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Lectionary 342: Anchor of Hope

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Lectionary:  342.  Scripture:  Feb. 21: Sirach 2:1-11. Psalm 37:3-4,18-19, 27-28, 39-40.  Mark 9:30-37:

At this stage of my life, I experience the virtue of hope as that which keeps me going on the journey (or is it a pilgrimage?) to our ultimate destination—union with God.  I have come to appreciate the virtue of hope more recently in dealing with news about people I know who are suffering from cancer, strokes, and the approach of death.  Hope is a helpful grace that God has given all of us in all the stages of our lives, but for me I sense it in the stage of advancing in age.  Jesus gave Mary this hope and the same words are used for John the Baptist in relation to his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. “They both advanced in wisdom, grace, age, and the Spirit before God and men and women” (Paraphrase of Luke 1:30 and 2:52).

Last week we saw the role of faith and hope in Hebrews; this week we see hope, the anchor of the Christian life, in Sirach’s praise of wisdom.  Sirach mentions hope three times in our passage for today and shows it has an association with wisdom.  I found it as the virtue that brings joy to the soul in some difficult trials on the road less traveled, that is, the one that Jesus leads us.

The Spirit joins faith and love in the virtue of hope.  We have a triad of virtues joined together that help us to be intimate with God, Jesus, and the Spirit.  This is very comforting for viatores (those traveling with Jesus toward the Kingdom).  Hope helps me to wait patiently, to trust in Jesus’ words, promises, and deeds.  It enables me to recall the ideals I had earlier for hope resides in our memory.

I resonated with what Sirach tells us today in the reading how hope prepares us how to live through our trials, temptations, and sufferings.  God really helps you and me when we trust in the one who has given us life and invites us to come back to where we had our origin in God’s creation and plans for our salvation through Jesus.  I appreciated the conclusion of our selection from Sirach: “Compassionate and merciful is the Lord; he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble.” (Sirach 2:11).

Hope is that virtue which links our faith and love and in this respect it is similar to the Holy Spirit who binds the Father and the Son in their bond of love. I end with that beautiful passage from Hebrews that mentions hope in connection with faith: “Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen, for by it the men of old had testimony borne to them.”  (Confraternity Version)  Hebrews 11: 1-2).  Amen.

Lectionary 341: Wisdom (Sophia)

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Lectionary 341. Scripture: Feb.20.  Sirach 1:1-10. Psalm 93:1.1-2, 5. Mark 9: 14-29:

The Wisdom literature of the Bible is helpful for daily living.  It is practical wisdom where God teaches us in order to educate us—a thought that is quite Marianist. Sirach belongs to what is called the deuterocanonical books of the Bible. There are seven such books in the Catholic Bible.  Orthodox Christians also have many of the seven and certainly have our Scripture from the Wisdom of ben Sirach. We will be hearing the book of Sirach during this seventh and eighth week of ordinary time during the Liturgy of the Word; it is always our first reading for the day.

We do have the name of the author (Jesus ben Eliezer ben Sirach and the fact that an unknown person wrote the Prologue and translated the Hebrew text into the Greek of Alexander the Great.  Alexander the Great had brought about the necessity of communicating in his language upon the nations he conquered and oppressed.  This work of Sirach was written around 180 B.C. This is confirmed by the information and names of certain priest and one of the leaders of Egypt.  The work emanates from Alexandria in Egypt.  Though it was written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek, it was not received into the Jewish canonical writings because it was too progressive and seemed to be a threat to Judaism.  Parts of it were found in Hebrew near the Dead Sea Scrolls in the year of 1963 and 1965.  A discovery in Cairo in the late middle ages had a large part of it in Hebrew in where the sacred readings were kept in a hidden wall of the synagogue.  The word geniza is used for such a safe keeping of books that are sacred.

I highly recommend that you read the introduction to this Wisdom book that is found in some of the NRSV editions of the Bible.  The background for the work is fascinating.  The Prologue mentions the trials of being a translator for sacred works by the grandson of Sirach. He does this in his Prologue.  We have recovered about 66% of the work in its original Hebrew.  Sirach wrote only in Hebrew.

This Wisdom offers us these facts:  Wisdom is depicted as a woman . The word in Greek is Sophia, a woman’s name and a beautiful name used even today by many women In the world.  Wisdom is concerned with God’s creation and its continuance in the world.  To know this type of Wisdom one must have reverence and even fear of God.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”  Like other books of wisdom, there are proverbs, hymns, poems, and an alphabetical hymn at the beginning then one at the end which we name as an inclusion. The hymns contain the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet beginning with Alef and continuing to Tau (A-Z, or in Greek Alpha and Omega).

Psalm 93 and its response are our prayer form for today in the Liturgy of the Word.  Its emphasis is on the rule of God over all the universe—a wisdom theme in a psalm of praise. The Psalm is used in the synagogue on Fridays.  It is a Temple Psalm similar to the Zion Psalms (46, 48, 76, 87, 122). With verses dealing with the waters it takes me back to the beginning of Genesis and its first lines.  This fits in with wisdom themes since it is the beginning of God’s creative acts as described in chapter one of Genesis.

The Gospel from Mark gives us a thorough description of Jesus exorcizing the son of an unnamed man.  He does have enough faith to attract the Lord who then heals his son.  The lesson calls for the disciples to have more faith and to pray when it comes to exorcising this kind of a demon.  Like the man, we need to at least say, “I do believe! Help my lack of trust.” This healing and exorcism is a story of the need for deep faith.  Jesus affirms that all things are possible if we have the type of faith needed for conquering evil.  Jesus takes the healed person by the hand and raises him.  It is a story and theme also of the resurrection which also is based on our trust that Jesus has truly risen.  “Lord, increase our faith.” And let us not forget to keep praying daily. Amen.

Lectionary 340: Step by Step

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Lectionary 340.  Scripture.  Feb.18: Hebrews 11:1-7. Psalm 145:2-3,4-5,10-11. Mark 9:2-13:

We return to the Epistle to the Hebrews for our lectionary readings after having read from Genesis for the past two weeks. The content is a type of summary giving us three good models from Genesis who have lived a life of faithfulness to the Lord. Featured are Abel, Enoch, and Noah.  Even though Enoch has but one verse in the Bible many legendary tales about him persist in the apocryphal Jewish writings before the time of Christ.  The Epistle of Jude will also mention him!

The most important message of this selection from Hebrews is the description and examples of faith he develops in the seven verses of our reading for the day. I like the following description similar to a definition of what faith consists of: “the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about the things we do not see…anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  What a succinct clear declaration about the nature of faith!

Psalm 145 begins the last series of hymns of great praise leading up to the grand closing of Psalm 150 with its Alleluias! We join in with our response: “I will praise your name forever Lord.  Every day I will bless you!”

Mark is the first Gospel that narrates the “Kairos” event of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Matthew and Luke will build upon it with their own theologies.  Peter, James, and John are with Jesus on the unnamed mount where this happens.  Jesus is surrounded by Moses and Elijah, the prophets of instruction and revelation as well as miracles.  I look upon this theophany as a way of helping these three apostles to get through the sufferings and death of Jesus on the Cross. It made me think of Jesus own words elsewhere he says, God is a God of the living!  The resurrection is testimony to the everlasting life of Jesus and our own hope to be a part of it.  Amen.

Lectionary 340: Faith

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Lectionary 340.  Scripture.  Feb.18: Hebrews 11:1-7. Psalm 145:2-3,4-5,10-11. Mark 9:2-13:

We return to the Epistle to the Hebrews for our lectionary readings after having read from Genesis for the past two weeks. The content is a type of summary giving us three good models from Genesis who have lived a life of faithfulness to the Lord. Featured are Abel, Enoch, and Noah.  Even though Enoch has but one verse in the Bible many legendary tales about him persist in the apocryphal Jewish writings before the time of Christ.  The Epistle of Jude will also mention him!

The most important message of this selection from Hebrews is the description and examples of faith he develops in the seven verses of our reading for the day. I like the following description similar to a definition of what faith consists of: “the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about the things we do not see…anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  What a succinct clear declaration about the nature of faith!

Psalm 145 begins the last series of hymns of great praise leading up to the grand closing of Psalm 150 with its Alleluias! We join in with our response: “I will praise your name forever Lord.  Every day I will bless you!”

Mark is the first Gospel that narrates the “Kairos” event of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Matthew and Luke will build upon it with their own theologies.  Peter, James, and John are with Jesus on the unnamed mount where this happens.  Jesus is surrounded by Moses and Elijah, the prophets of instruction and revelation as well as miracles.  I look upon this theophany as a way of helping these three apostles to get through the sufferings and death of Jesus on the Cross. It made me think of Jesus own words elsewhere he says, God is a God of the living!  The resurrection is testimony to the everlasting life of Jesus and our own hope to be a part of it.  Amen.

Lectionary 339: Tower of Babel

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Lectionary 339. Scripture for Feb.17.  Genesis 11:1-9. Psalm 33: 10-11, 12-13,14-15.  Mark 8:34-9:1:

Genesis gives us the Yahwist’s theology of how  diversity among peoples came about.  In the start of the human race there was only one language for communicating with each other.  However, with the building of a tower that was intended to reach high in the sky (possibly the ziggurat whose remains were found) became the symbol for the Babel (confusion) that occurs.  People were dispersed and spoke different languages; communication as one family was no more. There was diversity but no unity.

For an interesting insight into both Babel and the ziggurat I looked at J.L. Mckenzie’s article in his one volume dictionary.  It made the account of Genesis come alive for me.  Another important statement that I paraphrase comes from Peake’s Commentary on the Bible. S.H. Hooke is the commentator: The story of the Yahwist, the author of this legend, is a symbolic picture which represents the final disintegration of that order and unity that God had brought into existence in the primal act of creation. (Peake, p. 186).

This is a story (narrative) that speaks to us today about how separated we are from one another all over the globe when it comes to the ideal of unity amidst diversity.

Our Psalm 33 speaks of God’s plan for the nations to be blessed when they come together and live harmoniously.  The Psalm is the opposite of the curse of Babel.God’s attributes offset what we experience as terrorism, wars, enmities, jealousy, control, and power.  God attributes unite us; they are righteousness (integrity), loving-kindness, justice and peace. This is part of the ethical tradition and gift of the Jewish psalms for all of us. God’s act of creation in Genesis is chanted and the power of God’s word is praised. (Psalm 33:6-9).

Jesus demands of us that total gift of self if we truly want to be his disciples. This means carrying the cross with him in our sufferings, even to our moment of death. We are to focus on becoming more and more like Jesus in our actions, words, and thoughts.  These demands are addressed not only to his immediate disciples but to the crowds that were following him.  Here are his words to us: “If anyone would come after me, let him/her take up their cross and follow me. For who would save their life will lose it; and whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  ( see Mark 8:34-37). Amen.

Lectionary 338: A Lion’s Job

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Lectionary 338.  Scripture for Feb.16.  Genesis 9:1-13. Psalm 102: 16-18, 19-21, 22-23.  Mark 8:27-35:

We have a watershed event in the life of Jesus with his disciples, especially with St. Peter.  He asks them about who people think he is and they tell him the rumors from the crowd and their own thoughts. Some say he is Elijah, or one of the prophets, or even John the Baptist risen from the dead.  Peter, however, is divinely inspired and says, “ You are the Messiah (Anointed One).”  Jesus identifies himself simply as the son of man which means a human being or possibly a hint that he may be the son of man referred to in Daniel 7.  Peter has given the right answer but he does not understand the meaning of Messiah according to the mind of Jesus.

I see this scene the thrust of Mark’s Gospel or what is called the “point of view” of Mark’s writing.  Basically, it comes down to thinking the thoughts of God and not the thoughts of men and women or mere human thoughts.  Mark has helped us as informed readers to already know what Jesus means telling us constantly about Jesus through using two titles that will be found in the other Gospels and are based on St. Mark, that is, he is the source for the Son of God and Son of Man titles. The people of Israel and their leaders are expecting a Messiah but not in the way Jesus understands that title. They think their Messiah will be a powerful leader by getting rid of the oppression of the Romans and leading them to a peaceful occupation of their whole land without anyone else ruling over them.  Peter thinks along these lines when he takes Jesus aside and strongly resists the thought of Jesus being a servant who suffers, dies, and rises again. Jesus puts Peter in his place by calling him a “satan” which here means an adversary.

Mark’s Gospel is a demanding Gospel for it requires the disciples to be followers of the Lord through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Our scene is the first of three statements of Jesus that shows his understanding of messiahship. It is not that of Peter and the crowd or their religious leaders.  It is more in tune with what the prophet Isaiah says in the Suffering Servant passages (Isaiah in chapter 53). The Gospel of Mark is a demanding call for it is a Gospel of the Cross. St. Paul has this same understanding of the Cross as Mark.

Jesus upbraided Peter for he did not think the thoughts of the Son of God, Jesus. He tells Peter, “You are not judging by God’s standards but by man’s.”   This is the point of view of Mark and we, as informed readers, already know the full story of Jesus. Like Mark we must think, discern, act, and judge as Jesus would have us do not as we want to have Jesus do and be according to our own way of thinking and imaging him to be.

Jesus as Wisdom personified transcends our human way of looking at him.  We must learn to follow the way of the Cross with him if we are to know, believe, and experience him in our lives.

As Lent approaches in two weeks we may wish to slowly read Mark from the point of view in which he has written his Gospel thereby thinking with the inspired message given to an inspired writer of the first century.  He opens up the “messianic secret” for us and helps us in our liturgy to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Christ, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need to slowly ponder over this clear proclamation of who Jesus really is if we want to have an intimate and real relationship with him. Lent offers us many opportunities to change our normal way of thinking about Jesus and go beyond them.

The lion is the symbol used for St. Mark in the depiction of him as an evangelist. For us to become his disciples is a lion’s job.   Amen.

Lectionary 337: Blessings

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Lectionary: 337.  Scripture for Feb. 15th.  Genesis 8:6-13,20-22. Psalm 116: 12-13,14-15,18-19.  Mark 8:22-26:

Noah’s task with the ark is now completed and all life will start again in its fullness.  God promises not to destroy the earth with waters.  It seems it is up to us as to whether the world will be destroyed rather than God!

Blessings are bestowed on Noah; his family increases and everything else on earth is fruitful and abundant.  God’s love endures because of his fidelity and Noah is the first to know and experience that merciful tenderness of the Lord.  Noah pleased God by doing exactly what God had asked of him.  How about us?

Psalm 116 is one of my favorite thanksgiving psalms.  I used its verses on the ordination card I had made in the seminary in Switzerland for my ordination of March 14, 1964.  It fit the role of a Marianist priest:  “How can I repay unto the Lord all his bountiful dealings toward me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”  (verse 12, 13). It is a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving and offers much thought for those who have vows in religious life.

Jesus heals a blind man outside the village and away from the crowd.  It needs a second attempt to give the man full clarity in his vision for he says, “ I see people, but they look like walking trees.”  I experienced something like this at the removal of cataracts by my eye surgeon. In the first hour of the removal of the bandage things were quite out of focus, but soon the vision returned and I could see everything clearly with unusual brightness. My surgeon was even happier than I in performing this modern medical miracle.  Miracles do happen because of our advancement in medical treatment and surgeries.  I am thankful for the gift of doctors and those who assist them.  Amen.