Tag Archives: Mark’s gospel

The Journey to Jerusalem

Jesus begins to set out for Jerusalem in today’s reading at Mass from the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel. Matthew offers a similar account in the 19th and 20th chapters of his gospel.

Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem alone, he invites others to go with him. It’s a journey to resurrection and life and more than a couple of days, but as they hear Jesus describe the way to Jerusalem, people react like people do,

You can’t miss human weakness in the journey stories of Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel, beginning with the Pharisees. I suppose they represent human doubt and questioning that’s always there. The disciples rebuked the women bringing their children forJesus’ blessing, and Jesus rebukes them. Be like children to make the journey, Jesus tells them.

The rich young man wants to hold on to what he has, so he goes away sad. Peter says proudly he’ s given up everything to follow Jesus, but we know how inconstant he is. The story of the brothers, James and John, is obviously a story of human ambition.

1 Hundred Guilder Print
Rembrandt Hundred Guilder Print

Matthew offers Mark’s stories in chapter 19 and 20 of his gospel. The artist Rembrandt drew a remarkable picture of the 19th and 20th chapter of Matthew called the Hundred Guilder Print.

Jesus stands at the center of Rembrandt’s work, bathed in light, his hands outstretched to the crowds before him.

Peter stands at Jesus right, close by. Other disciples, probably James and John, are next to him. Women and their children, whom the disciples told to go away, are next to them. The rich young man is also there in the crowd. Is he reconsidering?

Some of the enemies of Jesus who plotted against him and argued with him are also there, talking among themselves, but they’re still in the picture. Rembrandt even pictures the camel, back by the city gates.

Jesus sheds his light on them all. His arms are open to them all. Rembrandt has it right. Grace is more powerful than human weakness. It’s everywhere.

We’re Not Statistics

healing crowds

Rembrandt, 

 Jesus’ initial ministry in Galilee, starting with his miracles in Capernaum, brought excited crowds to him looking for healing for themselves or those with them. Wherever he went, whether in Jewish or Gentile territory, crowds came to him.

In today’s gospel, the deaf man brought to him isn’t identified as either Jew or gentile. He’s just deaf and can’t speak. He has no name. What’s significant about this miracle is the way Jesus heals him. “He took him off by himself away from the crowd.” (Mark 7,33)

Jesus takes the man aside privately, he meets him personally, face to face– and is deeply touched– “groans”–at the deaf man’s plight. He touches the man, putting his finger in his ears and his spittle on his tongue. When the deaf man speaks, Jesus says to him and his friends not to tell anyone. One reason may be that Jesus doesn’t want to be typed simply as a healer. But they went and proclaimed it anyway.

Still, why did he take him off “by himself away from the crowd?” A reminder that God does not look on us as a crowd, but knows each of us? We’re not statistics, part of a list. God meets each of us face to face.

And that’s a reminder to treat others that way too. Each has a face of their own and a story that’s unique. That’s hard to do. It’s easier to deal with people as statistics, numbers, people next in line.

For Jesus people were not statistics, one of a crowd, next in line. That’s not God’s way.

Reading Mark’s Gospel

Mark

As Ordinary Time begins after the Christmas season we’ll be reading  from the first 10 chapters of the Gospel of Mark at daily Mass till the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Even if you can’t get to daily Mass, read along with the daily lectionary. It’s a wonderful way to pray.

The medieval artist who painted the portrait above of  Mark, sees him as an old man, adjusting his spectacles and getting down to work, while a lion, a traditional symbol of the evangelist, gets ready to roar.

A roaring, fast-paced story– a good way to describe Mark’s gospel–. “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.’” Think of loud trumpets, drums and clanging symbols. We’re reading it in slow motion. It’s meant to be read fast, one story building on the other.

Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, first in Galilee and then in Jerusalem, by miracles and powerful signs. The “wild beasts” he faced in the desert (Mark 1,13) face him now in human form, but he boldly goes his way, with a lion’s courage.

The Acts of the Apostles says that Peter knew John Mark. After his escape from jail ” he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer.” (Acts 12,10)
Mark accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:3; 15:36–39) and later sources say he was Peter’s interpreter.

From all those sources Mark must have assembled his gospel. He heard the stories about Jesus told by the Christian community at his mother’s house, He listened to Paul and Peter. From all of them, he wrote his gospel, the first to be written, around the year 70.

Many commentators say Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for the Christians there who suffered during the first great persecution of the church by Nero after a fire consumed the city in 64 AD. Now they faced the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.

They were asking the same question the disciples of Jesus were asking. “Who are you?” “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers, but when Jesus announces he must go up to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed and raised up, Peter will have none of it. In response, Jesus calls him “Satan,” he’s thinking as man thinks and not as God does.

Mark’s Gospel concludes with the story of the Passion of Jesus. Jesus  dies and rises again  and all who follow him do the same. But Peter finds it hard to understand; all the disciples–us too– find it hard to understand. Mark’s gospel repeats again and again–we don’t understand.

Some say Mark’s gospel is “A passion narrative with an extended introduction.” In the next weeks we are reading the introduction, from chapters 1-10.

His first disciples didn’t understand the mystery of suffering already present in these chapters, Mark’s gospel says. The Kingdom of God comes anyway, in fact, it’s at hand. We pray to understand it.

Follow him.

 The Touch of Love

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mk 8: 22-26), Jesus heals a blind man at the town of Bethsaida. This healing does not happen right away:

        ” 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.”

    This passage has been interpreted as an example of how the healing that comes from God happens gradually, in steps. We must be trusting and patient.

     In line with this, I see in this Gospel the invitation of Love toward my conversion. I was blind to the marvelous reality of a loving God in my life. By example and prayer, good people ( like my son Frank) brought me to Him. He took me by the hand and led me outside of my sphere (my village) to the intimate place where only He and I interact. He touched me. He questioned me (“Do you believe?”). He enabled me to see, at least a little bit, as if in a “mirror dimly” ( 1 Cor 13:6). He touches me again and again so that I can see Him and ” see everything distinctly”. In a sense I am no longer blind. I can begin to, in the words of Walter Burghardt, take “a long loving look at the real”.

    And so this passage also reminds me of His wonderful gift of prayer. He takes me by the hand to the isolated place “the private room” , and many times I cannot see Him in this darkness. Then He works His miracle and opens the eyes of my soul to His presence.

    Like Mary Magdalene, I cry within the dark, stony, tomb of my distress, my guilt, my doubt, loneliness and despair. Suddenly He calls to me: ” Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”. I look out into the blinding light. I can barely see the hazy human silhouette standing there outside. I cannot recognize Him. Then He calls me by name. I realize this is the Friend who has by now healed me, accompanied me, taught and loved me for so long. In some strange, deep, indescribable way I can see Him! He is my Lord and my God!

   Thank You, Jesus, my Beloved.

       Orlando Hernandez

What’s Inside?

                                                                         

    In Wednesday’s Gospel reading (Mk 7: 14-23), our Lord states: ” Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

    Later on, He tells His disciples: ” Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine (thus He declared all foods clean). But what comes out of the man, is what defiles him. From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

    Our Lord is once again talking about the pettiness and superficiality of so many of the rules and regulations that the scribes and Pharisees were always harping on. He asks us to focus rather on that “beam” in our eyes, the sinful, destructive tendencies that exist within us, and that we try to cover up.

    But this passage leads me to ask so many questions. In many of the Psychology courses that I took, the issue of ” nature vs. nurture” would come up, and makes me think of this Gospel. So many disturbing, horrible things can ” enter from the outside ” and damage or ” defile ” a child so that he or she grows up and displays many of these sinful behaviors listed by the Lord. Do we learn these evils, or did they already come within us at birth? How extensive is the power of our “original sin?”  Why do some people turn out ” nicer” than others?

    No matter what the answers to these questions, our Lord certainly wants people to be cleansed of ” all their evils” . Can we do it by following a set of rules and prescribed behaviors that our Church so lovingly provides? ….. Follow the Commandments, participate in the Eucharist, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation,  fast, avoid the sinful influence of the media for us and our children, control our “dirty language” and “dirty pictures” in our minds, practice tolerance and forgiveness, and so on?

    Many, many people, like me, who received Catholic upbringing and instruction when young, failed to follow these rules. Others, by the Grace of God, gave these rules a good try and are still trying. Why? Was it God’s arbitrary choice?

    I really cannot answer these questions either. All I know is that after 43 years in the wilderness, after hurting God, myself, and others so many times, my Lord Jesus Christ came my way and struck me with his Love and Mercy. The gift of His Light helped me to see His Light in me, along with the many dark, dirty spots that would cloud my vision of Him.

    So I no longer try to analyze what harmful events in my life led me to so much sin, nor how my “inside”  got filled with so much darkness (although I try to spot those bad influences when they threaten my grandchildren, and carefully talk about it with their parents!). All I know is that God loves me so much, that I can’t help but try to be”better”, because I love Him. There is this beautiful sentence that I read in the magazine THE WORD AMONG US: ” It’s the relationship, not the formula that matters.”

    In his book, FALLING UPWARD, Fr Richard Rohr, talks about the importance of “shadow work” in the spiritual journey. It is a matter of careful ” seeing through ” our self-deception, as well as through all of those inner things that “defile” us: ” You come to expect various forms of halfheartedness, deceit, vanity, or illusions from yourself. But now you see through them, which destroys most of their game and power.” What are you looking at as you see through them? Rohr believes that you are looking into your innermost self at  the One who loves you.

   ” This self cannot die and always lives, and is your True Self.”

Orlando Hernandez   

24th Sunday B: Taking Up Our Cross

To listen to this week’s homily, select the audio file below:


It’s good to pay attention to the places Jesus goes to in Mark’s Gospel, because places throw light on what Jesus says and does. In today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, (Mark 8, 27-38) Jesus and his disciples leave the region around the Sea of Galilee– where most of his ministry took place – and travel to the villages of Caesarea Philippi about 25 miles to the north. They’re on their way to Jerusalem.

Caesarea Philippi and its surroundings were at the foot of Mount Hermon where the water sources for the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee were located. Water was a key resource in Palestine then as now. Controlling the water meant controlling everything. At that time the Romans were in control. Names tell us that: Caesarea-Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Philippi-Philip, son of Herod the Great, who was Caesar’s ally in that part of Palestine.

This was Roman territory; rich shrines to Roman and Greek gods were everywhere reminding everybody.

As he does often in Mark’s gospel, Jesus uses what’s at hand to teach. Here in this place of Roman power he asks, “Who do people say that I am?”

John the Baptist, who stood up to King Herod: Elijah, the fearless prophet who stood up to King Ahab and his notorius wife, Jezebel, the disciples say
.
Peter, speaking for them all says: ““You are the Christ.” You are more powerful than the prophets, more powerful than those honored here at Caesarea Philippi. You are the Messiah come to lead Israel to its high place above the nations.

But then Jesus tells Peter he is a Messiah who will suffer, who will be rejected by the leaders of his own people, who will suffer death and rise again. He’s a Messiah who seems, not powerful, but powerless.

Peter doesn’t like that. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “ Turning around, and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan, you are someone who thinks like human beings and not like God.

Thinking like human beings, not like God. What does that mean? Jesus goes on to say says it’s thinking we’re powerful and we’re not, aiming for power that we can never hold on to. It means denying the cross in one’s life. It’s not only Peter Jesus accuses of thinking like human beings and not like God, it’s his disciples and all of us.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me,” Jesus says.

The cross, so difficult to understand and accept! Each of us has to take up our cross, if we wish to follow Jesus. Each of us has a cross to take up. We may not like it, but it’s the cross that’s personally mine. It could be sickness, disappointment, rejection, maybe it’s simply day after day getting nowhere. It could be the cross that comes from the times and circumstances we live in. We may not like that either. We would like to go back to another time, or go forward to a better time. But the cross is where we are.

When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, it becomes his cross too. He promises that. He helps us carry it. He bears the burden of it. With him at our side, we don’t die; he raises us up.

The journey that Jesus took with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi in Mark’s Gospel was a journey to prepare them for what awaited them further, in Jerusalem. Peter and the others didn’t understand him; neither do we. The journey we make with Jesus ends, not with a hold on human power, but holding on to the power of God, which is given to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

23rd Sunday B: Hearing Creation Groan

Audio homily follows:

When you’re reading the gospels it’s good to notice where Jesus travels, because it usually offers an insight into what he does. Mark’s Gospel today (Mark 7,31-37) says Jesus leaves the district of Tyre “and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee into the district of the Decapolis.” The cities of the Decapolis, east of the Sea of Galilee, were not Jewish areas; they were where pagans lived. That means that the deaf man Jesus cures is most likely a pagan, not a Jew. In a simple way, through these place names, Mark’s Gospel indicates that Jesus brings life to others, besides the Jews; he comes for all people.

Our story also sees an interesting connection between hearing and speech. The deaf man not only can’t hear, he can’t speak either. His deafness affects his understanding; it impedes his connection with the world and reality around him; he can’t say what he has to say.

The miracles of Jesus are about more than physical cures, of course. The deaf man who can’t hear or speak points to the spiritual deafness that can affect the way we hear God and consequently impedes our ability to speak God’s truth.

Pope Francis will be visiting us in a few weeks. He’ll be visiting three different places. In Washington he will be addressing our government, in Philadelphia he will be speaking about family life, in New York he will be speaking to the whole human family at the United Nations. He has important things to say and we should listen to him.

I think we already know some of the things he’s going to say. His recent encyclical “Laudato Si” was about the care of creation. It wont be a surprise if he speaks about that in all those places. But if recent surveys are right, it seems that American Catholics aren’t hearing the message of that encyclical very well. We don’t seem to hear what’s being said, it’s not entering into our ordinary discourse. Certainly we don’t hear too much about it in our present political discourse.

There’s an ecological crisis, the pope said in his letter. It’s a major issue endangering the whole world, all of its creatures, our human family. It’s especially affecting the poor. We have to do something about it.

Some may deny the crisis exists; some may claim it’s exaggerated; some may just throw up their hands thinking it’s too big to deal with. Some may think it can taken care of gradually by the play of “market forces.”

The pope and many others see the ecological crisis as real, it’s endangering the world and it has to be dealt with now. Recently, Francis asked Catholics and people everywhere to come together on September 1st for a day of prayer about the care of creation. We need an “ecological conversion,” he said. An “ecological conversion.” I must confess I don’t understand all he means by that, but my instincts say he’s right. I need to “hear” what that means– an “ecological conversion.”

I don’t think ecological conversion means that we have to immerse ourselves completely in science, although the pope obviously respects scientific conclusions. We should too. I don’t think ecological conversion means that a few quick moves will fix the crisis, like changing a couple of light bulbs in the house–although again, suggestions like that are important. The pope says that as Catholics we need to “rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation.”

Pope Francis does that in his encyclical. He sees what the scriptures say about creation, from the Book of Genesis to the writings of the New Testament. He sees the respect we have for creation in our sacraments. The water we use in baptism, the bread and wine we take in our Eucharist, the oil we use for anointing the sick. Our spiritual patrimony has a reverence for creation. In the pope’s words, our spiritual tradition reminds us that we’re called “to be protectors of God’s handiwork.” That call “is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si, 217). We must love God and our neighbor and creation itself.

Caring for creation and an “ecological conversion” are not going to be easy. It means great changes in the way we look at life and live life. We can’t understand all it means. We have trouble hearing and speaking about it, like the deaf man in the gospel. That’s why we need the grace of God. We need to pray for it. And while we’re at it, let’s pray for the pope.