Tag Archives: gospel of Mark

A World of Talking Trees

“Do you still not understand?” Jesus said this to his disciples in Mark’s gospel right after he cured a blind man who only gradually gains his sight. He has to lay his hands on the man’s eyes a second time before he sees clearly. Is that the way we see and understand, gradually?

The cross takes many forms and I wonder if one form it takes in our time is the cross of confusion. We like clear sight for ourselves and everyone else, but in times of great change confusion is inevitable. Like the man in the gospel we’re living in a world of “talking trees” and that’s hard to take, reasonable, resourceful people that we are.  It’s humbling to live in confusing times like ours..

It makes us angry. There’s a lot of anger around us today, the anger that boils over and lashes out, or the anger that retreats into a fortress of resistence and isolation.

Pope Francis often speaks of patience. He said patience keeps the church going. He spoke once of the music of patience, a patience that hears and waits, like the patient blind man who waits for the hand of Jesus to reach out again.

“When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida,
people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.
Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked,
“Do you see anything?”
Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”
Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly;
his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”
(Mark 8,22-26)

Magdala: “a place nearby”

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After a tumultuous first day of ministry in Capernaum, Jesus left the following day for others places, Mark’s Gospel says.

“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.’
So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. (Mark 1,36-39)

Was one of the nearby villages Magdala?

Magdala, or Migdal, a prosperous Jewish port city in the first century. was just five miles south of Capernaum on the south-western part of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the city has been uncovered recently by archeologists and the discovery opens another window into the gospel story.
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Magdala’s economy was built on fishing and, in fact, it seems to have been the center of a highly developed industry on the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ day. We were aware through written sources , that salted fish from Magdala was sold in the surrounding areas and even as far as Rome, but the recent findings offer another look at Magdala’s economy and the sophisticated techniques to store and prepare the lake fish for market used there. As a flourishing Jewish center on the Sea of Galilee, it was an obvious place for Jesus to visit.

The Jewish historian Josephus may be exaggerating when he says there were 40,000 people in Magdala, but certainly it had a good-sized, prosperous population in the time of Jesus. Christians see it as the home of Mary Magdalen.

The new excavations in Magdala and also in Bethsaida on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee make us think again about the world of Jesus and what he did there. For example, a newly excavated synagogue at Magdala, the only existing synagogue from his day, offers an important visual tool for understanding Jesus’ ministry in the synagogues of Galilee on the Sabbath. Did he stand in a place like this and teach and cure? Probably.
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The recent findings also invite us to look again at Jesus’ disciples. What kind of people were Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the other Galilean fishermen whom Jesus called to follow him? They’re often described as “poor” “ignorant” fishermen, tagging along, open-mouthed, before the wonders Jesus worked and the words he spoke.

But the Galilean fishermen seem more resourceful and knowledgeable than that. They were the obvious guides to the world around the Sea of Galilee. In Mark’s Gospel the Sea of Galilee has an important symbolic role. It separated two peoples. On its western shore were mostly Jewish communities; on its eastern shores were the gentile cities of the Decapolis. Jesus first goes to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but then he crosses over to gentile world.

Who takes him to this different world but the savvy fishermen who know the places and the peoples around the sea?

The disciples were certainly not ignorant people. They’re part of the sophisticated economy of Galilee. At one point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that he’s thinking like a human being when he tries to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem to face suffering and death. In fact, the disciples were quite good at human thinking, quite confident in their own opinions and thoughts. In the gospel Jesus constantly challenges their “human thinking” with the thinking of God. .

Where did he meet them? Mark’s gospel says simply it was along the Sea of Galilee. A mosaic of the call of the disciples in the new center at Magdala suggests it may have happened here. Another mosaic suggests that the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, may also have taken place here.
Mary Magdalene

Speculation, maybe, but the Jewish fishing villages and centers along the Sea of Galilee were where Jesus first ministered. It’s a good guess that the call of Mary Magdalene and her release from the control of seven devils took place at Magdala. There she, and surely others like her, became his disciples.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t limit the followers of Jesus to twelve. He only mentions the twelve once in his gospel. In Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, a wide range of people become followers of Jesus, from the fishermen of Galilee, tax-collectors like Matthew, to women like Mary Magdalene and Johanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Cusa. Women had a place with the twelve, Luke’s gospel says:

“Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8,1-3)
Herod Antipas’ capitol, Tiberias, was only a few miles from Magdala.
Like so many ancient cities, Magdala had its good days and days of decline. It was probably destroyed during the Jewish revolt in 68 AD. Only a few places in the city were left standing when the Crusaders arrived in the 12th century, then it disappeared in the earth.

The Legionaires of Christ bought the property along the Sea of Galilee in 2004 and intended to build a 300 room hotel on the site, but in preparing the building site they uncovered the ruins of ancient Magdala. Construction stopped and the archeologists stepped in.
“For the Rev. Juan M. Solana, it was the spiritual equivalent of striking oil,” a New York Times article from May 14, 2014 said.
“When he set out to develop a resort for Christian pilgrims in Galilee, he unearthed a holy site: the presumed hometown of Mary Magdalene and an ancient synagogue where experts say Jesus may well have taught.”

Capernaum: A Remarkable Day

Peter's mother in law

Jesus’ ministry in Galilee begins in Mark’s gospel with a remarkable day, a “paradigmatic day,” a day you can see everything you need to know about Jesus.

Passing along the Sea of Galilee Jesus calls Simon and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They accompany him.

Then, they enter the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath Day and Jesus begins to teach. The people are amazed; no one has taught like him before.

Then, as it happens through his life, evil appears. A man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Jesus rebuked him and said,“’Quiet! Come out of him!’

Leaving the synagogue, the people tell everybody they meet. News spreads quickly from Capernaum, a trading center, and the day is still not over.

From the synagogue Jesus enters Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum where Peter’s mother in law is ill. “He grasped her by the hand, and helped her up and the fever left her. Immediately she began to wait on them.” “Again, the news spreads. “After sunset, as evening drew on, they brought all who were ill and those possessed by demons. Before long, the whole town was gathered outside the door. He cured many who were variously afflicted.”

Truth and life came to that town, and from that town Jesus goes to other towns as well: “ I must proclaim the good news to them too,” he says.

He confronts evil wherever he goes. Jewish leaders from Jerusalem question his authority to cure on the Sabbath, his own disciples and his own family do not understand him. The towns that welcomed him, reject him. Still, he announces the good news.

To appreciate Mark’s remarkable day in perspective, try reading the gospels of these three days all a once. You can see Mark at his best, describing God’s beloved Son announcing the good news to the towns of Galilee and to the world as well.

The Call of the Disciples

DSC00036 After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they left their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee is as succinct as his account of his baptism and temptation. John has been arrested. Not a good time, in human thinking, to begin a ministry. Herod Antipas, arresting John and ready to behead him, rules in Galilee. Better wait, we would say.

But this is God’s time, different from ours. The Good News is God’s message, not ours. Jesus does not expand on what God’s Kingdom is but one thing we know– God will act according to his plan, not ours. One thing we know: it is at hand now, and Jesus comes to fulfill it. “Your will be done,” Jesus taught in the Our Father. We’re asking for something bigger than what we think God’s will is.

The call of the four fisherman, Peter, Andrew, James and John occurs by the Sea of Galilee. For the Jews the sea, like the wilderness, was a dangerous place; storms unsettled it; unpredictable winds made it fearful. To them, even an inland body of water twelve miles long and six miles wide was something to be wary of. Still, they made a living on it, but being called by God by the sea was a dangerous sign.

Jesus says simply, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark’s Gospel sees the four fishermen having a lot to learn to be fishers of men. They’re slow to understand his call. Later on, twelve would be called, (Mark 3,13-19), still later their ministry would be explained. (Mark 6,7-13)

The learning never stops. This was not something you learn in a book, or by yourself. “I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said. “Come away by yourselves and rest awhile,” he said to his disciples who returned to him with reports of all they had done. (Mark 6,30ff) Every disciple learns what the call means from him and for her.

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The First Martyrs of Rome: June 30

June 30th, the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we remember the Christians  martyred with them in Nero’s persecution in the mid 60s, a persecution that shook the early  church.

It began with an early morning fire that broke out on July 19, 64 in a small shop by the Circus Maximus and spread rapidly to other parts of the city, raging nine days through Rome’s narrow street and alleyways where more than a million people lived in apartment blocks of flimsy wooden construction.

Only two areas escaped the fire; one of them, Trastevere, across the Tiber River, had a large Jewish population.

Nero was at his seaside villa in Anzio and delayed returning to the city. Not a good move for a politician, even an emperor. Angered by his absence,  people wondered if he set the fire himself so he could rebuild the city on grand plans of his own.

To stop the rumors, Nero looked for someone to blame. He chose a group of renegade Jews called Christians, whose reputation was tarnished by incidents years earlier when the Emperor Claudius banished some of them from Rome after rioting occurred in the synagogues over Jesus Christ.

“Nero was the first to rage with Caesar’s sword against this sect,” the early-Christian writer Tertullian wrote. “To suppress the rumor,” the Roman historian Tacitus says, “Nero created scapegoats. He punished with every kind of cruelty the notoriously depraved group known as Christians.”

We don’t know their names,  how long it went on or how many were killed: the Roman historians do not say. Possibly  60,000 Jewish merchants and slaves lived in Rome then; some were followers of Jesus and had broken away from the Jewish community even before Peter and Paul arrived in the city.(cf. The Letter to the Romans)

Following usual procedure, the Roman  authorities seized some and forced them by torture to give the names of others. “First, Nero had some of the members of this sect arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers were condemned — not so much for arson, but for their hatred of the human race. Their deaths were made a farce.” (Tacitus)

The Christians were killed with exceptional cruelty in Nero’s gardens and in public places like the race course on Vatican Hill. “Mockery of every sort accompanied their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Tacitus)

Nero went too far, even for Romans used to barbaric cruelty. “There arose in the people a sense of pity. For it was felt that they (the Christians) were being sacrificed for one man’s brutality rather than to the public interest.” (Tacitus)

How did the Roman Christians react to this absurd, unjust tragedy? They had to ask why God permitted this and did not stop it. Fellow  believers were among those who turned them in.

The Gospel of Mark, written shortly after this tragedy in Rome, was likely written to answer these questions, scholars say. Jesus, innocent and good, experienced death at the hands of wicked men, that gospel insists. He suffered a brutal, absurd death. Mark’s gospel gives  no answer to the question of suffering except to say that God saved his Son from death.

The Gospel of Mark also gives an unsparing account of Peter’s denial of Jesus in his Passion with no excuse for his failure. Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his own followers.

Finally, the Roman Christians afterwards would surely wonder whether to stay in this city, an evil city like Babylon Should they go to a safer, better place? The Christians remained in the city. Was the “Quo Vadis?” story a story prompted by questions like these ?

The martyrs of Rome strengthen us to stand where we are and do God’s will, inspired by the Passion of Christ.

A video about the persecution is at the beginning of today’s blog.

Here’s a video about Peter’s encounter with Jesus as he flees from the city during this same persecution: “Quo Vadis?”

Here are Stations of the Cross in the gardens of Ss.Giovanni e Paolo in Rome, once the gardens of the Emperor Nero. Were some early Roman martyrs put to death here?

8th Week of the Year

 

Graphic Pentecost

May 27 SUN THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
Solemnity
Dt 4:32-34, 39-40/Rom 8:14-17/Mt 28:16-20 (165)

28 Mon Weekday (Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
1 Pt 1:3-9/Mk 10:17-27 (347)

29 Tue Weekday
1 Pt 1:10-16/Mk 10:28-31 (348)

30 Wed Weekday
1 Pt 1:18-25/Mk 10:32-45 (349)

31 Thu The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feast
Zep 3:14-18a or Rom 12:9-16/Lk 1:39-56 (572)

June 1 Fri Saint Justin, Martyr
Memorial
1 Pt 4:7-13/Mk 11:11-26 (351)

2 Sat Weekday
[Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Martyrs; BVM]
Jude 17, 20b-25/Mk 11:27-33 (352)

The First Letter of Peter, read this week, was written from Rome by Peter, the apostle, to Christians threatened by persecution, ancient tradition says. Some modern scholars question if Peter himself wrote it and suggest a later author wrote using his name. You can hear in the readings early baptismal teaching which the author uses to remind his listeners who they are.

In chapters 10 and 11 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, a journey many do not understand and, like the rich young man, they decide not to join him. James and John also thought his journey would bring power and prestige, but it was not to be. We hear in these readings lessons for the Roman church of the 70s, but the lessons are also meant for us..

A feast of Mary occurs every month in the calendar. This month it’s the Visitation (May 31), placed in the calendar between the Feast of the Annunciation (March 15) and the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24) We’re reminded of Mary’s role as a bearer of good news to her older cousin Elizabeth, who will give birth to John. Mary always brings her Son to us too.

The Wisdom of Ordinary Time

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The readings in today’s Mass point to the wisdom of ordinary time. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus says to his disciples who complain there are others “who do not follow us” driving out demons. (Mark 9,38-40) Wisdom is not just in our tradition; it’s there everywhere in ordinary time.

I like the hand in the picture above of Bernini’s famous window in St.Peter’s. Who’s hand is it, anyway? A believer’s hand. Yes, for sure. But also the hand of all who walk this earth searching for truth.

“Wisdom breathes life into her children” (Sirach 4,11 ) Like much of the wisdom literature in the bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Psalms) the Book of Sirach, one of the readings at the beginning of ordinary time, draws much of its content from the culture of the middle east which influenced the Jews at home and in their exile in other lands.

As the gift of God breathed into ordinary time, the Holy Spirit “renews the face of the earth.” The Spirit’s wisdom is everywhere.