Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

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

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

Mark 12:38-44

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection Questions

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

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Pondering this Thirty-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 November 4 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 Holy Family Convent

Mark 12:28b-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Background

The text for last week’s gospel was Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus. That text is at the end of the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. The eleventh chapter begins with a description of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. (Mark 11:1-11) The rest of the chapter follows with other events that are leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion: cursing a fruitless fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25); the chasing of the merchants from the temple (Mark 11:15-19); and the questioning of Jesus’ authority by the Jewish religious authorities (Mark 11:27-33). In chapter twelve Mark describes Jesus telling the parable of tenant farmers who refused to give the owner his share of the harvest (Mark 12:1-12); the Pharisees, joining with the supporters of Herod, try to trap Jesus with questions about paying taxes (Mark 12:13-17); and the Sadducees try to embarrass him with questions about life after death. (Mark 12:18-27) These encounters lead to Mark’s account of the scribe coming to Jesus with his question about the greatest commandment – the text for this Sunday.

Unlike most of the questions addressed to Jesus, this scribe approaches Jesus with respect, seeking his opinion. One of the things that stand out in this text is a lack of hostility between the scribe and Jesus, especially given where this text is located within the gospel. Prior to this in Mark, when the scribes and the Pharisees have a question for Jesus, it is with the intention of trapping and/or discrediting him before his followers and the crowds. Jesus responds to such situations with a question of his own that turns the tables on them, brings honor to him, and brings shame to his opponents. Here Jesus’ response is short, direct and to the point. But more important, the tenor of the dialogue is one of mutual respect. The scribe, in verse 32, compliments Jesus’ insights and rephrases Jesus’ teaching in his own words, a gesture of respect for Jesus and his teaching. Jesus, for his part, recognizes in verse 34 that the scribe is not just restating what he heard, but has made it his own belief, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus’ response to the scribe’s question is not new doctrine. He draws on two texts from the Hebrew Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. While Jesus’ answer draws on texts from the Hebrew tradition, the uniqueness of Jesus’ answer is that he combines two different texts, something that rabbis never did. Those who heard Jesus’ response would also hear it as a call to treat people with the same respect that they treated God. For them, love was not about how one felt, but honor one showed by one’s action. This point is made even more strongly by the way that Jesus and this scribe have been able to treat each other in this dialogue, given the growing tension that is characteristic of others who represent religious and Roman authority at this point in Mark’s gospel.

Reflection Questions 

1. When you recall situations of conflict in your own life…
2. Pretend for a moment that you were present when this scribe approached Jesus in Jerusalem, with all the events that Mark has described having taken place. What would be going on inside you as you hear the scribe ask his questions?
3. What would be going on inside you as you hear their conversation?
4. If you were asked what is the most important commandment…
5. When you hear Jesus say simply, the first commandment is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” you…
6. When he adds that the second is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you…
7. Do you love yourself?
8. Can you talk with God about your own desire to love God, or to love your neighbor, or perhaps some concern that arises from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

This Thirtieth 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 28 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. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Community, Newton, Wisconsin

Franciscan Sister Marlita at St. Thomas Newton Wisconsin

Mark 10: 46-52

[They came to Jericho. And] as Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Background

In last week’s gospel, Mark described Jesus’ response to James and John, who asked for the seats of honor and power when Jesus comes into his glory. In his response, Jesus told them that Gentile rulers lord over those under them, thus making their importance felt. In contrast, He has come to be a servant and not to be served, and to give his life in ransom for the many. This week’s gospel text follows immediately after that text in Mark. Here Jesus is portrayed as living out what he has just instructed the disciples about himself, that he is the servant; he responds to the call of blind Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus is very clever in how he has made his request. No doubt he has heard of Jesus’ reputation for healing; so he shouts out repeatedly, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Using the phrase does two things. By calling Jesus the “Son of David,” Bartimaeus acknowledges him as the messiah, who was foretold to be a descendant of David, and he links him with king Solomon, the actual son of David. Solomon was known as a wise and competent ruler. Second, by asking for mercy, in the language of the day he is asking for what is owed him, asking for a debt to be paid. The debt that needs to be repaid is the repeated public praise that he has given by using the title “Son of David.” If Jesus accepts the praise, he acknowledges the debt he owes Bartimaeus. Probably because the large crowd is blocking Bartimaeus from Jesus’ view, Jesus calls to him. The crowd, who are usually voiceless in the gospels, move from trying to silence Bartimaeus to encouraging him to approach Jesus. Jesus asks what he would have him do, and Bartimaeus tells him that he wants to see. Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him and to go on his way. Now Bartimaeus is in debt both to God who restored his sight and to Jesus who acted as the servant of God. In recognition of his debt, Bartimaeus now joins Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.

If we step back into Mark’s gospel, there is another beautiful facet of this gospel to discover. Recall the gospel from two weeks ago, the story known as the Rich Young Man. The man came to Jesus asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Although he had kept the commandments since his youth, he was unable to accept Jesus’ invitation to come and follow him because he had many possessions. The gospel says that he went away sad. (Mark 10:17-30) However, Bartimaeus, when he learns that Jesus is calling him, throws off his cloak, springs up, and comes to Jesus, never looking back. Beggars would usually spread their cloaks before them to collect coins that were tossed in their direction. Those hearing this gospel would assume that as Bartimaeus responds to Jesus’ invitation, the coins that he has collected are being tossed through the air as he jumps up. The contrast between the response of the two men to Jesus’ invitation is a delightful part of the text that might be overlooked.

Even earlier in his gospel, Mark recorded another story of Jesus encountering a blind man. (Mark 8:22-26) This central section of Mark’s gospel is framed by the two stories of Jesus encountering blind men. In this section of the gospel, Jesus has been revealing who he is and what events await him in Jerusalem. But the disciples have been unable to comprehend Jesus’ teaching, and they have needed to be instructed repeatedly on the role of being a disciple of Jesus. In these final verses before Jesus enters Jerusalem, Mark presents us with this Jesus who is the servant even of the blind and the outcasts, and Mark presents Bartimaeus as a model of the faithful disciple who leaves everything to follow Jesus to Jerusalem.

Reflection Questions

1. When the crowd rebukes Bartimaeus and tells him to be quiet, you…
2. Why would the crowd, who are normally looking to see some sign of Jesus’ power, tell Bartimaeus to be quiet?
3. Have you ever felt like others were trying to prevent you from having a voice?
4. Have there also been people who told you to “take courage, get up, he is calling you?”
5. Place yourself in the scene of today’s gospel. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants him to do for him, you…
6. And if Jesus were then to turn to you and ask you, by name, “what would like me to do for you?” You would respond…
7. Can you talk to God with the same honesty as Bartimaeus about the ways you experience being blind, about where God has given you sight, or about some other aspect of your relationship with God that arose from your reading of this gospel?

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?