Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle B

Today we celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary time by celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King. The liturgical year symbolizes the history of salvation, and the Solemnity of Christ the King celebrates when, at the end of time, salvation history comes to its fulfillment. We conclude the liturgical year this week by remembering the end of salvation history, when, as John tells us in the Second Reading, Christ will come amid the clouds, and all eyes will see him. It is a moment to celebrate that Jesus is the Lord of Life and History.

As today’s First Reading reminds us, Jesus is not just Our Lord. He is the Lord. Daniel reminds us that Jesus, after completing his mission on earth, appeared before Our Heavenly Father and “received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. his dominion is an everlasting dominion.” When Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, and the High Priest asked him if he was the Christ, Jesus responded with the very words we have considered in today’s First Reading (cf. Matthew 26:63-64). In exchange for declaring his kingship, he was beaten, tortured, and nailed to his throne, the Cross. The horrors he voluntarily underwent didn’t change the fact that he was and is the Lord of Life and History. He reigned, even from the Cross.

Today’s Second Reading speaks of that day when Our Lord returns and everyone, good and bad, will see him: the Last Judgment at the end of history. After Jesus’ resurrection, before he ascended to his Heavenly Father, he only appeared to those who had believed in him. In the eyes of the world, he had suffered, died, and disappeared. John reminds today that the day will come when Jesus returns. All will see him, including those who pierced him. Everyone will see him at the end of salvation history, good and bad. If Jesus is the Lord of Life and History, what will happen to those who persist in their rebellion, who do not let him reign in their hearts? It is a call for all of us to pray and sacrifice for those far from God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and that he had come to the world to testify to the truth. The who belong to the truth hear his voice. Those who belong to the truth let Christ reign in their hearts, even Christ crucified, because he is truly King. This is why we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come!” whenever we recite the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus received his Kingship by suffering and dying on the cross, and for fulfilling his mission, his Father invested him with eternal life and authority over all. We see the glory of his kingship in the Resurrection, and we know that the reign of eternal life and love will come for each of us, if we listen to Jesus’ voice and welcome his truth into our hearts.

It’s enough to look at a Crucifix to know that the Lord will keep his promises. In today’s Second Reading John tells us that Christ has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us into a kingdom. His blood freed us from the true rebellion—sin—and made us members of an everlasting kingdom. Christ’s kingdom has not yet completely come, but he has already won the war. The difficulties we face in life are the last battles of a conquest Our Lord has already made, and now Christ continues, soul by soul, to battle for each soul until the end of time. In turn let’s battle not only for our own salvation, but for all those souls out there who need help to hear the Lord’s voice and to let him reign in their hearts.

Readings: Daniel 7:13–14; Psalm 93:1–2, 5; Revelation 1:5–8; John 18:33b–37. See also Solemnity of Christ the King.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today is the next to last Sunday in Ordinary Time. We’ll celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King next Sunday, and today’s readings remind us how close that is. The liturgical year symbolizes the entire work of redemption throughout history, and that work is about to be concluded so that the year can start anew with the First Sunday of Advent. Next Sunday we celebrate the moment of the work of redemption where Christ becomes all in all, as St. Paul would say. It’ll be the day in which the Christian prayer “Thy Kingdom Come!” is completely answered: the Second Coming of Christ. This Sunday is an opportunity to examine how we get ready for the end of the liturgical year and the end of the world as we know it.

Today’s First Reading reminds us what will happen on that day: the end of the world as we know it. When we hear those words each of us must examine ourselves so see what they mean to us. They probably fill us with fear, but they should fill us with hope too. Daniel’s prophecy speaks of a great distress in the world, but also the help of St. Michael the Archangel, the guardian of the Church, just as each of us has a guardian angel, watching over us and helping us in all of life’s trials. Often it seems the end of the world is something sad and distressing, because the world as we know it is about to end. In those moments we must remember the Lord’s promises in the Beatitudes: we’ll have the Kingdom of Heaven, justice, consolation, and mercy. The Beatitudes will fill us with hope, if we strive to live them, because we know Our Lord always keeps his promises.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us that Christ himself, by becoming a sacrifice, has performed a perfect sacrifice that bring us forgiveness and will continue to bring us forgiveness. Our Lord has already won the war against sin and death. Our trials in life are the last battles of a conquest the Lord has already achieved. Now soul after soul are won over until the end of time when “his enemies are made his footstool”: until the forces of evil are definitively defeated. Our Lord’s victory should fill us with hope, because one day neither sin nor death will threaten us ever again.

Today’s Gospel reminds us we won’t know when Christ will return in glory, but also to be vigilant. It’s hard to envision the return, but Our Lord today does describe some of its elements. It won’t just be one tribulation. After the “tribulation” there will be darkness and upheaval. Then the Son of Man will return in glory and his angels will go and gather his elect from everywhere. He’ll leave no one behind who has persevered as his disciple. He encourages us not only to be vigilant, but to be perseverant. When this tribulation and upheaval occur he will be close, right at your “gate.” We don’t know when this’ll start or when it’ll end. This Gospel is one of the few times Our Lord says plainly that the Father is not revealing that information. In contemplating the end of the world let’s be vigilant, because a little healthy concern keeps us on our toes, but also full of hope, because even though there’ll be these final battles Jesus has already won the war.

Readings: Daniel 12:1–3; Psalm 16:5, 8–11; Hebrews 10:11–14, 18; Mark 13:24–32. See also 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

All three of today’s readings present us a simple question: if everything was on the line, what would you give? Our Lord blesses those who trust in him and exceed expectations.

In today’s First Reading Elijah asks for a handout while Israel is suffering an extended drought. The widow doesn’t disagree, she simply thinks she’d has to choose between her, her son, or Elijah: one would starve to death for the sake of another, and ultimately as well. Elijah gives her an opportunity in faith to trust in the Lord’s Providence: she’ll be provided for until the drought ends for her generosity. She provides for her son and helps the Lord through helping Elijah and everything works out. For the widow helping Elijah put everything on the line—her life, her son’s life, and the last of her livelihood—and the Lord blessed her for it.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that unlike other high priests, who sacrificed over and over without personal risk, the Lord sacrificed himself completely, once and for all, when everything was on the line for us. Our salvation was on the line. There was no expectation that the Lord would do anything about it whatsoever. We’d made the mess. As divine he had all the prestige and recognition in the world and no need to prove it. We spurned him through sin and brought all its consequences on our heads.

He assumed human nature and became one of us in a fallen world, with the hope that we would let him lead us back into the good graces of Our Heavenly Father, but his hope and our expectations were not on the same page: he hoped we’d welcome him as the Messiah saving us from sin, we’d hoped he would clean house socially and politically without any effort on our part other than cheering him on. He put his whole humanity on the line for us and showed us that when it comes to salvation we have to put our whole selves on the line too.

In the Gospel Our Lord is moved by the generosity of a poor widow who gives all she has to the Temple treasury. She sacrifices her livelihood for the sake of giving alms, and no one notices her because the amount seems so insignificant in the eyes of the world. It’s not insignificant to her, which is why it is so generous. She’s not doing it for good public relations, as the rich men are doing out of their surplus. She’s not even negotiating like Elijah and the widow in the First Reading. Little does she know that God himself is looking upon her sacrifice with contentment through the eyes of the Son and making it an example for the disciples to follow. She put her whole livelihood on the line for the sake of others.

We all know the expression “give ’til it hurts,” and we all know the thought of it makes us wince to one degree or another. If we put a little of our comfort and livelihood on the line in giving, whether time, talent, or treasure, Our Lord sees it and will bless us, even if the world doesn’t. Let’s be generous today in sharing what we have with others, knowing that if we take care of others Our Lord will take care of us abundantly.

Readings: 1 Kings 17:10–16; Psalm 146:7–10; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:38–44. See also 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In today’s readings we’re reminded that beyond the laws our faith proposes is the love with which we observe them and to which we’re called. Even if we begin simply observing them for other motives they pave the way for us to go beyond them and achieve what the Lord truly wants from us.

In today’s First Reading Moses promises the Israelites that if they are observant the Lord will bless them with a prosperous life. A running theme throughout the Old Testament is that Israel is blessed to the degree that it is faithful to the covenant they made with the Lord. Moses exhorts them today to see this as the secret to their success. Yet at the same time he takes it a step further: he exhorts them to love the Lord with everything they’ve got: unconditionally. The Law that comes from the covenant has the potential to pave the way to a deeper relationship with the Lord and with each other, if they have the right attitude in observing it.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that without Our Lord we are weak in maintaining a good relationship with God. The greatest representatives of Israel before God, the high priests, were limited by their mortality and their frailty, both consequences of sin. Our Lord brought a new representation and mediation with God unflawed by humanity’s past mistakes. He brought a redeemed humanity into the equation. As high priest he triumphed over human mortality and frailty by conquering sin and death, continuing in his priestly office forever. That mediation and strength pave the way for us to go beyond the law and achieve what the Lord really wants from us, the God who has it all: our unconditional love.

Today’s Gospel reading brings us to the end of a series of debates in Mark’s Gospel with the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and it ends on an encouraging note. After various attempts to exploit discussion on God’s word in order to score political points or discredit Our Lord we find a refreshing change of pace: a scribe who is actually interested in seeking the truth and who acknowledges when someone has helped him find it.

The scribes at the time were debating about what the hierarchy of all the precepts were within Mosaic Law. They had already determined 613 precepts of the Law: 248 commands and 365 prohibitions. Which were the most important? This debate was an inheritance of the expectations in today’s First Reading: faithful observance of the covenant with the Lord was the secret to success and prosperity. Yet they didn’t consider the fine print: Moses was describing a process, not just a fact: the Law was meant to take them somewhere, and to help them achieve something: love for God and for others. Our Lord responds to the scribe today with the fundamentals not only for the Jews, but for us. When he tells the scribe that the Lord must loved above all else he is repeating the first words of the Jews’ profession of faith, the Shema, taken from the book of Deuteronomy (part of which is today’s First Reading) and prayed by them every day. Their faith, and our faith, revolves entirely around the love of God. But Jesus connects this to another teaching from Leviticus (Leviticus 19:18): to love your neighbor as yourself. Connecting the two may have been a novelty for the Jews, but as Christians we know the two are closely linked: you can’t love God and not love your neighbor, or vice versa (cf. 1 John 4:20–21). Unconditional love for God and neighbor put every other precept into perspective.

It is achieving a deeper understanding of the love God has for us that enables us to love him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and to truly love our neighbor. Loving is the greatest appreciation we can show to God for his love for us. The scribe in today’s Gospel rightly sees the superiority of love over many other religious practices. In fact, religious practices become exactly that due to the love behind them. When Our Lord encourages the scribe by saying he is not far from the Kingdom of God he is also encouraging us to remember that if we achieve love, often an arduous conquest, we’re one step away from every good thing Our Lord wishes for us and for the world.

Readings: Deuteronomy 6:2–6; Psalm 18:2–4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23–28; Mark 12:28b–34.

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.