Daily Reflections by Father Bert
Lectionary: Hebrews 2: 14-18. Psalm 105: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9. Mark 1: 29-39:
Hebrews presents us with a good insight and description of Jesus in his union with us as humans. In his human condition he is able to support us in our daily needs and in times of suffering, temptation, and illness. He is our brother, our pioneer on the road to the kingdom, and our perfect high priest who offers himself as our thanksgiving offering to the God of all creation. We are truly children of God because he became one with us in the Incarnation when he was born of Mary of Nazareth. He is merciful and just and has redeemed us from our sins through his own death and his going through sufferings and even temptations for our sake. We can put our total trust in Jesus who shares his limitations with us and teaches us how they are part of the human journey toward God.
Psalm 105 is our Psalm of the day. Verse 8 serves as our responsorial verse repeated in between the other verses other verses which are presented in an alphabetical pattern where each letter of the alphabet begins each new verse. This is one of the seven or eight acrostic psalms in the Psalter. The eighth verse joins all of them together in our liturgical celebration: “The Lord remembers his covenant forever.”
I like to name this selection from Mark “A day in the life of Jesus.” (Mark 1: 29-39). It begins in Capernaum, the home of Peter and Andrew and his mother-in-law. Those are the ones Mark names. Mark probably received this family scene from Peter whom he followed and helped after the death of Jesus. In the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus cures her of a fever by raising her up with his hand and then she serves the three who are in her home. Mark’s readers would have been reminded of the resurrection of Jesus by the verb (egeiren) and action (kratesas tes cheiros) used here in taking away her fever by the Lord.
People are coming from all over the villages and are pressing on the door of the home. Jesus somehow is able to heal those who were tormented by demons, and to cure those with infirmities. This continues till evening when Jesus leaves them and retires to a lonely desert place nearby to pray to God his Father. When the people find him he tells them that he must go to other towns and villages and bring the Good News to them. Mark in his crisp descriptive style gives us much information in so few words. A busy day is captured and we have no problem in realizing how full his days were in reaching out to people and teaching them about the kingdom of God. Amen.
Lectionary: Hebrews 2: 5-12. Psalm 8: 2-5. 6-7.8-9. Mark 1: 21-28:
We marvel at the majestic prologue of Hebrews and now we turn to the reality of the Word of God in human flesh or his kenosis (lowering to the human state of existing contrasted with his divinity, Jesus becomes a model for us humans. It is through seeing him also as a suffering servant and priest of God that we enter into his human condition of tears, blood, and death for our redemption as he offers himself as a perfect oblation to God the Almighty One and creator of the world. Yet, even though Jesus was “for a little while lower than the angels” he will be crowned with glory and honor and all things will be put under his feet as we learn from Psalm 110. I am led to believe that Apollos who is mentioned in I Corinthians is the one who best fits the skills and thought of Hebrews. This is simply a hunch but some scholars accept this as did Martin Luther who did not pay much attention to the Book of Revelation! The writer knows the Tanach or Hebrew Scriptures quite well and interprets the New Testament in the light of the Psalms and other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. We also have a document that supports both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.
Psalm 8 is also commented upon by Apollo or the unnamed author of Hebrews. In this beautiful creation Psalm we have, “You gave your Son authority over all the earth.” It was a phrase from this Psalm that was place upon the moon in 196
Mark will move us quickly through the travels and miracles of Jesus. His style is more that of a news reporter than with a poet or skilled writer. He has Jesus moving quickly from Nazareth to a synagogue in Capernaum on a Sabbath where he is seen confronting a possessed man who falls into convulsions, but Jesus drives out the demon and the people begin to be aware that there is someone with authority and power among them. Most of Jesus miracles will be found in the first part of Mark where some people link Jesus to being a superhuman being. Mark will balance this as does the author of Hebrews by bringing out the opposition and doubting Jesus equally with his sufferings and death in the last half of his Gospel where there are few miracles if any.
Lectionary for Ordinary Time: Hebrews 1: 1-6. Psalm 97: 1-2, 6-7, 9. Mark 1: 14-20:
Having finished the Christmas-Epiphany celebrations we return to what is called ordinary time. The season we finished has prepared us for entering into this ordinary time with a new beginning at looking at the world through a new set of Scriptures that will help us through our spiritual journey on the way to the kingdom of God. We start with two remarkable books of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews probably written by a diaspora convert who is conjectured to be Apollos, a companion of Paul from Alexandria and a friend of Priscilla and Aquila who help him in his new conversion to belief in Jesus.
Hebrews is one of the most structured, lofty, and classical pieces of literature in the New Testament. Cardinal Vanhoye , S.J. a Catholic exegete has given us the best structural study of this majestic work. It is an example of first century interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures into what it means for a newly converted literary genius of the first century. The portrait of Jesus that it gives us is both a very high Christology in the beginning and a lower Christology showing how Christ is one with us in all things except sin and how Christ suffered, shed tears and blood and took on the limitations of a first century Jew who was anointed through the Holy Spirit and is the Word and the Son of God. The first three verses match the Prologue of John and the next verses develop the human elements in Jesus through a broader look at the human nature of Jesus in the mystery of the Incarnation.
We are often exhorted in this inspired work to follow Jesus as our pioneer in the rugged journey toward the kingdom of God. Jesus is above the angels, the prophets, Moses as our high priest who is the perfect human oblation offered to God through following God’s will and then dying for our sins in his great act of redemption for all of humankind; he truly is our pioneer leading us to God.
Our Psalm 97 is closely linked to Psalm 96 and can be read together in our meditation this day apart from what is offered in the Liturgy of the Word. Creation is totally subject to its maker God and God is the Almighty One above all other creations in this universe. God loves, guards, rescues, illuminates and gladdens (verses 6-10). Sacra Pagina, p. 241, K. Schaefer, O.S.B.
What a grace it is for us to have this year as the year of Mark’s Gospel. He is clear, very descriptive in what he tells us about Jesus through his primary source who probably was Peter. This is the oldest tradition about Mark and Peter. Mark is a self-starter in being the first to write a Gospel and it is he who gives us the first words of Jesus spoken in his first chapter: “The time (Kairos) is here to proclaim the Good News (euaggelion). Repent (metanoiete).” Notice the word for time that Mark uses. It is Kairos which means not clock-time or historical time but rather the experience of one who is lost in prayer or is not in any way concerned about counting minutes or hours. Retreats are named Kairos for having such an experience of spiritual time. With Jesus salvation history has already arrived and it is he doing the will of God with his words and his actions that salvation history has silently begun writing between the lines of ordinary time or history. John the Baptist is no longer on the scene since he is in a fortress prison on the eastern side of the Dead Sea where he will soon be martyred. It is time for Jesus to be center stage in Mark’s Gospel.
At the end of today’s short passage from Mark we learn that Jesus' first actions are to call the four fishermen who will be his followers for the rest of his life. They are named Peter and Andrew, blood brothers and James and John, sons of Zebedee their father and owner of the fishing business near Capernaum on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee. Let us enter eagerly into reading and meditating on Mark’s story of Jesus. Amen.
Lectionary for the Solemnity of the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus: Isaiah 42: 1-4. 6-7. Psalm 28: 1-2, 3-4, 3. 9-10. Acts 10: 34-38. Mark 7: 1-11:
On this important historical event in the life of Jesus we conclude the Christmas Season. It is good for us to do a basic overview in our minds and hearts as we begin a new year of ordinary readings. We are blessed to think of this year as the year of Mark’s Gospel and also as the year dedicated to the person of Saint Joseph. Pope Francis has announced this as the Year of St. Joseph. I think it would be good to travel with Joseph as we ponder over and dream about what the Gospels and other readings are telling us.
Mark gives us the outline for the four Gospels for us to keep in mind as we travel with Jesus through the liturgical year and its selected passages about Jesus that help us see how we can spiritually assimilate what we are hearing and pondering over. The narrative of Mark starts with the Baptism of Jesus, then quickly moves to his activity and mission of proclaiming and healing in Nazareth and Galilee. It moves then to a journey to Jerusalem and the third part of his outline and finally to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord.
It is Mark who sets the stage for the other Gospels and their more thick descriptions of many of the texts that Mark hands on to them and to us. Mark is said in the earliest tradition that he was a follower of Simon Peter and he may have heard much about Jesus from the one Jesus called the Rock. Mark, however is the first to put into writing a Gospel as he tells us in his first three words. We learn much about Jesus from Mark and Jesus’ historical role in the first century of our era. All three of the other Evangelists need to base their texts on the original text of St. Mark. We can observe how they do change the simple facts of Mark into concerns of their own audiences who search for more information about this paradoxically and mysterious action of Jesus being baptized. It may have scandalized some of the early Christians as we see in the way Matthew presents it.
I have the good fortune of having a Synopsis of the Four Gospels in Greek and after pondering over the text from Mark, I opened it to take note of how the baptism of Jesus, an astounding and perplexing event was redacted theologically by Matthew, Luke, and John. In the Synopsis the texts were contained in two pages of very short passages that dealt with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan before his active ministry began.
Let us recall that Mark wrote around the year 70 of our era, Matthew 80, Luke 85, and John 90. The Synopsis tells us that the baptism of Jesus was an important event for all four Gospel writers. The other three Evangelists depended on Mark for its historical feature. We call this agreement of four different presenting the baptism a “multiple attestation” in Scripture.
In this special New Year 2011 we are fortunate to begin our Scripture and Liturgical Readings from Mark so he will be our companion together with the “carpenter” Joseph for our spiritual guiding companion. Matthew calls Joseph the carpenter, but Mark calls Jesus the carpenter! (Mark 6:3). Jesus has no father except God the Father! in Mark.
Here is the simple and clear statement of Mark about Jesus’s Baptism: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” (Mark 1: 9-11). It is God who witnesses to Jesus at the Baptism and the text implies that only Jesus was aware of this theophany with his Father. So God is the primary witness and only through Jesus revealing this to one of his apostles could have passed this fact on to Peter and then Mark took it from Peter.
If we look at Matthew, the Evangelist who relied upon Mark the most. Matthew the inspired author himself is the witness for what he writes about the Baptism. It is twice the length of what Mark wrote. It is written more from a third person perspective.
Luke, in his turn, has people praying and gathering and being baptized with Jesus. Here we see the people who are the witnesses of the Baptism of Jesus..
John differs from the three above by saying it is John the Baptist who witnesses to the Baptism with a lengthy dialogue going on. We learn much about the similarities and differences that occur in the New Testament and this leads us to know more about the Evangelists themselves. This is a great gift to learn to see these differences in the writers. We are able to arrive at the important insights they individually see in what has been remembered from the oral traditions behind the Gospel and then from the Gospels themselves. Let us enjoy being led by them through the Church’s Liturgy of the Word during this new year of Mark and let us pray to St. Joseph to walk with us through them as the second person who lived most closely to Jesus after Mary his Mother. Mark is unique and original in calling Jesus the “Son of Mary.” In Mark only God is said to be the Father of Jesus. Amen.
Lectionary: I John 5: 14-21. Psalm 149: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. 9. John 3: 22-30:
At the end of the First Epistle of John we listen to the conclusion where he returns to the topic of prayer and its relationship to God’s will and how it also is our way of forgiving one another’s sins—except if it is the mortal sin that he is speaking about but does not say what it consists of. Since his letter basically is a foundation document that is divinely inspired we may get a modern glimpse into it by reading it along with Pope Francis’s last encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” dealing with human relationships, fraternity, dignity, equality, and justice which help us to maintain peace, unity, and reverence for the other person’s differences. These are general themes that are easy to say but often difficult to live out in our daily life experiences.
John’s letter opened for us some other general themes: truth, love, faith, fraternity, community of believers, and the presence of God in our thoughts, words, and actions.
I was surprised that sin and the mention of mortal sin appear in the very last lines of John. The greatest sorrow I felt in the Epistle was the fact that some members disagree totally with what he is saying and leave the community of the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. I think for John mortal sin are not the ones against the flesh but the breaking of love between one another. The commandment of love which is similar to a covenant is the tragedy in the world then and now. Mortal sin in John consists in not loving our brothers and sisters in the world as belonging to God’s family. Contempt of others, lying, and not forgiving are symptoms that mortal sin exhibits. Perhaps, this is the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that is spoken of in St. Mark. The Holy Spirit is love, compassion, kindness and mercy in a divine manner that helps us to practice the same by listening, praying, and being aware of the Spirit within us. I like the very last thought John brings to us by saying, “We are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” I John 5: 19-20. Sin is the opposite of this as John has spoken of it here and elsewhere in the same Epistle. “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin for he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.” (I John 3: 8-10).
Our Psalm 149 is another Hallelujah Psalm that is meant for the whole community to sing and pray. It is a wonderful psalm for concluding the last day of the Christmas-Epiphany season. Notice it begins and ends with a hearty Hallelujah thus praising God from beginning to end.
Probably you were shocked to hear for the first time that Jesus, too, was baptizing people in the Jordan not far from where John was in Aenon near Salim where the waters were deeper and wider in the Jordan River. But even more shocking for the first Christian communities was the fact, the event, that Jesus himself was baptized. St. Matthew’s Gospel will make efforts to explain why Jesus was baptized. In reading today’s selection of a sermon from Saint Maximus of Turin I found it to be most helpful as a spiritual way of looking at the Baptism of Jesus:
“Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy and by his cleansing to purify the waters he touched, for the consecration of Christ involves a more significant consecration of the water.” Amen.
Lectionary for Friday after Epiphany: I John 5: 5-13. Psalm 147: 12-13. 14-15, 19-20, Luke 5: 12-16:
These are my thoughts on the three readings for today as we come to the last days of the Christmas-Epiphany season and head toward a short ordinary time and then a fast approaching and surprising early Lent. Ash Wednesday is Feb. 17, 2021.
For I John 5; 5-13 I immediately saw the word testimony or witness within our first reading. This stems from the gift of faith which we received originally from the first disciples of Jesus, women and men who witnessed the resurrection and then proclaimed it to their friends. We are all dependent on the apostles and evangelists who have handed down the belief that Jesus is alive and is our mediator and savior. This is taken for granted in the Epistle of John who is addressing his own community of believers. They are called by many spiritual writers, the Community of the Beloved Disciple.
In reading this page from I John I realized that it is similar to what is announced and given witness to in the Gospel of John whom I believe is the same author of both the Gospel of John and his three epistles to the churches in his community. In our reading we hear John saying to us, “This is he who came by water and blood. And the Spirit is the witness because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree….for this is the testimony of God that He has borne witness to his Son.” (I John 5: 7-10). John also writes, “He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life.”
These words helped me to see a flashback to the scene at the foot of the Cross in John’s Gospel (19: 25-37). After Jesus had died on the Cross while bequeathing his mother Mary to the Beloved Disciple these words of witness are given by the inspired writer: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe for these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled.”
Psalm 147 is a Psalm of praise which is often used in the Liturgy of the Word between the first reading and the Gospel. God is praised, thanked, and reveals words to the ones praying or singing it. This is one of the last five psalms that close the Psalter and begin with the Hebrew word that means PRAISE GOD (Hallelujah).
Luke 5: 12-16 is the healing story of a leper who humbly approaches Jesus and knowing and trusting Jesus asks to be healed. Jesus does cure him by touching him and the cleansed leper then in his humility goes to be ritually declared clean by the priest . Both Jesus, the leper, and Luke show us their humility in this paragraph of scripture. Luke gives us the best portrait of Jesus as meek and humble of heart and as well as merciful to those who trust in him. For consolation and comfort we turn to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel where the kindness of the Lord shines through and helps us experience the compassionate love of God. Amen.
Lectionary: John 4:19-5:4, Psalm 72: 1-2, 14:15. Luke 4: 14-22: This is Christmas Day for the Orthodox Churches or we often hear its popular name, “Little Christmas.” Gifts are given on this day as we do on December 25. Gift-giving and generosity and joy seem to be part of the atmosphere during the Christmas season no matter where it is being celebrated. It is the Twelfth Day of Christmas and a traditional Christmas song can easily roam about in our memory’s ear. “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…etc. for the twelve days after Christmas. For me this happened while I was in the grand plaza in Madrid, Spain with a few Marianist brothers. Suddenly lights flashed above us like at a small airport and a helicopter descended. The doors opened and three men came out giving candy to the children who were filled with joy and happiness. It is an Epiphany / Christmas I will never forget I think it happened in the mid-eighties of the last century. That was the most dramatic scene I have experienced in celebrating a Christmas or an Epiphany. This is what the spirit of this season is all about and we should try to keep that spirit alive as we move through a New Year that is only a week old.
The passage from Luke that is chosen for this day is a revelation or appearance of Jesus in a synagogue where people he knew have gathered. He is called to read from the scroll on the bema and choses a passages from Isaiah that serve as the inaugural speech or proclamation of what his mission on earth will be in God’s hidden and underlying plan of salvation. God is writing between the lines in invisible ink while the world outside goes on in its business and frenzy during most of the year. Jesus tells us then and now that he is the fulfillment of this text: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and recover the sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Isaiah 61: 1-2).
The ending is important for us to live out as much as we can during this New Year. In this way we become active and creative participators in our own individual and communitarian manner by sharing in the mission of Jesus as our Savior. We dance for joy since Jesus tells us that this year: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Yes, the Spirit is also upon us. We all can make this a good year for our brothers and sisters by listening to the Lord each day in the Scriptures and pondering over in our minds and hearts the texts we read, pray, and meditate upon. Amen.