22nd Sunday – 3rd September 2006: Mark 7:1-8,14-15.21-23.
Having been enriched with John’s teaching on the Bread of Life in recent weeks, today we’re back to the ordinary things of life. The big wigs from Jerusalem, the Pharisees and the Scribes have crossed the path of Jesus and we can expect tension, a clash of values. Rules and regulations and ensuring people know all about them seemed to be their hobby or rather their life’s work. They boasted there were actually 613 man-made regulations, 365 of them negative and 248 positive, corresponding to the days of the year and the joints of the body!
The debate starts, with the topic for discussion being, ‘the washing of hands before meals.’ It might seem rather trivial to us but it was an important legal issue for them. Jesus uses the occasion to speak about the dangers of religion when legalism takes over. He does not do away with the need for religious laws but he does warn about excessive legalism. In quoting the Prophet Isaiah he makes an important announcement about true religion, as opposed to lip-service which is worship without the heart and is worthless. Which of us can say that’s not for me!! It is so easy to get caught up in externals and neglect our inner life of prayer and meditation which is so important.
For Jesus all that mattered was very simple, love, real love and compassion, reaching out and walking with people. St James in today’s second reading puts it this way, “Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”
Let us pray the Alleluia verse, from our heart,
“Your words are spirit, Lord,
and they are life:
you have the message of eternal life.”
23rd Sunday – 10th September 2006. Mark 7:31-37.
Jesus still in Gentile country, takes a strange round about journey, perhaps it is the scenic route for him toward the Decapolis or perhaps it is no co-incidence that he had a special encounter with a very special person. The last time he was in this area, the people asked him politely to leave after he had cured the Gerasene Demoniac. This time they receive him with hope in their hearts as they bring along a friend who was deaf and had a speech impediment. They beg Jesus to lay his hands on the man. Every detail of Jesus’ movements is noted by Mark. He doesn’t want us to miss a beat.
Jesus took the man aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphata,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’
What an example of compassion, of gentleness, of understanding, and of respect for the individual. He didn’t want to expose the man further so he called him aside in order to listen, to see, to feel the man’s pain. How happy the child is, when the parent gives quality time, making him/her feel special, unique, listened to and accepted. Time is such a scarce and precious commodity today, that perhaps our culture, more than anything else, needs caring people like Jesus who take people aside from the crowd, helping them to hear words of encouragement and forgiveness and feel their pain, looking to God for the wisdom to say and do the right thing.
Back to the man’s story with two of his five senses impaired, and really no capacity for communication. Jesus is obviously moved by what he sees, and he turns his eyes to his Father in prayer and we can almost hear the sigh of pity. The man couldn’t hear, but he could see. What an experience it must have been for this man, an experience of being loved and accepted. I’m sure a shiver went up and down his spine. Perhaps it was the first time in his life that he experienced such loving attention. This is no healing from a distance. Jesus lays his hands on him, touches his ears and his tongue. There is a hint of something sacramental and sacred here.
“Lord Jesus, you first touched our ears and tongues
on the day of our Baptism.
May we live each day faithful to what you have begun in us.
Open our ears, Lord,
to heed your guidance in the commandments,
and to listen with you in quiet prayer and reflection.
Open up the doors of our hearts
in sensitivity to pain,
in concern for injustice,
in compassion with all suffering”
24th Sunday – 17th September 2006. Mark 8:27-35.
Today as we journey with Mark we find ourselves at the very centre of his Gospel. Mark is the Evangelist that pioneered the work of setting to paper the Christian Community’s story of how God encountered mankind in the life of Jesus Christ. We join Jesus and his disciples on the way. He stops suddenly and puts a serious question to his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” Nothing unusual for a leader perhaps, to take a pause, to evaluate his work and check to see how they understood his message. He must have been a bit disappointed to find little progress had been made since their understanding at the time of John the Baptist’s death.
Jesus then turns to the twelve, with a very direct question, ‘But you’, he asked, ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter, their spokesman openly professes, ‘You are the Christ.’
Let us hear Jesus asking you and me, who is Jesus for you, who is God in your life, what gives life meaning for you? Where do you get your spiritual nourishment? What well do you drink from? This may be a call to stand and stare, to stop and reflect on the deeper issues of life, take time to turn aside and acknowledge the many blessings we have taken for granted in life.
If we have time to listen, we too will hear Jesus calling us to follow him more closely,
to get into line behind Peter and the Apostles, to take up our cross and follow in his footsteps. The way of discipleship is the way of the cross, but that always leads to the Resurrection, of that we are sure. ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ says the Lord.
25th Sunday – 24th September 2006: MARK 9:30-37.
We’re still journeying with Jesus and his disciples, on their way through Galilee, passing incognito through his own region, training and instructing his disciples.
Last week we were asked the question, ‘Who is Jesus for you and me?’ Now that we’re in the second half of the Gospel, the question is, ‘Where is Jesus going?’ This gives us an awareness of the journey of life, our pilgrimage, as disciples of Jesus. Where are we going and what’s life all about?
Jesus is at a new stage in his life’s journey; he knows that opposition to him is growing and that he has to go to Jerusalem and confront the powers of the nation. Being fully conscious of the consequences of his decision to confront, he gives his disciples one more prediction of his passion and death. In spite of focusing on training them to carry on the work after he is gone and hand it on to future generations, like us today, not surprisingly they did not understand him. They move the conversation from the thought of suffering to power and status as they discuss which of them is the greatest. It’s never easy to face reality, as we all know.
Jesus sits them down and calls the twelve around him and tells them that whoever wants to be the first must be last of all and must be the servant of all. What a reversal of their way of thinking and indeed of ours today. Jesus redefines ambition for them. It has nothing to do with power and control but rather with giving a service to others. The language of greatness has now become humble service.
Being a good teacher, Jesus knows that theory doesn’t grip their attention, so he introduces the visual. There are probably some children playing close by.
He took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms around him, and said to them, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Whoever welcomes the lowly, welcomes Jesus himself. There is no place for a power struggle in Jesus’ community, but there is place for everybody without exception. This is the challenge for us today.