Daily Reflections by Father Bert


Jan 17
Lectionary: I Sam. 8: 1-7. 10.22. Psalm 89: 16-17, 18-19. Mark 2: 1-12:

We skip up to chapter 8 in the selection from I Samuel where Samuel is now advanced in years and has his sons are acting as judges to help the Israelites, but they are not good judges. The people ask that they become “like other nations” who have a sovereign king as ruler; this will then make them greater in the light of other nations for they, too, will have a king for their ruler. This violates the will of God that they be a particular people set aside for God who is their creator and redeemer. How could they break away from the covenant they made with God? They do break away and Samuel and God commiserate the choice after having listed all the constraints and tithes this will bring upon them. They will be no more than slaves of the king! God never intended this, but free will always wins out even though they and we must suffer the consequences of our bad choices. They will choose a king with the help of Samuel and the prophet will slowly fade away into the land of shadows (Sheol) as we will later learn during the short reign of Saul, the first king of the Israelites. The sad era of the judges is over and a new form of governance begins. The story will continue as we enter the long years of kingship in the north and south and then the demise of both of these kingdoms.

Psalm 89 is one of the longest psalms in the Bible consisting of 53 verses. It is a royal messianic psalm and speaks of the covenant with God that the newly anointed king should have. This psalm is Yahwistic since it favors the use of that holy name for the Lord or “Adonai.” Yahweh is not pronounced and is substituted often by Adonai or simply Ha Shem , “the Name.” I found one of the verses in our responsorial helpful to understand God’s will for the king once that office was established after Samuel: “For to the Lord belongs our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel our King.” (verse 19).

In chapter two we listen to Mark describing a unique event in the miraculous healing of a paralytic who through the help of four friends has access to Jesus by being lifted down from a roof which has been torn open by the four friends. Jesus is very impressed to see the strong faith of the friends and probably the same faith is found in the paralytic who benefits not only from physical healing but by forgiveness of his sins by Jesus. This irks the scribes who feel that Jesus has gone beyond the boundaries of the human condition in saying that the man is forgiven his sins. They think Jesus is blaspheming. Mark helps us his readers to understand that Jesus is more than a human person; he is the Son of God. Mark does not call Jesus God, but does show Jesus has been anointed with power and authority even to forgive sins for he is both son of man, that is, a human, and Son of God that is divine. Only John will clearly affirm that Jesus is God in the Prologue and in the body of his Gospel by the formula “I AM” which is also the meaning of the sacred word Yahweh. It is only through our baptismal faith that we can say this about Jesus through John’s Gospel. Amen.


Jan 16
Lectionary: I Samuel 4:1-11. Psalm 44: 10-11. 14-15. 25-26. Mark 1: 40-45:

We enter this part of I Samuel with a section dedicated to the Ark of the Covenant that extends into the battles Israel has with its strongest enemy at this time the Philistines. These peoples occupied the northern coastal range and were both good seamen as well as warriors on the land. They defeat Israel in the second attempt mentioned and even seize the Ark of the Covenant and kill the two sons of the priest Eli who were the protectors of the ark. A certain mentality can be sensed in the passage similar to what was heard in other wars—“God is with us.” In a totally different context we hear Paul telling us, ,“If God is with us, who can be against us?” Israel learns that this is not true for they lost the battle and the Ark of the Covenant that had been in the shrine temple of Shiloh. God’s will is peace not war.

Psalm 44 reflects the atmosphere of not being happy that God has not been with them so it fits our first reading. It is a psalm of a nation in distress during the times of being defeated in battle. God seems to be absent and Israel cries out for help.

Jesus now is fully involved in his mission of bringing the Good News of God to all of the villages and towns in Galilee. He is over-burdened but continues doing what God wants of him. He needs to retire to secret places near desert areas in order to get some time away from the needs of the people. Yet, even here a leper who probably sought places away from the public finds Jesus and pleads for a cure. Jesus answers his petition immediately and he is cured and observes all the ritual cleansing that is necessary for him to be a part of normal life. The man is so excited that despite Jesus telling him to keep his healing from Jesus quiet, he does not listen. This insistence on keeping the healing power of Jesus and his identity secret may be a device used by Mark which is named by scholars as the messianic secret in Mark. Very few of those healed keep this a secret. Jesus even scolds the demons and they then keep quiet. They probably obeyed him sensing his power and authority and thus after his rebuke, kept quiet.


Jan 15
Lectionary: I Samuel 3: 1-10, 19-20. Psalm 40: 2-5, 7-9, 8-9,10. Mark 1:29_39:

Responding to the calls of the Lord is, in my mind, the theme that unites all three readings. The response of the child Samuel in the Temple is contained in a powerful and succinct answer in Hebrew, “Hinenni!” Here I am. Samuel also adds, “I am here to do your will, Lord.” This same theme is found in the Psalm chosen for today’s Responsorial (Psalm 40) and heard also through the deeds of Jesus given in summary by St. Mark who also mentions Jesus aborbed in prayer in an isolated place. Mark gives us a listing of the healing events that he summaries for a day in the life of Jesus in Capernaum.

Among young religious who are preparing for their first vows the passage from I Samuel’s calling while he is asleep in the Temple is often used on their vow day as the first reading in the Liturgy of the Word. It is a perfect “call” story summoning young Samuel to respond as he does and then grows and develops into a great prophet and leader for Israel during one of its most troubling times. Eli, the same priest who was instrumental in helping the mother of Samuel to keep trusting in God is the one who realized that the Lord is calling Samuel after being disturbed in his sleep by the call of God to Samuel. Eli realizes that the third call confirms that it is the Lord who calls Samuel to serve as prophet and leader in the coming years.

It is that word “Hinenni” that is compelling and has meaning even in modern Hebrew where it means “I am present, I am here on time for the class, etc.” In the Bible the word is frequently used in vocation stories and in revelatory messages. I see it as relating to “Behold!” with a special message following for example, Mary saying to Gabriel, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” In Samuel’s call, the story is repeated three times—a signal that this is something very important to listen to and respond to positively as did Samuel and Mary.

The Psalm strengthens the same response “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” It certainly parallels the Samuel story and also complements the narrative that Mark gives us about what Jesus is doing—accomplishing the will of the Father by healing Peter and Andrew’s mother-in-law with James and John present in the room as Jesus lifts her up and heals her fever, and then she serves the apostles and Jesus. Then a magnificent summary of a day in the life of Jesus in Capernaum is given with an important fact that Jesus goes apart into a lonely desert place to pray and thus prepare for the Good News of his mission to other villages and towns in Galilee. The raising of her may be part of Mark’s way of reminding his community and his listeners of all times that the resurrection is recalled through this “raising up” of the mother-in-law.

I always am impressed with the beautiful summary statement of Mark about this day of healings in the life of Jesus. It is easy to remember and reflect upon just how merciful and kind Jesus is in what he does. He is always saying “Hinneni” or Yes to the Father as a Son who has come to do God’s will.

Mark does not stress the prayer of Jesus as often as Luke will do in his Gospel of Prayer, but when he does note it, one is attentive to its declaration that Jesus prayed and that we, too, should pray often as he did. Mark describes Jesus at prayer in this manner: “He was absorbed in prayer in a lonely place in the desert.” Amen


Jan 14
Lectionary: I Samuel 1:9-20. I Samuel 2: 1,4-5,6-7, 7.8. Mark 1:21-28:

One of the poor of Yahweh is featured in today’s reading from Samuel. Hanna is barren, has family problems with her husband’s concubine, and is desperate and sorrowful. She only has God to depend upon in the family struggles and she prays that God may help her to live through them by giving her a child. She, for the first time in the Bible uses the phrase, “Lord of hosts” to address God about these concerns. Eli, the priest in charge of the shrine at Shiloh sees her praying while not making any articulate sounds and thinks she is intoxicated. She explains her painful situation with her family and with her not having any issue. Her husband loves her, but that does not solve her depression and sorrow. As one of the Poor of Yahweh she depends on God to answer her plea. The priest does bless her and sends her home; she eventually does conceive a son and names him Samuel which can mean “God’s name” or “God has listened” based on the Hebrew word (Shemah).

The birthing of a child in such a miraculous way leads Hanna to sing her song of praise and thanksgiving to God who has listened and heard her pleas. This song is remarkably close to what St. Luke has Mary sing in her Magnificat. The song of Hanna also has resonance with Psalm 113 regarding the status of a barren woman who is blessed by God with many children. Did Luke rely upon this story to create the Magnificat? We do not know for sure. Taking the text in a literal manner it is Mary who sings this song and identifies herself as the handmaid of the Lord through it. The reversals that come upon those who are proud and powerful is found in both songs. It is a reversal of the status quo in the world of that time both for Hanna and then a thousand years later for Mary.

Jesus is in the synagogue at Capernaum, the home of St. Peter, where he shows his authority over evil by exorcising a man possessed with an evil spirit. We are told the crowd is in admiration of this but are puzzled how could Jesus do this since he is so well known in the area as the son of Joseph the carpenter and is working as a carpenter up until he begins his active ministry in all of Galilee. In this event Lawrence M. Wills in his commentary on Mark says, “Jesus’ teaching consists in marshalling the kingdom of God against the kingdom of Satan and in this he proves he has more authority (exousia) than the scribes.” Mark is emphasizing the divine power Jesus possesses as the Son of God. Mark is, in some sense, describing Jesus as master over all evils and evil spirits. His first miracles bring about admiration, but this will soon change into opposition to what he does on a Sabbath. The Gospel of the Cross looms over these positive descriptions of what Jesus says and does in the earliest part of his ministry in Galilee. Amen.


Jan 13
Lectionary for First day in ordinary time, year two: I Samuel 1:1-8. Psalm 116: 12-13, 14-17, 18-19. Mark 1:14-20:

The liturgical season called ordinary time begins on the Monday following the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. In the even years like 2020 the Gospel of Matthew will usually be read on Sundays while during the weekdays the Gospel of Mark is read. I focus on this first day of the ordinary solely on the Gospel taken from Mark, the earliest Evangelist to compose a Gospel around the year 70 A.D

We are also starting a new set of readings from the Old Testament book of I Samuel and, as usual, by a psalm that may fit either the first reading or the Gospel. Here are my reflections on Mark 1: 14-20:

In our Gospel we have Jesus proclaiming the Good News for the first time and we are listening to his first words as a person of thirty years of age or close to that age. He is speaking or as Mark writes, he is proclaiming that the present time is one of fulfillment and that the kingdom of God is near. There is need for listening to the Good News and being open to a new way of looking at our life in the light of what Jesus says. It is a time for conversion or turning away from our self to embracing what God is saying to us through Jesus.

The first words of Jesus are about conversion and renewal by being open to the Good News (the Gospel) and becoming listeners, followers, and doers of the words Jesus speaks to all of us who believe in him. I think it is a good practice to recall these first words of Jesus each time we read from the Gospel of Mark in the next few weeks or more. Here is the way Mark introduces these first words of Jesus to us: Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand. Reform your lives and believe in the Good News.’”

Mark uses the words fulfill (peplerotai ho Kairos) which pertain to doing what Isaiah the prophet is telling us and the word “reform” (Metanoia). In this Gospel of Mark we are at the point of departure for learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We enter into salvation history by seeing the fulfillment of Jesus of what the prophet is saying and we are moved to conversion of our old ways of thinking about God through a new mindset that helps us begin our journey with Jesus. It is Mark who will be our guide during these opening days of ordinary time in the year 2020. It is a worthwhile adventure to enter into what the Gospel is calling us to do with our lives. Mark will lead us through the ministry of Jesus in Galilee where most of his miracles will occur, then on to Jerusalem where miracles change into the way of the Cross that leads us through the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We will come to see Mark as being the Gospel of the Cross. The disciples described by Mark will help us to see what a struggle this is and yet in the end they will enjoy union with Jesus in the realm of God.

I also recommend that we turn back to the very first line of Mark where we have a thumbnail sketch of what is being said in our Gospel. It is always good to look at the opening verses of each writer of the New Testament. In a bible study group for Chinese Catholics I asked them to repeat these first lines in Greek and through repetition they got it--even though it really was totally “Greek to them.” Here are the words of Mark for verse one: A beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God. ( Arche tou Euaggeliou Jesou Christou ‘uiou Theou) Mark 1;1). This first verse alerts us to having a useful key toward reading the entire Gospel of Mark within this overarching chain of words that focus both on Jesus as human (“son of man” in Mark’s words) and divine (“Son of God”).

Mark is a refreshing fast moving Gospel written like a journalist who loves detail. It offers us many prompt phrases that can motivate us during this new year of grace, 2020. Our openness to learn how to read Mark will nourish our desire to be apostles of the words and deeds of Jesus. We do not have to preach them but simply grow and live in the life of Jesus Mark gives us. Make this one of your conversion experiences by learning how to read Mark for the “first time” in a reflective way using the keys that we have from reading his first chapter well.

Amen.


Jan 12
Lectionary for Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 42: 1-4,6-7. Psalm 29: 1-2,3-4,3. 9-10. Acts of the Apostles 10: 34-38, Matthew 3: 13-17:

We ask why is Jesus baptized by his cousin John the Baptist in the Jordan River? It seems to be a contradiction that God’s Son who is sinless needs to be baptized by one who claims he is not worthy to loosen the strap of the Chosen One. Does this add to the many problems people face when reading the Bible? If I may, let me reflect on this with you for a moment or two. Our Evangelist is Matthew and he himself alludes in the narrative that this is a concern for the readers of his Gospel which he wrote around 80 A.D. The variations in some of the manuscripts also show this was a difficult issue for the Church. Matthew proposes his answer to us by following one of his main themes which is the obedience of Jesus in all things to the will of his Father. Obedience is a hallmark theme in Matthew and I believe he is telling us that Jesus was fulfilling God’s will in being baptized by John. It is not a blind obedience on the part of Jesus but one in which he prepared himself for this ritual of cleansing and then tells the Baptist it must be so for now for in this way Jesus attests to the righteousness of God and his own justification in what is right. As the story evolves we learn that the voice of God is heard at the end of the baptism of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.”

We are fortunate to have more information on this topic from other Evangelists for this helps us to get closer to the meaning of this extraordinary action willed by Jesus and done by John the Baptist. I earlier in my life wrestled with this scene but today do not, for the original inspired writers are working under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and are not avoiding what causes embarrassment for us in defending Jesus’ innocence. With the voice of God and the Holy Spirit the fact is seen as confirming the historicity of this event in the life of Jesus. They did not simply leave it aside but handed it on to us specifically in Matthew’s account. The baptism is an anointing by the Holy Spirit in Jesus for the accomplishment of what he will do as a human person among ordinary people. Many were being baptized. Jesus is more than just modelling himself for their willingness to be baptized since he is doing it. There is the mystery of Jesus humanity and divinity within the action of Jesus and John. Jesus is being “confirmed” for his mission by this decisive action in which he sees himself as doing the will of the Father. Jesus says in very plain words to John, “Give in for now. We must do this if we would fulfill God’s commands.” We are privy to the motivation of Jesus in his words and deeds by the overarching theme of his always doing the will of his Father. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That too is recorded by Matthew in the Lord’s prayer and it is a good insight into what this baptism of Jesus is all about. The Baptism of Jesus has been celebrated in the Liturgy of the Word for centuries. Here it is emphasized as the closing of the private life of Jesus and is a manifestation of what is going to come in the active ministry of Jesus.

Most of us have as Catholics been baptized as a child and had no say in it. Jesus, on the other hand, is in control of what he is doing and tells us his reason for being baptized. We grow slowly to where he is at the age of thirty when this takes place. We need many years of prayer, education, and faith to grow fully into the sacrament of Baptism and embrace its graced effects.

On this Feast of the Baptism of Jesus we close the hidden years of Jesus and his earliest years and enter into the journey of faith on our pilgrimage as Church members and individuals. The Baptism of Jesus opens our minds and hearts to embrace our humanity fully with humility and truth. This brings about integrity as we move on in our given calling and mission. We are one with Christ Jesus in his humbleness and human effort to fulfill the will of God in all he does and says. Jesus fulfills what the Father asks of him and this is true righteousness or holiness. Nothing is lost in his being baptized. We may be embarrassed but Jesus was not!

Fr. Senior, a Matthean scholar, tells us, “The emphasis on obedience to the will of God, on obedience perfectly modeled by Jesus, is a hallmark of Matthew’s portrait of Christ.”

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan should help us to develop slowly but surely the motivation that Jesus can share with us through his love for the will of God. As Jesus’ disciples, Baptism is the beginning of our personal and ecclesial journey toward the Father. Our call and mission in life then becomes a part of becoming creative agents of God’s redeeming love and justification by faith of those who are baptized and motivated by the graces that continually flow from this sacrament. May this be so during this year of grace 2020. Amen.


Jan 11
Lectionary: I John 5: 14-21. Psalm 149: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. 9. John 3: 22-30:

John the Beloved Disciple ends his epistle to his own community with this message that we must continue to love each other even when there may be some sin committed by a member of the community. Not every sin is serious. John encourages reconciliation and unity within his community. This is the first time I think the question of a sin not unto death is mentioned. It is called venial sin. They are not to separate themselves from one another nor leave the table that they share. Their belief in Jesus who is “The One who is true” will help them to realize how much God is love and how they are to live out his love with one another and with those whom they will meet as they bring Jesus to others.

Our Psalm is a very joyful one of praise in the Lord “who loves his people and adorns them with victory over evil.” We sing the Psalm Response taken from verse four: “The Lord takes delight in his people.”

We enter the last day of the Christmas-Epiphany cycle which ends with a selection from John’s Gospel that consists in the relationship of John the Baptist with Jesus’ new followers that is a model for dialog and cooperation when it is a question of God’s work among us in salvation history. Both Jesus and his disciples are said to be baptizing; the same is true for those of John the Baptist. This is the only mention of Jesus baptizing in all of the New Testament but but his disciples and apostles will carry out Jesus’ command to them to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 28: 19-20). As a digression we also learn that St.Paul also baptized a few of the Christians in Corinth as we learn of his doing this in I Corinthians 1: 13-17.

Fittingly we have the last words of John the Baptist who is not yet in prison. It shows us why Jesus called him the greatest of those born of a woman! The Baptist prepares us for tomorrow’s great feast of the Baptism of Jesus which is the last manifestation of the Epiphany season: The Baptist says, “For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Amen.