Thirty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mk 13:24-32

Dear Friends.

As we come to the conclusion of each Church year we have a message about the end of the world. It is always dramatically different than the sensationalist message we hear every several months from one crazy group or another. The Gospel message is clear. We do not know and we will not know so we need to keep vigil. All other speculation is useless. Today’s narrative is best understood as an invitation to vigilance and preparedness in how we live and wait for the coming of the Son of Man.

However, there is another dimension to today’s Gospel message that fits very well with human experience. It refers to a common occurrence we all have. There are sudden and dramatic changes in our life that come from sickness, death, failure of personal relations, economic disaster or the like. When these things happen, it seems as if our world has come an end. We have to face up to a new reality that is frightening and strange.

One of the most powerful events of this kind for me was a deeply traumatic experience of my sister, Mary. She found herself the mother of six children in less than the span of eight years. One morning her husband woke up with severe pain in his stomach. Several weeks later she was a young widow as the ravaging cancer took her husband away. With his death also gone were her world that centered on his love and support.

Thirty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:41-44 

Dear Friends,

Like all of Jesus’ teachings, the story of the widow’s mite has many levels. At the time of Jesus, the role of the widow was particularly painful and harsh. First of all, she had no rights. The inheritance of the husband would go to his family. The widow was, in fact, kept from returning to her family if anything was owed on her dowry. In some cases, the widow was sold into slavery to make payment on the debt of the dowry.

So for Jesus to point to the widow was a very specific and profound choice. The contrast to the rich donors was extreme.

There is a second point about the widow of the Gospel story and the widow of the first reading feeding Elijah in the Book of Kings. It was not a question of the two desperate women guarding their resources. They were simply dealing with empty pockets or purses. This was closer to the norm in their ordinary lifestyle.

The Thirty First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mk 12: 28-34 

Dear Friends,

Today’s exchange between Jesus and the surprisingly friendly scribe holds a true treasure for us. It is all about love.

A critical point as we encounter this dialogue is the importance of listening. God has spoken. Our absolutely essential response is to listen. Thomas Merton, the great spiritual teacher of the last century offers us a guide to this necessary task of listening. He defines prayer as “Yearning for the presence of God, knowledge of God’s will and understanding of God’s word, and the capacity to hear and obey.”

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 10: 46-52 

Dear Friends,

The Bartimaeus story seems like a simple miracle story but it is much more than that. It is the story of what is a true disciple. For two and half chapters, Mark has Jesus challenging the disciples to realize his faithful following of the Father’s will is the fate that awaits him on the road to Jerusalem.

This will lead to the Cross and the Resurrection.

The disciples just do not get it. They are confused, intimidated and fearful. Three times Jesus announces his fate to be a suffering servant Messiah. Each time the disciples responded in a way that shows their ignorance and confusion.

In the story of Baritmaeus, Mark gives us the characteristics of a true and faithful disciple. First of all, there is a hunger in the heart that leads one to look to Jesus. Bartimaeus would not let the crowd intimidate him so he continued to cry out until he received the call from Jesus.

Jesus has the same question for him that he had for James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10: 51) Unlike the personal ambition of the two brothers, the blind beggar seeks the light from Jesus. This is a symbol of the message of wisdom and truth that Jesus has been trying to teach the disciples.

Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mk 10: 35-45 

Dear Friends,

Today’s Gospel selection is part of a major section of Mark’s Gospel. In this long passage (Mk 8:22 10:52), Mark challenges us to accept Jesus on his terms and to embrace the consequences of this choice in our lives as disciples. The evangelist shows Jesus as one who will save us by sacrifice and service wrapped in love not power and prestige enclosed in wealth and comfort. This is a shattering of the values of our daily world.

Right before James and John’s petition for power and privilege, for the third time, Jesus had told the disciples he would be rejected, suffer and die on the cross only to rise on the third day. Each of the three pronouncements is followed by two items. The first is an example that shows the disciples are in complete denial of the message. The second is a deeper lesson in which Jesus reveals true discipleship. These are the three instructions of Jesus in this process:

  • Be open to whatever God asks of us; 
  • Accept even the most insignificant members of the community as equals; 
  • Judge our entire lives as directed in the footsteps of Jesus. 

The Twenty Eighth Sunday of Ordinary

Mark 10:17-30 

Dear Friends,

Right after my ordination, my best friend brought me a big problem. He was sure I had the answer after all the years of study in the seminary. His sister had left the Church to join an Evangelical group. It broke his heart. He was convinced I could bring her back to the Church. I failed and for years he never let me forget it.

One of the main reasons I failed is that the theology that I had studied in the pre-Vatican II days gave little emphasis to Scripture and to a personal relationship to Jesus. This was her main attraction to the Evevagelicals.

Since Vatican II we have been invited to see the main task of the Church as evangelization. We need to return to continually to recall that the heart of our faith will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the Crucified and risen Christ. All evangelization is about the call to have a personal relationship with Jesus. This comes first before all the other catechesis and study. We need a personal encounter with Jesus that touches us at the deepest part of our being.

In today’s Gospel story of the rich man, Jesus is inviting the man to focus his attention not so much on what he has to do, but to realize the goodness and generosity of God. The text has the incredibly beautiful statement, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mk 10:21) The man did not see this love nor did he experience it because he was caught up in his riches that Jesus asked him to put aside. “At that statement he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” (Mk 10:22)

Twenty Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mk. 10:2-16

Dear Friends,

This is a very complex Gospel selection. The conclusion of both sections was a radical and upsetting lesson of Jesus. It was one that even the early Christians had trouble accepting. It was much deeper than the issue of divorce. It shattered a deeply cherished truth of the day: women and children are property. Jesus is making the point that they are human beings made in the image of God.

The teaching of Moses on divorce was clear. It was permitted. The legal question, at the time of Jesus, was for what reason.

The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by showing him against the Law of Moses. Acknowledging that Mosses conceded divorce due the hardness of heart, Jesus appeals to the original plan of God in Genesis, “the two of them become one body.” (Gen 2:24)