6th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday, Year II

Today’s readings teach us the right things to ask from Our Lord, and the right way to ask them, as well as the wrong ones. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel are arguing with Our Lord and demanding a sign to test him. Mark says in the face of this that Our Lord “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” They could have studied his teachings. The could have taken the many miracles he had already performed as signs. Instead they demanded a sign from him on their terms. In short, they didn’t believe in Our Lord, what he was doing, or what he was teaching.

James in today’s First Reading teaches us what we should ask for and how: we should ask for wisdom, an insight into the bigger picture that helps us understand, in the light of God, the world, man, and ourselves. We always need wisdom, and Our Lord is happy to give it if we ask in faith. The Pharisees demanded a sign and showed neither wisdom nor faith. James also teaches the wisdom Our Lord wants to share: to help the poor see how blessed and loved they are, and to help the rich to see how fleeting their pursuits can be if they are not in the service of God.

Our Lord is willing to share all the wisdom we could ever want or need, if we believe in him. Let’s humbly turn to him in faith and ask for just that.

Readings: James 1:1–11; Psalm 119:67–68, 71–72, 75–76; Mark 8:11–13.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Today’s readings remind us that if God grants us something we should show our gratitude by glorifying him and doing his will, not running off and ignoring his wishes.

In today’s First Reading the spiritual and social consequences of being diagnosed with leprosy are laid out for the people of Israel. Even today when ill people show outward symptoms, regardless of how contagious the disease is, they are often avoided by people who don’t want to be infected. We have hand sanitizers at entrances to public buildings, and some people wear surgical masks in public. Some people even today see someone down on their luck (health issues, financial issues, family troubles, etc.) as being punished by the Lord for something they did. In the Old Testament leprosy was not just a question of public health and avoiding the spread of a contagious disease. The Lord punished sinners from time to time with leprosy (such as Moses’ sister Miriam when she questioned God—see Numbers 12:1-15). In the Old Testament mentality, a mentality still present at the time of Our Lord’s earthly ministry, sin and malady were linked, with the malady being punishment for sin. When a leper declared himself “unclean” so people wouldn’t draw near he wasn’t just saying he had a contagious disease. He was cursed by the Lord.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that we should do everything for the glory of God, or else we run the risk of working against him. You can glorify God in everything you do if you strive to do his will in everything you do. Not everything we do glorifies God. For example, breaking the Ten Commandments does not glorify God. Our Lord in the New Testament made it even simpler: love one another as he has loved us. Paul insists today that Christianity is not a social clique: we should show love and respect for everyone, Christian and non-Christian. We should act not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of others, in imitation of Christ and the Saints.

In today’s Gospel the leper received a miracle, but then turned around and did exactly the opposite of what Our Lord told him to do. He was healed and did not glorify God as he was instructed to do, despite Our Lord’s clear instructions. As a result he ended up hindering Our Lord’s work instead of helping it. Leprosy is really an apt metaphor for how ugly and detestable sin is. That man was avoided and rejected by everyone. It took courage for him to approach a holy man and ask to be healed. Touching a leper was ritual contamination. We can only wonder if Our Lord knew the leper would go out and ignore his instructions out of misguided enthusiasm. When he is stern it is usually because he already reads something in the soul with which he is dealing and is trying to get through to them (for example, the scribes and Pharisees). Word of Our Lord’s miraculous healing abilities starts to spread despite his efforts, and now even when he goes off to a deserted place, people come looking. Many are not looking for a savior or friend, but for a miracle worker. The leper was ecstatic over being healed, but did not work with Our Lord, and, inadvertently, worked against him.

We forget sometimes that the Lord doesn’t just work flashy miraculous things in our lives: he gives us our existence, our daily bread, help against the evil in the world, and the truth that will set us free. Our Lord knows those people in today’s Gospel have a deeper need that they are not addressing by just seeking the band aid solution of a miracle worker: they need friendship and communion with God to be truly healed and whole. Our Lord heals those who come to him, but he also knows that for many it will only be a band aid for something deeper to be addressed and changed in their lives, something he has come to address and to fix definitively. The leper by his actions showed he had only accepted a band-aid solution and not addressed a deeper problem: his friendship with God. Friends help their friends to do good, not hinder them. Our Lord doesn’t want to just be a miracle worker in our life; he wants to be our brother and friend.

Paul gives some great advice this week: do everything for the glory of God. Is there anything in your life that does not glorify God, habitually or otherwise? Make a conscious effort this week to take stock of whether you are glorifying God in everything you do.

Readings: Leviticus 13:1–2, 44–46; Psalm 32:1–2, 5, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40–45.

5th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

Today’s First Reading recalls a division between the Northern and Southern Kingdom, a division of the people of Israel after King Solomon’s passing due to a dispute about taxation between Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, and the king of the new Northern Kingdom, Jehoboam. The Lord told Rehoboam when he tried to intervene militarily and force reunification that the Lord had willed the division, a punishment due to King Solomon’s infidelity.

Jehoboam has received a mandate from the Lord. However, he does not trust the Lord, and is worried that the people will seek to reunite with Rehoboam because they still must go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to worship at the splendid Temple David had commissioned and Solomon had finished. He decides to establish new places of pilgrimage and worship in his territory, but also to abandon the worship of the Lord in those places. Therefore, as today’s account concludes, Jehoboam’s lineage, initially sanctioned by the Lord, will end, due to his iniquity: he led his entire people into idolatry for political motives.

Our Lord when pressed about taxation said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s (see Mark 12:17, Matthew 22:21, Luke 20:25). Let’s learn today from Jehoboam’s fate to never try to use religion or God to serve our own selfish interests.

Readings: 1 Kings 12:26–32, 13:33–34; Psalm 106:6–7b, 19–22; Mark 8:1–10. See also 1st Week of Advent, Wednesday and 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.


5th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

In today’s Gospel we see another example of Our Lord performing a healing and asking for secrecy and not getting it. Why does he keep healing if people don’t respect his wishes? Because he loves us no matter what we do, and will continue to love us, even when we cause him problems. When we contemplate him on the cross we contemplate someone who has taken our problems onto his own shoulders.

The miracle of healing the deaf and mute man is now commemorated by an optional rite in the celebration of Baptism: the minister performing the Baptism touches the ears of the new Christian and says, “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”). Our Baptism shows that we and our parents have listened to the Word of God, not just heard him, and that opens our world to hearing good news we’d never have imagined before. With his speech restored we can’t entirely blame the man healed today from going out and sharing the Good News; we too are called to share the Good News.

Have we become deaf to Our Lord’s voice? To his wishes? Let’s ask him to help us listen again in order to better spread the Good News as he wishes.

Readings: 1 Kings 11:29–32, 12:19; Psalm 81:10–11b, 12–15; Mark 7:31–37. See also 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

5th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Our Lord takes one of his few trips outside of Palestine into Gentile territory. It seems he is trying keep a low profile, perhaps counting on some anonymity to have some quiet time to teach his disciples. However, as the arrival of the woman shows, news of his miracles has even reached Gentile territory. For us, this is nothing surprising, since we know the Gospel is for everyone, but in that moment it was not time yet. We’re faced with a situation similar to Mary at the wedding feast at Cana: the hour for the Gentiles had not yet come.
The Jews called the Gentiles “dogs”: if seems this woman is asking for a favor and receiving a rejection and a racial slur instead. However, in the original Greek the Lord uses the expression, “little dog,” perhaps to show that the example he was using was not meant to insult her, but to explain that what he had to do right now did not involve her: this party, this “food,” was not meant for her.
In her response we find her faith and her humility. She acknowledges that it’s not for her, but also that she’s not asking to take something away from the “children” that they need: a scrap will not starve them, but it’ll mean everything to her.
Our Lord is so generous with us that sometimes we think we’re entitled to what he gives us. Let’s learn from the Syrophoenician woman today to appreciate even the “scraps.”

Readings: 1 Kings 11:4–13; Psalm 106:3–4, 35–37, 40; Mark 7:24–30. See also 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year II, and 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.