24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that hearing something and listening to it are two different things.

In today’s First Reading, part of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant, Our Lord reminds us that sometimes he needs to open our ears, just like he did to Peter in the Gospel today. Sometimes we can take that for granted, and if we don’t put it into action, soon we stop listening to God’s Word in our lives, and instead it is just more noise in our ears. The Suffering Servant takes the blows received for serving God, knowing that God is on his side and that his service has a greater meaning. He doesn’t complain or give God a hard time about what he’s suffering to fulfill his mission, because he knows the Lord is at his side. Our Lord also teaches his disciples in the Gospel today that the prophecy of the Suffering Servant refers to him. Suffering is part of Christian life, and that suffering leads to salvation.

In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that faith and works go hand in hand. They show we have not just heard Our Lord’s word but listened. The Word of God is a call to repentance and baptism, but it is also a call to action. As St. James reminds us today, listening to God’s Word leads us to action. If we remain passive, just hearing God’s word, our faith will remain weak and will not transform our life or anyone else’s. When our works reflect our faith it shows we’re listening.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives the disciples a pop quiz to see how much they’re listening. Peter is never shy about speaking up, and answers Jesus’ question straight away: you are the Christ. Peter has listened to the first part of the message. The disciples have taken a step closer to Our Lord, they’ve been active, they’ve been listening, and that has drawn them closer to Our Lord. The crowd, on the other hand, doesn’t need to do much more than be there. They’ve “heard” things about Jesus, they’re curious, but they haven’t tried to draw closer to him yet.

Jesus’ disciples have passed the first test, and Our Lord opens his heart to them and explains how salvation will work. It was time for another lesson. Our Lord is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, and he reveals to his disciples something the Jews never would have imagined just by reading the Old Testament: the Messiah had to suffer and die to save the world. Peter’s response to this revelation is something that stirs up, to one degree or another, each of our hearts when the Lord opens our ears and we listen to him.

Peter couldn’t imagine that Jesus could do anything other than become a great military and political ruler. He was hearing, but he still needed to do a little more listening to Our Lord. After Our Lord had seen his disciples believed he was the Messiah, he opened his heart to them, and St. Peter spoke a little for all of them and basically said the Messiah didn’t act like Jesus said he would. Therefore, the disciples failed the second test. God had opened their ears, like the Suffering Servant in the First Reading, but, unlike the First Reading, they were rebelling about what they were hearing.

Jesus knew that this lesson, the lesson of the cross, was the most important lesson of Christian life. It’s so important a lesson that Jesus says something shocking to Peter when he tries to convince him not to take the path of suffering and the cross. He tells him he is thinking as men do, not as God does, and tells him he is like Satan: that little whisper in our ears that tells us that life should be lived without suffering, without crosses. Jesus backs up his lesson about the cross with a promise: whoever loses their life for Him and for the Gospel will save it. Everything we sacrifice in this world, big and small, will lead us to a life that is fuller and more fulfilling.

Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s First Reading also reminds us that we must forgive the injustice of our neighbor if we don’t want to be consumed by a sinful wrath that will cause our own condemnation. We have all experienced the temptation to nurse a grudge against someone and to be too angry to forgive. As we nurse a grudge we stop listening to our better judgment or the counsel of friends and family who are not fuming. Our anger drowns out good advice. Let’s not forget that Cain heard the Lord, but stopped listening to him when he slew Abel (see Genesis 4:1-10).

Readings: Isaiah 50:5–9a; Psalm 116:1–6, 8–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that if sin is messy Redemption involves some messiness and discomfort too. It’s through material realities that we fell, so it’s logical that Our Lord should establish material ways to redeem us, like the sacraments.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes a post-Eden world, crippled and thirsting for relief due to sin. The effects of sin go beyond those who committed them; they cripple and wound us all. As Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden the Lord told them a consequence of their sin would be the need to eke out an existence; instead if a plentiful garden the world had become a hostile wilderness and desert. Neither did they face a wild post-Fall world with all the strength they had before, sin wounded them and crippled them. The sign of the crippled healed and the lands bounteous once again were all signs of a Redemption to come in Christ.

In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that the vindication, understood as justice, and recompense describe by Isaiah would be an ongoing process that even believers after Baptism would have to remember. Dignity is not superficial. Many times it is not fashionable or stylish. Through Baptism everyone in the Church, rich or poor, has the dignity of being our brother or sister in Christ. Our Lord came to restore a dignity lost by sin, and as believers we strive to acknowledge that dignity in everyone, rich or poor, healthy or sick, baptized or not.

In today’s First Reading we are reminded that the Lord wants to heal us from our infirmities, but it’s likely that the Israelites never imagined Our Lord would want to come personally and do so. God wants to touch us and heal us; we see that in today’s Gospel. By modern standards it may seem distasteful that saliva is involved, but when we consider that every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are receiving Jesus’ body and blood, it’s not much of a stretch. God assumed a human nature because he wanted to come touch us and heal us through human nature. God still wants to touch us and heal us. Today he does so through the sacraments.

In each sacrament there are certain materials, certain expressions, certain dispositions of heart through which Our Lord reaches out and touches us and heals us or strengthens us. When we receive him in Holy Communion we touch God, who comes into our hearts and makes us more like him after he decided, out of sheer goodness, to assume a human nature and become like us. Let’s be thankful in receiving the Eucharist today that Our Lord wants to be close to us, wants to touch us. And let’s examine how our sacramental life is going: Mass, confession, etc., so that it really touches us and helps us to change for the better.

In today’s Gospel the Lord visibly works miracles, and he still does, invisibly, through the sacraments. The water poured on our heads at Baptism cleans our very souls. A few words and dispositions in Confession reconcile us with God and the Church. A little consecrated bread and wine are the Bread of Life. Let’s thank Our Lord this week for all the quiet miracles he continues to work under sacramental signs.

Readings: Isaiah 35:4–7a; Psalm 146:7–10; James 2:1–5; Mark 7:31–37. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the source if good and evil is the heart, not external things. The heart is our inner sanctum where we can be pure or defiled, and both conditions try to go beyond their confines to influence the lives of others.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that that the purpose of the Law is to enable us to grow closer to God and to show our intelligence and wisdom. In Jesus’ time the Pharisees had derived over six hundred rules and regulations from the Law, all derived from the Law spelled out in the Old Testament books (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, etc.). However, they had lost sight of the fundamentals: love for God and neighbor, not just ritual cleanliness. Moses reminds them today that the Law is to be followed so that they not only have intelligence and wisdom, but show it. Intelligence is something that shines from within. It’s not just the information we receive that counts, but how we process it and use it. Wisdom influences how we perceive the world. It makes us see causes, connections, and consequences, and our actions show or disprove that we are wise.

In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that in order to please God we should strive “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The “world” today believes that if something feels good, you should do it, but the world is also witness to how much destructive behavior comes from following that principle. We are wounded by original sin and our own sins; not everything as a result feels good that is good–addicts destroy themselves by trying to feel good. Lots of behavior turns into compulsive behavior that we can’t control: this is a stained heart that Our Lord wants to make clean again through love and mercy.

The Pharisees in Our Lord’s earthly time were focused on externals and had lost sight of the bigger picture. Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel that defilement comes from hearts and endangers other hearts, and we should strive to maintain purity of heart, not just ritual cleanliness. In today’s Gospel, using the example of dietary laws, Our Lord is teaching us that the “Devil made me do it” as an argument has no merit. The problem of evil has plagued man and philosophy almost since Creation, and a trend has always tried to blame God or other things as the cause of sin when all man needed to do was look in the mirror. The Lord created everything good and for the good, but his creatures freely chose to do evil instead: the fallen angels, starting with the Devil, and humanity, starting with Adam and Eve. If the world is a mess it is because we, sinners, made it so.

The dietary laws in Jesus’ time believed certain foods brought ritual contamination and, therefore, defiled a man, Mark makes a point of saying in his account that Jesus is teaching that there are no ritually impure foods. It’s a teaching that even the first disciples would struggle with as they realized that Christianity was meant to go beyond the Jewish world and culture. The Original Sin of Adam and Eve robbed us of something we, their descendants, couldn’t do without, and it is only thanks to the Redemption that their sin didn’t condemn us all to spiritual death. However, Adam and Eve aren’t to blame for all of it: we too have sinned and continue to sin. This sobering reality is not meant to discourage us; rather, it makes us realize that not only do we need Savior, but have one: Our Lord.

Our Lord gives a long list of things that come from defiled hearts and endanger other hearts, and they can all be traced back to someone going overboard in trying to feel “good” and dragging others into their behavior, even through their bad example. James in the Second Reading may have spoken of charity toward widows and orphans, but acting in this disordered way is also a lack of charity toward others, since it can lead them to spiritually ruin themselves. Let’s ask Our Lord to practice charity with all our heart, not only caring for others, but treating them with purity of heart and encouraging them to do the same. In that way we’ll please God and remain close to him.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; Psalm 15:2–5; James 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23. See also 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination and the aftermath of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. Jesus has presented his teaching on the Eucharist, and the disciples are struggling with believing in it because they don’t understand it. It is the moment of decision.

Today’s First Reading, taken from the Book of Joshua, recalls a decisive moment for the people of God. The Exodus and forty years in the desert are over. They’ve not only entered the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership and with the Lord’s help; they’ve conquered it. With a long journey behind them where the Lord not only accompanied and guided them, but also worked great signs and wonders, they now had to decide whether they would still serve him or turn back to the gods they’d left behind.

Joshua tells them they can do whatever they want, but he’s already made his decision: he and his household will serve the Lord. Everything the Lord has offered is freely given, just as it is freely accepted. They’re free to simply decide to go back to their old way of life, even though they’d be foolish to do so. The Israelites in the face of all the Lord has done for them acknowledge they’d be crazy to turn away from him now. However, as the Book of Judges reminds us, they soon did turn away from the Lord after Joshua passed away.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that service implies being subordinate to another, and subordination is not always a bad thing. That last statement may rankle us, who pride ourselves on our independence and self-reliance, but Our Lord teaches this by example. When Paul used the example of the husband being the head of the household, he points to the relationship between Our Lord and the Church to show how this should be lived. To use a more contemporary expression, there’s no daylight between Christ and His Church, just as there should not be between husband and wife. Everyone should see them as one thing, no longer two, inseparable. Being subordinate to someone bears a greater responsibility on the part of the person to whom you’re being subordinate. Our Lord laid down his life for our wellbeing. He may call the shots, but he cherishes us, just as a husband should cherish his wife.

In today’s Gospel we see the culmination and the aftermath of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. His teaching about the Eucharist presents the moment of decision for those who follow him, because it requires faith, not just understanding. As a result, “many” disciples of Jesus return to their former way of life. Our Lord even poses the question to the Twelve, and Peter’s response holds a lesson we should all consider in our own life of faith: belief is supported by grace, and it is through belief that we understand some of the deepest mysteries of God.

If we try to start with reasons, as we’ve seen over the last few Sundays, some truths of God will remain out of reach for us and we’ll fall back on the certainties we know, as many of the disciples did in today’s Gospel. We shouldn’t be shy about asking Our Lord to help us in our unbelief. As Peter describes it in his response to Our Lord, believing leads to conviction. We can live a life of faith without understanding it completely and, somehow, it all fits together. The Twelve, except Judas, are building on an experience of God and his mystery that they’ve had ever since they started following Jesus, which, in turn, was built on their understanding of God before Jesus’ coming that had been lived and passed along throughout salvation history.

Today’s readings provide a great way to take spiritual inventory of how we our living our lives when faced with adversity and difficulty in matters of faith. The teaching on the Eucharist was too much, and many disciples abandoned the life Jesus had taught them. Their faith when challenged was anemic, and Our Lord already knew who had welcomed grace into their hearts and who hadn’t. Those who did persevere in faith and in living as Christ taught were blessed in abundance. Today’s individualism often tempts us to try and work out spiritual matters on our own, a la carte, on our terms, and without anyone else’s “interference,” but the Church has been established and sanctified by Our Lord so that believers can help believers. Let’s examine our life today and see whether we’ve drifted from what Our Lord has taught, or doubted that his teaching now continues through his Church. Often this results from a teaching difficult to accept. Like Peter in today’s Gospel, let’s believe first, in order to then be convinced through grace that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Readings: Joshua 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b; Psalm 34:2–3, 16–21; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69. See also 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (2)

Today the table is ready and Wisdom, symbolized in today’s First Reading as a woman, but also experienced in our lives as the Word made flesh, invites us to a more profound banquet. Our Lord invites the Jews in today’s Gospel, and each one of us, to go beyond the limits of our reason, our human knowledge and earthly understanding, so that we approach the Lord’s table and eat and drink him, true food and true drink.

Wisdom invites us in today’s First Reading to come to her banquet and experience wisdom through the path of understanding. Experience is what helps us not only experience something, but Someone. Experience influences out decisions, actions, and attitudes. It either leads us down the path of kindness or the path of wickedness. If we take the wrong path we’ll understand nothing and, little by little, our intelligence and will start to wane, like the drunk to which St. Paul alludes in today’s Second Reading. Life soon gets out of hand. Wisdom, the path of understanding, helps us stay on course, always moving toward the true banquet to which we are invited: the Lord’s banquet.

Today’s Second Reading aptly summarizes the discourse we’ve been considering over the last few Sundays regarding the Eucharist. Instead of seeking the fleeting pleasure of wine and remaining in ignorance, Our Lord is inviting his listeners to be filled with the Spirit and to partake of the banquet of his Body and his Blood and to grow in knowledge through faith in him. The path of wisdom and understanding is not just taken through experience, but also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in faith. Wisdom ultimately is not just something, but Someone: Our Lord.

In today’s Gospel the Lord reminds the Jews of the long path tread by their forefathers. The Lord has guided us on this path toward the true banquet for a long time, step by step, through a series of individual and collective experiences, always with the goal of eternal life. The path from here to eternity is very long. Our Lord reminds the Jews how their forefathers were sustained by manna in the desert before entering the Promised Land, as recalled by the Old Testament. However, those forty years in the desert, and the centuries that followed in the history of Israel and humanity, were just steps toward the definitive goal: eternal life.

Like Wisdom personified as a woman in the First Reading the Lord prepared everything for the banquet, everything to give those dear to him an understanding and experience of his life in the Eucharist. That understanding and experience go beyond our human reasonings, knowledge, and earthly understanding, without denying their validity. The Jews in today’s Gospel are arguing and trying to understand the Eucharist just with human reasonings, and they’re unable. They’re not capable of seeing the spiritual order of things with faith, and it is faith that would enable them to take the next step forward: a step into the spiritual order of things through faith in Our Lord as sent by God. Through faith in Our Lord they’ll be led, step by step, to the eternal banquet, the Eucharist, which in this life appears under the signs of bread and wine, but in the future, in eternity, will be with the Lord, face to face.

Our Lord not only teaches; he reveals. Accepting revelation is about trusting and believing the revealer. In today’s Gospel the Lord reveals something, but they want to understand it before they believe it. A believer starts with believing, and then works it out. The Eucharist is a perfect example of something you have to believe before you can try to start understanding it. Has the Lord revealed something in your life that you’re trying to understand before believing? A Church teaching? A lifestyle? Take the step of faith and you’ll understand.

Readings: Proverbs 9:1–6; Psalm 34:2–7; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58. See also 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.