8th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

In today’s Gospel the chief priests, scribes, and elders try to throw their weight around, but Our Lord asks them a simple question that shows where their real center of gravity lies. They try to corner him with the question akin to “Who do you think you are doing these things?”, and he responds by asking them who they though John was. He’s not intimidated by their position, influence, or even their threats. Even when someone is in authority over us there is a level of dignity that no position or influence can take away, and that dignity is shaped by our conformity to the truth and to the just thing to do. They have a bankrupt position on their side; Jesus has the truth, and the truth is what sets us free.

From their narrow-minded interest in self-preservation they have a dilemma with no good outcome: to acknowledge that John’s work came from God, which would be to acknowledge that’s John’s testimony to Jesus before his death shows from where Jesus’ own work and authority comes, making their question to Our Lord pointless, or to acknowledge that John’s work did not come from God, which in the sphere of public opinion would be political suicide (maybe material suicide too). Although the passage doesn’t spell it out it’s likely that they thought John was just another effective political player. John sacrificed his life in the defense of an uncomfortable truth; the chief priests, scribes, and elders fear the consequences of publicly acknowledging what they believe to be true, and that shows their true center of gravity. As a result they choose to appear ignorant before the crowds in order to ensure their safety, and at the same time show that self-preservation is their greatest truth.

What’s our attitude before uncomfortable truths? Do we play them close to the vest so as not to get burned? Our Lord has promised that the truth will set us free. Let’s not be afraid of seeking the truth or testifying to it, especially when it means our discomfort or the discomfort of others in order to achieve a greater good.

Readings: Sirach 51:12c–20; Psalm 19:8–11; Mark 11:27–33.

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

In today’s Gospel it may seem that Our Lord is expressing his frustration with a fig tree that doesn’t satisfy his hunger, much like you’d kick a vending machine that took your money and didn’t give you anything, but Jesus is expressing something to keep in mind in the events that follow: if the Creator finds something in his creation that does not produce fruits, in the end it will never produce fruit again and ultimately be fruitless in any meaningful way. The First Reading recalls the godly ancestors of Israel’s past, and how their glory lives on through their progeny: they have produced fruit, and their fruit has endured in the holy generations that have descended from them, just as Our Lord has asked the disciples to do (cf. John 15:16). At the same time who can forget Our Lord’s chilling words about Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14;21).

It is Jesus’ actions that communicate this truth in today’s Gospel, not so much his words. When Jesus enters the Temple and drives out the money changers and other merchants, if we cast the scene like a movie, we could also see the story cutting back to the fig tree withering even as Jesus is driving out those who are in his Father’s house seeking their own interests instead of the interests of God. Their activity maybe profitable, may be a shortcut to get from point A to point B, but, in the eyes of God, something fruitless and ultimately leading to a fruitless life in the things that matter. Our Lord was doing the right thing, driving out those who’d not come to the Temple for the right reasons, in contrast to the chief priests and scribes who were plotting to kill him and concerning themselves with public relations instead of ensuring the Temple area was treated as a house of God.

The verdict Jesus pronounces using the fig tree today is not a verdict that we’d hear until the end of our earthly life, but it is a reminder to consider what fruits our lives are producing. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us seek to bear fruits that are pleasing to him, and ultimately to make our entire life fruitful.

Readings: Sirach 44:1, 9–13; Psalm 149:1b–6a, 9b; Mark 11:11–26.

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

James and John in today’s Gospel are on a different wavelength than Our Lord: Jesus has just told them of his impending Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and all they are thinking of is the glory and the share of the glory they’ll receive. Jesus warns them that they are not on the Christian wavelength of glory: it is through the Cross that we achieve the only glory that matters–serving and pleasing God in gratitude for all he has done for us.

James and John are on the wavelength of ambition; Jesus is on the wavelength of service. In the exercise of authority it is very easy to switch from one to the other, usually in the direction of ambition, which is driven by self-interest either to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of others. James and John’s ambition provokes an immediate reaction from the other disciples: they know ambition when they see it and see their ambitions being infringed upon as well. When Jesus asks James and John whether they are prepared to receive the same baptism as him, and drink the same chalice, he is asking them whether they’re ready to suffer. In the end they will, to their credit: James was beheaded, as the Acts of the Apostles recalls, and John was exiled and imprisoned and, according to tradition, miraculously survived an attempt to execute him. But Jesus also touches on the key to not switching from the wavelength of service to ambition: recognizing that if you seek any place or path for your life, it should be out of a desire to serve, and, ultimately, you don’t have a right to it. Even Jesus himself takes the place and the path willed by the Father, and he does so as an example to us.

Let’s strive today to seek the place and path for our lives where we can best serve others, not just ourselves.

Readings: Sirach 36:1, 4–5a, 10–17; Psalm 79:8–9, 11, 13; Mark 10:32–45.

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year I

In today’s Gospel Our Lord assures us that when we give up the things that are dear to us–family, home, wealth–we’ll be blessed a hundred fold. In the First Reading we’re reminded that God rewards those who do what is pleasing to him. In the Gospel today it goes one step further. When we put Our Lord and his Gospel first, even in the sad cases where our loved ones don’t understand, we become part of a much larger family, and family that is all heading, one day, to our true home. We called priests “Father,” religious, “Brother, Sister, or Mother,” and we experience that wherever we go, there are believers, our brothers and sisters in the faith, who welcome us into their homes and share the blessings they have received from God. If we are separated briefly from our biological family and the place where we were born, we know that through serving the Gospel we are honoring God, our family, and our nation.

It’s not easy: Jesus warns us today that the persecutions will not go away. Even those we love don’t understand sometimes, much less the world that often transmits a message of looking our for number one and nobody else. That message fills the world with strangers, foreigners, and wildernesses, urban or otherwise. Neighborhoods become more of a place where isolated people or families reside rather than a community that looks out for each other. The Gospel keeps us open to everyone, keeps extending the invitation to become part of the family one smile at a time, one kind gesture at a time. And the people who have persevered on that path have not regretted it.

Let’s thank Our Lord today for all the sacrifices we have made putting his Gospel first, for all the blessings that have come of it, and pray that more people may come to be part of our family.

Readings: Sirach 35:1–12; Psalm 50:5–8, 14, 23; Mark 10:28–31.


8th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday, Year I

In today’s Gospel we hear of the man who will go down in history as the Rich Young Man. Perhaps he wanted to make a name for himself, but in the end he anonymously provides an example down through the centuries of “don’t let this happen to you”: don’t leave anything off limits to God, because sooner or later it will come between you and him. In the spiritual life we can form unhealthy attachments to things–wealth, health, relationships, etc.–and we can lose sight of the fact that everything we have and are is a gift from God, and should be used to serve him and to serve others.

The Rich Young Man today was loved by Our Lord, and that was why Jesus told him he had to make a choice. He had put his possessions and what they could be put to use for off limits, and, like a jealous lover, Our Lord told him, “it’s me or them: pick.” The Rich Young Man made the wrong choice. Many of the first Christians were called by nicknames, and who knows if the Rich Young Man was called to be Saint Generous or Saint Magnanimous.

Let’s ask Our Lord to show us today whatever there is in our life that we may be putting off limits to God, or may come between us and him. What’s important is to make the resolution to change, and, as Jesus promises the disciples, with God all things are possible.

Readings: Sirach 17:20–24; Psalm 32:1–2, 5–7; Gospel Mark 10:17–27.