Daily Reflections by Father Bert

Sept 19
Lectionary for 24th Sunday in Ord. Time: Wisdom 2:12. 17-20. Psalm 54: 3-4, 5.6-8. James 3: 16-4: 3. Mark 9: 30-37:

The theme of death appears in all of our readings this Sunday. This contrasts with the purpose of Mark’s Gospel, yet, Jesus speaks of the preparation that he gives to his disciples teaching them how to approach death as he does. We start with an excerpt from the Book of Wisdom that shows how foolish persons wish to discredit a wise person who is just in God’s sight. Out of envy they are hoping he will die proving that he is not a son of God! A very nasty plot similar to Job’s struggle with his life of suffering.

In James we see the vice of envy operating within those opposed to the practical wisdom James shows to his audience or readers. Then the Psalm also mentions death but has confidence and trust in God that the psalmist sets aside by his sung praises and thanks put into music by a just Levite or priest in the Temple. Jesus also has an insight from what he foresees as his own death in this first announcement of his dying on a cross. There will be two more such announcements in the successive chapters nine and ten in this middle section of Mark’s Gospel. We can easily see why Mark is often named the Gospel of the Cross. We learn from our three readings before we announce, read, and proclaim the Gospel. This wickedness consists in threatening a person through their jealousy and envy, then pride and selfishness bring about more foolishness in the one who lives in such a manner regarding relationships with others.

How do we overcome our own foolishness and lack of wisdom? We learn that prayer is all important in helping us to transform our minds and habits into virtues that are dependent on wisdom. The text from the Book of Wisdom shows that we are truly sons and daughters of God who are led by Lady Wisdom or Sophia.

Jesus has to give his disciples a lesson in how to have a change of mind and attitude towards death by inviting his disciples to overcome r pride and envy by seeing how Jesus views his own death in relation to the plan of salvation. In contrast we try to overcome the teaching of Jesus because of envy, pride, jealousy, threatening others, squandering time and talent on self and by seeking pleasures and ignoring the needs of neighbors, the poor, the lonely and abandoned. Jesus shows them true wisdom by taking a child into his arms and tells his followers to become humble and take up their crosses as he will take up his own Cross on Calvary. His words are clear, “Whoever wishes to be first must remain last of all and servant of all. And whoever welcomes a child such as this welcomes me.” This is the true Wisdom of the Word Jesus and his sharing of his words of wisdom. This is the wisdom of God that comes from above because Jesus as Son of God comes from above from the source of all Wisdom --God, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God, Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Sept 18
Lectionary: I Timothy 6: 13-16. Psalm 100: Luke 8: 4-15:

Today we finish the letter to Timothy by focusing on the future coming of the kingdom of God. Paul is aware that this time is only known to God; not even Jesus is able to tell us when it is. In this concluding selection of I Timothy the praise of God and Jesus is strong. He also mentions the witness that Jesus gave in front of Pontius Pilate who was contemporaneous with Jesus who suffered under him. This helps us in realizing much of the Roman governors who occupied the land of Jesus. He appears in the early creeds. Archaeology and history help us to keep in mind the time of Jesus and the early apostles and theologians at that time.

Psalm 100 is a royal psalm praising the Lord and King of all creation and salvation. This is close to the great Psalm 95 which is used in opening the Prayers of the Hours which starts with the Readings from Scripture, Psalms, and a song. The difference is that Psalm 95 has the rebellion of the people in the desert against Moses and God. Our Psalm is an accession Psalm for rendering praise and thanksgiving as one moves into the Temple.

Luke’s Gospel follows what Mark has handed down and the parable of the Sower is the very first parable recorded in the Gospel. Mark has the more original parable while Luke moves it into an allegory to help the disciples of Jesus understand what the purpose of this parable is. The parable points ultimately to being gifted with the word of God that is meant for development into a great product like a seed on good ground that keeps yielding more for the nourishment of our faith.

“Protection of the word and perseverance in it means everything (vv14-15). Luke’s interpretation of the parable is therefore remarkable only for its clarity and consistency. Luke puts his emphasis on faith as a response of obedience and fidelity to the word of God (8:11).” Amen. Amen.This interpretation is found in Luke/Sacra Pagina, p. 134-135, Luke Timothy Johnson.

Sept 17
Lectionary: I Tim 6: 2-12. Psalm 49: 6-7,8-10, 17-18, 19-20. Luke 8: 1-3:

Paul considers that teaching must be among the gifts that Timothy must use in the formation of his Christian community as the overseer (episcopus). He refutes the idea of riches and power be the gifts of a pastor and sees Timothy’s role as a servant leader who is concerned about the poor and those in need in other areas of life. His own life also should be lived in a simple life grounded in humility and love for all the believers in his community and church. Paul makes it clear that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” One who has witnessed publically and been anointed for the ministry as a church leader needs to be a model for integrity, piety, love, faith, steadfastness and have a gentle spirit when relating to his people.

Our liturgy of the response psalm for Psalm 49 is taken from the first beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5: 3). The words of Jesus are a good interpretation in this responsorial verse for Psalm 49. A Jewish commentator has interpreted this psalm with his strong final verse 21: “There is nothing sinful in being rich and a wealthy man may be as righteous as, or better than, a poor man. When, however, he glories only in material prosperity and fails to appreciate the value of the spiritual and of the moral virtues, he then lacks the understanding of life with its God-given purpose and sublime opportunities. His existence is merely animal and he perishes like the beast.” (Rev.Doctor A.Cohen in the Soncino Books of the Bible, p.155 for verse 13).

Luke is not only an evangelist. He is also a theologian, historian, and literary artist in the writing of his twofold work, the Acts of the Apostles and his Gospel. He brings us the Good News with the best style in the New Testament. This is shown in the passage we have today which consists of only three verses. We learn of the history of Jesus and discipleship in this passage which speaks of women who also are close followers of the Lord but also those who are often out of their own work and means they take care of his disciples who are also called his apostles—those who are sent. They offer hospitality, friendship, and dedication to his purpose and mission of bringing the Good News to all whom he meets and heals and calls. We are fortunate to preserve the names of Joanna, Susanna, and Mary from Magdala. These three appear together only here in the New Testament as a trio of disciples who ministered to him. Joanna was the wife of Chuza and her name means the favored or graced on by God. Her husband was a steward or servant of Herod the tetrarch. I could see her being called Grace because of her being favored by the Lord. God. Mary Magdalene we know well from all of the Gospels. Susanna could be named Lillian today for that is the meaning of her name—the lily. She is the heroine in an apocryphal writing called the History of Susanna. Amen. A worthwhile book that gives us a portrait of these three women is the Gospel Women: Studies of the named women in the Gospels, by Richard Bauckham.

Sept 16
Lectionary: I Tim 4: 12-16. Psalm 111: 7-8.9.10. Luke 7: 26-50:

Paul encourages Timothy to accept his leadership role for the community to which he was anointed to be their episcopus (overseer). Despite his youth, he has the gifts necessary for this call which Paul helped to nourish in his favorite disciple to now live out and put into practice in his service to the people. Timothy can do this with his preparation through reading the Scriptures, preaching, and teaching. He takes confidence from the fact that the “prophets” in this community have anointed him and put their hopes in him for doing much good for the whole community. His example must be absorbed in them just as he took on the formation and instruction from Paul who supported and loved him.

Psalm 111 praises the works of God in this positive psalm. Verse 2 serves as the thread through the other verses that has this refrain, “How great are the works of the Lord.” Cohen, a Jewish scholar, interprets this psalm as speaking from a heart that has listened to God. He says, “Hebrew has a double sense of the word heart thus intensifying its activity in a person who prays or sings the psalm. In Hebrew ‘with a whole heart,’ means with a heart completely dedicated to the duty to offer Him praise” (Cohen, 374).” This psalm is a recital of the great and mighty acts of God on behalf of Israel.

Luke shows Jesus’ compassion and love in his portrait of Jesus. He borrows often from Mark and the Sayings Source of the words of Jesus and describes in today’s Gospel selection, the beautiful act of a woman known to be a sinner who comes into the room where Jesus has been invited by a Pharisee named Simon. Simon is critical of Jesus allowing the woman to welcome him by washing his feet. Simon neglected to do this and has not offered Jesus the courtesy of making sure Jesus feet are clean. The woman loves abundantly and has finally found the one who would fulfill her need for forgiveness for all that she has done in the past. This act of hers is a form of a penitential act filled with all the love she has for someone she believes will give her that forgiveness. Is it also an anointing of Jesus for his burial? The unnamed woman courageously faces the others present and has her heart only focused on her love expressed through washing of Jesus’ his feet not with water but her own tears, then drying them with her hair, and finally using the best of ointment to anoint him in this perfect act of love and maybe perfect contrition. Even though she is an unnamed woman here, her memory has been remembered for two thousand years. Who of us could love and trust her Lord and Savior as she did and be remembered even a few years after we have died?

Sept 15
Lectionary for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary: Heb. 5: 7-9. Psalm 31; 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 15, 16, 20. And choice of John 19:25-27 and Luke 2: 35-35: Sept. 15, Wendesday

This is more of a reflection on the two Gospel readings offered for this day. It is more a prayer and not a commentary.

We find ourselves in the heart of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who was in the Temple and received a prophetic statement from Simeon, a devout and open hearted person who came to the Temple. He was awaiting the time of the Messiah and behold he realized it in looking at Mary and delving into the mysteries of the life of that baby just forty days old. This servant-prophet of the Lord directed his own expectation and helped Mary to embrace what her blessings would be—even the deepest mysteries of pain. He looked at Mary and realized again how open this holy mother is to God’ marvels in her life. He says, “You yourself will be pierced with a sword—so that thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.” We are part of those hearts moved by the mystery of this mother and son who is presented to the Holy One, God.

Jesus is dying at the foot of the Cross some thirty years after his presentation in the Temple. He is at his last moment and entrusts to his beloved disciple the one who was with him almost every moment of his life, Mary. She is to take John as her beloved Son. Her heart is opened more to the mystery of her son and her own growth in her to understand, to believe and to remain with him from the first moment of his life to his last breath. Her heart always was listening and speaking to Jesus and she did come as he did to fulfill the will of God. Her Yes and his Yes always beat together. Cor ad Cor loquitur… “Heart speaks to heart.”

We in opening our hearts to this mystery of mother and son can live through our many many sufferings and sorrows by our entrustment to our spiritual mother and our loving and compassionate Savior.

“Lord, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” Amen.

Sept 13
Lectionary: I Timothy 3: 1- 13. Psalm 101: 1-2, 2-3, 5.6. Luke 7: 11-17:

The author of the Pastorals writes in memory of Paul’s name that brings his inspired message to the church of his time addressing it to Timothy, Paul’s beloved son and disciple who probably writes this from Ephesus on the eastern shores of Turkey. This was a center for Christianity in the early centuries as we learn from the Book of Revelation and others who were aware of the early missionary efforts that began there before the first century elapsed. The art of writing in someone's name was part of the way the writings of the New Testament took place. This trait and biblical literary mode is called pseudonymity. The writer is called by a pseudonymous Paul in order to give more value to the work. It was not a form of plagiarism but was an acceptable literary way of keeping the authentic thought of a famous person.

The author writing in Paul’s name is showing the tendency to provide a way of leading the Church to the people of its time. Paul had died in the mid-sixties of the first century; the Pastorals were written between the years 80-100 A.D. The epistle concerns the management by what is called an episcopus, an overseer. This term would be the origin of a bishop once the Church was institutionalized and became a hierarchy or those who were set aside as persons charged with the sacred things of the church, for example, the liturgy, the sacraments and proper behavior or developing a virtuous life. Hierarchy does not mean a higher status; rather it means sacred structures and order in one’s life as a person. The Pastorals speak of three words that indicate various roles of the overseers, the deacons, and the elders (presbyters or priests).

Usually these leaders were married and had the same pastoral responsibility for keeping order in their home and raising their children in the Christian virtues and way of life.

The first two verses of our Psalm call us to pray that we walk blamelessly with our hearts praising God and that we are conscious of not having sinned. “To you, O Lord, I will persevere in the way of integrity. He walks in the way of integrity shall be in my service.” This is what Paul is conveying in his message to Timothy about leadership in the service of the churches which the apostles left behind after dying.

Jesus in his role as our leader and Lord surpasses what other leaders do. He is concerned about the bigger picture of realizing we have come from God and will be led back to God through love and his servant leadership. The paradox of his leadership is bound up in humility as well as in power in the pursuit of our ultimate destiny as children of God. In the miracle of restoring the young man who has died is only possible through God’s working through his Son’s saying Yes to his Father, the God of creation. Jesus was moved by his compassion for the young man’s resuscitation back to life. His words heal both the mother and the son at the same time. Jesus calls out to him, “Young man, I bid you to get up!” He does and then Jesus gives him back to his mother who depended on her son. This happened at Naim (a lovely location) not far from Nazareth. Jesus brought back to life a wonderful relationship to a mother and a son. Amen.

Sept 12
Lectionary: I Timothy 2:1-8. Psalm 28: 2.7.8-9. Luke 7: 1-10:

Paul encourages the community entrusted to Timothy to offer up prayers for civil officials and to inspire the community of Christians to behave like diligent citizens. It almost seems that both the Church and the State are open to one another. This indicates a time later than Paul but his followers know the mind of their teacher and they in turn have passed it on to the next generation. What type of prayers? Paul or his later interpreter tells us what they are: petitions, ordinary vocal prayers, and thanksgiving prayers. This may help lead to dialogue and perhaps conversion to the Christian community referred to in this letter.

Paul gives us the favorite prayer of this community in the form of a clear statement of who Jesus is: “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was born at the proper time.” (I Timothy 2: 5-6).

Our Psalm and its response is in tune with Paul’s request for prayers for those in authority. This hymn adds gestures such as the “lifting up of our hands” to the prayer or song. It is among the 37 psalms that are personal laments that have a thanksgiving added to them. We cry out and it sometimes seems God is not listening to our hymns, petitions, and prayers. Maybe God has need of our listening hearts after we pray. We are permitted to complain and also to thank God when God listens to our laments. In this psalm God is imaged as a shepherd and a king.

Luke gives us a scene in the active ministry of Jesus where a Roman soldier who is a commander or centurion sends a deputation to Jesus asking that his servant be healed. The centurion goes to see Jesus, trusts in Jesus, and ask that he need not go his home; “just say the word and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is amazed at the faith of this Roman soldier and centurion. Such faith has not been expressed among his Jesus own people. The healing takes place from a distance which indeed is amazing as the centurion’s petition. We take up the prayer just before receiving Holy Communion in the Eucharist. We are not worthy but Jesus lovingly invites us to partake of the Eucharistic banquet. “Domine, non sum dingus” (Lord, I am not worthy) Amen. Amen.