Half of what we hear today is comforting, but the other half is sobering. In the first reading the spirit of the Lord is bestowed upon the elders, enabling them to prophesy, to speak in the Lord’s name. Joshua objects, but Moses disagrees, going so far to say, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” (Numbers 11:29). The first half of the Gospel echoes this tolerance: “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Neither Jesus nor Moses wish to limit God’s power. On the other hand, in both the second reading and the second half of the Gospel, we hear the terrible consequences that will befall those who are “against God.” Those who value their riches over the welfare of others, Saint James writes, will rot and corrode just like their clothes, jewelry, and money will. This echoes what Jesus told his disciples: whatever causes you to sin would be better cut off before it ruins you. Though the grace of God is spread across the earth, available to all who accept it, those who throw up obstacles to this grace, who selfishly diminish the lives of others, will be judged harshly.
What part of yourself to do you need to cut off, do you need to remove?READ MORE
Mark does not paint a pretty picture of the disciples. While Jesus is telling them that soon he would be put to death, they are busy arguing about who is the greatest. Surely they realize how terrible this was, as none of them will admit this to Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus addresses their behavior, instructing them using the example of a child, one who is dependent on others for care. “Whoever receives one child such as this in the my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mark 9:37). The lesson is clear; put aside your selfish ambition and care for the least of all. This is the kind of thinking that “the wicked” in the first reading utterly reject. Their selfishness inspires them to torture and kill “the just one,” foreshadowing the passion and death of the Lord. James addresses this jealousy and selfishness in his letter. When we are self-centered, we act as though we are the center of the universe, inevitably leading to conflict. When we exercise true wisdom, we acknowledge that we are just a speck in the universe. We make ourselves “the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). It is in giving ourselves to the least among us that we receive more than we could ever possess on our own, that we receive God.
What can you do to put others before yourself?READ MORE
It is not easy to be Christian. That is, it is difficult to be a true Christian. Isaiah gives us a foretaste of this when he writes: “I give my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard” (Isaiah 50:6). Isaiah suffers as Christ would, and like Christ he suffers willingly. For God’s sake, he stands up to those who oppose him without fighting back. James does not speak of suffering, but he tells us that faith demands action. “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Dead. It is not enough just to believe. If our neighbor is in need and we do not respond, what good is our faith? The Gospel puts it all together. Jesus tells his disciples what it means to be a Christian. After telling them that he must suffer, die, and rise on the third day, he rebukes a protesting Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33). Then he addresses his disciples and the assembled crowd, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).This, then, is what we need to do. This is what our faith demands.
How can you deny yourself in order to live as true Christian?READ MORE
Our god is a transformative God. In the readings today we hear God transform our neighbor, our thinking, or our world in a radical way. Isaiah prophesies about the transformations the Lord will bring: the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the mute will sing. The land will be transformed as well, with life-giving water flowing in barren lands. Saint James describes how God transforms our thinking. Judging others based on appearance or wealth is wrong, and in fact unchristian, as Christ repeatedly favored those who were poor in the eyes of the world. We encounter one of those people in the Gospel. Mark does not even note his name, but he is deaf and has a speech impediment. He is not even able to address Jesus. Nevertheless, asked by the crowd, Jesus heals the man. Mark gives us an idea of how much effort Jesus put into it, describing the process in detail and specifying that Jesus “groaned” when looking up to heaven. The crowd, though instructed to keep silent, cannot help but proclaim, “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak,” invoking the words of Isaiah (Mark 7:37). Jesus has transformed the life of the deaf man as well as the lives of all who witnessed healing.
How has God transformed you life?READ MORE
Actions speak louder than words. From Moses to Saint James to Jesus in Saint Mark's Gospel, it's unanimous: it's not what you say that God values, but what you do. God in fact provided the model for us, as James points out. First, however, we hear the words of Moses, telling the people that observing God's commandments will show others how great God is. They will be impressed by seeing what you do. In the second reading James reminds us that God's word is a word of action. God created the world and everything in it by pronouncing the word. In the Gospel it is Jesus, the Word made flesh, who points out the difference between those who honor God's commandments and those who don't. The scribes and Pharisees, raising their eyebrows when the disciples fail to purify their hands, are called out as hypocrites. It is what is in the heart, what comes from within, that matters. It goes back to what James wrote, which basically sums up his entire letter: "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves" (James 1:22).
Are you failing to act on what you believe? How are you deluding yourself?READ MORE
For the last three weeks we have heard Jesus explain that he is the Bread of Life. Hearing "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood" and "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" was challenging, to say the least (John 6:53, 55). Now it is decision time. Can all his disciples accept this? No. Not just one, not just a few, but "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" (John 6:66). This is shocking. These are his disciples. These are people who have accepted and followed him through his teachings, healing, and miracles. This was not the response Joshua received when he gathered all the tribes of Israel and forced the people to take a stand. They all joined Joshua and his household in pledging to continue to serve the Lord. But such is not the case with Jesus. So then he addresses just the Twelve: "Do you also want to leave?" (John 6:67). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the apostles, answers: Where can we go? We do believe. You are the One. The Twelve have committed.
Are you ready to take a stand? Even if it means disagreeing with others, will you stand up for what you believe?READ MORE
We are invited to a banquet today. Will we come and eat? Wisdom invites us first. In Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman who has prepared a meal and calls on everyone to eat and drink. Naturally, since she is Wisdom, this food is knowledge and insight: "Forsake foolishness...advance in the way of understanding" (Proverbs 9:6). Similarly, Saint Paul invites the Christians of Ephesus to live wisely, not foolishly, so that they can "understand what is the will of the Lord" (Ephesians 5:17). He encourages them to sing psalms and play songs, inviting them to "give thanks...in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ephesians 5:20). The word Paul uses for "giving thanks" is eucharisteo, the word we use for the meal we celebrate, the meal Jesus invites us to partake in. Like Wisdom, Jesus does not command in today's Gospel. He invites. He invites everyone to share in his banquet. He is both host and meal. "The one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (John 6:57). We are all invited to consume him. We will then have life. Truly, we give thanks.
How does consuming Jesus in the Eucharist give you life?READ MORE
God gives us strength for our journeys. Elijah is a great example. As prophets are wont to do, Elijah as angered the authorities. He flees into the desert to escape the king, but is quickly overwhelmed and despairs, praying for death. The angel of the Lord cares for him, giving him food and water and prodding him to continue. Through God's generosity, Elijah is strengthened in body and strengthened in resolve, able to complete his pilgrimage. God 's most generous gift, of course, is Jesus, God's only Son, who speaks in similar terms in the Gospel: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:51). Jesus, the Bread of Life, gives us the ultimate gift—his life—strengthening us for our ultimate journey. Life is difficult, so we need that strength, as Saint Paul well knows. Paul implores the Ephesians to imitate God in the way we treat one another. Like Christ, we are encouraged to live lives of self-sacrifice.
What do you most need strength for your journey? Do you pray for strength in times of need?READ MORE
We hunger. Today’s readings point to that basic human need in all its meanings. In the first reading, the Israelites are so hungry that they tell Moses they’d rather have remained in slavery when at least they had food to eat. Seeing nothing but desert around them, they were convinced they would starve to death. But God provided food—manna and quail—that would sustain them on their journey. Moreover, God provided hope. In giving sustenance to them in their desperation, God restored hope to a people who needed a reason to go on. Last week we saw Jesus feed more than five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. But today we hear Jesus say, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). Naturally, the crowd wants this magic food. Then Jesus reveals its source: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Now it is apparent that Jesus is not just addressing our physical hunger. He gives our lives sustenance, gives our lives hope, gives our lives meaning. In short, Jesus gives our lives life.
What gives your life meaning? In what ways is God the source?READ MORE
The Gospel today—the multiplication of the loaves and fish—is a familiar one. In fact, it is the only miracle story found in all four Gospels. Not only that, a similar miracle is recounted in the second book of Kings, which we hear today as well. An unnamed donor gives twenty barley loaves to Elisha, who immediately orders that they be given to the people to eat, for there was a famine in the land. In adding generosity to generosity, this "man of God" (2 Kings 4:42) has transformed as much as one person was able to carry from a distant town into what was more than enough to satisfy the hunger of a hundred people. In the Gospel, it is Jesus who "took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them," transforming the five loaves of bread into more than enough to satisfy a crowd of over five thousand (John 6:11). These two signs, Elisha and Jesus generously sharing what began as a meager amount of food and satisfying the hunger of many, point to God, the source of all generosity.
How can you share what you have been given to satisfy those who are hungry?READ MORE
The great division of the early church, which St. Paul often addressed in his letters, was the division between Jews and Gentiles, or, more accurately, between Christians and Jewish background and Christians outside the Jewish tradition. Paul, formerly Jewish, now Christian and a missionary to the Gentiles, preached that Jesus “broke down the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14). Through the cross, “you who were far off” (Gentiles) and “those who were near” (Jews) have become one, the church, one body of Christ (Ephesians 2:17).READ MORE
Like we learned last week, it's not easy to be one of God's missionaries. Look at Amos. In the verse preceding today's first reading, Amos prophesied, "Jeroboam shall die by the sword/and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land" (Amos 7:11). This did not go over well. Jeroboam, after all, was the king of Israel. No wonder Amos was told to leave and never come back. But Amos did not leave, for he was sent by God to "prophesy to my people of Israel" (Amos 7:15). The apostles had it easier, for Jesus told them that if they are rejected they should merely "shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them" (Mark 6:11). But this delivered a strong statement, as it meant that that home was unclean, capable of polluting the rest of the town. Still, the apostles did not have it easy. They traveled without any food, money, or extra clothing. They had to trust God, had to be dependent on strangers. But in doing so, they successfully carried out Jesus' mission. They proclaimed the saving power of God in Christ Jesus, as did perhaps the most influential missionary of all time, St. Paul, whose Letter to the Ephesians begins with the rhapsody of praise we hear today.
How can we be part of God's mission?READ MORE
The life of a prophet is not easy. Prophecy demands one go against the flow. Ezekiel had an especially difficult task. He was called by God to prophesy just after the Chosen People were driven into exile. Somehow, he had to restore a sense of trust that God was still God, still all-powerful and still faithful to the covenant. But the Israelites were understandably “hard of face and obstinate of heart,” having been defeated by the Babylonians and evicted from the Promised Land (Ezekiel 2:4). Jesus faced an equally stubborn people in his fellow Nazarenes. Whether they were resentful or just plain skeptical, they could not accept that a great prophet could possibly have come from among their number. But if there is to be a positive lesson here, Paul points us toward it. Initially he begs the Lord to remove the infirmity that afflicts him. Scripture scholars are not sure if this is a physical ailment, an opponent, or something else entirely. But whatever the case, Paul makes his peace with it, realizing that in his very weakness the grace of God show itself most strongly. The power of God manifests itself most clearly in overcoming a difficulty, not in being easily successful.
How is the power of God manifested in you?READ MORE
The goodness of God in times of need is in full display in today’s readings. The author of the book of Wisdom wrote at a time that Greek culture had permeated Jewish traditions and Greek rule had divided the Jewish community. Wisdom tries to reconnect the people to their ancestral faith. God’s creation is good, and did not include death. We were created to be immortal in the image of God. Though the devil brought sin and death into the world, “justice is undying” (Wisdom 1:15). Living in accordance with God’s goodness leads to unending life with God. A century or so later a severe famine in Jerusalem inspires Paul to write a primer on Christian charity. Those who have in abundance are obligated to give to those who are in need. After all, Jesus, though he was God, emptied himself for our sake, allowing us to become rich in his grace. In today’s Gospel, Jesus encountered two people in need: Jairus, whose daughter was ill to the point of death, and an unnamed woman, who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years. Despite the opposite ways they approach Jesus, the faith of both in the goodness of God and in the power of Jesus over disease and death leads to healing and new life.
Do you see yourself more like Jairus, pleading to Jesus for help, or like the woman, too timid to approach Jesus directly?READ MORE