Category Archives: Bible

Simon’s mother-in-law

Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed
with a fever…
Jesus took her by the hand
and raised her up…
she served them
Mark 1: 30-31

 Last Friday we had a meeting of about thirty base community leaders in one of the zones of the parish.

The base communities meet once a week. About a year ago we began a monthly cycle of four different types of meetings. The third we are having the people read a section of the Gospels using their imagination, in the style of St. Ignatius’ contemplative method. We initiated this since most people here read the scriptures for a message, whereas we want to encourage them to encounter Jesus when they read the Gospels.

First they sit in silence, breathing deeply. Then the Gospel passage is read. The facilitator then encourages them to imagine themselves in the scene, perhaps as one of the persons mentioned in the text. The leader encourages them to pay attention to what they feel, see, hear, smell, experience. After ten or more minutes, they share their experience to the persons beside them and then there is a sharing with the whole group.

Last Friday, to help them know better how to lead this type of meeting, we used a part of today’s Gospel, specifically Mark 1, 29-34.

There was a deep silence in the room while they contemplated the passage.

Then I had them share with people next to them. Some were a little reluctant, but two young men were having an animated conversation – so animated that I had to prolong the time for the sharing in small groups.

Then we shared together.

The one young man had identified himself with Peter’s mother-in-law.

Stuck in bed, with a fever, frustrated because people were coming and she couldn’t get up to help them. Here is this great teacher her son is following and she can’t prepare the meal.

But then Jesus comes, takes her by the hand and lifts her up.

The touch of Jesus gives her strength and he pulls her up.

And what does she do first of all? She begins to serve – to do what she has been accustomed to doing all her life.

She serves. (The Greek work used here – διηκόνει – has the same root as the word used for deacons.)

Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up from her bed to restore her to what she saw as her calling – to serve.

May we let Jesus raise us from our beds of lethargy, fear, timidity, and self-centeredness so that we too might serve as Peter’s mother-in-law did.

Las Casas, a massacre, and the power of scripture

According to the Agenda Latinoamericana 2014, today is the five hundredth anniversary of the conversion of Bartolomé de las Casas.

Las Casas is well known as a Dominican bishop who was a defender of the indigenous peoples in the New World. But this did not come all that easily for him.

He arrived in the New World in 1502 and stayed here for four years. He returned to Spain to study for the priesthood and was ordained in Rome in 1507.

He returned to the New World where he was given an encomienda, a right to have native peoples as slaves to work for him. The Dominicans in Hispañola had condemned slave-holding, but Las Casas did not think they were correct in refusing absolution to anyone who held slaves.

In 1514, accompanying a group of Spaniards on a pacifying mission in Cuba, led by a friend of his, Las Casas witnessed the massacre of indigenous peoples.

Soon after, while preparing his sermon for Pentecost, Las Casas came upon these verses from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 34:

Unclean is the offering sacrificed by an oppressor. [Such] mockeries of the unjust are not pleasing [toGod]. The Lord is pleased only by those who keep to the way of truth and justice… The one whose sacrifice comes from the goods of the poor is like one who kills his neighbor. The one who sheds blood and the one who defrauds the laborer are kin and kind.

Reflecting on these words, Las Casas concluded that “everything done to the Indians in these Indies was unjust and tyrannical.”

He eventually divested himself of his slaves, He joined the Dominicans and became an advocate of the indigenous.

It took an atrocity to open Las Casas’ heart to the injustice all around him. The blood of the people at the massacre of Caonao, Cuba, moved him to listen attentively to the Word of God.

So much blood is being poured out all around us – but do we let it touch our hearts as it touches the heart of God?

May the example of Bartolomé de Las Casas open our hearts to the cries of the oppressed.

The translation of Sirach is from Francis Patrick Sullivan’s introduction of Indian Freedom: The Cause of Bartolomé de las Casa, 1484-1566: A Reader, pp. 3-4.

Contemplating our bloody history

For the next few weekdays the first reading in the Catholic lectionary will offer us stories about King Solomon, mostly from the First Book of Kings.

If today’s reading is indicatory, we will be reading a very sanitized version of his life.

In today’s reading 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12, David on his deathbed is giving Solomon advice to follow the ways of the Lord.

What we don’t hear are David’s request to settle accounts with his army commander Joab and with a reality of Saul who insulted him. David asks Solomon to get rid of them.

David and Solomon were deeply flawed persons, not the paragons of virtue and wisdom that we are often shown.

Murder and adultery, and even idolatry in Solomon’s case, are indicative of their reigns. It is thus not surprising that they have conflicts with their sons and there are conflicts between the sons about who shall be king.

How can we deal with this? It’s in the Bible, some might say.

I began this morning to read Daniel Berrigan’s The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power. This Jesuit poet and prophet (now 92 years old) has written many poetic commentaries on scripture which combine scholarship with a prophet’s insightful critique. He reads the scripture with an eye to conversion – even today.

And so he writes of these bloody accounts:

The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Maccabees imply that we humans must move in great darkness before we are blessed and enter the light. This, it sold seem, is the law of the Fall… Let us ponder such forbears, and weep.

We must suffer the anti-human as well in ourselves….

Through these books, we must come to know the worst of our ancestry — as well as the worst that lurks in ourselves.

The stories of David and Solomon – and the other bloody tales – call us to look at the evil around us – the pathology of power – as well as the evil within. For “the books of the Kings stand like a record of our own benighted century, bloody as beef newly drawn and hung.

And so Dan Berrigan prays:

Grant us knowledge of our crimes. Help us take our true bearings in the world, to confess how rarely, in public life and private, in religion and statecraft,  in temple and marketplace and home —how rarely authority is joined with virtue. Grant us knowledge of our plight, that we may cry out for relief, and be drawn forth.

Reading the whole bloody story is necessary so that we may see the faithlessness in our lives as well as the bloody story of our times – the wars, the hunger, the injustice, the idolatry of power and money. May we, as Albert Camus challenged us, “get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

Then, maybe we might repent, as persons and as nations, and begin to seek the ways of peace.



Discerning the signs of the times

It is easy to walk through life, day after day, without thinking of what is going on. But sometimes, our eyes are opened by a chance encounter with someone, by a beautiful sunset, by a tragedy shared with us.

These are moments of “kairos,” opportunities to change our direction or to deepen our commitments. They are moments of grace.

But it is so easy to miss them – as Jesus noted in today’s Gospel (Luke 12: 49-53). Some of us know how to interpret, to discern, the weather. But do we fail to interpret the signs of the times, or, as the Greek puts it, the “kairos,” the opportunity that God gives us, both personally and as a community of faith.

As I read today’s Gospel, I recalled an important sentence from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, (4). To carry out its task of witnessing to the truth and service, carrying forth the work of Christ,

the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.

Our life of faith needs to be nourished by an openness to the Word of Christ in the world and to the Word of Christ.

Karl Barth once said that we need to pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

Saint Augustine saw that God has given us the book of life and the book of faith. “Scripture explains what creation puts before us.”

Living and serving here in Honduras has opened me to reading the Gospel in a new way. Not only does the Scripture help me read the reality around me in a different way – often seeing hope where others see only despair. But the reality of the life of the poor has opened me to new ways of reading Scripture.

At least for me, the Bible needs to be read from the standpoint of the poor and oppressed, who were the first recipients of its Good News.

In Defenseless Flower: a New Reading of the Bible (page 71),Carlos Mesters, the Dutch missionary in Brazil, cites a campesino recalling that

 Our lives are reflected in the Gospel, and the Gospel is reflected back into our lives. Our first and foremost use of the Gospel is to compare it with our world to get a better idea of the shape of our lives. Once you’ve discovered the Gospel, life joins in a duet with it, harmonizing even in the most trivial details.

Discerning the signs of the times – and the opportunities of our lives – opens us to reading the Gospel in new ways, letting the Good News cast a new light on our lives and on our times.

As Masters notes:

The Bible helps people to understand the world, and the world helps them understand better the meaning of the Bible.

So we discern the signs of the times with the eyes of the Gospels, so that the Gospel may become real in our times.