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THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – February 01, 2015

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 18:15-20

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 7:32-35

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 1:21-28

The fascination with fortunetellers and psychic readers is not new.  The interest escalates in times of uncertainty.  By and large, people do not want the experience of being in a dark room, hearing sounds, all the while wondering what is out there.  They want someone to turn on the lights.  They want someone to tell them what is coming.  As understandable as anxiety can be, the role of the prophet in Scripture is misunderstood if we think the prophet is a seer who tells the people with specificity what tomorrow holds.

The Prophet in Hebrew Scripture is one who speaks what God wants the people to hear.  The prophetic onus is tremendous.  No wonder some of the Major Prophets protested their unworthiness or their inexperience when they were summoned to the task.  No wonder some of them fled in terror at the thought.  They know that fidelity to the vocation will not mean that the Prophet will be heard or the message heeded.  Hear Jeremiah’s anguished cries as he sinks into the mud of the cistern where he has been cast because of his unpopular message.  Witness Jonah, last Sunday’s Prophet, fume in the whale’s belly.

Yet prophecy is something faith communities need in order to be reminded lest they lose the way.  Or, once lost, prophecy can help them find the way back.  Taken as a whole, what is the prophetic message?  Through the various Prophets, God keeps saying: Let me be your God.  You be my people.  Others will know and marvel at our relationship unlike that between any other people and their gods when they see you following my ways.

Ah, as Shakespeare would say, there just might lay the rub.  Every prophetic message is a call to conversion, a call to a change of life.  No one ever said that conversion would be easy.  Conversion always involves dying and rising, dying to one way of life and rising to another.  Or, at least, conversion involves going deeper into the faith-life being lived.

There are two ways to hear today’s first reading.  Those in Moses’s audience assume that hearing God directly would be too intense, just as would be the experience of looking on the face of God.  No one can see the face of God and live.  The Israelites did not argue that point.  At the same time, there is the desire to know the mind of God.  The Lord said to Moses: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  There will be others like Moses who will speak to the people on God’s behalf.  That is another way of saying that God’s presence among the people will be evidenced by the veracity of the message.  So many times, succinctly put, that message will be: Remain faithful.  Come back to me with all your heart.  At other times there will be prophetic warnings regarding the implications of infidelity.  The people are strong when they are faithful to God and to the Law.  Their strength will be sapped by infidelity.  Destruction and bondage will follow if they do not give up the ways of pagans.  But even then, the prophecy will remind the people that God is faithful and one day God will bring them back and restore their city.  There will be forgiveness.

Some hear in the promise to raise up for the people a prophet the messianic promise.  Christians believe that promise is fulfilled in Jesus.  Mark says it quite clearly at the outset of his Gospel: Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This is the One in whose mouth God puts his word.  This is the One who shall tell the people all that God commands him.

So it is that at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus observes Sabbath and enters the synagogue.  He teaches and gives for the first time in the Gospel a prophetic utterance.  Two words describe the moment.  Authority.  Astonished.  Authority describes the manner in which Jesus taught.  There was the professorial about him and a depth of understanding conveyed that those who heard could understand.  Astonishment describes the people’s reaction.  Astonished.  Amazed.  Both words are used interchangeably in the Gospels and convey the picture of people standing with mouths agape in reaction to what they hear and see.  Neither describes belief.  In other places in the Gospel two quite distinct groups will follow after Jesus.  Disciples are those who have made their decision about Jesus.  The crowds are those who may well be astonished, but they are unable to commit.

All the more important that we witness the reaction of the unclean spirit Jesus casts out of the possessed man in the synagogue.  What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth, the spirit cries out.  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God!  The evil spirit recognizes the authority and from where it comes.  That is beyond what the crowd has perceived.  Jesus commands silence.  It will not be Evil’s witness that will convince the people who Jesus is, but the words he speaks and the works he does.  Quiet!  Come out of him!

So, the Gospel concludes with people marveling about what they have seen, the astonishing authority with which Jesus acts and his new teaching.  But to what will it point?  What does it mean?  The people of the synagogue, the witnesses will tell others the story and so help spread his reputation.  It will take the rest of the story, the rest of the journey with Jesus, for the mystery to be revealed and for faith to begin.  Because even those who call themselves disciples early on will have to let go of what they thought they understood, let go of their assumptions about the promised Messiah, as they watch him die.  And then?

Sincerely,

Didymus

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THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – January 25, 2015

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jonah 3:1-5, 10

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 7:29-31

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 1:14-20

This is the only Sunday in the three-year cycle of readings that we hear from the Prophet Jonah.  That might not be surprising since the book is short, only four brief chapters.  In some ways the book is a comic opera, given the hapless and reluctant prophet that is Jonah.  Reluctant is the operative word.

God called Jonah to be prophet to the people of Nineveh.  The Ninevites were a people of long standing animosity with Israel.  Jonah wanted nothing to do with them.  He fled by ship, hoping to reach Tarshish and so escape God’s call.  God is not so easily eluded.  You know what happened next.  God sent a storm that threatened to swamp the boat and sink it.  The mates on board were terrified and saw the storm as a punishment from God.  At whom was it directed?

Jonah acknowledges that he is fleeing from God’s will; therefore the storm is probably directed at him.  He offers himself to be thrown into the sea so that the ship will be spared.  Overboard he goes, only to be swallowed by a giant fish, in whose belly Jonah will reside for three days.  Jonah repents from there.  God hears Jonah’s plea and so commands the fish to spew forth Jonah.

Sputtering on the shore, Jonah hears God’s message again: Set out for the great city of Nineveh and announce to it the message that I will give you.  The message?  In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed.  Here is the epitome of a sermon of fire and brimstone.  Jonah expects his announcement to be ignored by the people of Nineveh.  He looks forward to finishing the three-day trek through the city, enduring the scorn of the Ninevites, and then he will climb the hill on the other side and from there watch the destruction of the detested people.

Imagine his consternation when, after a single day’s journey into the city, all the people hear the prophecy and repent.  They declare a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.  Even their king repents.  And so does God.  Nineveh is spared, much to Jonah’s disappointment.  He so wanted to see the wrath and feel the vengeance unleashed by the fire and brimstone.  Instead he witnesses God’s mercy and in the grace of the moment finally experiences that mercy in his own heart.

So, what should we take from this reading?  When we hear the word of the Lord, we ought to respond wholeheartedly.  We ought to respond as Pope Francis encourages, with joy.  But you have to wonder what was in the hearts of the people of Nineveh that they repented so quickly and thoroughly.  Was it the emptiness of their lives as they were living them?  Was it the realization that material things are not the complete answer?  Was it the chill of seeing how far they were wandering from God’s will in their lives?

For what were they longing?  Isn’t Jonah the epitome of the judgmental haranguer?  In spite of Jonah’s hardness, God’s grace goes out through Jonah’s message and finds reception in the people’s hearts.  They hear a message of hope, hope for themselves if they will only change their ways.

Coming back to Pope Francis, don’t you think it is amazing the response he is receiving all around the world.  Many are as stunned as you and I were when his proclamations and example began on the balcony the night he was named pope and he asked the assembled people to pray over him, that is to bless him as he began his journey.  Francis is the most joy-filled pope sine St. John XXIII.  He is about love and joy and poverty and service.  And the people, even those who had left the church, hear him and respond.

After John the Baptism had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God.  His message, like Jonah’s is a call to repentance, but without the threat of immanent destruction.  The word gospel means good news.  Jesus invites all who hear him to get ready for the time of fulfillment, that time the prophets foretold, the coming of the reign of God.  If they change their lives and return to God’s ways they will experience God in their lives – God living not only among them, but also in them.

The first thing we come to realize is that Jesus does not want to be the sole bearer of the Good News.  He invites others to take up his ministry.  He calls the fishermen, Simon and Andrew.  It would seem that at their first hearing of the message the fishermen respond with eager hearts.  Come after me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.  They will still be casting out nets. But not to ensnare fish.  Immediately Simon and Andrew abandon their former way of life and follow Jesus.  By the way, this does not imply that the brothers were living an evil life.  They were honest and hard working.  It does not mean that they fully understood what discipleship meant.  It means that they felt Jesus called them to something new and they held nothing back in responding.

The same holds true for the next pair of fishermen-brothers, James and John.  They hear and immediately leave their father, Zebedee, and the crew of workers and follow Jesus.  One can’t help but wonder how thrilled Zebedee was with this turn of events.  But for the brothers, Jesus seemed to be the answer to everything that they longed for and desired.  For them, there was nothing else to do but to answer his call.

Abandoned everything and followed Jesus.  Left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Jesus.  The call goes forth and the response is total.  What we should hear is that our call is to do the same and be a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.

You might wonder what these men understood when Jesus invited them to follow him and become fishers of humanity.  The fact is, probably not very much, and certainly not what they would come to understand to be the Good News.  They had a lot to learn.

Jesus must have had a magnetic personality.  Everywhere he spoke, crowds immediately gathered.  It is likely that those first called had heard Jesus before and from his message, might have wondered if Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would restore Israel to power and drive out foreign rule.  That was the common understanding of the role of the Messiah.  Perhaps they imagined themselves as important personages in that coming reign.  That doesn’t matter.  Jesus spoke.  They heard and followed and never looked back.  In the course of their journeying with Jesus, they would come to a whole new understanding of Messiah and experience God who does not want to be served but to serve.  They would be formed following the example that Jesus was before them.  They would come to understand that Jesus is the message and through Jesus all people are invited to experience a new unity with God and each other, and a new peace.

For us, it is the same.  Whatever fascinates us about Jesus in the beginning doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we recognize the call and dare to imagine that the message is for us.  What matters is our willingness to change our lives and conform them to Christ.  What matters is that we follow him and learn from him and from what he does.

That is what making this journey through the Liturgical Year can accomplish.  The Catechumens who are beginning their response and are inquiring about Jesus and the life he envisions will make this journey and have their understanding refined as they come near the Font and decide to enter the waters.

All of us listen and let that Good News that is Jesus take root in our hearts.  We change and as we do, we learn to do what Jesus does.  If Jesus is the norm, than imitating him must be our response.  Over time and with each Gospel’s proclamation we will come to know more and more what that imitation means, and what in us has to change.  It will not be fear that draws us.  It will be love.

I don’t know how long we will walk in Jesus’ footsteps before we realize that his call is never for ourselves alone.  I don’t know when it is that we realize that the love that drew us must go out from us and draw others.  But I do believe that once we hear and take the word to heart the rest follows.

That is why our lives come more and more to revolve around Sunday Eucharist.  We gather to be renewed In Jesus’ dying and rising; to take and eat the Body of Christ so that in the week beginning we find the strength and the courage to be fishers of people, catching them up in God’s love, not so much by what we say but by the love that is evident in how we serve.  And so we invite others to recognize the Love of God that comes to us through Jesus, and to follow.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – January 18, 2015

 

A reading from the first Book of Samuel 3:3b-10, 19

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 1:35-42

With the celebration of the Second Sunday we enter Ordinary Time.  The Christmas Season concluded last Sunday with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.  There ought to be a warning issued as we begin this journey through the cycle of readings for the Liturgical year.  The danger is that we might not be at all the same at the conclusion of the cycle as we are in the beginning.  That might be obvious to those who are aware of the fact that conversion is the risk we run each time we gather to celebrate Eucharist.

It is amazing how casually and nonchalantly people come together for Liturgy.  What if the action of the Spirit works this time?  What if the Spirit rushes through the assembly this time and accomplishes the same transformation in them that happens with the bread and the wine?  The faithful seem very ready to venerate the Body and Blood of Christ sacramentally present in the elements of the Eucharist.  Are they ready to be the Body of Christ?  Are they ready to recognize the Christ in those with whom they assemble?  If the Liturgy works, then the Assembly will be awakened to the presence of Christ begun in them at Baptism.  If it works there will be awareness at the conclusion of the Liturgy that those who have eaten and drunk are then sent to continue that presence in the market place.  Perhaps the realization takes time.  But how long?  If it works, about the same length of time it takes to transform the Bread and Wine.

Pope Francis seems to be challenging the universal Church to submit to the transforming influence of the Spirit.  His message is one of awakening and renewal; a challenge to be what Christ calls disciples to be.  Banish the splendor and regality so long characteristic of authority in the church.  Banish the barriers, the lines of demarcation that separate, judge and condemn.  Become poor ones serving the needs of the poor.  Recognize the dignity and worth of all who are the objects of God’s love, our brothers and sisters in the human family.  Work for justice and peace with an awareness that there are many paths believing people can follow that lead to God.  Believe that God wills the salvation of all people, not just an elite few.  That’s the message Francis clearly lives.  Hope is stirring in the hearts of many who have wandered away in disillusionment.  May it strengthen and come to fruition.

The human experience is one of gradually unfolding and growing awareness.  The potential plant is contained in the seed.  Watch that seed sprout and the plant grow.  Watch as a blossom bursts forth.  Reflect and you become aware that your understanding and appreciation have grown through each stage of the plant’s development.  That is what can happen when we gather and journey in faith and yield to the Spirit.  Our understanding grows with each step we take, each celebration of Eucharist, each entrance into Mystery as we are transformed.  Of course what is necessary for that to happen is our response and yield to the Spirit.

Hear the first reading and marvel.  We hear an account of growing awareness on the part of the boy Samuel and of his teacher, the priest and leader, Eli.  Samuel is sleeping in the temple where the ark of God was. The ark is a concentrated presence of God, if you will.  God’s presence is universal, but is especially so where the ark is.  Samuel, young and having been given to God’s service from his infancy by his mother, Hannah, awakens to the sound of his name on the night air.  Samuel.  Samuel.  Was it a whisper?  Was it a shout?  That doesn’t matter.  It is the response that matters.  Here I am.

Twice the boy will wake Eli, thinking it was the teacher calling him.  The third time he is awakened by the boy, Eli comes to understand who it is who calls, that it is the Lord.  One wonders if Eli suffered pangs of jealousy for an experience he had never had as he told Samuel that the next time he hears the voice say: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.  For Samuel it will be a call from the Lord to prophecy and the beginning of a relationship with the Lord that will bring him to anoint the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.  But Eli hear the first prophesy from Samuel, the warning of Eli’s coming destruction and that of his family, for their lack of fidelity to the Lord.  The word of God is a two-edged sword.

When Samuel said speak that third time, how much did he understand?  Certainly not nearly as much as he did at the twilight of his life after the years of service and openness to the Lord.  At the beginning of each person’s faith walk, s/he is called by God by name as the seed of faith is planted in the human heart.  It is the role of the more experienced, the veterans in the faith, to help the neophyte understand who it is that is calling and to exemplify what it means to respond.  The Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) process is meant to provide the atmosphere and means for those awakening to faith to understand the call to Baptism.  Along the way, through the experience of faith in the witness and action of the catechists and the parish Assembly, the candidates come to understand what believers do and how they worship.

This process entails journeying with Jesus through the full cycle of readings in a Liturgical Year.  Sometimes it takes even longer.  That is how candidates come to understand who it is that is calling, what it means to follow, and find the courage and the faith to say: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.  There will be the beginning of understanding as they stand at the Font’s edge and take their first step into the waters.  They will emerge on the other side, reborn in Christ, and will continue to grow, to be transformed, until, in the fullness of time, Christ comes to full stature in them.

The understanding of Christ is a growing and developing one.  No one knows and fully understands at once.  Even Paul, after his blazing encounter on the road to Damascus, had to be led by the hand back into the city where he would learn how much he would have to suffer for the Name.  And he speaks of the growth of understanding in the second reading.  To live in Christ is to realize the body is a member of Christ and therefore should be revered and not given over to immorality.  You have been purchased at a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body.

The two in John’s Gospel this week are seekers.  They had thought that John the Baptist was the one they sought.  But John, like Eli, like the RCIA catechist points they in another direction: Behold the Lamb of God.  Jesus is walking by.  Notice the question Jesus asks the two in their first encounter with him: What are you looking for?  Notice that they do not know the answer to the question because they know so little.  But they know that something is here.  They hope that they will know better after some time and exposure to him and so they address Jesus as rabbi and ask him where he lives.  Jesus’ response is: Come and see.

Do you remember that later, bitter confrontation between Jesus and Peter, when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to suffer and to die?  Remember what Jesus said then.  Get behind me, you tempter, and learn from me.  What Jesus commanded Peter to do was to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and observe what he did so that he could do the same and come to understand.  That is the same thing, in gentler words, that Jesus says to the two seekers.  Come and you will see.  And they and you will see…and they stayed with him that day.  That is the only way to know Jesus, to be with him and then do what he does.

The next thing we hear is that Andrew, one of the two, goes to his brother Simon and tells him: We have found the Messiah – which translated means Christ.  Meeting Christ, believing in Christ, means bringing others to Christ.  Bring others to Christ and let Christ do the rest.  See how Simon is changed.  Jesus gives him a new name that in turn gives him a new significance.  You are Simon, the son of John, you will be called Cephas – which translated is Peter.  And Peter is translated Rock.

So the journey of this year of faith begins.  Maybe the Lord asks you at the outset: What are you looking for?  There may be many things you think you seek.  Ultimately, though, it is Christ you seek, and your ongoing transformation in Christ.  So he says to you, Come and see.

Listen as you stand at the Table of the Word.  Observe as you fully, actively, and consciously participate at the Table of the Eucharist.  Be transformed as you take and eat.  As it works, you will continue to be transformed and be re-convinced that you are sent to be the continuation of Christ’s presence in the world until all have eaten and drunk and come to know.

Sincerely,

Didymus