Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Second Sunday of Advent 2018

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are serious in our desire to grow in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. We share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 2 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Francis Chapel, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Background

The first two verses of the gospel text ground the gospel in the civil and religious history of the day. Luke states that the events he records in his gospel took place at a particular time in the events of the world. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias and even Annas and Caiaphas were all leaders who were associated with dark periods in their history rather than any sense of deliverance. Luke has deliberately placed John’s ministry (and Jesus’) within the context of these world events.

Luke also includes details that place these events in the context of the community’s understanding of their relationship as the chosen people of God. Naming the Jordan River as the place where John was baptizing (verse 3) would link John’s baptism with their ancestors’ wandering in the desert. The Jordan River was crossed as they entered the Promised Land, and it became a symbol of their entrance to a new life. Luke also reminds his community that John is the son of Zechariah and therefore a member of the priestly family, which is typically associated with the temple in Jerusalem. To find John in the desert baptizing would be an oddity and would arouse curiosity.

While the ritual of baptizing that John used is not described, it is understood as an expression of repentance or conversion. In this context, the Jordan River carries the symbol of preparing for a new way of living. This new way of living is given an eschatological character, which is reinforced by reference to the prophet Isaiah. The prophet describes the glorious coming of the Lord when he will be revealed to all. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” (Isaiah 40:1-4)

Although these events took place in a remote and unimportant part of the world, Luke suggests that these events have a significance beyond what is apparent. They will impact all people and all of creation.

Reflection Questions

1. What do you know about the circumstances of your family, the world, and the church at the time when you were born?
2. When you think of the significant people and events of your life…
3. Why might people of the day travel out into the desert and be baptized as an expression of their willingness to repent and change their lives?
4. When you think of repentance in your life…
5. Have there been times in your life when repentance and forgiveness were more important or less important to you?
6. When you consider John’s role in his place and time…
7. Can you speak with God now about how this text asks you to look at your life, or the world around you, or about how waiting can be an instrument of God’s desire?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: First Sunday of Advent 2018

On this First Sunday of Advent we begin the first day of a new Church year. As we all pray for a deeper encounter with Jesus, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 2 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Motherhouse Bulletin Board, St. Bernadette Parish, Appleton, Wisconsin

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Background

The gospels of Matthew (24:3-44), Mark (13:3-37) and Luke (21:7-36) each contain a place where the disciples marvel at the beauty of the Temple of Jerusalem and Jesus predicts its destruction. The disciples inquire when this event will happen. Jesus responds by telling them that before this takes place, they will experience catastrophic events within creation, and human disasters, and they will suffer persecution and death. This description of future events in each of the synoptic gospels is known as a “little apocalypse.” Two weeks ago, on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the gospel was a portion of Mark’s “little apocalypse.” Today’s text comes from Luke’s gospel.

Scripture scholars generally agree that Luke drew upon Mark’s gospel. However, while Mark wrote before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, Luke wrote approximately 15 years after the Romans razed it. Luke tries to separate what has already happened from what is yet to come. The fall of the temple was emotionally disheartening for the Jews. Luke thus points to a much more vital event yet to come, which will be signaled by cosmic disturbances. These signs will signal the coming of Christ as Judge of the World.

The modern reader might hear the warning against giving in to carousing and the anxieties of daily life, and presume that Luke is addressing a social situation not very different from our own. However, Luke’s Christian community was a small splinter group of the larger Jewish community. In addition, most of the people of the day lived in dire poverty, wondering if they would have enough to make it through to the next day. They did not have the wealth to be concerned about getting drunk or be preoccupied with worldly possessions. When Luke addresses those who might be tempted to give in to drunkenness and the anxiety of the day, he is speaking to a very select group of people who are not only wealthy but also greedy. They are those who refuse to share the resources with those in need. In Luke’s day these people lived without honor. Luke is reminding his community that when Jesus returns, the whole of creation will be changed, and each person will stand before the Son of Man as an equal. There will be no privileged!

Reflection Questions

1. Recalling times of personal waiting, I…
2. When I was young, these days between Thanksgiving and Christmas were…
3. At this point in my life, change brings with it a sense of…
4. Luke tells the community of Christians that they should stand erect and raise their heads at the coming of Jesus. When have you prayed standing erect with your head raised?
5. When I consider people who live from day to day…
6. From the perspective of the Jews, God seemed to delay sending the messiah, and to the Christians, God seems to have delayed the return of Jesus. What do you think God wants to teach us by the experience of waiting?
7. How might you approach this season of Advent in a way that might open you to grace found in waiting?
8. Can you talk with God now about how you feel about waiting, or your attitude toward the changes taking place within your life, or changes in the world around you?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Solemnity of Christ the King 2018

The Solemnity of Christ the King is ours to contemplate this week. To help us pray, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection November 25 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Laurentius-Kirche Church, Gieboldehausen, Germany and statue of Christ the King, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Archives

John 18:33b-37

Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.

What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would) be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Background

This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Although this has been the year devoted to reading Mark’s gospel, the text for this Sunday is taken from John’s gospel.

This Feast of Christ the King may feel awkward to those of us who are born and raised in a culture whose roots go back to the rejection of the King of England. The rejection was in protest to his power to impose his will on others, and that sentiment is still part of our culture.

The title “king” also brings to mind a medieval system of royal entitlement at the expense of unfortunate serfs and servants. Even today in our world, royal families live a lifestyle that few of their fellow countrymen can afford. There are still too many places where those of royalty live a privileged lifestyle while the poor continue to struggle for basic survival. Our experience and attitudes toward royalty can affect not only how we hear the texts, but also our openness to the Holy Spirit working within us as we celebrate this Solemnity.

In all the gospels, Jesus has harsh criticism for religious leaders who assume positions and attitudes of superiority. Jesus also rebukes those who see him as the messiah, those who would want to reestablish the greatness of the Hebrew Nation as it was in the days of their great King David. The religious authorities see Jesus as presenting himself as “anointed of God.” Therefore, they see him as blaspheming. They also know that his claim would be a threat to Roman authority, and the threat could disturb the uneasy peace that allows them to function as religious authority while being subjects of Roman rule.

In this gospel, Pilate acts as one who must determine if Jesus is an authentic threat to the Roman authority that he represents. In his questioning, Pilate asks Jesus directly if he is a king. He is asking Jesus if he believes he is the Messiah. One of the ways people expressed their hope and belief in God was through the image of a future kingdom that would restore God’s order and peace to all of creation. Linked to this image of God’s reign is a ruler, one who would govern with the mind and heart of God. That person was understood as the true and only king.

On one level, the gospel text is a dialogue between two people who are attempting to speak to one another, but who have totally different ideas of kingship. Pilate, the governor, is trying to determine if Jesus considers himself to be the King of the Jews. If so, is he a member of the religious fringe, or does he have true political aspirations? Should Jesus and his disciples be taken as a threat to the Roman rule? For his part, Jesus never claims that he is a king, but he does represent a kingdom, the reign of God. God’s realm turns the order upside down. It is built on a ruler who is a servant, one who does not order, but invites; who does not demand to be served, but washes the feet of others; who does not demand that others give their life in service, but instead gives his life for others. In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, they are trying to speak to each other, but each is speaking from their unique perspective.

Even though Jesus dies disgraced and suffering, the inscription that hangs over his head on the cross indicates that Jesus was the “King of the Jews.” In John’s gospel, it is often Jesus’ enemies who, although they have no idea of the truth of their words, state the profound truth that John wants his community to understand. In the central section of John’s passion account, Jesus is presented as the king. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!” (John 19:1)

At the end of each liturgical year the Church closes the year with this Solemn Feast of Christ the King. Throughout the year we have been reflecting on Gospels where Jesus has been revealing to us who God is in word and deed. He has also been instructing us in what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, the one who came to serve the will of God, His Father. Pilate is trying to sort out who this “King of the Jews” is that stands before him. Jesus, even before Pilate, when his life is in jeopardy, is true to his role of being servant of the Father.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of royalty the images that come to mind are…
2. When you think of royalty, what moments in history or items of contemporary news come to mind?
3. What do you recall of the royal line of David in salvation’s history? What meaning or significance does this have for you?
4. What is your response to people who appear to feel entitled to a lifestyle that is beyond those who make that lifestyle possible?
5. Imagine you are an advisor to Pilate, listening to their conversation. Given the opportunity to approach Pilate and whisper in his ear, you would say…
6. At the beginning of the text, Pilate seems to have the freedom to ask Jesus about his relationship with God and his followers. Realizing that you too have that same freedom, you can now ask…
7. Can you take some time now to talk with God or Jesus about what kind of King Jesus is for you, about the kind of follower you would like to be, or about what this feast means for you in your relationship to God?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time is near. To help you pray, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection November 18 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos:  Founders’ Cemetery at Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, WI, St. Peter the Fisherman, Two Rivers, WI

Mark 13: 24-32

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather (his) elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Background

The text for last Sunday was from the end of the twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel. In that text Jesus warned the crowd regarding false leaders who seek respect and honor. He then called attention to one of the lowliest in their society, a widow, who gave two coins, and he told them that she was worthy of the honor that others were striving after.

The Sunday lectionary skips over the first 23 verses of the thirteenth chapter in providing this Sunday’s text. However, it is helpful to at least be aware of how Mark is unfolding his narrative before reflecting on the text for this week. The thirteenth chapter begins with Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple. (Mark 13:1-2) In private, he then instructs a few of his disciples that there will be a time when some will see war and destruction and conclude that the final time is at hand. (Mark 13:3-8) Jesus forewarns them that they will be persecuted, and he speaks of “… times of tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of creation until now…” (Mark 13:19) This leads into the part of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples that is the gospel text for this Sunday.

Jesus’ admonition here is within an apocalyptical tradition of the Jews. This type of literature developed during periods of persecution and crisis. Symbols and timetables are used to describe the ultimate victory of those being persecuted. This type of literature was meant to offer hope to those who understand the symbolism. Those who do not understand the symbols perceive the text to be strange and meaningless. In verses 24 and 25, Jesus tells his disciples that the events that will precede the final days will be marked by cosmic events that will be on the scale of creation itself – they will be unmistakable. In verse 26 he draws on the image of the Son of Man that goes back to the book of Daniel:
“As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

In this text from Daniel, the image of the son of man is a celebrated sign of the new age of glory. It is not seen as an image of destruction and woe. Jesus then turns from cosmic images to the ordinary fig tree. Fig trees are abundant and figs are a staple fruit of the region. Everyone was familiar with the cycle of the fig tree, from blossoms to ripening of the fruit. Jesus is saying that the signs of the age to come will be just as obvious as the cycles of the fig tree. Mark describes Jesus making use of familiar images of God, who has power over cosmic forces, and the totally familiar fig, to reassure the disciples and give them hope as he moves toward his passion in the gospel. For us, we are being prepared to celebrate next Sunday, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the last Sunday of the Church year.

Reflection Questions

1. How does the approaching of winter affect your lifestyle, your demeanor, and your prayer?
2. When you think of times of anxious waiting in your life you…
3. When you think of times of hope and expectation in your life you…
4. What feeds your sense of hope and trust? What feeds your fear and doubt? Which source do you turn to more frequently?
5. Why do you think Jesus took up this subject with his followers?
6. Why does the Church have us read these verses of Mark’s gospel at a Sunday Liturgy?
7. As I read this gospel text, I think God is inviting me to…
8. Can you take some time to talk with God about your relationship with God, and about your hopes and fears of what awaits you, or those you love, or all of creation?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

On this Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection November 11 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Peter Cathedral, Marquette, MI and San Xavier Mission Cemetery, Tucson, AZ

Mark 12:38-44

In the course of his [Jesus’] teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Background

It will be helpful to remember the gospel text from three weeks back, when James and John came to Jesus and asked that they be granted the seats on Jesus’ right and left when he comes into glory. (Mark 10:35-45) Jesus’ instruction to his disciples was “… whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first will be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43) Mark’s description of the scribes here is the total opposite of Jesus’ instruction and his own way of living among them. The scribes do not identify with the poor servant class or even the common people of the day. They seek positions among the elite. Jesus makes no attempt to hide his criticism, and it is likely that the scribes themselves would have overheard his remarks.

Widows were among the lowest members of society. The word itself in Hebrew carries a meaning of one who is silent, unable to speak. That is because all women were expected to remain within the interior of the house while men of the day occupied the public arena. The concerns of a woman were expressed by her father or husband. If a woman became a widow and had no married son who could take her into his home, she would return to the house of her father or brother. If none of those were possible, she was forced to beg. Widows had no status of their own. Due to these circumstances, the care of widows became one of the basic values of Hebrew society.

The second part of the gospel text for today is linked to the first by the word widow. By putting the two texts next to each other, Mark emphasized the self-indulgent behavior of the scribes. To support the temple treasury, thirteen trumpet-shaped chests were placed in the courtyard. When coins were placed into these, the sounds of the coins could be heard by others. Donations of large coins made significant noise as they fell to the bottom. The coin that the widow used was the smallest in use at the time, its value was about 1/64 of the daily wage of a laborer. By including the detail that she placed two coins into the treasury, Mark makes sure his audience is aware that her intention was to hold nothing back, not even one of her small coins.

Jesus’ comments about her gift are not words of praise, but rather they carry a tone of lament. The widow, like the other people of the day, has been taught by the scribes the value of sacrificial giving. The temple offerings are designated to be used for the care of the needy. But there is a hidden presumption that these scribes have been using some of the funds to enhance their own appearance.

Truly the widow has given all that she had to live on, demonstrating her total trust in God to take care of her. Her gift will not enhance her status or reputation, like the large gifts of the others will do for them. The widow’s gift is a gift of herself, her very life in service to God. In reality it will not affect anyone else but her. While the widow may have great trust in God, the larger situation of the religious leadership of the day is troubling Jesus.

Reflection Questions

1. What are some of the reasons people choose to give to charities, churches, and individuals? What are some of the reasons you choose to make donations?
2. Who are the people without a voice in your community?
3. When you consider the daily life of the poor in your community, you think of…
4. Who are the faces of compassion in your community?
5. Mark’s description of the scribes as men who wear long robes, accept greetings, and seek out places of honor brings to mind…
6. Place yourself with Jesus and his disciples at the temple in Jerusalem as people are gathering. There are trumpet shaped treasuries into which people are placing their offerings as they pass. As you imagine yourself there, what do imagine the scene to be like? What do you notice in your mind?
7. Can you take some time to talk with God about your awareness of yourself as you reflected on this gospel text? What would you like to say to God? How does God want to respond to you?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we walk with the Lord on the Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection October 21 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, St. Francis, Wisconsin

Mark 10:35-45

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Background

Last week’s gospel ends with Jesus reassuring Peter and the disciples that “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mark 10:30) Mark then describes Jesus addressing the disciples for a third time about the events that await him as he makes his way to Jerusalem. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34) This is Jesus’ clearest statement yet of his impending passion, death and resurrection. The contrast between what Jesus foresees as his immediate future and what James and John seem to anticipate draws more attention to Jesus’ prediction.

One of the things Mark is doing, by placing the request of James and John immediately after Jesus’ most explicit prediction of his rejection, cross, and resurrection, is to demonstrate to Mark’s community the true nature of discipleship. Mark often portrays the disciples as facing the same issues that his early community is dealing with.

In the text, James and John ask Jesus for positions that would signify authority within the realm of power and glory. The other disciples seem to be upset with what James and John have done. But this is not because they have totally misunderstood what Jesus has been trying to teach them, or because they are embarrassed for them. James and John have requested what the others, themselves included, were hoping Jesus might bestow on them. Jesus’ question to them, about whether or not they were ready to accept both the baptism and the cup that he will drink, freely makes use of a familiar custom in their culture. It was the patriarch of each family who poured the cups at each family meal. Those attending the meal were expected to accept without question whatever was given to them. Here Mark is reminding his community that they, too, have been baptized into the life of Christ, and they are receiving from the cup at their weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. They, like the disciples, have chosen to be Jesus’ disciples, and as Jesus accepts the cup that has been poured out for him by his Father, they too must accept in faith what God prepared for each of them. In the Gospel, Mark records how Jesus gathers all of the disciples and reminds them that greatness, in his realm, comes not from positions of authority but from taking on positions of service.

Reflection Questions

1. What are some ways that you hope that you stand out from others?
2. At this point in your life what are some ways you hope for success?
3. When you hear James and John ask Jesus, when you come into your glory can we sit at your right and left…
4. Jesus asks James and John if they can drink the cup that he will drink or be baptized in the baptism that he will be baptized. They respond that they can. If Jesus asked that same question of you, what would you like to respond?
5. Do you ever become indignant at the claims and/or actions of others?
6. Can you talk to God about your own hopes for that time when you come into the presence of God’s glory, or about your own hope to be a faithful disciple, or about your feelings toward those who seem to make their greatness felt?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Anticipating the Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection for October 14 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Charles Borromeo Church, Burlington, Wisconsin

Mark 10:17-30

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.'” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.

Background

The gospel text from last Sunday ended with Jesus telling the disciples that only those who accept the Kingdom of God like a little child will enter it. After that, Jesus embraced the children about him. (Mark 10:15-16) The gospel text for this week follows directly after that one.

The man who approaches Jesus with his questions is described as having many possessions, and he would have been considered wealthy by people of the day. The people held two contradictory assumptions about those who were wealthy. The first is that those with wealth had gotten it by taking advantage of others. The attitude found in the scriptures that people had toward tax collectors would be an example. In contrast to this outlook is the sense that wealth could also be understood as a sign of being favored by God. Job’s status in the beginning of the book of Job would represent that basis. But we also might think of the scribes, who notice the contributions of the wealthy but are blind to the poor widows’ contributions as they enter the temple.

Mark recounts the young man running up to Jesus with his question about eternal life. Normally, public compliments, i.e. “good teacher,” are given as a setup to challenge one’s character or reputation. But this young man does not seem to be setting Jesus up for an embarrassing question with his compliment. He comes instead with a question that is important to him, and he seeks out Jesus for his wisdom. He may be wealthy, but he is also a person who is sincere in his effort to be counted among God’s faithful. His sincerity is also manifested in the fact that he takes Jesus’ response to his question seriously, and goes away sad because he has discovered that he is not as willing to do what is required as he had anticipated.

Jesus’ dialogue with the disciples indicates his awareness that his teaching is difficult for even his most faithful disciples to hear. His teaching goes against the presumption of the day that wealth is a sign of blessing. And it goes against the presumption that one earns eternal life by what one does, whether that is keeping the law and traditions, or leaving the security of home and family to become a disciple of a holy one like Jesus. The problem with wealth is that it can hinder one from living in a way that develops a real sense of trusting the goodness of God. Wealth is not the issue. The young man was seeking to take possession of eternal life in the same manner that he had inherited his wealth.

Peter’s response to Jesus’ teaching could be expected from those who had chosen to become his disciples. This kind of radical dependency is not natural, especially for men of the day. Jesus seeks to reassure them that their efforts are recognized and blessed. But he also seems to indicate that eternal life, sharing in the very life of God, is not something anyone earns or is entitled to receive. It is always God’s gift, and it must always be received as a gift.

Reflection Questions

1. What is your attitude toward wealth?
2. When I consider my experience of my interaction with people of wealth I…
3. When I think of my own possessions…
4. When I hear this man asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I want to respond…
5. When you think of Jesus looking at the man with love…
6. How do you think God is looking upon you?
7. When the text stated that the man’s face fell and he went away sad, I felt…
8. Can you talk to God now about your own concerns, hopes, or fears regarding eternal life, or about anything else that arose while praying with this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Following our celebration of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here:Franciscan Gospel Reflection October 7 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St Joseph the Worker Cathedral, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Mark 10:2-16

The Pharisees approached [Jesus] and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Background

Last Sunday the gospel text ended with Jesus’ exhortation to get rid of those areas that lead one to sin. The gospel for this week almost directly follows last Sunday’s text. In between are the following three verses: “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another. He set out from there and went into the district of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom, he again taught them.” (Mark 9:49-10:1)

Mark’s community would have recognized that Jesus is in the location that was governed by Herod, the one who had John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded for speaking out against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. They would also recognize that the Pharisees’ question regarding divorce is not a simple request to hear Jesus’ teaching on the matter, but an attempt to diminish Jesus’ status and increase their own.

The question and Jesus’ response focus on the disparity between what is permitted and the ideal that God intends. Jesus states that God’s intent from the beginning of creation is that husband and wife should be one. What God brings together as one is incapable of being divided. What Moses permitted was quite different. People of the day would have understood that it was God who was acting in nature and in their cultural practices too. Just as children did not choose their parents, they of marrying age did not choose their spouse. They understood that through parents God was responsible for bringing children into the world, and again through parents God was acting to bring two people together in marriage.

In verses 10-12 Jesus continues his reflection with his disciples, away from the crowd and the Pharisees. Here he raises the possibility for a woman to divorce her husband, at least in theory. This would have been quite shocking for his disciples, because the Jewish culture would not have considered this a possibility. Women were more like property, and had value because of their reproductive potential. If a husband divorced his wife, shame was cast on the men of her family. The male relatives were expected to make the situation right even if that meant bloodshed. If a couple was found to be in an adulterous relationship, the husband of the woman was shamed. A woman did not have enough status in this culture to be shamed. This male-dominated way of thinking could not conceive of adultery by a husband as a sin against his wife. Jesus’ teaching in verse 11 would be a totally new perspective for the Jewish community.

However, Roman law at the time did allow for a woman to divorce her husband. With this Roman perspective incorporated into Jesus’ teaching on divorce, it leaves scholars uncertain whether this adaptation originated with Jesus or was an adaptation by Mark who reflected on Jesus’ teaching. This teaching would have been difficult to accept for those who struggled to maintain the purity of their traditions. They would see any Roman influence as representative of their oppressors standing between them and their rightful position as God’s chosen people.

The text offers no insight as to why the disciples prevented the children from coming to Jesus. Instead the text says only that Jesus was upset with the disciples’ behavior. Nor does Mark tell us how it is that one should be like a child. It would be helpful to remember that in that time, children, like women, had no rights or esteem in themselves. Without an explanation or the context for Jesus’ behavior, the apparent intent is to show who Jesus saw value in. Jesus is treating those who had no status, in society or in the religious tradition of the day, as having value and importance in the eyes of God.

Reflection Questions

1. Among the couples you know, what are some of the reasons people decide to marry?
2. When I think of the people in my community who do not seem to have full status…
3. How do you see God working in the bringing together of you and your spouse? (Or, if you are not married, in the bringing together of a couple that you know well?)
4. Jesus seems to have deliberately traveled into the area where his cousin John was killed by Herod, and he is confronted by the same issue. Are there areas, either geographical or emotional, that you avoid because of past experiences? Does Jesus’ action in the gospel text speak to you?
5. When you hear Jesus distinguishing between what Moses permitted and what God intended…
6. When Jesus tells the disciples to “let the children come to me,” I feel…
7. In today’s gospel, Jesus seems to be deliberately challenging what people of the day had become accustomed to—making distinctions between men and women and adults and children. Can you take some time to talk with God about a place where God may be challenging you, where you are feeling called to challenge another, or some other thought that arose within you as you reflected on this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Relying on the power and strength of Jesus’ teaching, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Refection September 30 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Immaculate Conception Convent, Yuma, AZ

Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48

John said to him [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ ”

Background

This gospel text follows the Gospel from last Sunday, where Jesus confronted the disciples who had been arguing about who was the most important among them. In response, Jesus told them that those who desire to be first must be servants of all.

The apostle John again raises questions about discipleship. In their culture, it was important for the disciples to have a sense of belonging and a strong connection with their leader, Jesus. For someone not of their group to be able to use the name of Jesus to expel evil spirits threatened the disciples’ sense of belonging. Adding to their uncertainty around their relationship with Jesus was the fact that earlier in this chapter they tried to expel a demon from a boy but were unable. (Mark 9:14-19) Jesus’ response to John is counter to the values of their culture. He simply lets the disciples know that their need to have an insider or exclusive relationship with him is not a value he shares. It is more important that the work of God be done, rather than who is doing it. Jesus stresses the point in verse 41 by saying God will recognize anyone who so much as gives another a cup of water. However, giving another a cup of water in Jesus’ time was more difficult than in our own time, and could have meant the difference between life and death.

The second part of this gospel also addresses the sense that the disciples have exclusive access to Jesus or God. Jesus instructs them that God cares for even the little ones–not just children, but all those who seem unimportant. While these little ones, like children of the day, may appear to be insignificant and even expendable to most people, in the eyes of God they are of great importance. They are so important that if anyone would be a source of scandal to any of them, it would be better that a millstone be placed about their neck and they be thrown into the sea to drown. This was a humiliating form of execution because it typically was used by the Romans.

In the remaining verses of this text Jesus describes other forms of restraint for those who find themselves being led into sin. Most who hear this gospel find the idea of cutting off one’s hand or plucking out an eye as extreme. But those who Jesus is addressing would not be shocked. Such punishments were not uncommon, and they carried severe consequences. People without limbs or sight did not have access to modern forms of assistance as some do today. Without fully functioning bodies, people became isolated and lived desperate lives. Jesus was trying to make a point about the seriousness of being the cause for another to sin.

Reflection Questions

1. Do you belong to clubs or organizations that charge members for their services? How would you feel if you found out that other people were receiving the same services for free?
2. Do you ever get jealous of the apparent blessings of others?
3. Do you feel like you are part of God’s inner circle? Would you like to be?
4. When you hear of John telling Jesus that they had tried to prevent an outsider from driving out demons…
5. When you hear Jesus tell his disciples that it would be better for one to have a millstone put around their neck and thrown into sea rather than cause a “little one” to sin…
6. When you reflect on the effects of your own sin on yourself and others…
7. Are you ever concerned about family members who are no longer practicing members of the church? Does this gospel text give you any new understanding about how God might look upon them?
8. Can you take some time to talk with God about your relationship to God and how that influences your relationship to “little ones,” or about some other consideration that arose as you reflected on this gospel text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Looking to God’s Word for discernment help in our lives, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection September 23 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photo: St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Mark 9:30-37

They [Jesus and his disciples] left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.”

Background

The text for last Sunday’s gospel ended with Jesus telling the crowd “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” (Mark 8:34-35) While the text for this Sunday flows nicely from last week’s gospel, a whole chapter separates this Sunday’s text from last week’s. Within that chapter, two significant events are recorded by Mark; the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8), and Jesus curing a boy possessed by a demon. (Mark 9:14-27) After each of these events, the disciples question Jesus and he instructs them privately.

In verse 31 of the gospel text for this week, Mark uses the phrase “handed over,” which was a familiar expression for the people of the day. The prophets were “handed over;” John the Baptist was “handed over;” the early Christian martyrs were also “handed over.” Here Mark uses that same common expression as Jesus speaks of his approaching death. The text also states that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ teaching, but they were afraid to inquire about its meaning. Two verses later, Mark reveals how much the disciples did not understand about Jesus being handed over, when he tells us that on the journey they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.

Jesus’ question to the disciples about what they were arguing about would be understood by Mark’s community as rhetorical. Nothing is private in this culture. Also, the disciples’ arguing as they walked the hillsides would have been a conversation that everyone presumes Jesus overheard. In response, Jesus instructs them that if they wish to be great, they must become like the least, and servant to all. He places a small child before them, and while embracing the child, tells them that they should offer hospitality and welcome to such little ones who have no ability to repay the gesture of hospitality. But in doing so they would be offering hospitality to him.

To realize how shocking this instruction would have been for the disciples, one needs to suspend the western attitudes toward children, where they are given preferential treatment and their needs are taken care of first. Parents make sacrifices so that children can have opportunities that they would have not thought possible growing up. In a crisis the children are tended to first. But in the culture of Jesus’ day, children were not valued until they reached maturity. The life of a child was very fragile. As many as 30 percent of infants died before they were born, and 60 percent died before they were sixteen years of age. In a world where people lived from day to day, resources like food were not wasted on those who might not survive, even in the best of conditions. This does not mean that children were not loved or appreciated. However, it does mean that they were treated very differently from what many westerners might presume.

What Jesus did with the child for the disciples would have been insulting to them, as men of his day, and as disciples. For any of them to treat a child as Jesus was suggesting would have made them the joke of the day among their neighbors. They had left their way of life to become his disciples. They already were being ridiculed by religious authorities, and probably by their families as well. To be told that they should become like a child who is not dependable, or that they should waste their resources to offer hospitality to a child, would have bordered on absurd.

Reflection Questions

1. How are children treated in your family?
2. How would you feel if someone you respected told you that you were childlike or even childish?
3. Imagine you are one of the disciples walking between villages, and Jesus for the second time says that he will be rejected and killed, but rise on the third day. The thoughts running through you…
4. After some silence during which no one asks Jesus about what he meant by his last teaching, you overhear a couple of the disciples arguing about who of you is the most important of the disciples. Then a couple more join in the conversation. Jesus himself says nothing. You begin to wonder…
5. Finally, when you all arrive in Capernaum, Jesus asks what you all were arguing about on the road and you…
6. As you experience Jesus holding the child and teaching that the greatest must be servant of all, and to welcome everyone as the child he is holding, you…
7. Can you take some time to talk to God about what you experienced as you reflected on this gospel text, or about the plight of children in our world today, or about some other thoughts that arise within you from this text?