we observe Jesus and his disciples journeying to Caesarea Philippi. As the group walks along Jesus throws out a question to them: “Who do people say that I am?”
The answers that came back were quite interesting. Someone said that people thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist returned from the dead. Another reported that Jesus might be the prophet Elijah returning to give witness to the arrival of the Messianic time. These comments attested to the fact that Jesus was well-respected. People felt he was sent by God but weren’t yet convinced that he was the Messiah.
In the course of the interchange Peter chimed in with a clear and strong proclamation: “You are the Christ!” But almost immediately it became clear that Peter’s understanding of the role of the Christ was very different from Jesus’. Peter held the Jewish understanding that the Messiah would be a strong, charismatic figure who would conquer Israel’s enemies and inaugurate a golden age for Israel.
Jesus, impressed by Peter’s response, went on to reveal to the group what fate awaited the Christ. “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise in three days.”
Peter didn’t take this bit of information very well. He pulled Jesus aside to reprimand him for saying such things. Jesus wouldn’t let Pe-
ter’s comment go unaddressed. He called the attention of everyone around him. He must have left the group in a state of shock when he formally announced, “Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
Well, so much for the advent of the Golden Age! Jesus even called Peter a tempter, a satan, for bucking God’s plan for the Christ, and asked him to get back in step with him and his mission. “Get behind me, satan!”
So, we observe this pivotal moment in Jesus’ life, the life of his disciples and all who will come after them. The Messianic time arrived with the appearance of Jesus but it exists in a way that no one could have imagined. It isn’t a time of power and glory for the chosen few. Rather, it’s an on-going radical invitation to every human being to commit themselves to a life of dedication to others. Jesus’ life will forever stand as the example of this new way of living. It’s living the paschal mystery, the mystery of personal death and resurrection. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
We can end this reflection by asking ourselves some very serious questions. How do I live a life focused on others, not myself? Do I recognize in my self-giving the spark of the Messianic time? Finally, what do I mean when I pray, “Thy Kingdome come?”
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TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 5, 2021
ISAIAH 35:4-7A JAMES 2:1-5 MARK 7:31-37
We begin our reflection with the prophet Isaiah’s description of the messianic time. He makes this prophecy in the form of a poetic canticle, directing it to “those whose hearts are frightened.” He assures them that God’s divine recompense will save them. He then paints a verbal picture of the new world God will create for them – the Messianic time. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
This poetic style, the canticle, is used several times in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. It jumps from a particularly powerful moment in the present to an even greater vision of the new world to come. In Luke’s Gospel, Mary breaks into similar poetry. When she visits Elizabeth, she proclaims to her that the Almighty “has shown the strength of his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” She’s describing the time when justice for the poor will triumph – the Messianic time.
In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, the poetic language of the canticle is replaced by a real moment in the Messianic time. Jesus is asked to cure a deaf man with a speech impediment. This cure more than mirrors Isaiah’s prophecy: “the ears of the deaf (will) be cleared…then the tongue of the mute will sing.” It’s a proclamation of the the arrival of the Messianic time in the person of Jesus. Mark notes the reaction of the people. “They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the
mute speak.’” This comment reminds us of the story of the creation when, after each day of creating, God said, “And it was good.” In this short passage, Mark is announcing that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the first moments of a new world have dawned.
These Messianic passages often leave us somewhat frustrated. It almost seems that the sacred writers are teasing us. They get us to look to a perfect and beautiful world. And sometimes, as Mark does to us today, tell us that the new world, the Messianic time, has already begun!
This passage reveals a tension that we Christians live with. Week after week, we reflect on Jesus’ healing, miracles and teachings. Each week, in one way or another, we hear Jesus say, “The kingdom of God is here.” Yet, each week we witness just the opposite: violence, injustice, greed, persecution, intolerance in our country and throughout the world. This tension between hope and a suffering human family is an important component of our vocation as Christians. We live with the pain we feel for others while never giving up hope.
Those who are suffering may give up hope, so it’s imperative that we carry it for them. We keep our eyes fixed on the new world, the kingdom of God. But as we do so, we feel their pain all the more. We mustn’t be surprised by this. When we carry the burden of hope for those who are hopeless, their suffering comes to life within us. This is our vocation, to carry the burden of hope. We look at Jesus, crucified and powerless. We listen to him promise paradise to the man crucified with him, and we believe, with the deepest conviction, that the kingdom of God is at hand.
- Published in Church Reflections