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Lectionary 344: Sin

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Lectionary 344: Scripture:  Feb.23: Sirach 5:1-8. Psalm 1:1-2,3.4.5. Mark 9:41-50:

Mark never lets us lose sight of the fact that his Gospel is a Gospel of the Cross and of radical discipleship.  In today’s Gospel, we see the Semitic flavor of radically plucking out an eye, cutting off a foot, or arm.  This is a way of showing how deeply important it is to pay attention to the seriousness of sin. Today it would include the abuse of children, the damaging of the faith of those who are weak in their faith, and all serious crimes against our neighbors or even members of our family.  Jesus wants to impress on us the seriousness of such sins. He speaks in this horrendous way in order to make us come to our senses in the resistance of such sins and always to help others to prevent these sins from happening.  No easy task as we have seen and been shocked by what has happened in the abuse of children by members of the clergy.

You will notice as I did that many different themes are given today in Mark andre and they seem to be jammed together. Mark probably did not want to lose anything that he received about the words and deeds of Jesus.  The paragraph is not logically developed, lacks clarity, and offers some ambiguity.  We need to take one theme at a time and look at it carefully before we get impatient.  Take the example of salt at the end of the passage where it applies more to the peace and harmony in the Christian community.  Salt in the Bible is a symbol for several purposes: for preserving, sacrificing, purifying, and flavoring, but her for community harmony and peace.

Thus we have a collection of sayings of Jesus in this pericope (passage) from Mark. We do not have a unified theme in what is proclaimed today from Mark on our pulpits.

Sirach however is quite clear in using some examples for what wisdom seekers should not do.    Presumption is to be avoided in our relationship with God and our neighbors.  We are also told by Sirach not to delay our conversation with the Lord—a point well made as we approach Lent.  Remember Ash Wednesday begins next week.

Psalm 1 fits in perfectly with what praying is all about.  We are to meditate and ruminate on the words of God and make them the point of departure for our prayer.  This masterpiece of wisdom introduces the other 149 psalms and gives us the framework of what is righteous and good in God’s sight and what is not. Good is always to be done and evil avoided.  The Psalm thus acts as a prologue for our prayer life especially when we pray the psalms with all their imagery and praise of God.  I like to come back to this beautiful psalm which I think has been written or inspired by Jeremiah the prophet who is most intimate with the Lord.  Amen.

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Lectionary 343: Carpe Diem : “Seize the Moment”

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Lectionary 343: Scripture:  Feb. 22.  Sirach 4:11-19.  Psalm 119: 165,168, 171,172,174, 175.  Mark 9:38-40:

Jesus is a creative and wonderful teacher and all of us who believe in him are his disciples. Today, in Mark’s short excerpt, we have an example of Jesus’ sensible, practical wisdom as he instructs his disciples to be open to others who may be doing the same things they are doing and even performing miracles.  They seem concerned about this and maybe even jealous.  The teachable moment is now for them and Jesus tells them, “Anyone who is not against us, is for us.”

The disciples are not only the ones favored by God nor are we.  Sometimes we hold on too tightly with some of our friends and demonstrate our possessiveness.  This is a sure way of losing some of them.  Jealousy is also another trait that we have to remove  in our relationships.  As we learned yesterday, serving others and being humble like a child in what we do for others is how we know we are disciples of Jesus.  Lording it over others, controlling them, and thinking we are better is not the way Jesus points out to us.

Our call is to extend ourselves to others as Jesus did.   Beyond our friends we are called to be open to others coming into are calendars and appointments.  Sinners, good people, marginal people, the poor are to be listened to and served whenever they come for help. They are more important than our personal calendar time. Our time as disciples is to be shared.  Where am I in this more wholesome way of journeying with Jesus?  Do I play and court favorites instead of receiving with joy those who come into my life at unexpected moments?

Sirach, the grandfather in wisdom, teaches us how to relate to others with his development of wisdom in its practical down-to-earth messages.  Jesus shows us how to put such wisdom into action.  Sirach does the same as a teacher and author of wisdom culled from other nations as well as from his own.  Wholesomeness consists in how we handle the ordinary tasks of each day and how we reverence our relationships that are tried and true and those that are new.  Sirach tells us in clear terms, “He or she who loves wisdom loves life; those who seek her out win her favor.”  Sirach adds, “with her precepts wisdom puts us to the proof, until our hearts are one with her.” (paraphrase).

The Levite who wrote Psalm 119 is a marvelous poet of wisdom. Who praises God for the gift of the Torah which is filled with wisdom-instruction from God.  He composes an acrostic of 22 verses using the Hebrew alphabet to describe his relationship to the precepts, laws, words, statutes, commandments, promises, and principles of God’s rules.  This is the longest psalm in the Psalter and consists of 176 verses taking us from A to Z in its acrostic journey of love for God’s revelatory instruction.   I consider this to be a wisdom psalm and a priceless treasure.  For me this psalm is like a “home coming” found in the living presence of the God of Israel and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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.