On the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb.1) we come to a gospel passage subject to many interpretations. Some scholars have attempted to explain such passages by finding entirely natural causes, rather than accept them as "literally" true. While I have no wish to get into this debate, it does seem to me that we can draw from our own experience, find similar events and then find explanations that fit our own lives. We are not dismissing the passages as mythical. Instead we are adopting an interpretation that makes sense in our own framework.
That said, the scriptures for next Sunday include this passage from Mk 1:21-28:
"...In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him..."
If we adopt a flexible interpretation of the meaning of "unclean spirit" we can an arrive at an understanding consistent with our own experience and the biblical text. Let us suppose that the man in question had a lifetime controlled by resentment, hatred and anger at what someone had done to him decades earlier. Can we not say that this man has an unclean spirit, one that will destroy him and he cannot release? If your answer is yes, imagine that the man was threatened by Jesus' preaching of love and forgiveness. The man had lived in resentment and anger for most of his life. This was a defense mechanism. Letting go of it would mean going defenseless. the unfamiliar was threatening. When Jesus spoke words of healing, the spirit of resentment within him cried out "go away" almost as if it were someone else. Jesus said, in a way, "Let it go" when the man did, it was almost as if he were convulsed in shock at his new state.
This interpretation may seem a stretch to some. Maybe I am being so flexible that I set aside the miraculous aspect of this man's healing. Yet, I can look around and find many people, political groups, and entire societies consumed by political, religious, and racial hatred and resentment. We need to rebuke such unclean spirits and cry, "quiet, come out of" them.
We will hear the story of Jonah and his preaching in the first reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan 25th). When he heard the call to preach to Nineveh, he might have responded his own version of Is 6:8:
Jonah did not wish to preach to Nineveh, the capital city of a land of cruel warriors who persecuted Israel. He fled, was in a shipwreck and was rescued by a whale. He preached this message:
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, “
Then the people of Nineveh believed God and repented;
(We can wish that all preachers would be as successful - and brief.)
The gospel (Mk 1:14-20) gives us another example of quick response. As Jesus
passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
In the year 2015, we rarely see such conversion and quick response - certainly not of an entire city as with Jonah. Maybe we should listen to Paul in our second reading (1 Cor 7:29-31). The measures Paul advocated seem extreme. Yet we could all use a little urgency. We are offered the gift of life and deepest happiness, yet we tend to delay our response. The people of Nineveh sensed an immediate danger and responded. When we delay it is because we a preoccupied and fail to sense either impending danger or the great gift that is awaiting our response. The scriptures for this Sunday, challenge us to respond. If we don't, we can at least pray to be freed from our preoccupations.
Now that the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are over, we move to the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jan 18.) For each Sunday the gospel readings will take us through the public ministry of Jesus. Each gospel reading is preceded by a first reading drawn from the Old Testament and is selected because it matches the gospel reading in some special way.
The theme for this Sunday, writes John Martens in America Magazine, is introductions. This Sunday will hear part of the story of the prophet Samuel, a figure close to Moses in his importance. His mother, Hannah, dedicated Samuel to the Lord by placing him in the care of Eli in the temple as soon as Samuel was weaned.
Even with this, we will hear that Samuel did not recognize the voice the Lord until after he called the third time. Eli made it possible by telling him that it was the Lord who was speaking. Samuel heard only after Eli introduced him to the Lord and advised Samuel to respond when called by answering
Speak, for your servant is listening.
Once that happened we hear this about Samuel:
“ ..the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3:19 NRSV)
Samuel was extraordinary. The rest of us must acknowledge that the Lord's words pass us by and fall to the ground.
In the gospel reading we will hear:
"John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Like Samuel, the two disciples were able to respond after they had been introduced.
I remember once offering a piece of unsolicited advice - valuable advice in my not so humble opinion. I could have rolled a pearl across the table and watched it fall on the floor. I will never know if my advice would have worked. In this situation there was no way my advice would have worked. Had some third party preceded the advise with an introduction, it might have taken hold. The pearl might have been picked up as it rolled across the table.
We are not much different from Samuel or those two disciples. the Lord is speaking to us in many ways. We need to pay attention, but cannot until introduced.
We can be thankful for those who have helped us along the path by helping us to recognize the Lord’s voice. We should be attentive and waiting for further introductions.
In Isaiah we hear a promise of a servant in whom the Lord is pleased and who will reach out to the nations, establishing justice, opening the eyes of the blind and bringing prisoners out from confinement. Then in the gospel we see Jesus being baptized by John. When this happens and the Spirit descends, Jesus is made manifest to the people of Israel.
It is, however, in the second reading (Acts 10:34-38) that the radical meaning of Isaiah’s promise is made clear. When we think of “bringing forth justice to the nations,” we think of the nations surrounding Israel coming under the just rule of the Lord’s servant in Jerusalem. As John Martens points out in America Magazine, the task of reaching out was passed to the early church. In Acts we learn that the Peter is reaching out by speaking in the “house of Cornelius” - a commanding officer of the Roman army. He is the representative of an occupying and oppressive power. Many Jews were plotting revolution and revenge against Rome. Peter preached that
“…God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, …”
Here we have a hated Roman Army officer opening himself to the gospel. We should learn from Peter and be ready to extend a message of peace even to state and governmental officials who, it seems, we ought to hate and despise.
We will celebrate Epiphany on Sunday, January 4th, two days ahead of the traditional date. The scripture readings make it clear that this is the manifestation of the Lord to all the nations.
In The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience Thomas Keating writes that Epiphany is the first of Jesus’ three manifestations. Epiphany is a manifestation to the entire world. On January 11th the readings will focus on Jesus’ baptism at the river Jordan. This is a manifestation to the Jews of His time.
On January 17th, 2016 we will hear about the third - the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) when He is manifested to his disciples. (Since the gospel selections this year are drawn from Mark, the wedding feast will not be featured in 2015.)
These three readings are an integral part of the celebration of Epiphany, the crowning feast of the Christmas- Epiphany Mystery and the full revelation of all that the light of Christmas contains.… The liturgy is primarily a parable of what grace is doing now; it disregards historical considerations and juxtaposes texts in order to bring out the sublime significance of what is being transmitted in an invisible way through the visible signs.
There is wisdom and mystery in the yearly cycle of scripture readings. In order to see this wisdom, we have to pause and “Raise our eyes and look about” by regular and systematic reflection on the scripture as it is presented to us each week.
Posted this in 2010 for the Feast of the Holy Family which occurs this year on December 28. I'm no longer taking Tae Kwon Do, but I still like the post. We are grateful for a visit from our entire family and bless our friends.
My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten,firmly planted against the debt of your sins —a house raised in justice to you.
A few decades ago I was mildly amused by: "Even if his mind fail be considerate." Now that I'm older I feel differently. My mind and body are still reasonably sound. I'm still able to do Tae Kwon Do - even if I'm occasionally befuddled by the complicated memory sequences devised by Kyosah-nim Rick. there. Even so, I'm comforted by Sirach 3:12-16:
"Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother."
Imperfect as my honoring was, we are gladdened by children and our prayers have been heard. The task of honoring our parents is not done, even though they have gone to their rewards. We can continue to honor them by the ways in which we live.
In the Mystery of Christ, Thomas Keating writes about the double-bind as a key moment in spiritual growth. The scriptures for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 21) depict David and Mary in this situation. (We are in a double-bind when we fee that we are bound by expectations pulling in opposite directions.) In 2 Samuel 7 we read that David planned to build a house for God. The prophet Nathan tells David that it was the Lord who established David as king and it is the Lord who will establish a house, i.e. lineage for David. His double bind does not seem to be very difficult: it was a reminder of who actually was in charge.
Mary’s double-bind was infinitely more difficult. Here she was, bound to a promise of virginity, hearing from the angel Gabriel that she would bear a child. As Fr. Keating writes:
“She does not say she won’t do it, but she delicately raises the problem of how it can be done since “ I do not (and will not) know man.” In other words, she takes her dilemma and respectfully places it in God’s lap. “You created the problem,” she seems to say, “Please solve it. I’m not saying yes. And, I’m not saying no. Please tell me how this problem is to be resolved.”
The angel goes on to explain that the Spirit will overshadow her and she will bear a child. This child is fulfillment of the promise given to David in 2 Samuel 7.
Mary’s situation is a model for us. All to often we make an incomplete assessment of our own role and talents and set out to “do something for God.” Maybe we just tell ourselves that we are doing it for a good cause. Then we find ourselves doing something else and begin to experience resentment or tension because we are not doing what we thought we would. Finding ourselves bound between conflicting explanations, Keating suggests, puts us in a situation to re-examine our previous expectations. We need, as Mary did, to turn the problem back to God and wait for a clue as to how to solve it. This is an opportunity for spiritual growth. it is also a highly uncomfortable situation. We can rest assured that Mary understands.
Keating O.C.S.O., Thomas (2013-01-31). The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living (Kindle Locations 3482-3485). Continnuum-3PL. Kindle Edition.
This text had different meanings to different listeners. At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites had just returned from Babylonian captivity. Liberty meant freedom from the Babylon empire. Jesus applied this text to himself in Luke 4. Many of his listeners must have thought he was promising liberty from occupation by the Roman Army.
In addition to the historical meanings there is, as John Martins writes in America, an eschatological edge. Christians see this in terms of an event still to come. This will be day of the Lord’s return.
There is also a personal edge. Each of us should pause to consider the ways in which we are held captive by our situation, attachments, fixed opinions, resentments or other circumstances. If our captivity is desperate and self-destructive we can look to the promise of liberty and glad tidings.
Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. Let us look forward in hope.
The context was this: The people of Israel and been conquered and exiled to Babylon. When they heard the words of Isaiah they were expecting that Israel would rule the world in glory. When John the Baptist declared:
...“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”...
many applied the same context. They expected a glorious king messiah. As we will learn as we go through the liturgical year, Jesus knew his scriptures. However he reframed them, telling his listeners that their expectations will be met, but in a far different and greater way.
As we listen to the proclamation from Isaiah:
Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,...
we need should recognize that we have specific expectations of what this comfort will be. (At least I do.) We should also recognize that God will do something far greater than the best we can expect. Our exception should not be closed. They should be open to whatever God will give us. This will gives us the courage to meet the challenge posed by John the Baptist:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
Making straight the crooked paths of our lives can be done, if we have the hope that the Lord will help us. We can do it, one step at a time.
Happy new liturgical year! November 30th is the first Sunday of Advent. As we begin a new cycle of scriptural readings, the season of Advent focuses our attention on the coming birth of Christ.
This Sunday’s readings are taken from Isaiah, Corinthians and Mark. (The gospel readings this year will be drawn primarily from Mark.)
In Isaiah 63 we hear of a people longing for the presence of the Lord and frustrated because they do not keenly feel the Lord’s presence:
You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, … Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,…
In Mark 13 we are promised that this will happen but, since we do not know when, we are told:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
We all long for fellowship and acceptance, even when we do not feel worthy. The longing expressed in Isaiah is for a fellowship that transcends all others. In Corinthians 1 Paul writes:
Brothers and sisters: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, … irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,Jesus Christ our Lord.
Happy Advent everyone. Keep in mind that this is season of preparation. Some celebration of Christmas is unavoidable in this secular society - but to the extent that we can, let’s save our celebration for the Season of Christmas, which starts on December 25 and ends with Epiphany (Jan 4th.)