Reflection for July 15

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I can’t believe Jesus sent those twelve guys on mission. They’ve already interrupted his prayer (Mk 1:35-37), failed to understand his parables (4:10f.), demonstrated weak faith (4:35f.), and disparaged Jesus for trying to find someone in a crowd (5:30-31). Maybe Jesus thought a little hands-on experience would help them understand his mission better.

I suspect the project got off to a rocky start when the Twelve didn’t strictly obey Jesus’ packing instructions. I bet some of them stuffed a few protein bars into their tunics and hollowed out part of their walking sticks so they could stash a few coins inside. One of them probably had enough coins to buy a second tunic. (I would have.)

I also wonder how they knew what to say. They could quote some of Jesus’ parables, but what if someone asked a challenging question? Did they just make up an answer? I’ve been both a student and a teacher, so my guess is they totally made stuff up. And while one of them prattled away, I bet his missionary partner shot him a look that meant, “That’s not what Jesus would have said.” 

Some of them probably argued about where to stay and when to leave and whether to shake the dust from their feet and how big a show to make of it. I bet when they drove out demons and cured the sick some of them got to feeling pretty smug about their cool new powers whereas one or two were privately terrified and wondered how much longer before they could just go home. I’d also like to know who got stuck traveling with Judas Iscariot.

But what’s far more unsettling than the fact that Jesus entrusted such work to these novices is that Jesus now entrusts such work to us. Jesus instructs us not to weigh ourselves down with the stuff of this world but to entrust our lives to God. He tells us not to play favorites nor to prize comfort and status. He commands us to speak about God’s reign. He empowers us to oppose evil and to foster healing wherever we go.

Like the Twelve, we will not always do these things well. We might never do any of it well. We will always need more hands-on experience, more practice, more training. Each day we might wake up and say to ourselves, “I can’t believe Jesus expects me to be part of his mission.” Maybe a few of those first disciples thought the very same thing. Yet they went forth nonetheless, and things turned out alright — not perfect, but not half bad, either. Maybe we can give it a go, too.

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July 22 – Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: July 22 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Jeremiah 23:1-6

Evil shepherds, scattered sheep

The shepherds represent the kings of Israel who failed to rule as God intended. Jeremiah prophesies that great distress (woe) will come upon them. Under their poor leadership, God’s people were invaded first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians. The sheep are God’s people who were driven away by these attacks. 

Good shepherd, gathered sheep

God promises to gather all the people who survive the Babylonian invasion (the remnant of the flock) and to give them a king who will rule as God wishes. This king will be a shoot, or new growth, on the family tree of King David. God allows the other Davidic kings to be cut down.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: July 22 – Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for July 8

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Jesus’ family members and fellow villagers denied that Jesus had any special relationship with God. They so utterly rejected their native son that Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.” Today the risen Jesus is confronted with the opposite problem: Christians so completely believe that he is God’s Son that they are no longer able to relate to his humanness. The risen Jesus might even be “amazed at [our] lack of faith” in his human nature.

By unwittingly rejecting Jesus’ human nature, we are, in a way, rejecting our own. We’re rejecting the good with which God created us. We’re rejecting God’s love for his finite, mortal creatures. We’re rejecting the struggles and challenges we face as we strive to discern God’s will. We’re rejecting our capacity to cooperate with God’s Spirit, to invite that Spirit to animate and transform us.

There were a few people in Nazareth who accepted that the human Jesus they had always known was also, somehow, from God. These were the people Jesus could heal. These people had faith not only in Jesus, but also in themselves. They believed that they could bear the healing presence of Jesus within their own human natures. They believed that just as God was at work within Jesus, God would work within them. 

It is not always a lack of faith in God that keeps us from moving forward in life-saving and life-changing ways. Sometimes we simply lack faith in ourselves, in our own capacity to accept the life-giving touch of God.

July 15 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: July 15 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Mark 6:7-13

Packing

The Greek word for journey can also be translated way, a word that refers to discipleship itself. This passage is a description of what the Twelve and all Christian missionaries must do, including us.

  1. Pack light. Don’t let stuff you think you need distract you or slow you down. 
  2. If you’re going on a long journey, minimize injuries. Take a staff to ward off wild animals, and wear sandals to protect your feet.
  3. Don’t take a bag for begging for food or alms. Trust God to provide for you.
  4. You can only wear one tunic (shirt) at a time, so don’t take a second one.
  5. Don’t go from one home to another like you’re searching for the finest accommodations or making people compete over you.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: July 15 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for July 1

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The woman we hear about in today’s Gospel reading is remarkable. She has been sick with some sort of vaginal bleeding for over a decade. The loss of blood probably made her physically weak; it definitely made her ritually impure. Given her impurity and inability to bear children, she was most likely unmarried or divorced. We hear no reference to family or even friends. And although she clearly had once been a woman of wealth, her economic status has dramatically changed. Her life, like the life of Jairus’ daughter, seems to be ending.

The woman has experienced dreadful loss, yet when she hears about Jesus, she picks herself up, pushes through the crowd, and reaches out to touch him. She refuses to believe that God wants her to suffer, that her fading life is the one God wants her to have. The woman reaches for a different reality. She reaches for the healing and wholeness incarnated in Jesus.

There are moments in our lives in which we feel like this woman. We feel pain, disappointment, failure, futility. We feel alone. We feel that all is lost, and that there is no one who can help us. There are days we simply want to give up. But God does not want pain or loss or sorrow or despair to be our reality. God wants to change that reality, but we must reach for it. We may need to take a moment to gather our strength, but we must then pick ourselves up, push through whatever hinders us, and reach for a different reality.

July 8 – Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: July 8 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Mark 6:1-6

Rejection

Early in his Gospel Mark shows us ways in which people are reacting against Jesus. For example –

  • Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus because of his controversial teaching (3:6)
  • Jesus’ family thinks he’s crazy (3:20-21)
  • Scribes (literate men) from Jerusalem think Jesus is possessed (3:22)

In this passage Jesus’ extended family as well as others who’ve known him for years deny that he’s anything other than a normal Galilean villager. They see him as a laborer, a worker, with parents and siblings like everyone else.

Jesus compares himself to prophets who weren’t warmly received by their fellow Jews. When Jesus was crucified, one of the ways his followers explained the terrible circumstances of his death was by pointing back at how these prophets were also rejected by the very people to whom God had sent them.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: July 8 – Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for June 24 (the Nativity of St. John the Baptist)

Although this solemnity is formally called “the Nativity of St. John the Baptist,” it would be more accurate to call it “the Naming of St. John the Baptist.” Luke uses a single phrase to tell us that Elizabeth gives birth; the rest of the passage revolves around what to call her new child. Elizabeth and Zechariah want to call the child John, the name the angel Gabriel told them to use. The relatives are confused because it was customary to name a child after a father or grandfather or some other relative. No one in Zechariah’s family had ever been called John. The name is thus a break with tradition, a break with long-established patterns. The name signals a change, though what sort of change is something the people can as yet only be “amazed” at.

None of us has been given a name by an angel (so far as I know). We bear family names, names our parents liked, or familiar names spelled in unusual ways. The Naming of John the Baptist is a story very different from ours. Our names don’t foretell a change in long-established patterns. Our names don’t foretell the coming of salvation.

But there is more to the story than prophesy. John must earn the meaning of his name. He must choose whether or not to fulfill his part in God’s plan of salvation. Normally we would say that he must “make a name for himself.” In this case, John must claim his name for himself. This part of the story is exactly like ours. Regardless of the name we have and how it was given, it’s up to us to inhabit it, to make it mean something. It’s up to us to accept changes to long-established patterns and to do amazing things.

July 1 – Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: July 1 (usccb.org)

Sample Questions on Mark 5:21-43

Read vv. 21-24 and 35-43.

  1. Why do you think Jesus stayed by the sea?
  2. What kind of person do you think Jairus was?
  3. How does Jairus approach Jesus?
  4. Why do you think Jairus asked Jesus for help?
  5. How do you think Jairus reacted when he learned his daughter had died?
  6. Why do the mourners ridicule Jesus?
  7. How does Jesus take charge of the situation?
  8. What all could asleep mean? What all could arise mean?
  9. How do you think Jairus and his wife reacted?
  10. How do you think Peter, James, and John reacted?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel passage, click here: July 1 – Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection for June 17

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When I read the first parable of today’s Gospel passage, I initially thought it didn’t hold up well. Jesus said, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land… and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” But we do know how the seed grows. Not only that, we’ve designed varieties of wheat and corn and soy beans to resist drought and pests and diseases. Some farmers have tractors with a built-in GPS that enables them to inject fertilizer or spray insecticide in precise amounts onto specific sections of their land.

Yet for all our genetic splicing and satellite-guided sowing, we are not in control of the land. We aren’t in control of the water, either, or the climate, or other species. There are some things about our planet that we can control, like global climate change and the pollution of our air, sea, and waterways, but there remain many things that we don’t even understand.

God does. In his parable Jesus speaks about God’s hidden, mysterious movement in the world. This world is God’s, and God continues to work within it, renewing and recreating it. We are the only species on earth capable of participating, of joining God in the work of taking care of the world. And given how much we’ve advanced in the realm of farming alone, there is a great deal we can do.

There are many practical reasons for taking good care of our home, reasons like not making ourselves sick on our own pollutants, protecting other forms of life that could provide cures to human diseases, ensuring the health of our oceans so people have fish to eat, and so on. But for Christians there is also a theological reason. God is trying to work within our world, not to take us out of it. What we do to our planet, to our home, reveals whether we truly want to be part of the kingdom God is remaking all around us.

June 24 – Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: June 24 (usccb.org)

Discussion Questions on Luke 1:57-66, 80

  1. What all might Elizabeth have felt?
  2. What do you imagine happening in her home?
  3. How do you think Elizabeth knew to call her son John?
  4. How do you imagine the relatives arguing about the child’s name?
  5. Why do you think Zechariah agrees to call the child John?
  6. What all might people have said about the  decision to name the child John?
  7. What all might people have said in response to what happened to Zechariah?
  8. What expectations about John might people have had?
  9. How do you imagine John as a child?
  10. Why do you think John went into the desert?
  11. Are there any interesting stories surrounding your birth?
  12. Why do you think we celebrate John’s birth?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: June 24 – Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist