Tag Archives: sunday readings

2nd Sunday of Easter (C): The Promise Unfolds

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Acts 5,12-16 The Jerusalem Church
Revelations 1, 9-11a, 12-13.17-19 The Promise of the Risen Lord
John 20,19-31 Doubting Thomas

The resurrection of Jesus happened centuries ago, but today’s three readings remind us it’s a mystery still unfolding even now. Jesus is the “first fruits,” others must still follow him to share in his life. His resurrection gave birth to a church, which must still reach out to a doubting humanity symbolized in the apostle Thomas for its growth. All creation is still “groaning” till it reach its completion when  God’s kingdom comes.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem to face death, he used the familiar figure of the seed to describe the mystery before him. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Like the seed the mystery of the resurrection grows to bear much fruit.

Our gospel reading, Jesus appearance to Thomas, reminds us that the Lord still reaches out to a humanity whose faith is imperfect, like Thomas, like Nicodemus, like the crowds whom he feeds with the loaves and the fish in Galilee, like his own disciples at the Last Supper. He still draws into this great mystery people with imperfect faith, slow to believe, like us.

 

The church he brought into being was a small seed at first in Jerusalem,  but it’s spreading its branches throughout the world, despite the thorns and hard ground that resists its growth. And creation itself despite fears about its future is makings its way to a completion beyond what we know now.

The Risen Jesus remains with us . “There is nothing to fear,” he says to his disciple on the Lord’s day, “ I am the First and the Last and the One who lives. Once I was dead, now I live–forever and ever. I hold the keys of death and the nether world. Write down, therefore, whatever you see in visions-what you see now and what you will see in time to come.” (Revelations 1.17-19)

We see him now by faith, in time to come face to face.

An Unclean Spirit

Our gospel today is from the first chapter of Mark.  Jesus has come from his baptism in the River Jordan,  gathered disciples and is living at Peter’s house in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. He enters the synagogue in the town and amazes people with his teaching. They’ve never heard anyone like him.

But a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit challenges him.  I’m not sure what an unclean spirit is, and neither do most of the commentators on this gospel. The man certainly reacts violently to Jesus, shouting 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!” (Mark 1,21-28)

In other words: “Keep away from us; you’re only going to bring us trouble.” The man just wants to be left alone. Even in the synagogue he wants to be left alone. Even if Jesus is from God, the man just wants to be alone. “Get away from us!” he says.

That strong reaction to Jesus was not limited to the synagogue in Capernaum. It continued as he made his way to Jerusalem. The rejection was sometimes strong, sometimes people just ignored him. Mark see that rejection as diabolic.

No matter how wise his teaching, how compassionate his healing, how loving his words, Jesus was rejected.  In the end, his enemies killed him.

We believe the gospel repeats itself, and so it’s repeated today as we hear it.  “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Can we reject Jesus too? As we sit in our synagogue today, do we reject him in signs of his presence and in faith?

Belief in Jesus Christ is at the heart of everything. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Believing means hearing Jesus, listening to him, offering ourselves to him, entering into friendship with him, hoping in his strength, waiting patiently to receive what he promises.

Believing is not something we do occasionally; we believe day by day. There’s always the danger of losing faith in him. “Leave us alone,” we say, “You want to destroy us.” We can prefer isolation to communion with the One God has sent.

So maybe an unclean spirit is not rare at all. Maybe we could call it that cloudy, dark spirit that can take hold of us, so we don’t see the light. Deliver us, Lord, from an unclean spirit.

Rejection of Jesus was not unusual in his day, as the gospel of Mark reminds us, and it’s not unusual today. Today, however, it’s influenced by some different factors.

For example, our western world resists the idea of Jesus as a unique Savior and Teacher. We live in a pluralistic society, and so when we say Jesus is a unique Savior and Teacher, we seem to deny the truth in other religions and religious teachers.

What about the Dalai Lama? What about Buddhism, Hinduism, the religion of native Americans? Don’t they teach the truth? When you claim that Jesus is unique, do we deny there’s truth in other religions and religious teachers?

In answer to that, we can say that we believe a human search for God goes on from the beginning of the human race. The human spirit is always searching for God and its search has been blessed by wisdom and spiritual insight. So other religions religions have been blessed with truth.

But the uniqueness of Jesus comes from the fact that God approaches us.  He sends us his Son. Jesus is his Word to us. His revelation is something we couldn’t arrive at on our own. We didn’t earn it. “This is my beloved Son, hear him,” God says from the heavens when Jesus is baptized. God takes the initiative and calls us into friendship with him, eternal friendship. It’s a promise beyond what we could dream of.

And Jesus not only promises new life, but he takes away what hinders us from enjoying a life with God. He takes away sin. He took away the unclean spirit that was there in the man in the synagogue.

I think there are other factors today that contribute to the rejection of Jesus, particularly in our western world. We’re proud of our individuality and there’s a fear following Jesus causes us to lose our own personalities and dreams. Jesus will take over our lives and impose on us a mold of his own.  We don’t like losing our individuality–not at all.

There’s a fear too that a code of morality will be imposed on us that will deaden our lives and make us scared to love and to live. For many Christianity appears to be a religion of cold moralism, but it isn’t.

The man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit may not be too far from us, then. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus cried out. We may need that healing ourselves.

The Approach of the Leper

These Sundays at Mass we’re looking at the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry vividly described in Mark’s gospel. Jesus came from the Jordan River where he was baptized with Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John, fishermen from Capernaum.

He was invited to stay in Peter’s house in that town, which today you can see if you’re fortunate to visit the Holy Land.  Archeologists have uncovered the town of Capernaum in recent years and you can see the remnants of its old houses made of black basalt, the foundations of the synagogue where Jesus prayed; and beyond the town are the low mountains where he taught. It’s a fascinating place.

Peter’s house was the center of his ministry there, it seems. Mark describes what happened after Jesus cured Peter’s mother in law: “When it was evening after sunset they brought to him all who were ill and possessed by demons, and he cured them. The whole town was gathered at the door.”

In recent times, Franciscan archeologists have identified Peter’s house among the closely packed houses of the town, and a shrine church is built over it now.

So many people crowded around that house that Jesus had to escape to the surrounding hills to pray. Afterwards he told his disciples that he had to visit other towns and places in Galilee.

Probably the leper approached him as he was going to one of those other towns. Our first reading from the Book of Leviticus gives a succinct account of how lepers were treated in those days. They were separated from family and hometowns and sent to live apart in abominable conditions. People were afraid to go near them.

Rembrandt has a wonderful sketch of the lepers approaching Jesus.(above) It looks like Peter, who is behind him, is hiding in back of the Lord afraid to catch anything from the poor creatures who approach begging for help and healing.

Are we too afraid of people like the lepers, people suffering so much, people suffering from unexplained suffering, that we think we’re going to be overwhelmed by their suffering? We hide from the sufferings of the world. “None of that near me,” we say. But Jesus leads us to the leper. Let’s see suffering with him.

What Do The Scriptures Mean?

An article in a recent issue of the Jesuit magazine, America,  discussed the way American Catholics read the scriptures. Actually, they don’t read them very much or know much about the writings we call the Word of God, the author, Brian B. Pinter, says. Also, many Catholics who do read the scriptures, read them  literally, like fundamentalists. But the Pontifical Bible Commission in 1993, Pinter points out, said  “Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.”

Last summer the pope urged Catholics to take up and read the scriptures. It wasn’t a pious wish, he was dead serious. As the Word of God the scriptures nourish our faith and help us know God’s will. The scriptures are our new catechism and our new prayerbook.

I like Pope Benedict’s books “Jesus of Nazareth” because he takes seriously what the scriptures and biblical studies today say about Jesus. Those books–and others like them– are worth reading if you want to learn how to read the Word of God. There’s also some good advice about reading the bible on the website of the American Catholic Bishops.

But don’t forget to begin with the scriptures themselves. Get to know them, their stories, their words and images. A good way to start leaning the scriptures is to let them be your teacher, let one part teach you about another part.

For example, this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew is about the two sons going out into the vineyard. One says right off to his father, “I won’t go” , but eventually he goes. The other says “Sure I’ll go”, but he doesn’t. That story begins with the note that Jesus said this to the chief priests and elders of the people who weren’t responding to the invitation to believe in him.

We may shake our heads and say, “It’s too bad they failed to answer the call of Jesus.”

But a further question is, “And what about me? Do I just shake my head at them?” That story’s meant for me too.

There are other sons mentioned in scripture who may help me out.  The prodigal son and his brother come to mind. The two thieves on the cross, brothers in crime, also come to mind.

Jesus didn’t recall the story of the two sons to the Jewish leaders to condemn them, but to wake them up. His words are for me too. God calls me everyday to go out my door into my world and do his will. It’s an everyday call. Do I say “yes!” More importantly, do I mean it!