30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s readings the work of redemption, which is ultimately a work of reconciliation with God and with others, is described as a new Exodus where no one should be left behind.

In today’s First Reading Jeremiah describes the gathering of the scattered Israelites in exile as a sort of new Exodus, a new pilgrimage, where even the weak, sick, and helpless will not be left behind. Yet not everyone makes it. The language of this reading refers to the exiles Israel underwent, always involving exile to the “north” of the Promised Land. Jeremiah is addressing the Babylonian exile in particular.

The Israelites were exiled due to their sins, just as sin alienates us from God and from others. Not everyone returns from exile, only a “remnant,” and that’s not due to the journey being too hard. The Lord makes a point of saying that even those who’d have difficulty making such a journey—mothers with their children, the pregnant, blind, or lame—will be able to make the journey. They’d have a smooth journey and abundant water, not like the harsh conditions of the first Exodus from Egypt.

Those who don’t come are those who didn’t want to. They let an opportunity pass them by. He also describes the remnant returning as an immense throng. The faithful remnant of Israel was the seed from which the new People of God, the Church, began. This prophecy does not just refer to the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile; it also looks forward to the Church assembling and heading in pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the Lord, our High Priest, in becoming man took up the human condition in order to make it easier for us to identify with him in his humanity and turn to him as our priest. In assuming human nature through his Incarnation Our Lord knew first hand the “weakness” of living in a fallen world. The Church, like her High Priest, has striven to imitate this “outreach” of Christ’s humanity to the world so that it can regain the sense of what is truly means to be human. The Heavenly Father called the Son to become our High Priest so that he could mediate between us and God. In his human nature Our Lord has bridged the gap between us and the Father left by sin. We gather around human because he restores our humanity to its full potential.

In today’s Gospel we see the prophecy of Jeremiah taking shape. Our Lord starting to gather together everyone, heal them, and lead them. Yet there is still some blindness, some weakness and ignorance, to overcome. Crowds are starting to follow Our Lord, and in Biblical symbolism moving away from Jericho is often considered as moving away from sin, especially when heading from there to Jerusalem. In the midst of all the excitement we find poor and blind Bartimaeus, who is stuck. He ekes out an existence begging and knows with his blindness that going anywhere on his own is difficult if not impossible. He hears the commotion and doesn’t know it is Jesus of Nazareth passing by, but when he does, he starts to beg Our Lord for mercy. He may be physically blind, but spiritually he is seeing things more clearly than those who are following Our Lord.

The people in the crowd try to silence him, probably thinking he’s giving the same old line he uses for begging from others. They are spiritually blind to what’s necessary: no one who wants to come should be left behind. Jeremiah in today’s First Reading said the blind would not be left behind, and Our Lord is fulfilling that prophecy and curing the crowds from a spiritual blindness toward another’s needs. Jesus restores Bartimaeus’ sight and Bartimaeus joins the pilgrimage too: the Lord leads him to a more joyous life.

If we get lost on the way to the Promised Land, Heaven, it’s not Our Lord’s fault: he always gives us a chance to come along, whether we recognize it or not. Bartimaeus did, the crowd didn’t. It’s very salutary in prayer to go over those things, reasons excuses that prevent us from following Our Lord and imagine on the day of our Judgement whether they would hold water. No matter how many opportunities we’ve squandered, Our Lord as long as we live on this earth always gives us another chance. Take it.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–9; Psalm 126:1–6; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52. See also 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel James and John want glory, and Our Lord wants to show them the path they did not expect would achieve it: suffering for the sake of others. Our true glory comes from the degree in which we give ourselves to others, just like Our Lord.

Today’s First Reading speaks of the Suffering Servant and the fruits of his suffering for himself and for others. The Suffering Servant is a prophecy of Our Lord, and the “cup” to which he refers in today’s Gospel is the suffering he knows he must endure for us. Suffering has a purpose in this case: through Christ’s suffering, his “descendants” will receive a long life, the Lord’s will is accomplished, and many are justified. Our Lord too shall “see the light in its fullness”: the light of eternal glory. No one likes needless suffering. We seek to alleviate it, but it is not needless if it has a purpose.

In today’s Second Reading we see the glory that Our Lord received for drinking the cup of suffering: he became our High Priest by sacrificing himself. Although not mentioned in today’s passage, the Letter to the Hebrews explains that Our Lord, in sacrificing himself, is consecrated a priest. A priest mediates between God and others and offers sacrifice to God on their behalf. In imitation of Christ, a priest also sacrifices himself for others, the greatest sacrifice. Suffering and trials are the path to glory for a disciple of Christ, but not senselessly: through suffering and trials we too serve others and give our lives for them to be “ransomed” from sin.

In today’s Gospel James and John are seeking glory, but they don’t entirely understand the path to it or the kind of glory to be won. Our Lord works with them; he doesn’t simply tell them they’re being ambitious and should focus on other things. Followers of Christ will be glorified if they persevere in the faith, but it’s the Lord who sets the terms as to what that glory consists of and how to get there.

We can contemplate earthly glories and they pale in comparison to what awaits us in eternity. James and John think they know exactly what they want, but it is a vision of glory tainted by their ignorance and by visions of earthly glory. Yet they are eager. When Our Lord asks them if they’re prepared to do what it takes to achieve glory, he speaks of a cup to drink and a baptism to receive: both refer to his Passion.

James and John were bold in seeking glory, and we have an advantage over them: we have seen the path to glory that Our Lord has traced out for us. Let’s seek the glory that not only benefits us, but others as well: a glory only won through suffering and trials for the sake of others in imitation of Christ.

As the other Apostles started to complain about James and John’s ambition, Our Lord taught them that they should serve and give their lives in ransom for many. All believers are called to do this. Through our service and sacrifice we help others. Make an extra effort this week to serve others.

Readings: Isaiah 53:10–11; Psalm 33:4–5, 18–20, 22; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45. See also 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

 

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gazes upon the Rich Young Man with love before he asks something of him that he knew would be difficult. The Second Reading today reminds us that God’s word has the sharpness of a sword, and, we can add, the precision of a scalpel: it finds exactly where the tumor is, knows where to make the necessary incision that makes our delusions fall away, but we must choose to go under the knife.

We too need to contemplate the words of today’s First Reading. The Wisdom of God is what we need; everything else is an investment in that for which we’re truly searching. The Wisdom of God is described like discovering the love of your life; everything else pales in comparison. Wisdom is more valuable than political power. Wisdom is more valuable than material wealth. Wisdom is more valuable than physical health or beauty. Wisdom is the true path to success.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that nothing is hidden to the eyes of the Lord, and he can reveal things within us to which even we are blind. If the Wisdom of God in the First Reading is described as a splendor with which light itself can’t compare, the Word of God in the Second is described as a sharp sword that cuts through any pretensions or illusions we may have about ourselves or others. The Word of God is always meant to reveal something, expressing the Wisdom of God so that we see ourselves, the world, and others in its light.

Our Lord doesn’t see himself offering the Rich Young Man in today’s Gospel pain and sacrifice; he is offering him the path to a deeper love for God in exchange for the love he’s already received and shown. When the Rich Young Man tries to flatter Our Lord a little Jesus is quick to chide him about his motives for such praise, and redirects his thoughts to God. Our Lord is telling him that it doesn’t matter how rich he is, or whether he is good or bad; God’s love for him is constant.

If success and moral living don’t help us grow in our love for God, they don’t go far enough; they will not satisfy us. If the Rich Young Man had taken today’s First Reading (which did exist in his time) and replaced the expressions “prudence” and “Wisdom” with “the love of God,” everything would have snapped into clarity. The wisdom he was truly seeking from Jesus was an awareness of the love God had for him, in which every other good thing would pale.

He may have seen Our Lord as asking a costly sacrifice, but Jesus was asking him to invest the fruits of his success and goodness into something greater and for something greater. Our Lord looks upon us with love no matter what we do, but he also invites us to follow him, draw closer to him, and love him more. Many times we see that through a filter of losing something, sacrificing something. We too need to contemplate the words of today’s First Reading. The Wisdom of God is what we need; everything else is an investment in that for which we’re truly searching.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that if we try to please God and seek eternal life a moment will come when we ask a potentially scary question, like the Rich Young Man did today, “What do I still lack?” If the spiritual life is easy, it’s a moment to ask, like the young man, what we are lacking. We know Our Lord teaches us that we must lose our life in order to save it, and to take up our cross every day and follow him. The cross implies that tough choices for the sake of Our Lord must be made. If something separates us from God, it separates us from eternal life and any true happiness we could have achieved. Under the weight of this idolatry it’s no wonder that the Rich Young Man went off sad when he didn’t opt for Christ: deep down he knew eternal life was at stake, and he blew it.

Don’t be afraid to ask Our Lord the question today in your own spiritual life: “Lord, what do I lack?” No matter how costly it appears, it will lead to eternal happiness for you and for others. Take the next step and trust in Our Lord’s help.

Readings: Wisdom 7:7–11; Psalm 90:12–17; Hebrews 4:12–13; Mark 10:17–30. See also 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 8th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday8th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, and 20th Week in Ordinary Time,Tuesday.

sacred_heart

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings remind us that men and women are called to leave their parents, marry, and become one flesh. This image of a married couple as one flesh has captured the imagination and the spiritual convictions of believers from the dawn of creation.

In the Old Testament and the New, when a man and a woman come together in marriage they become “one flesh”: each becomes a part of the other. Eve is fashioned from the side of Adam to teach this profound mystery in today’s First Reading. When a man and a woman come together in a love of total mutual self-giving, it reflects the inter-Personal love within the Most Holy Trinity: when Adam sees Eve for the first time he recognizes a part of himself, someone without whom he would be incomplete, someone who was missing in his life. For those called to marriage God has blessed two people with someone out there with whom they can be complete, be whole. The Lord respects their freedom to enter into the marriage covenant with each other, and, for believers, promises to help them with the spiritual graces of the sacrament of matrimony. It is a big step not to be taken lightly, requiring preparation, but when that step is taken it will be a life-changing blessing for the couple and for everyone they love. Their parents wish them well as they start their new life together and, God-willing, become parents themselves. The beauty of marital love is why marriages in difficulty are so dramatic and tragic: something that is now “one flesh” is trying to pull itself apart. In the difficult moments it is important to remember not just the emotions of first love, but the fact that God has joined man and woman, and God will help them remain united; they just have to keep striving to seek each other’s good.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us about marriage in response to some sticky questions posed by the Pharisees about divorce to trip him up. Marriage was a complex issue back then, and it has not grown any easier in today’s society. This is one of the few Gospel passages where Our Lord sees the need to correct an interpretation that Mosaic law made; usually Our Lord exhorts a more profound observance of the Law, not a correction to it. He teaches in today’s Gospel that marriage is something established between a man and a woman, but it is also bond forged by God. As a bond forged by God the married man and woman also receive spiritual help in remaining faithful to each other. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were debating whether divorce was allowed for either a serious reason or a less serious reasons, as two Rabbinical schools at the time were contending, trying to interpret Mosaic law’s concession of divorce in some cases. Jesus responded that neither school was correct: divorce was not part of God’s plan “from the beginning.”

Let’s pray today for all marriages. Especially for those spouses who are suffering from a separation, and that marriages experiencing difficulty may receive the grace, counseling, and insight they need in order to resolve their differences and be faithful to the bond God has forged between them until death do them part. If you’re married, pray the prayer of Tobit and Sarah with your spouse before turning in for the evening (Tobit 8:5–9).

Readings: Genesis 2:18–24; Psalm 128:1–6; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16. See also 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.