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?

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?