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REFLECTIONS

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Two unnamed widows are featured in the readings today.  They are offered to us as persons who are examples of generosity.  From the little they have to survive on they are willing to give. Yet in the Gospel Mark places two incidents together which give us something more to think about.

In the first part of the Gospel we have some of Jesus’ strongest words in condemnation of those who love to walk about in long robes, love greetings in the marketplace, and love the first bench in the synagogues and the first couches at dinners.  The scribes are caricatured as wishing special privilege and status at every stage of social life.  These are hard words.  But the words get even harder.  “They devour the houses (estates) of widows and, as a pretext recite, lengthy prayers.”  Jesus says of them:  “They will receive a very severe condemnation.” 

Protection of orphans and widows was according to the Jewish religion to be a special concern of all.  The widows (who are a socially vulnerable class in this male oriented society) are exploited while the scribal class is further endowed.  Some have said that Jesus debunks scribal piety because it is simply a thin veil to conceal their economic opportunism and exploitation.  Mark tells us their prayers are a pretext.  The site of scribal prayer is the temple, and the cost of this temple is devouring the resources of the poor.

When my mother became ill and I began paying her bills and opening her mail I felt that I was in contact with a similar phenomena.  How many appeals my mother received from so many causes?  So many of them arrived under the shield of being religious causes. Jesus criticizes "piety" as a mask for "robbery."

One scripture scholar has said of this Gospel passage:  “The story does not provide a pious contrast to the conduct of the scribes in the preceding section (as is the customary view); rather it provides a further illustration of the ills of official devotion.  Jesus’ saying is not a penetrating insight on the measuring of gifts; it is a lament¼Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action, and he condemns the people who conditioned her to do it.”  In this interpretation the Temple is robbing her of her very means of livelihood. He considers this an example of "the devouring of a widow's house."  The Temple, like the scribal class, no longer protects the poor, but crushes them.  In this context Jesus words are seen as a lament not as praise. Recently there was a post about the wealth of some prominent preachers.  To me the numbers were staggering. I think Jesus' words apply here as well: Jesus criticizes "piety" as a mask for "robbery." There continue to be "ills of devotion's".

We know we are living in an aging society.  How many of you have received from AARP an application for membership when you were just 50?  In our political campaigns the issues of the elderly are prominent: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, cost of medicines, etc.  We even have a national collection to seek financial aid for the communities of nuns who have an aging membership with few new recruits and sources of income.  This is also a reality for priests.  Our bishop has an annual dinner to seek funds for the retired priests.

Each of us needs to reflect on the elderly in our midst.  What are their needs and how are we treating them?  We must first examine how we personally are treating them.  How are we doing as a parish in showing concern for our elderly?  What could we improve? 

But how are our social institutions (Adult Day care, SunGlo, TLC, etc.) treating them?  How are our health care facilities treating them, our doctors’ offices and doctors, our home health care groups, our hospitals, our clinics?  How is our government treating them, local government, our county government, our state government and our federal government?

That our elderly are generous is a given for most of us.  But that’s not enough.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This Sunday’s Gospel takes place after Jesus has finished his journey on the “Way” and he has arrived in Jerusalem.  Jesus enters the city not as a pilgrim, but rather as a popular king.  He receives the acclaim of the crowds.  But this entrance is immediately followed by a series of conflicts.  Today’s Gospel is the culmination of this series.  But it is a bit ambiguous.  Is the scribe who comes to Jesus hostile to him, as were the Pharisees and some of the Herodians who tried to trap him, or the Saducees who came to challenge him? 

The key to the Gospel is Jesus’ answer to this scribe. Jesus gives his answer to the question ""Which is the first of all the commandments?" But then Jesus adds something no one has asked him "The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. He brings together two widely separated commands (the first is found in the book of Deuteronomy, the second in the book of Leviticus).  While each of these is warmly commended by the Rabbis, so far as is known no one save Jesus has brought them together.  Surprisingly the scribe not only appears to agree wholeheartedly with Jesus’ assessment but reinforces it with allusions to the scriptures that give priority to obedience over the Temple cult.  The scribe is willing to go this far.  Jesus recognizes that he is “thoughtful” (he answered with understanding).  The scribe has intellectually grasped what Jesus has said.  Though Jesus praises his understanding, he does not invite him to follow him.  The reason is that the scribes are committed to a system that oppresses. According to Mark's narrative, exploitation is precisely what is perpetuated by the system the scribes uphold. The sovereignty of God demands more than orthodoxy and intellectual assent;  there must be the practice of justice. The risk of perverting life by living a selfish religion is always great. "The love of God which excludes the neighbor comes down to a lie.  If we do not love our neighbor, we do not love the Father of all." It would seem to me that those who proclaim the "prosperity gospel" are attempting to live with this contradiction. I read a post recently that said "don't proclaim: 'put Christ back into Christmas' but: 'put Christ back into Christianity.' In a scathing article a disgusted Evangelical Scholar, Berny Belvedere, explains how political operatives have managed to slip new ideas into the evangelical belief system--such as a staunch belief in unfettered capitalism--that are nowhere to be found within the Bible. "Within American conservative Christianity, what these leaders do is funnel biblical content, cultural distinctives, and national tropes in a mix that ordinary believers imbibe as what it means to be authentically Christian. . . . And it is this essential corruption of the basic tenets of Christianity that have opened the door for evangelicals to embrace Trump.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Today’s Gospel is the end of the Way section.  Immediately after this, Jesus arrives almost to the city of Jerusalem. When Jesus began this way-journey, a blind man was part of the story. That blind man was healed in steps.  The Way section ends with the story of another blind man.  Remember along the way the Disciples had been blind and deaf to the teaching of Jesus.  Listen to the words and deeds of this blind man and the words and deeds of Jesus. Bartimaeus provides a dramatic contrast to the previous two stories of "non-discipleship"--the rich man and the ambitious disciples.  For Mark he symbolizes the "true disciple."

The place is Jericho.  As Jesus was leaving with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus sat by the roadside begging.  So by the side of the WAY or ROAD is a blind man.  He takes the initiative and cries out.  “Jesus son of David, have pity on me.”  And many rebuked him.  (More rebuking going on here.)  But the blind man kept calling out all the more.

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  They do it. Jesus’ disciples today can take example from the unnamed disciple whose words stirred Bartimaeus’s courage and faith. "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." What an interesting blind man, “he threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”

Jesus asks the same question which he asked James and John in last week’s Gospel:  “What do you want me to do for you?”  The blind man doesn’t ask for a place at Jesus right or left.  He says, “Master I want to see.”

Jesus told him, “Go your WAY; your faith has saved you.”  And Mark tells us,  “immediately he received his sight and followed him on the WAY.” 

If we just separate out the verbs that describe Jesus’ action in this passage we have a kind of summary of his life:  comes, hears, stops, calls, waits, questions, listens, heals, passes on.

If we just separate out the verbs that describe Bartimaeus’ actions we have a kind of summary of his life and ours:  off to the side, he hears, shouts, is abused, shouts louder, hears, throws off his cloak, jumps up, goes to Jesus, listens, asks, receives sight, follows on the way.

The Gospel will continue to tell us about where the WAY is leading Jesus.  We never hear again about this blind man.  But he is offered to us as a model of discipleship.  First of all he is no dummy.  He is located on the road leading out of Jericho toward Jerusalem.  This road would be the final 15 miles up to Jerusalem along the Pilgrim’s way.  It was the same road as the one in the story that Jesus told about a man going in the opposite direction, away from Jerusalem toward Jericho, and falling among thieves.  The one who Jesus tells us is a neighbor to him is not the priest or the levite, but the Good Samaritan.

Probably many beggars would have seen this as a good place to beg on the road leading out of Jericho.  It is similar to the bridges going into and out of Mexico.  The odds were good that pilgrims would have the mood and means to give alms.

The blind man is also persistent.  The crowd can’t dissuade him from making himself known to Jesus.  He is also enthusiastic.  “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”  Now remember this man was blind.  How do you vision him running toward Jesus?  He seems a bit reckless.

What is hindering us from coming to Jesus.  What are our trappings?  How do we respond when we are rebuked and people try to silence us?

Who are the blind of our day? Do I recognize my own blind spots?  Who is Bartimaeus today?  The beggars by the wayside of our economic and social structure both reveal and call us to the poverty and lowliness of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Along the way the apostles have been wishing for status and privilege:  the beggar simply for his “vision”.  Only if the disciples/reader struggle against the internal demons that render us deaf and mute, only if we renounce our thirst for power—in a word, only if we recognize our blindness and seek true vision and insight—then can the discipleship adventure carry on.  This man receives his sight and has his insight affirmed.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This Sunday’s Gospel takes up the Way section of Mark’s Gospel immediately after Jesus’ third announcement of his handing over, suffering, death and resurrection.  Mark continues to follow his previous pattern: announcement, reaction, teaching. Mark’s first way of dying with Jesus is to be completely open to whatever God asks; his second, to accept even the most insignificant persons into our communities on an equal footing with everyone else. His third revolves around how we look at our entire lives, our purpose for being on Earth. We listen for the reaction of James and John to this announcement and especially to the teaching of Jesus.  A word repeats as an almost solemn refrain.  Please catch the word. 

In the Gospel of Mark there is a special place given to three apostles: Peter, James and John.  When the daughter of Jairus is ill and Jesus arrives at the house where there is a din of mourning. He takes with him Peter, James and John. At the transfiguration these three are present again.  When Jesus arrives to the agony of the Garden he will take apart with him Peter, James and John.  Theirs is a position of prominence.

But in this section of the Gospel theirs is a position of misunderstanding.  First it had been Peter who responded to Jesus announcement by taking hold of him to turn him away from the Cross and death. Second on the road it had been others who were discussing who was the most importantToday James and John respond to the third announcement by asking to be at the right and left (positions of prominence) when Jesus comes into his kingdom. 

The apostles were thinking of the “human one’s glory” as a messianic coup, throw out the Romans, James and John are looking for important positions in the administration of the new regime.

Like us the apostles have a difficult time understanding just what following Jesus is all about.  The good news is that Jesus does not give up on them and does not give up on us.  Eventually they do learn, hopefully we will too.  In today’s Gospel James and John are ambitious for important places in glory.  (Luke softens this critique of James and John by having their mother approach Jesus. )The other 10 apostles are jealous or envious or resentful of James and John.  Jesus teaches them and us.

He asks them “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  They said to him, “We can.”  How many times do we, without thinking, say yes to something when we don't know what it entails?

For Jesus his baptism reaches back to the beginning of the Gospel and his public life adventure (1:8ff) and the cup reaches forward to the last supper and the prayer in the garden (14:23,36).  Also looking ahead we know that “on the right and left” two thieves will be crucified with Jesus.

Jesus uses two expressions that catch my attention when talking about rulers and great ones, “lord it over them” and “make their authority over them felt.”  Have you ever had the experience of someone lording it over you or making their importance felt?  I have.  1) Airplane counters at delay or cancellation, 2) restaurant with a customer who can’t be pleased, 3) church, bishops, priests, people who come to help for the wrong reasons, prestige, etc.

There are very different ways to exercise authority.  In our culture the drive to get on top, the drive toward upward mobility is very present.  It is a top down, me up you down authority.  We know it when we are experiencing it.  James and John reflect this attitude in their addressing Jesus:  “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.”

The word that Jesus repeats is “serve” and related words, servant and slave.  Let us hear that teaching again:  “But it shall not be so with you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This is the upside down authority of the servant leader.  Jesus is counter cultural; he serves from beneath not from above.

When we meet a person of this kind of Christ like service we know it.  This person’s service speaks to us of some mystery gained, some goodness, something beyond themselves, something of the suffering and servant Jesus.  This Sunday calls us to examine our service as an expression of our following of Jesus.  Are we on his way or another way?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This section of Mark’s  Gospel consists of three units on wealth and the kingdom:  1) the story of the rich man, 2) Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, 3) Jesus teaching about rewards for giving up riches.

1) The story of the rich man.  Here the man takes the initiative: runs to Jesus, kneels down, questions Jesus.  This man is trying to impress Jesus with the compliment, “Good Teacher”.  He expects a title greeting in return.  But Jesus answers with no title at all, and this response can indicate irritation in the Gospels. Before answering his question Jesus reminds him that "no one is good but God alone." Before seeking an answer to what we must do, we must believe that we live in the sight of a God of incomparable goodness. Only at that point does Jesus remind the young man of the commandments of that 'good God'.

The commandments that Jesus lists deal with treatment of neighbor.  These are the commandments that a powerful rich man would not observe.  It is easy enough to observe one’s ritual obligations towards God and Church and deal unjustly and sinfully with one’s weaker neighbor.

The rich man replies, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.”  The rich man seems to calmly put himself in rather exalted company.  In the Talmud, Abraham, Moses, and Aaron are reported to have kept the whole law.

Jesus looking upon him loved him.  This is the only place in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus is said to have loved some individual.  This is the first movement from Jesus towards the rich man.  To this point all the initiative has come from the man himself.  He is quite capable of doing everything that he sets out to do and having the means to do it.  He clearly wants to achieve eternal life by his own efforts.  His focus is on the future.  Jesus tells him that he must give up his two primary values, property (sell everything) and family (follow me).  Jesus is telling him he cannot earn his way into God’s graces.  There is an impossible tension here between making it on one’s own and accepting grace.  This is the tension-impossibility that is captured in the parable of the camel and the eye of the needle.

The rich man’s response when confronted by what Jesus is asking: “his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had great possessions.” He seems to be "possessed by his possessions."

A consideration of the other call stories in Mark helps us to understand this story.  In the other stories Jesus takes the absolute initiative, the call of Simon and Andrew and James and John, 1:16-20; and the call of Levi the tax collector 2:13-17.  In neither of these does he propose the need to “sell everything and give to the poor”  This demand is only here with the rich man.  In fact in the story of John 21 the apostles return to the lake where they were called and resume their fishing.

Here we have a man who is used to deciding his own destiny because he has the power and wealth to do it.  “What must “I” do to inherit eternal life?”  He is blocked from a total commitment to Jesus because he wants to control his destiny as he always has.  For this man his wealth stands in the way of his following of Jesus.  He wants “to do” not “receive.”

The contrast in this story between his coming to Jesus and his leaving Jesus is strong.  In the beginning he comes running with enthusiasm, he kneels.  Questioning, he greets Jesus.

In the Middle Jesus looked on him with love.

At the end the man’s face fell and he went away very sad.

2) In this story Jesus is challenging their understanding that riches were a blessing or sign of God’s favor.  Wealth can be an obstacle to discipleship.  “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.  The disciples were amazed at his words.”

“So Jesus again said to them¼” ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’  They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, ‘Then who can be saved?’”  The parable of the Camel and the eye of the needle is a concrete picture of something impossible.  There is a reference in Jewish literature also to an elephant passing through the eye of a needle.  Some see the needle as a reference to a gate in the Jerusalem wall.  This is highly unlikely.  The parable deliberately presents a concrete picture of something quite impossible. There is an impossible tension between making it on one’s own and accepting grace, between riches and entering the kingdom of God.  This is the tension-impossibility that is captured in the parable of the camel and the eye of the needle.

3) The rewards of discipleship are infinitely greater than the sacrifices.  Jesus responds and confirms that the kingdom has boundless rewards for those who respond in obedience with no thought of rewards.  Peter in the name of the apostles states:  “We have given up everything and followed you.” (There is such a sharp contrast with the Rich Young man who cannot leave possessions and follow.) They are living examples of the miracle of which Jesus speaks, “with men it is impossible, but not with God;  for all things are possible with God.”  The rewards are for this time and the age to come, rewards for now and the future.  They will receive eternal life, they cannot earn it. There is also an emphasis on assurance in the text.  No one who has responded to the call to obedience will be left out. 

For this man, wealth was his obstacle to following Jesus.  What is my obstacle? The Judge Kavanaugh hearings have brought forth quite a bit of discussion on "white privilege", Male domination, "entitlement", "lying".  One focus of the conversation between Jesus and the rich man may also bring up "consumerism". Affluence represents a monstrous barrier between peoples. Addictions are also obstacles. When the disciples protest "who then can be saved? they expose their assumption that wealth was a sure sign of God's favor--a perception that also prevails in American piety.  One commentator states: "Certainly in the culture and religion of capitalism any economic model that has been predicated upon redistributive justice has been considered heresy." There seems to be plenty of evidence that in some circles religion has taken on the values of the world rather than religion influencing the values of the world. I'm afraid that much of the opposition to Pope Francis is rooted in this reality.

(A couple of helpful resources for this story:  The Living Voice of the Gospel by Maloney, pp. 56ff.  Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey, pp. 157-170),  Chapter 14 of "Say to this Mountain.")

Source of Reflection: Dave Jackson

 

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME



Our Gospel this Sunday presents us with the first of three encounters that Jesus has with different individuals.  This Sunday he encounters the Pharisees and the following two Sundays he will encounter a young man and then James and John.  Again we see that the emphasis is on teaching.  This section of Mark’s Gospel known as the WAY section then ends with Jesus meeting the blind man Bartimaeus.  It began with the gradual healing of the blind man of Bethsaida and ends with the complete healing of Bartimaeus who then follows Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem.  The only other miracle in this section was when Jesus healed the possessed boy.  In that instance the apostles couldn’t drive out the evil spirit.  Jesus worked the miracle but it too was heavy with Jesus teaching. 

In these few verses, today’s readers of Mark’s Gospel can see the early church’s struggle with one of the most painful areas of concern in our contemporary church and society—the meaning of fidelity in marriage.  At the core of Mark’s Gospel message is Jesus’ challenge to spouses to live in faithful and perpetual union until death. 

The biblical teaching on Marriage contained in this passage from Mark is but part of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are 15 pages on Matrimony.  Traditionally and continually we must preserve the ideal of marriage for life, in the Sacrament of matrimony.  But we must also recognize today’s  reality, in our society, our parish, 50% of people who have been married have also been through divorce.  Surely Jesus’ compassion and healing reach out to strengthen and help people to persevere.  But his compassion and healing must also reach out to those affected by divorce—spouses and children.  One of the ways the church assists people who have been divorced is the annulment process.  We have information about this process in the office. 

Some people do not have correct information about the present teaching of the Church.  In past years, in the Catholic Church, Divorce carried with it separation from the Church, Excommunication.  That no longer is the case.  There is no longer an automatic excommunication connected with divorce.  Divorced people who have not remarried are in good standing with the church and can receive the Eucharist, go to Communion.  People who have received the sacrament of matrimony and are then divorced and have remarried are forbidden to receive Communion.  Some Marriage cases are also brought to the sacrament of Confession and are resolved there.  This is called the internal forum.  If you have questions about this you should contact a priest.  Support groups have been established for divorced and separated people in many parts of the country.  As far as I know there aren’t any of these groups in the Diocese of Brownsville.  The Archdiocese of Milwaukee had a very active ministry to the divorced and separated.

There is a bit of tension then when we hear Jesus’ teaching about Marriage and Divorce.  He is clearly upholding the ideal of a marriage for life.  But surely he also would be the first to minister to those who are divorced. 

In my experience I find that some couples give up too easily on their marriage.  They may even receive advice from family or friend, “Get a divorce.”  That surely should not be the first response to difficulties in marriage.  But in my experience there are also couples who stay in a marriage too long.  There are reasons to get a divorce:  violence which includes physical or sexual abuse, alcoholism with no efforts to resolve the problem (it is very significant that the most effective means of dealing with alcoholism is AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and there are as far as I know no AA groups in Willacy County); drug addiction, a spouse involved in criminal activity, continued infidelity.  These are reasons for divorce.

Pope Francis has created quite a discussion (storm) when after the Synod on the family he wrote an Apostolic Exhortation entitled THE JOY OF LOVE.  There are 9 chapters in this exhortation.  To my way of thinking it is sad that most of the focus on this document has focused on chapter 8, titled "Accompanying, Discerning, and Integrating Weakness". There is much to study and reflect on in the entire document.  The pope did break some new ground in chapter 8. This quote is an example which opens new windows: "What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf., Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”.338 These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard." [#300] 

Clearly the pope has struck a nerve.  This is easily recognized in the various reactions to these words of Pope Francis.  The Pope seemed to clarify his meaning by saying that the explanation of his former Archdiocese in Argentina is what he meant. Cardinal Burke however was, and is, a leader of the opposition to the pope’s opening. 

Mark's Gospel moves from the discussion of marriage to Jesus teaching about receiving children and learning from them. Children in Jesus’ culture “deserved” nothing, had no claim on anyone, and were considered as property. In the Bible, along with women and resident aliens, children generally represented vulnerability.  Mark says that “the people were bringing children to Jesus that he might “touch” them.  This word “touch” carries the idea of healing them. Many pictures of this scene depict the children almost as little angels, squeaky-clean, children full of life and smiles.  One author said:  It would have been “more like a pediatrician’s waiting room—or the emergency room at a children’s hospital.  Jesus is surrounded by sick children—and all the problems and smells that come with that: runny noses and dirty faces; diarrhea and smelly diapers; nausea and its unpleasant eruptions; crying or whimpering that just won’t stop.”  With this picture in mind, it makes sense to think that the disciples would want to protect Jesus from these sick children.  Perhaps the disciples thought that such a great teacher and scholar as Jesus wouldn’t want to waste time with sick children. For whatever reasons the disciples are trying to stop parents from bringing children to Jesus.  Jesus tells them not to stop them.  Prior to this the disciples had tried to stop an exorcist from doing his deeds in Jesus’ name.  Jesus told them not to stop him.  Jesus is depicted as welcoming the children not only because they are endearing but also because they are vulnerable and in need of the protection of others.  Then, as so often happens, he turns our perceptions inside out.  The child, dependent on others for nurture and protection, is set before us as an example of how we are to stand before God—open and trusting.

Source of reflection: Davd Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 


 
   

 

 

 
 
 
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