Category Archives: lectionary

Jesus and Jonah

Thoughts on the readings for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-3; Mark 1: 14-20

Evangelization, sharing the Good News, involves conversion, change. In fact, conversion is part of the Good News.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins his mission proclaiming “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus knows that “The world in its present form is passing away” and that’s good. That will be good for everyone of us.

Jonah flees the Good News. He is satisfied with the current situation.

He is called by God to go to Niniveh, the enemy of his people, to call them to repentance. No way, he says and flees to the ends of the earth. But God has other plans; a storm and a big fish intervene. The fish throws him up on the shore. When God calls him to go to Niniveh again, Jonah goes, probably reluctantly. There he gets a big surprise. Niniveh repents and is not destroyed. The enemy has a second chance. Jonah is not at all happy and goes out and pouts.

He is comfortable with bad news – the destruction of an unrepentant enemy. But he can’t tolerate good news – that they repented and lived.

He is content to point out the faults of the other and that’s what he preaches. I don’t think he really believes in the possibility of something good coming out of other people. It’s much easier to attack others, to point out their faults, to show where they are wrong – rather than showing them how they can turn away from what keeps them from really living as God wants.

Jesus is all so different. He begins by preaching that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He offers them an alternative. He shows them the way.

All too often I see people in the church pointing out the sins of others, their moral evils, their failings. This is easy to do – since

But the way to lead people to the Kingdom is, I believe, to show them the beauty of the Reign of God and what they what do to get there.

It is also easier to point out others’ faults and sins than to identify our own. Jesus spoke clearly about this.

Lazarus, Martha, and life in the face of death

Although today is the feast of Saint Martha in the Catholic Church, the Benedictines celebrate Saint Martha, together with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus.

In today’s Gospel, (John 11: 19-27),  Jesus had come to the tomb of Lazarus; Martha runs to Jesus and asks him to raise her brother. The dialogue is moving as Jesus identifies Himself as the Resurrection and the Life and Martha affirms that He is the Christ, the Messiah. In the verses after the Gospel Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb – to live.

Lazarus had a new chance to live. He could start over again. And it was his sister Martha who interceded for him.

After meditating on this Gospel, I came up a song of John McCutcheon, “Dearest Martha.” McCutcheon has a way of bringing out the pain and the pathos all around us. The song is a letter of a farmer to his wife. His farm was going under and, as happened with a good number of farmers in the MidWest during the farm crisis of the 1980s, he was going to kill himself. This was his failure letter.

As I listened, I thought of the many who are depressed, the many who are desperate, the many who cannot see a way out. They are like Lazarus in the tomb.

But Lazarus had a sister who loved him and intervened with Jesus for his life.

How can I be one who intervenes for those who are desperate, helping them see that new life is possible, that God is calling them out of their tombs?

The raising of Lazarus can give us hope, but it also calls on us to be there, in the midst of the pain, in the midst of the desperation.

Drawing by Cerezo Barredo

The hairs of your head

“All the hairs of your head are numbered.”
Matthew 10:30

Notes for a homily, Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

For some of us, God doesn’t have to take a long time to number our hairs. But he still knows how many we have and cares for us.

Last month I read a most interesting commentary on this theme in Alive in God by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.:

Preaching on the text ‘Even the hairs of your head are all counted’ (Mt. 10.30), one of my brethren described delousing the lice-ridden scalps of street kids in Glasgow, hair by hair. God counting the hairs on our heads, an ever easier task in my case, is an image not of useless divine omniscience but of the infinite tenderness and patience of his care. Nothing is too small for his attention. I have occasionally seen parents carefully examining the hairs of a little kid, gently removing the lice. It’s a tender moment and show us the tender care that many parents have for their children – and the even more tender love of God who does not hesitate to get his hands dirty, delousing the hairs of a child, washing the dirty feet of his followers, and even dying for us.

I have occasionally seen parents, usually a mother, carefully examining the hairs of a little kid, one by one, gently removing the lice. It’s a tender moment and show us the care that many parents have for their children – and the even more tender love of God who does not hesitate to get his hands dirty, delousing the hairs of a child, washing the dirty feet of his followers, and even dying for us.

God does this for us. How can we not do it for others!

Elijah and Ahab

This week the first lectionary readings are from the Elijah cycle in the First Book of Kings. Elijah is one of those prophets that I love but who has a few character flaws – most notably his killing of the 450 prophets of Baal.

What surprised me today is that the lectionary skips over three very important stories.

The first is a follow up to Elijah’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath in Tuesday’s reading. The widow’s little boy dies and Elijah raises him to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).

The second is the end of the drought and his encounter with Obadiah, the master of the place who had hid 100 prophets when Queen Jezebel (the original one) was slaughtering all the prophets of the LORD.

But the scene that strikes me most is the meeting of Elijah and Ahab (1 Kings 18: 16-21).

When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is it you, you disturber of Israel?” He answered, “It is not I who disturb Israel, but you and your father’s house, by forsaking the commands of the LORD and you by following the Baals.

Dan Berrigan in The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power puts it even more boldly:

The king enters. His welcome is decidedly frigid: “So it’s you, the scourge of Israel!”
Not at all set back, the prophet retorts, “Not I; you are the scourge of Israel!” And he proceeds to upbraid the king unmercifully for his defection to Baal, and to propose a test, a public showdown between himself and the entire coterie of practicing Baalian priestdom.
Bracing, we say – and bravo! At long last we encounter a spirit undaunted daunted by royal persiflage, threats, blandishments.

As I read about the letter of Archbishop Viganò to Donald Trump and the archbishop’s unkind, probably calumnious words about Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and I wonder if we are in the midst of a “Baalian priestdom” who worship the false gods of power, violence, and domination and pretend to provide divine blessings on the US president.

Who is the real prophet – Archbishop Wilton Gregory or the retired archbishop who is spouting conspiracy theories and defending Trump?

Who is more like Elijah? Who is more like the court prophets?

I have my opinions. I may be wrong, but I don’t see vitriol or calumny as a sign of a follower of Jesus.

Today I am breaking my usual reticence to speak about specific persons and politics, but recent events have caused me a bit of perturbation.

Rejoicing and religious liberty

“They rejoiced at being found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”
Acts 5:41

This phrase from today’s first reading got me reflecting on the complaints I hear from church people about the world being anti-religious.

From afar, I have watched how for many years many churches in the US have been complaining about threats to their religious liberty. Frankly, I find this self-serving and mistaken.

There are, and have been, serious threats to religious liberty. I think of the martyred lay people, religious women, and priests in Latin America in the seventy years as well as those martyred in Africa and Asia. I’d also include members of other religions who suffer persecution and harassment.

But to identify religious liberty with the ability of the church to do whatever it wants to do even if based on a theological position, however flimsy, is – in my mind – pure arrogance. In these days of shelter-in-place I am especially disturbed by those who see the closing of churches for health concerns during the COVID-19 crisis as a threat to religious liberty. But that’s not the only case.

The first Christians rejoiced at their suffering for the sake of their profession of faith. They were arrested, held in jail, flogged – and later killed. But they rejoiced.

Self-serving complaining was not part of their make-up. They experienced the life of the risen Jesus and the victory over sin and death and they wanted to live fully and joyfully.

They saw that bearing witness to the truth of God is not easy, especially when it moved them to speak out and to bear witness to an alternative way of living their faith, welcoming the outsider as Jesus did.

What if those who cried out for religious liberty really lived that faith?

But I think the problem is that what is perceived as an attack on religious liberty is often a reaction to a narrow understanding of faith. It is not the message that is attacked but the messenger.

I often ask myself when I encounter opposition, “What am I doing to provoke such opposition?” Do the people really reject what is essential in what am I saying? Or, are they reacting to the way that I am stating what I perceive as the truth? Or, is there something in the lives of the persons opposing me that provokes this reaction?

Jumping to the conclusion that a critique of religion is a violation of religious liberty is to consider oneself free of all sin, all blame, all responsibility.

When I find it in myself, I recognize that I am not acknowledging my sinfulness, my faults, my need for God and for others.

And this can be freeing. Even more, this can make real suffering for the sake of the Name a cause for rejoicing.

Peter released from prison

Peter released from prison, Vatican Museum

Like stars in the darkness

In the midst of the terror in Paris and Beirut in the past week, while thousands flee the violence in Syria, while many remember the terror and the killings in Kenya and Nigeria, while war and bombing continues to kill many in the Middle East and elsewhere, while hospitals are bombed, while violence and hunger leaves many victims throughout the world, many feel as if the end of the world is at hand. Many feel, as we read in today’s first reading from the prophet Daniel 12: 1-3, that we live in a time “unsurpassed in distress.”

Many have felt this throughout history. The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem felt like the end of the world to the Jews. The fall of Rome to the “barbarians” felt like the end of civilization. The black plague led many to think that the end of the world was at hand.

But Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, Mark 13:32, that no one, but the Father, knows the day and the hour.

Yet, I ask, what can we do in the midst of the darkness?

The last line of the reading from Daniel can give us hope and also challenge us:

Those who lead the many to justice
will shine like the stars forever.

There are many voices that would lead us to the supposed justice of vengeance and extermination of our “enemies.”

But there are voices that urge us to the justice, the righteousness, of God, a justice that seeks to offer a different vision of the world, that refuses to demonize even those who commit terror, that challenges us to be creative, loving, and merciful.

The violence of terror is meant to leave us paralyzed by fear. But the justice of God is meant to guide us to new ways of living and loving.

I don’t have answers, but I think that we do have a guide – Jesus. We also have guides among us who offer us a different vision of justice.

Last night I noted that several persons have recalled the Last Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé, one of the Trappists kidnapped and killed by extremists in Algeria in 1996. The full text can be found here, but a few phrases might help us to meditate in the midst of the darkness

I ask them to associate [my] death
with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference
or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.

I should like, when the time comes,
to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart
the one who would strike me down.

Dom Christian is one of those stars who can guide us to the true Justice, the God of mercy and all-embracing love.

May we see his light and follow him on the way to real peace.

Rich and poor

we want to make “the rich poor and the poor holy,”
and that, too, is a revolution obnoxious to the pagan man.
Dorothy Day, November 1949

Servant of God Dorothy Day was born on this day, November 8, 1897.

In today’s Gospel, Mark 12: 38-44, Jesus is contrasting the religious leaders and the rich with the poor, especially a poor widow.

The religious leaders “devour the houses of widows.” In the days of Jesus, the Roman and the temple taxes would have made life difficult for the widow who had little or nothing to live on and depended on her children and the kindness of others.

But, according to Jesus, the religious leaders often do not note the poor.

But Jesus does, sitting in a place in the Temple where he can see how people give.

In this he notes the poor widow who gives just two small coins. “She, from her poverty, has given all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Whether she was giving because she had to and was thus using up all her resources, which were being devoured by religious leaders or whether she was giving all she had out of her sense of gratitude to God for all she had received – little though it may have been, Jesus sees her as a sign of the reign of God.

She is the one who gives all she has and, hopefully, lets God and the community support her.

Would that we who have much can learn that poor widow – how to give to God all we have and all we are, trusting in the providence of God and finding in the community the source of all we really need.

In such a way we can change from being the rich who devour the homes of widows to being the “poor” who share all we have.

Encountering the lowly

Do not be haughty
but associate with the lowly.
Romans 12: 16

 Today’s lectionary reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (12: 5-16b) is full of extraordinary advice for us who seek to follow Christ. But it is the final verse that struck me, “associate with the lowly” partly because of my situation here and partly because that is what Pope Francis calls us to do.

Pope Francis has, from the start, called for a “culture of encounter” (The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], ¶ 220).

Giving to the poor and even advocating for justice on their behalf are not enough. For, as Pope Francis also wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 88:

…the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face to face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

We are called to encounter the lowly, to associate with them, because that is what Jesus has done. He became flesh to associate with the poor and the lowly, those at the margins.

Jesus normally does not heal from a distance but touches the sick, speaks with them, and calls them to new life.

This is not easy but it is possible when we open ourselves, as Pope Francis has noted, to encounter Jesus.

But it has to be personal.

In Bolivia Pope Francis spoke to the World Meeting of Popular Movements and noted the importance of this face-to-face solidarity:

As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drug-dealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain. And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

We can follow the example of these secular movements and join with them in real solidarity with the poor and humble, following in the footsteps of a God who became poor.

Today, fittingly, is also the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Dominican lay brother who served the poor in Lima, Perú, and was known as “the father of the poor.” He is also the patron of social justice – a quite fitting reminder of the admonition of St. Paul to “associate with the lowly.”

By the side of the road

In today’s Gospel (Mark 10: 46-52), the blind beggar Bartimaeus is seated at the side of the road outside of Jericho.

Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem – where, as he told the apostles, he will be put to death. It’s a perilous journey.

But Bartimaeus has nothing to lose in recognizing Jesus, the Son of David. And so he cries out, begging for mercy, addressing Jesus in Messianic terms, which would get Jesus in trouble in a short time.

But people tell him to shut up. The truth of his message is all too dangerous.

Yes, some might have not wanted to have Jesus bother with this blind beggar, this riff-raff. But I wonder whether Bartimaeus’ naming of Jesus as Son of David didn’t also bother them.

As Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote in his commentary on today’s readings:

Recognizing Jesus as the Christ comes from the last ones in society, from those who are the side of the road, from those whom some seek to shut up.

The powers of the world want us to follow along, to be afraid to speak the truth, to be afraid of the powers that can put one to death.

But a blind beggar at the side of the road has nothing to lose and so teaches us the way, the road, to fullness of life.

When Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus jumps up. He is willing to approach this dangerous man who will soon be crucified.

When Jesus asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus tells him that he wants to see.

But hasn’t Bartimaeus already “seen” the truth?

Today, I pray that we may be more like Bartimaeus, willing to make a nuisance of ourselves in proclaiming the One who brings life and healing and, above all, mercy.

Then we might accompany Bartimaeus following Jesus on the road – to Jerusalem.


A different reflection on today’s Gospel can be found here at Deacon Greg Kendra’s blog.

Giving voice to the voiceless

Today’s Gospel, Mark 7: 31-37, is full of surprises, revealing a God who acts in new and imaginative ways.

The man who is deaf and has trouble speaking does not come to Jesus on his own. Others bring him. Did he fear coming to Jesus, not being able to tell Him what he wanted? Or did he not realize his condition and therefore did not see the need to come to Jesus for healing? Or did he not think that Jesus could or would heal him – after all he’s just another deaf-mute?

But Jesus takes him apart and heals the man, touching his ears and putting spittle on his tongue. A word was not enough. Jesus touched him.

And then Jesus called to him “Ephaphatha – be opened.” And he heard and “spoke plainly.”

The man’s voice was returned to him.

The people marveled at this and noted that “He has done all things beautifully. He makes the deaf hear and he makes those who do not speak speak.”

The Greek of the last line struck me: ἀλάλους λαλεῖν. It could easily be translated as giving voice to the voiceless.

Jesus opened the ears of the man so that he could hear the words of God to “open up,” to listen to the Word of God, a word that calls us to live our true dignity as children of God.

But he also gives the man the gift of being able to speak rightly, clearly. He restores his true voice to the man.

So many people do not have a voice in this world.

Sometimes we do not speak up because of fear, because of timidity, because we have not listened to the Word of God and heard the cries of the poor and vulnerable.

But so many are without voice, not heard, not listened to. Or their voices are muffled. Or they have given up speaking because of the indifference of others. Or the hears of those who could hear are closed to them.

But Jesus heals and gives the poor back their voice – if we would listen.

This is what I think people like Monseñor Romero did for the people of El Salvador in the late 1970s, letting them lift up their voices. He is often called “the voice of the voiceless” but he was also one who affirmed the people when they raised their voices against the repression.

This is what I think the Guatemalan bishops just did when they supported the people of Guatemala who were calling for an end to corruption and impunity and then took to the streets to call for the resignation of a corrupt president.

This is what I think Pope Francis is trying to do and what he did when he held the open meeting via ABC News with refugee families in Texas, with homeless people in Los Angeles, and with poor young students at Cristo Rey school in Chicago.

It’s what God can do with us, letting us listen to the poor, the refugee, the marginalized and letting their voice be heard.