Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Trusting God’s word for wisdom in our daily 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 Reflections September 15 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: Holy Family, Marinette, Wisconsin and St. Francis of Assisi Convent, Greenwood, Mississippi

Mark 8:27-35

Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”

And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “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, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Background

This is a turning point in Mark’s gospel. Previous to this, Jesus has traveled from town to town preaching about the Kingdom of God and healing. After this, he will continue to preach and heal, but his journey will be toward Jerusalem. As Jesus moves toward Jerusalem he will speak three times to his disciples of his impending rejection, suffering, and death. Each time he speaks to them of what awaits him in Jerusalem, he will also instruct them on what it means to be his follower.

In Jesus’ day there was no consistent understanding of what the Messiah would be like. Some expected a political leader, others a respected teacher, yet others a great prophet. Likewise, even the crowds to whom Jesus preached did not seem to have a clear understanding of who he was. However, all three responses to his question–John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets–would indicate that many believed he was a significant religious person who had come back from the dead. One might also wonder if the responses of the disciples reflected their own understanding of who they believed Jesus was as well as the view of the crowds. It is fair to say that even the disciples of Jesus had not come to a consistent understanding of who he was, even if Peter, who spoke for all of them, could say that he Jesus was “the Messiah.” The kind of suffering servant that Jesus indicates in verse 30 is far from even Peter’s understanding.

The culture of Jesus’ day is very unfamiliar to most of us. In our culture one is expected to strive to be independent and self-sufficient. When someone is perceived as conforming to the desires or values of others, their behavior is often seen as giving in to peer pressure or family pressure. Other cultures hold the opinions of family and community in greater esteem than one’s own. Jesus lived in a culture where one’s relationship to family was the center of life and identity. In the gospels, Jesus is spoken of as the son of Mary, or even the carpenter’s son. Peter is the son of Jonah, and James and John are the sons of Zebedee. While Jesus had rejected the trade of his father, he was still a person of his culture. It was important to him to find his own meaning and purpose in and among his disciples. This may explain in some part the harsh response Peter received when he tried to privately express his belief and hope about Jesus, and then objected to Jesus’ talking about soon being rejected and put to death. It may also explain why Jesus tried, on three different occasions, to instruct the disciples about his approaching death. Jesus was still a person of his day. Understanding his role as part of a familial social group could help him to understand himself.

Reflection Questions

1. Have you had experiences where it became apparent to you that a friend or family member did not really know you? Do you recall how that affected your relationship with that person?
2. Has there ever been a time in your life when you knew that you needed to make some hard and difficult choices? Were there people who walked with you through those difficult times, and were there also people who abandoned you in those difficult times?
3. Imagine that you are one of the disciples and you and Jesus have been walking along the road talking, and Jesus turns to you and asks “Who do you say that I am …
4. Imagine you are with the disciples and you hear the conversation between Jesus and Peter. What are some of your thoughts as this short conversation unfolds?
5. What thoughts arise within you as you hear Jesus say, “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, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
6. Can you take some time to talk with Jesus about his role as messiah, or about your desire to take up your cross, or perhaps about your own experience of your cross at this point in your life?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hoping to provide St. Francis’ wisdom in daily living, 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 9 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: Discalced Carmelite Nuns, Monastery of the Holy Cross, Iron Mountain, Michigan, Window donated by our Sister Estelle Vanden Heuvel’s parents

Mark 7:31-37

Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And (immediately) the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and (the) mute speak.”

Background

Last week the gospel text began with the Pharisees from Jerusalem questioning Jesus about why his disciples disregarded the ritual washing of hands before eating. At the end of that text, Jesus tells his disciples that impurity comes from within a person, not from the outside. Mark’s gospel then continues by describing Jesus’ interaction with a Greek woman who begged him to free her daughter from an unclean spirit. Jesus resists the woman’s request because of her ancestry, but her faith and persistence persuade Jesus to respond, and ultimately he heals her daughter. (Mark 8: 24-30) Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenican woman and the cure of her daughter precede Jesus’ interaction with the deaf man in the gospel text for this week.

In the first verse of this week’s text, Mark describes Jesus’ travel route from Tyre to the Decapolis. The route is unusual. It indicates that Jesus traveled out of his way north to Sidon, then turned back south and ended up even further south than when he had begun. This route places Jesus clearly in the midst of Gentile communities. By taking the time to describe Jesus’ travel route, Mark wants his readers to be aware that Jesus went out of his way to take this route. Jesus is not letting the ritual impurity associated with contact with Gentiles deter him from traveling where he feels he needs to go.

Mark’s description of the healing is distinct in that it is a typical story of healers of the day. The other gospel writers prefer to portray Jesus as healing by word alone, representing a more direct connection to the power of God. The miracle workers of the day would touch the sick person, sometimes using a potion or saliva in the healing, and they would use some sort of sounds or incantations in foreign tongues. The use of saliva was understood in Jesus’ culture to contain some of the personal power of the healer. Spitting was associated with confronting evil. His “looking up to heaven and groaning” could easily be understood as a prayer. Here Mark is portraying Jesus in a way that the Gentile community would be familiar with.

This account is also unique in that Jesus is healing someone who is deaf. Hearing, in a primarily oral culture, is extremely important. Those who cannot hear are at great disadvantage and are often ostracized. Being open to God was expressed as “listening to God.” Jesus’ own ministry was largely one of teaching about the Reign of God. When Jesus encounters this man, he takes him away from the crowd so they are by themselves. He does not lay his hands on him but rather puts his fingers into his ears and, with his own saliva, touches his tongue. He commands the ears to “be open” and immediately they are. Mark’s description includes more intimate details that are missing in other descriptions.

It is also worth noting that next week the gospel text will be Mark 8:27-35. In this familiar text Jesus will ask the disciples who the people are saying he is. Then he asks them who they say he is. Peter will declare “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29) In some way, what Jesus is doing for the deaf man, opening his ears so that he can speak, he is also doing for his disciples, opening their minds. In next week’s gospel, Peter will speak for the first time the truth that Jesus is the Messiah.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of taking the “scenic route” in order to encounter unfamiliar people…
2. Consider how different your life would be without ever being able to hear…
3. Have you ever been deaf to the voice of God?
4. When you think of Jesus going out of his way to be among the gentiles and to encounter this deaf man…
5. What part of this story holds the most fascination for you? What is that suggesting to you?
6. Can you take some time now to talk to God about your desire to hear the voice of God in your own life, your desire to have God speak to someone who seems to be deaf to God’s presence, or your desire to be a sign of God presence to others?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

As we continue to share Eucharistic Scripture texts on this Twentieth 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 August 19 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. John the Baptist, Waunakee, Wisconsin

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds.)

So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Background

For several weeks the gospel texts have been taken from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. With the 22nd week in ordinary time, the lectionary begins to draw again on the Gospel of Mark for its gospel texts. The last time Mark’s gospel was used, the disciples had just returned from their missionary journeys; Jesus had taken them by boat away from the crowds; the people had discovered the place where the disciples were coming ashore; and the crowds were already waiting for Jesus and the disciples. (Mark 5:30-34 – 16th Week in Ordinary Time) Mark then records the feeding of the five thousand; Jesus (but not Peter) walking on water; and Jesus’ arrival at Gennesaret where the people immediately recognized him and “scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick… and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” (Mark 6:56)

The first part of this week’s text focuses on a conflict between the religious authorities of the day and Jesus. The Pharisees and the scribes are said to be “from Jerusalem.” This would carry the same kind of symbolic weight as if today one might say they were “from the Vatican” or “from Washington.” They represent an official level of authority, not that of an itinerant preacher like Jesus or a local rabbi. The issue is the disciples have not observed a ritual of hand washing that the Pharisees promoted as part the 613 unwritten precepts that they believed all faithful Jews should observe. But even at the time of Jesus there was an awareness that adherence to all 613 precepts was possible for only a very elite group. In response to this reality, a more practical tradition was more in keeping with the daily life of those who lived in more remote areas, people whose lives brought them into regular contact with things like blood or dead flesh, and who were thus rendered ritually unclean.

The Pharisees and scribes in this gospel are holding Jesus responsible for the behavior of his followers. They are indirectly questioning his reputation because he did not insist on the ritual purity that they believed every devout Jew should observe. This attempt to publicly shame or embarrass him was meant to weaken Jesus’ status in the community and reestablish their own authority. Mark recounts in the verses prior to this text that, given Jesus’ popularity with the people, the Pharisees have reason to be concerned about him.

In response to their objections Jesus insults them, quotes from scripture, and then changes the topic. Jesus calls them hypocrites, which literally means “those whose faces are hidden behind masks.” He accuses them of quoting from the scriptures but not adhering to its teachings. Rather they hide behind the purity laws to insult those who threaten their authority. They are like so many previous leaders who are more concerned with external public purity than hearts that are pure in their devotion to God. He quotes the ancient and respected prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 29:31) to support his position. Jesus then summons the crowd and teaches them as he draws on the image of being “unclean.” In doing so he has changed the topic from “the way” to maintain ritual purity to “what” leads to impurity. These are much different questions. He states that what makes a person unclean comes from within a person. Listing a series of recognized vices, Jesus says defilement begins from within the person and manifests itself in behavior. These are the things that make one unclean, not what one eats or whether or not they have washed their hands.

Reflection Questions

1. When I encounter people who like to debate or point out flaws…
2. The last time I became aware of my own inconsistency…
3. When Jesus begins responding to the Pharisees by calling them hypocrites, I…
4. Do you know people for whom keeping all the “traditions of the church” are difficult at times, but they still strive anyway to be faithful to those traditions?
5. When people criticize traditions that I find meaningful…
6. When Jesus lists off the things that defile a person, I…
7. Can you take some time now to talk with God about your desire to be a faithful disciple, about a place where your religious practice might need to change, or about some other concern that rose within you as you reflected on this gospel text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

As we continue reading the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel on this Twenty-first 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 August 26 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: Blessed Sacrament, Madison, Wisconsin

John 6:60-69

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Background

This is the fifth and last week that the gospel text is taken from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. The chapter began with the crowd seeking Jesus out after he had crossed the Sea of Galilee. Jesus responded to the crowd in two ways: by feeding them with the barley loaves and fish, and with his teaching. Within Jesus’ teaching they heard him claim that he was the bread of life come down from heaven, and all that that implied. But his teaching proved to be too much for them. This chapter ends in the opposite way that it began, with the crowds departing Jesus’ company. The last verses of the chapter then focus not on the crowd but on the twelve disciples and their response to Jesus’ teaching.

The text for this Sunday begins where the gospel text from last Sunday ended. Only one line is omitted, which states that Jesus was teaching these things in the synagogue in Capernaum. (John 6:59) Jesus has reinterpreted the “manna tradition” of their ancestors and identified his flesh as the bread from heaven that gives life. The last section of the chapter focuses on the disciples, Jesus’ own followers, and their response to his teaching. They find it hard to accept Jesus’ claim that he is the Son of Man who has come down from heaven. Jesus’ response to their difficulty is not to soften his claim or to try to make his teaching more acceptable. Rather, he confronts them with another question. If they have trouble believing that he has come down from heaven, what would they think if they saw him ascend up into heaven? It is a hypothetical question. Jesus is also suggesting that “seeing is not the same as believing.” The disciples have seen Jesus do some extraordinary things, yet they are having real difficulty in believing what he is teaching them. Faith is not natural, nor does it come easily. Some of the disciples decide to leave.

Jesus is not indifferent to their departure. He turns to the twelve and asks them what they are going to do. He asks them about their intentions. He leaves them free, not asking them to stay nor saying that they have permission to leave. Instead, he asks them what they want to do. Peter, the spokesperson, makes three statements that seem to move toward a deeper faith and a deeper commitment to following Jesus.
• “…To whom else shall we go?”
• “You have the words of eternal life.”
• “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Even though these three statements follow one after the other, it took the early Christians more than a generation to come to this understanding of Jesus that John recorded in his sixth chapter.

Reflection Questions

1. When I think of times in my life when I have had misgivings or doubts…
2. Have you ever felt stuck, like it was too late to start over or to try an alternative approach? What have been the blessings and the burdens of being aware that you had run out of options?
3. Jesus’ response to the murmuring of the people in today’s gospel…
4. If Jesus would turn to you and ask, “do you too want to leave,” you would respond …
5. How do you feel when people leave the church?
6. Can you talk to God now about your own struggle to remain faithful, or about those who have chosen to live without faith in God, or about some other issue that arose within you from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

As we continue to share Eucharistic Scripture texts on this Twentieth 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 August 19 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. Edward Church, Mackville, Wisconsin

John 6:51-58

[Jesus said to the crowds:] I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Background

Four weeks ago the Gospel text told of the feeding of 5,000 (John 6:1-13). That event led directly to the start of Jesus’ instruction centering on the bread of life theme. Last week’s text ended with Jesus telling them that he himself is the living bread that comes down from heaven. This is also the first line in today’s gospel. Next week the gospel text will be the last verses of this 6th Chapter of John’s gospel. In that reading, some of the disciples tell Jesus to his face that this teaching is just too hard to accept, and they will no longer count themselves among his disciples. The attention John has taken to unfold Jesus’ bread of life teaching, and the fact that John tells us that some of the disciples departed because they could not accept this teaching, should indicate how important and difficult this teaching was for the early disciples of Jesus to understand and accept.

In the opening verse here, Jesus identifies himself as the bread from heaven. In the next verse he states that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has life eternal. The fact that the Jews quarreled among themselves at this statement should not be a surprise. The word that Jesus used (translated here as “eats”) would carry a sense of gnawing, as a dog with a bone. Drinking blood was prohibited within the Jewish community and perhaps among the early Christians as well. It should not be surprising that some of the Jews who heard this questioned his teaching. In John’s gospel, a question or misunderstanding usually presents the opportunity for Jesus to further explain his teaching.

Jesus explains, “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:51) In case they missed the point, Jesus restates this point three more times (verses 53, 54, and 55). The expression “flesh and blood” would be a way to describe a human person. For those in the crowd that Jesus is addressing, the term “flesh and blood” would also call to mind the animals that were ritually slaughtered as offerings to God. Such offerings were made throughout the year, but especially as part of the Passover observance. Jesus is describing himself as the lamb that was killed and had its blood drained so that it could be used as the sacrificial offering. This same connection will be made later in John’s gospel when John places the hour of Jesus’ death at about the same time that lambs were being killed to be used as part of the Passover. (John 19:17-37)

For John’s community, Jesus is their food and drink. Because John’s gospel is the last of the four gospels to be written, the community has had the opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Jewish traditions in Jesus’ life and teaching for many decades. The experience of God feeding the Jews in the desert was a springboard to help the early Christians understand God’s new revelation in Jesus. It was not enough to believe in Jesus, or even to engage in ritual participation in the new customs of the Christian community. They were seeking to understand how God was continuing to nourish with God’s real presence on this new journey.

Reflection Questions

1. What images would you use to describe the human person?
2. How would the experience of making bread be different in the days when Jesus lived than it would be for you?
3. When they heard Jesus tell them that he was the bread of life, what layers of meaning would those people have had that would missing from most today as we hear these same words?
4. What comes to mind when you think of true food?
5. What comes to mind when you think of true drink?
6. When you hear in today’s gospel that the Jews quarreled among themselves…
7. Do you experience yourself as “being what you eat?” How would that be different for the people of Jesus’ day?
8. Can you take some time now to talk with God about whatever came to mind as you heard Jesus teaching that he is the bread of life, or that whoever eats his flesh will have eternal life?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

For your prayer and contemplation, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. 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 August 12 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:  beginning of Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, St. Mary Church Clarks Mills, Wisconsin

Franciscan Sisters were founded in Clarks Mills in 1869

 

John 6:41-51

The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Background

The gospel text from last Sunday concluded with Jesus making the assertion that “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35) In the verses between last week’s text and the gospel for this week, Jesus also makes a number of other bold statements, the last of which is “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.” (John 6:40)

The text for this week opens with the Jews murmuring against Jesus because he has made the claim that “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They seem to have taken issue with the part of Jesus’ statement that he has “come from heaven.” Some of them knew his father and mother. To them, Jesus is claiming that he is more important than they know him to be. In the United States, to come from humble beginnings and to rise to greatness is consistent with the United States being a place of opportunity for everyone. Anyone can rise from a humble beginning to be a great success in government, business, entertainment, sports, etc. The very opposite is true for the culture in which Jesus lived, where one’s family determined one’s personal worth and honor. To strive to rise above one’s birth status was looked down upon. It threatened the social fabric on which a fragile system of survival was based. The Jews’ response to Jesus’ claim was a familiar form of public debate in their time.

In the gospel text for today John connects the incident with the Exodus experience of the Jewish people by using the word “murmur.” It is the same word used in Exodus to describe the Jews complaining to God. That led to their being fed with manna. Jesus’ response to their complaint meets their challenge in a way that will either enhance his honor or that of his challengers. He too uses the word “murmur,” he reinforces the connection to Exodus, and he will draw on that Exodus experience in verse 49 to further unfold his teaching to them.

Jesus’ claims in verses 44-45 draw on the prophets who stated that it is God who must initiate the people coming to him. Therefore, if they have difficulties with Jesus, then it must be that they have a difficulty with God. They are not accepting “the one whom God has sent.” Only those whom God draws will be drawn to Jesus. Jesus has come down from heaven, and he will draw those whom God has sent to him back to God on the last day. As the text continues, Jesus makes the further claims, in verse 46, that he is the only one who has seen the Father, and finally, in verses 48-51, that he is the bread of life. Unlike the Jews in the Exodus who ate the bread that came from the sky and merely avoided starvation, anyone who eats this bread will live forever.

Those who hear this text today might assume that Jesus’ statements about being the “bread of life” are references to Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Those that would have heard this interchange between the Jews and Jesus would not have heard these statements in that light. They would have been familiar with other places in their tradition where the Wisdom of God is presented as food or bread. (Proverbs 9:5, Sirach15: 3) Those present could have understood Jesus’ statement, in verse 51, that the living bread God gives is “my flesh for the life of the world” would mean the human body of the person of Jesus.

Reflection Questions

1. When I hear the argument between Jesus and the crowd in today’s gospel I…
2. When I think of bread, some of the things that come to mind are…
3. Do you recall people making claims of success or experiences that you found just too much to believe? How did you respond to their claims?
4. What do you hear Jesus telling you when he says “I am the living bread come down from heaven?” How do you respond?
5. What is it that you hunger for?
6. How is God nourishing to you?
7. Can you take some time to talk with God about his desire to be the bread of life for your hungers, or for the hungers of the world?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and the first Sunday in August is here. 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 August 5 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: Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, North Carolina

John 6:24-35

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

Background

Last Sunday’s Gospel text was the first in a series of six gospel texts taken from John’s Gospel. Last week’s text recalled Jesus feeding the multitude with the bread and fish provided by a young boy in the crowd. (John 6:1-15) At the end of that text, John states that because Jesus knew that the crowd wanted to carry him off and make him their king, he withdrew to the mountain to be alone.

In the verses between last week’s Gospel and the text for this week, John describes the disciples’ encounter with Jesus walking on water. Jesus leaves them to go to the mountain alone, and the disciples decide to go to Capernaum in their boats. They encounter rough seas. After rowing for several miles they see Jesus walking on the water and they become afraid. Jesus reassures them that it is not a ghost but he himself. They then invite him to come into their boat. Instead of getting into the boat, Jesus goes to the shore, and they arrive there as well. (John 6:16-21) The following day the crowd returns and discovers that the disciples have left and there is only one boat missing. The question is raised about how Jesus has made the crossing. The crowd decides to travel to Capernaum in boats that have arrived from Tiberias. (John 6:22-23) This is where the gospel text for this Sunday begins.

When the crowds find Jesus, they call him Rabbi. Jesus teaches them as a Rabbi, quoting from the scriptures, “He gave them bread from heaven.” (Verse 31) Then he explains each word of the text. The three themes of this text are bread, sign, and work. Jesus is aware that they have come seeking more free bread. The typical person of the day had to labor a great deal for their daily nourishment. The day before, Jesus had supplied free bread to the vast crowd, so much free bread that the crowd could not eat it all, and perhaps they even carry away all that was left – twelve baskets full.

When they encounter Jesus again, they seem to be looking for more free bread. Jesus exhorts them not to work for bread that perishes, but for bread that the Son of Man will give them, bread that will last for a lifetime. This shifts the conversation from bread to work. “What kind of work is it that is required for this kind of bread?” the crowd asks. The response from Jesus is: “believe in the One that God has sent.”

This is not the belief that is a faculty of the intellect, like the belief in one God who is three persons. Rather, it is a kind of fidelity to another as an essential part of how one lives their life. This compares to believing in your spouse or a trusted friend.

The crowd asks for a sign to know that what Jesus is saying is indeed accurate. Jesus uses their request to teach them that it was not Moses but God who gave their ancestors the bread in the desert. It is also God who gives bread that gives life to the world. They ask for this bread. Then Jesus reveals that it is he who is the bread of life. In the typical style of Jesus’ teaching in John’s gospel, Jesus has used misunderstanding to draw the crowd further into what it is Jesus is trying to teach them. There is no sense that Jesus is trying to teach them about the nature of his presence in the Eucharist here.

 

Reflection Questions

1. If you were asked to list the things that you have worked the hardest for, your list would include…
2. When Jesus exhorts in the gospel not to work for the things that perish, you would like to respond…
3. Where in the last week would you see yourself as striving to accomplish the work of God?
4. Would you lean more toward believing that the Kingdom of God is God’s gift or that God has given us the tools to create the Kingdom by living the gospel values?
5. When you reflect on how Jesus used the people’s desire for bread to a deeper understanding of their relationship to God…
6. Can you talk with God about your desire for the Bread of Life, or what that phrase means for you, or how you see God proving life for you?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is on the horizon.  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 July 29 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. Mary Alexandria, Kentucky (photographer Sister Myra Jean Sweigart, Jim Sweigart)

John 6:1-15

After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near.

When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little (bit).” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

Background

The Lectionary focuses on the Gospel of Mark during this lectionary cycle. The gospel texts for the past six Sundays have walked through the 4th, 5th, and 6th chapters of Mark, highlighting Jesus’ ministry and teaching in Galilee. Last Sunday’s gospel recorded the return of the twelve from their efforts to preach repentance and drive out evil. The crowd that is attracted by their return is so great that Jesus invites the twelve to come away to a deserted place. But the crowd pursues them and arrives even before they disembark from their boats. In Mark’s gospel, this leads to his narrative of the feeding of the crowd. (Mark 6:34-44)

The Lectionary, instead of using Mark’s description of the feeding of the multitude, turns to John’s gospel, starting with the feeding of the crowd story from John’s 6th chapter this week. It continues with gospels from John for the next five Sundays, with John’s version of Jesus’ teaching as it gradually unfolds the mystery of Jesus as the Bread of Life.

In the opening verse of this week’s gospel text, John states that the signs that Jesus has performed have had a huge impact on the people. Crowds are now seeking after him. There is no indication that they have come to believe in Jesus, so the impression is that they are coming in hopes that they might witness some sign, or perhaps be the beneficiary of one. There is also no mention that the people are hungry, or that Jesus has been teaching them at some length. Therefore, the desire to feed the people is rooted in something other than the crowd’s request or desire to be fed. The focus is on the incident as a sign of God’s power in the person of Jesus.

The feast of Passover also coincides with the feast of Unleavened Bread. These feasts celebrate the people’s release from the slavery of the Egyptians and the first harvest in the new Promised Land. Their celebration recalls the saving events of the past and looks forward in hope to the final age of complete fulfillment, the reign of God. It is also the season of the barley harvest. After wheat, barley was the most plentiful grain. It was more tolerant to variations in weather and it grew to maturity quicker than wheat. Barley loaves were considered the bread of the poor. The fish mentioned in the text would have been small fish, no larger than sardines, and were probably dried.

In Mark’s account, the disciples play a much more active role. The disciples approach Jesus about the people’s need for food, Jesus tells them that they should provide for the need, and they help distribute the food. But in John’s account here, Jesus initiates the incident by asking Philip where they could buy food. Jesus knows what he is going to do, and there is no mention that the disciples help distribute the food. In both texts, there is a similarity to the Eucharist in that Jesus takes the food, gives thanks, and distributes the food. In John’s gospel, the connection is made stronger by focusing primarily on the bread. In both texts, the miraculous nature of what has taken place is highlighted by the fact that twelve baskets of leftovers are collected. John also makes it clear that the people understand the nature of what has taken place. They see this miracle as a signal that the time of completion is near. The fulfillment of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread has finally arrived, and the people move to make Jesus their king.

Reflection Questions

1. If I had heard the reports of what Jesus was doing and teaching, and if I had the opportunity to see him in person…
2. If Jesus would have turned to me that day and asked, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” I would have…
3. Do you ever feel like Jesus is asking you questions but already knows what He intends to do?
4. Imagine that you are that child with the barley loaves and two small fish, and you hear Andrew tell Jesus about your loaves and fish. What thoughts would be going through you?
5. Can you also imagine that you are one of the disciples who has just been instructed to give the people as much as they wanted? What would you be thinking as you turned to begin to distribute the food to the crowd?
6. Imagine you are helping to gather up the leftovers. What would be some of the things going through you as pick up all the bits and pieces of food left behind?
7. Which part of this text seems to touch you? Can you take some time to talk to God about whatever it is that has touched you in this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As you begin preparation for the Sixteenth Sunday in 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 July 22 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: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD (Sister Kathleen Murphy, photographer)

 

Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Background

The gospel text from last week described Jesus sending the Twelve out, entrusting them with his authority over unclean spirits, and exhorting them to preach repentance. The text concluded with a statement that they had been very successful. “The Twelve drove out many demons and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:13)

In the verses between last Sunday’s gospel and this week’s text, Mark reports that Jesus’ reputation is spreading. Even King Herod has now learned of him. People are speculating whether Jesus might be Elijah raised from the dead. Herod himself believes that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life. Then in the next 12 verses Mark reports in some detail how Herod had John the Baptist arrested and beheaded. Having described King Herod at his worst, Mark then turns our attention back to Jesus. In the gospel text for this week, Jesus receives his apostles as they return from their mission, and then he receives the crowd who pursued them even into deserted places. This sets the scene for next week’s gospel in which Mark reports the feeding of the crowd.

This is the only place in Mark’s gospel where the disciples are called apostles. The Greek word that is used here emphasizes the relationship between the one sending and the one being sent. The one being sent is sent as a representative of the one doing the sending. The only authority that the sent person has is that of the sender. Given this type of relationship, it would be expected that when those who have been sent return, they would give a report to the sender. In the opening verse of our gospel, Mark states simply that the apostles reported back to Jesus all that they had taught and done in his name.

Jesus invited the disciples to escape with him to a deserted place. At the time of Jesus, 90 percent of the people lived in small hamlets of 50 to 150 persons. The people who formed these small communities were often relatives through numerous lines of relationships. In the economic structures of the day, these same few people were the source for everything that was needed for survival. Privacy between people in these communities was nonexistent. The going and coming of people from other areas was noticed by everyone. The travelers might bring something special, or they might bring some threat to the community, and they might also bring news from the world beyond the small community.

The return of the Twelve from distant places would be an occasion for suspicion, curiosity, and hope of news from distant lands. Mark states that so many people were coming and going that Jesus and the disciples did not even have an opportunity to eat. The reality may have been that they could not eat with so many guests. In this culture it would have been unthinkable to eat and not invite guests to join you. (Mark 6:31b) Those who were aware of the return of the Twelve were also aware of their needing rest. Travel was difficult. Yet the people followed Jesus and the disciples anyway.

If the return of the disciples was a cause for the local people to seek them out, their attempted escape to a deserted place would add another layer to the townspeople’s curiosity. The areas between villages and hamlets were dangerous, they were regions of chaos. It would have been extraordinary that Jesus and the disciples would desire to escape into this area of chaos. The fact that so many people who avoided these places their entire lives were willing to set out into the chaos to see what Jesus and the disciples were doing is a window into the depth of their desire to know.

The image of the people of Israel being like sheep without a shepherd appears several times in the Hebrew Scriptures. This image would have been familiar to Mark’s community. Moses prayed that Yahweh would send a new leader for the people so that they would not be like sheep without a shepherd (Nm 27:12). Ezekiel 34:1-31 uses the image to describe the people of Israel, when those who had been entrusted with the care of the people instead used the people and their possessions for their own benefit. The characterization of the people as being like sheep without a shepherd and Jesus beginning to teach them would have been seen as a criticism of the Jewish leadership who abandoned the common people and left them hungry for guidance.

Reflection Questions

1. What is your experience of spending significant time with extended family?
2. When you think of being able to visit with people who have traveled to places that you think of as dangerous, you find yourself …
3. If you were to imagine your house being so filled with extended family members going and coming that there was not time to eat, you would …
4. What comes to mind when you think of a deserted place?
5. Imagine you are among the disciples and Jesus suggests that you join him in escaping to a quieter place. What is going through your mind as you hear Jesus’ invitation?
6. When you consider Jesus like this with enough concern to make time and space for the people from the towns and for the disciples, what do you find arising within you?
7. The gospel describes people of the region who are willing to leave their homes and seek out Jesus. When I think of these people I find myself …
8. Can you talk with God about your desire to seek out Jesus, or about his desire to be present to both the people of the village and the disciples, or about some other awareness that arose within you as you prayed with this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

On this Fifteenth Sunday in 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 July 15 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: Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity during recent heritage walk (photographer Benjamin Wideman)

Franciscan Sisters Heritage walk in Manitowoc Wisconsin

Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals, but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Background 

In last Sunday’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6) Jesus had returned to his native place accompanied by his disciples. The people were astonished at Jesus’ synagogue teaching, but they found it difficult to accept him because they knew him and his family. That text concluded with Mark stating that it was difficult for Jesus to perform any mighty deeds there.

Today’s gospel follows almost immediately after that text. The last half of verse 6 has been omitted, which states that Jesus left his hometown and began to preach in neighboring villages. The omitted section gives the context for Jesus gathering together the disciples and sending them out with his authority and message.

As recorded by Mark, Jesus’ instruction to the disciples gives them permission to wear sandals and take a walking stick. In the other synoptic gospels, these items were forbidden along with the others that were listed. The disciples are also instructed not to take any money, not even the small amount that would have been carried in a belt. They must rely on one of the most honored virtues of people of the day—hospitality—and God.

Travel during Jesus’ time was considered unnecessary and therefore suspicious activity. Family and neighbors provided everything that a person needed. A person often died within the same household where they were born. In such a culture, strangers were naturally considered with suspicion. But they also brought news of the outside world, and the possibility of an allegiance that could be beneficial. Therefore, hospitality to strangers was highly valued. Guests were offered food, board, and safety from others who would at the same time be suspicious of their intentions.

Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two. Traveling in pairs would provide a degree of safety and companionship and a measure of credibility. Two is the number of witnesses necessary to establish the truth of one’s claim. Jesus sends them out also with authority over unclean spirits. The last verse of the text states that they preached, performed exorcisms, and healed through anointing. This is the same ministry that Jesus himself had taken on as described in the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, and it is what he tried to bring to his native place in the text that precedes this one. However, it is clear that the disciples do not do this on their own. Jesus has entrusted them with his power. They act as his ambassadors.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of traveling, some of the things that come to mind are …
2. What is your experience of being a stranger among people you do not know?
3. If someone in your family or community suggested that you might host an exchange student for a year, you would …
4. Why do you think Jesus sent his disciples out to preach on their own just after he had received such a poor reception in his own hometown?
5. When you hear the traveling instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, what goes through your mind is…
6. Imagine you see two of the disciples standing at the very edge of town shaking the dust from their feet. What goes through your mind at the sight?
7. Can you take some time to talk to God about how you feel about his instruction to the disciples, or about your sense of also being sent by God, or can you spend some time thanking God for the success of the disciples throughout history that brought you into your relationship with God?