Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; James 3:16 – 4:3 Mark 9: 30–37
“Great” is a word that we have heard time and again in recent years. Today we hear from Jesus both emphatically and clearly the meaning that he gives to “great.” For the second of three time recorded by Saint Mark Jesus informs his followers what he faces as he continues his ministry. He would be betrayed, condemned and executed, but he will also rise. Despite repeating this, what does he encounter from his close followers? When they are confronted, they admit that they were arguing about who among them is the greatest.
Interestingly, Mark makes the point of saying that when he heard this, Jesus sat down. I had to wonder whether Jesus sat down with a large sigh- a sign of frustration. If they had been arguing about who was the greatest, they certainly had not been listening closely to him. They clearly had missed the point of what he had been saying.
The revelation of God’s love for mankind, which is the object and goal of the ministry of Jesus, would require the greatest gift that he could give: his life itself. That giving of his life would take place through the cruel execution of the cross. This was the result of the obstinate refusal of those who ought to have known, who ought to have understood and accepted what he was teaching. The close followers of Jesus, his chosen Apostles, gave evidence of the fact that they were stuck on that same level of misunderstanding as those leaders who would be responsible for his crucifixion. They were stuck on the level of thinking that equated “great” with power, position, wealth, and control.
Faced with this, Jesus takes a child and sets it in their midst. This is significant because a child in that society and in that culture had no standing, had no position, had no power, had no influence. One who received this child, who respected this child, who recognized and accepted this child, received and accepted Christ, received an accepted God in the true sense. In doing this, one also acknowledged that greatness comes from humble recognition of what we areas creatures of a loving God. Greatness comes from imitating and reflecting our loving God in humble and total service to others and to mankind as Christ showed by his sacrifice on the cross.
To focus only on one’s self, on what we might have or what wish we had, clouds the vision of what we are to have as followers of Christ. To focus on one’s self and some possible position or power or possession we might have, clouds the vision of what we are as believers in Jesus Christ. As Jesus embraced the child, we are to embrace others in our lives. We are to embrace the ones who are considered the least, the neglected, the overlooked, in order that we might more fully appreciate our potential to make God known.
Being other-focused allows for the recognition of the gifts in life that we possess, Instead of resenting what we do not have, we become grateful for what we do have and how these gifts allow to affirm others and thus be affirmed in ourselves by God. Genuine gratitude to God allows us to be peaceful and merciful in our relationships with others. Genuine gratitude for what we are and what we can express to others is what it truly means to be “great” as Jesus taught. Being “great” in this way we can reflect and reveal the truth and reality of a good and gracious God.
Isaiah 50: 4c-9aJames 2:14-18Mark 8: 27-35
A favorite pastime of mine is light reading. I usually spend about an hour a day devoted to reading what is known as historical fiction. Doing so puts me in contact with different authors with different styles. Most of these are enjoyable and creative. Particularly are they creative in presenting their story when the outcome in history is already known.
Such creativity, I believe, can be found in the Gospel of St. Mark which we have been reading and hearing over recent months. We have now reached the mid-point of that Gospel. The first half of the Gospel was devoted to introducing Jesus in different ways. Now we hear him ask his close followers who the people say that he is. For the most part, his followers tell him that he is identified with one of the prophets who are a part of their history. Peter, however, steps up and boldly states: “You are the Christ.” By saying this Peter identifies Jesus with the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Promised One, who had been anticipated in their history.
But Peter quickly falls from the favorable status of his declaration. Jesus make clear that he is not a warrior messiah, a political messiah, one who would free the Jews from the occupation of the Romans. In fact, what he declares is very much the opposite. He is to be a suffering Messiah following in the imagery of that passage from Isaiah the prophet that we have heard today. Peter is actually rebuked for not accepting this. He is told not to be a “tempter,” a “Satan,” He is told “get behind me.” He is to follow where Jesus would lead – to Calvary. Peter is told this, as we are told this. We are to follow Jesus, to be one with Christ. Suffering, taking up the cross is to be embraced. It is a fundamental part of being a disciple, an active believer in Christ.
Popular preaching that is often heard makes an association between sin and suffering. It also associates holiness with good fortune. Often the lament is heard: Why am I suffering in this way or that when I try so hard to live a good life? Listen closely to what Jesus says. Take up your cross and follow me. This is not to be done in a sense of self-pity, of “woe is me,” looking for someone to feel sorry for me. Rather, it is in this manner that Christ gives of himself in his betrayal, condemnation and execution. He does this so that the totality of God’s love for mankind is demonstrated. And it is this way, in taking up our cross, that we participate in making this love and care known.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Those who believe in the Son, who join themselves with him, who carry the cross with him, will also share in his resurrection. They will have eternal life. Taking up the cross makes us one with him in the revelation of Divine Love for mankind.
Selfishness and greed are so contrary to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Selfishness and greed is so contrary to what is revealed to us about God. Egotistical self-centeredness, which is selfishness and greed, and which is shown in so many ways by lying, dishonesty, prejudice, false judgement, manipulation, abusiveness and so on, are so contrary to what we are called to be, what we are called to do, as followers of Jesus Christ. Our baptismal; call is to show fort hand to reveal Godliness. This is to be done, not just in words as St. James tells us today, but in good works, in the way we live. It is this “taking up of the cross” that we demonstrate our knowledge and our commitment to our good and gracious God.
Isaiah 35:4-7a James 2: 1-5 Mark 7: 31-37
Miracle stories, like the one we heard today, are among the favorite parts of the Gospel accounts. They can easily inspire us to some day-dreaming, hoping, wishing – that we might be freed of various pains and ailments, and especially of more serious illnesses and disabilities. If only!
But all that is involved n this story tells us that healing is not an end in itself. There is much more. First, there is the setting of the story, as St. Mark gives us his account. It is situated in the non-Jewish part of the country – Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis or “Ten-Cities.” This reminds us that our loving God reaches out to us even in foreign circumstances. The experience and presence of God can be encountered in unexpected ways. The experience and presence of God is not limited to certain moments of a day or a week, or to certain structures or locations. Our loving God is always present and active in our lives.
Then there is the very physical gestures of Jesus in restoring the hearing and the speech of the man. This is somewhat unusual in the miracle stories so what can we appreciate and understand from it? In a particular way it emphasizes the importance of both hearing and speaking. Ears are to be open to hear and tongues are to be loosed in order to speak. We can begin to recognize the wonder of the presence of God that can be experienced in words of love, care, concern, sympathy and support. Words, too of gratitude, praise and appreciation can be spoken by us or to us, or heard from us by others. We have the ability, the power, the potential in our daily live to hear or to speak about things at are good, true, beautiful – things that reflect God.
This incident recorded in the Gospel also reminds us that the revelation of God takes place through the senses of hearing and speaking. The presence and the reality of God is not mysterious or hidden or secret. It is a genuine reality in our live that we humanly experience. In a particular way this is important when we come together to worship and to praise God. We listen to the words of Scripture, prayers that are said, songs that are sung. God’s message is made known to us and our response is expressed as a common desire to grow in faith and trust in God. We speak in words and in song in order to confirm to ourselves and to one anther the power and the majesty of God’s presence in our lives. Our words heard and said express the value and worth to us and to one another of the presence of and faith in God for us all.
The story we have heard today introduces a bit more of the person of Jesus to us. It also provides us with and understanding of what we are to be and to do because of our identification with him. Our God speaks to us, we respond in prayer and worship now, but also when we go forth from here. We are to hear and to follow whatever call is made to us to reveal anywhere and everywhere in our day to day lives the reality and the truth of our good and gracious God.
Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18 b5: 2a, 25-32 John 6: 60-69
Over the past few weeks we have taken a break from hearing passages from the Gospel of St. Mark each Sunday in order to hear how Jesus teaches about the Eucharist, the “Bread of Life.” This discussion by Jesus is a fitting follow-up to the miraculous feeding of a vast crowd which we recalled a number of weeks ago.
The Gospel writer John saw this as a fitting opportunity to present what Jesus wants us to understand about the “Bread of Life” he offers to us. It is a more miraculous feeding than that of a large crowd at the time of his ministry. It is a feeding available to us through the centuries. We, too , are invited to be nourished and sustained by Jesus himself as this is the ultimate revelation of the love of God to us. We are called upon to consume the bread and wine that becomes, through his word, his command, to do this in memory of him. It is the true presence, the Real Presence of his Body and Blood.
Today we hear a reaction to what Jesus taught. A central question of that reaction is “Does this shock you?” The question for us is: “Does this shock us? We might think that the source of the “shock” would be trying to understand how simple elements of bread and wine becomes his Body and Blood. To a person of Faith, that the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, who took on being human in the person of Jesus Christ, does this involves accepting his words and actions as an element of faith.
Rather, we might ask ourselves whether the “shock” in what Jesus says is the result of acknowledging the depth and the totality of God’s love for us that is shared with us in the Eucharist. In our human experience we speak of love and commitment both frequently and freely. But we also know well enough that love and commitment is often limited and conditioned. Total and unconditional love is difficult and, if we are honest, not always realized.
Yet this is what Jesus proclaims in telling us of the “Bread of Life” that we are to consume and make a part. of ourselves. The totality of the love of God that is given to us is a magnificent reality of our faith that is to be fully appreciated by us. It is offered to us freely by our God. It is the food that will nourish us.for our journey of life
Our response to God’s beneficence to us is to echo Joshua: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Our response is to realize with St. Paul that the relationship between God and ourselves is to reflect that of the marriage between a man and woman as described in the Book of Genesis: two are to be united as one. Our response is to answer as did St. Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go?”
The Eucharist for us is the means by which we live and grow in a true and faithful union with one another, as the Body of Christ, and with our good and gracious God.