Do you still not understand?

December 3, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news this morning is from Mark 8:14-21.

They had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. He enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” they answered [him], “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Here we have again an instance of the disciples’ focus on their own well being and failure to provide for themselves adequately. They’re hungry and they brought only one loaf of bread with them. Having witnessed Jesus perform many miracles including feeding thousands of people, they still fail to look to him to provide for their needs — material and spiritual. They fail to understand that God is acting through him. And Jesus let’s them have it. First the Pharisees have exasperated him and now his own disciples.

Jesus and his disciples are speaking on different levels to one another. They take his reference to leaven to mean bread, the ingredient that makes it rise. Jesus is using leaven to mean the spreading evil of the religious and political authorities, evil intent on his death because he is a threat to their positions of power and privilege. He reminds them of his feeding of the multitudes so that they can understand that he is the bread of life. Yet they still don’t understand and he accuses them of having hardened hearts — hearts consumed with their own needs and providing for themselves first before others and failing to acknowledge that God provides for all their needs.

Boy o boy! He’s talking to me again! I so often misunderstand the word of God; it’s like we’re talking two different languages, mainly because I tend to make things too complicated. And I most often look to my own power and resources to tackle a problem instead of looking to God for what I need. I focus first on my material and emotional needs. How can I get those met in the way I want? Rather than praying — being in conversation with God — about meeting my real need to first be in communion with him, resting in His love and trusting that He will provide what I need — what I really need and not what I think I need. Barclay puts it this way, “If we would only read the lessons of experience aright, it would teach us not the pessimism of the things that cannot be, but the hope which stands amazed that God has brought us thus far in safety and in certainly and the confidence that God can bring us through anything that may happen.” That’s what I need to pray for — the confidence that God will bring me through anything that may happen. Do I still not understand that?


Why does this generation seek a sign?

December 2, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is given to us in Mark 8:10-13.

He dismissed them and got into the boat with his disciples and came to the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore.

I sigh every once in a while, not often. I did this past week. It does come from the very depth of me like it did from Jesus. It’s like no words can express the depth of my feeling or rather a mingle of feelings that can’t be identified by one label. Last week it was longing, love, disappointment, patient surrender. I can imagine Jesus being filled with a mix of emotions about his opponents — exasperation, bewilderment, hopelessness but also hope because he knew God’s love was lavished upon them as much as anyone.

I think Jesus was exasperated because the Pharisees missed the point. They wanted a sign of God’s power, a sign that God was working through Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t about power; in fact, he was all about the exact opposite. He was all about trying to convince people of God’s love, of God’s compassion, of God’s tender mercy. I’m sure Jesus asked himself of the Pharisees, “Are you ever going to get it? Is everything I’ve done and said in vain? Why are you so determined to remain outside of God’s love?” I’m pretty sure he’s asked himself the same thing of me. There have been plenty of times that I have asked for a sign of God’s will or actually His confirmation of my own will and desires. But God’s signs are all around me; I just fail to see them or acknowledge them as signs. I like the way Barclay puts it, “To Jesus the whole world was full of signs; the corn in the field, the leaven in the loaf, the scarlet anemones on the hillside all spoke to him of God. He did not think that God had to break in from outside the world; he knew that God was already in the world for anyone who had eyes to see.”

From time to time I still question whether Jesus was really the Son of God. It seems too good to be true! I want more signs, more proof. I was put in my place the other day when I read something from St. John of the Cross. “By giving us his son, God has spoken to us once and for all and has nothing left to reveal. God has become, as it were, dumb, and has no more to say….Wherefore he that would not enquire of God or seek any visitation or revelation, would only be acting foolishly but would be committing an offense against God, by not setting his eyes altogether upon Christ and seeking not new thing or aught beside. And God might answer him after this manner, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whim I am well-pleased. Hear ye him. If I have spoken all things to you in my Word, which is my Son, and I have no other Word, what answer can I know make to you, or what can I reveal to you which is greater than this? Set your eyes on him alone; in him I have spoken and revealed to you all things; and in him you shall find yet more than that which you ask or desire.’”

That’s why I keep reading and reflecting upon the gospels. Everything I need to know about God and His love for me, for all of us, is right there. Jesus is His Word enfleshed. He wanted to make sure He was understood — once and for all.


Where can anyone get enough?

November 28, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 8:1-9.

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat, he summoned the disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them away hungry to their homes they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.”  His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”  Still he asked them “How many loaves do you have?”  “Seven,” they replied.  He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.  Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd.  They also had a few fish.  He said the blessing over them and ordered them distributed also.  They ate and were satisfied.  They picked up the fragments left over — seven baskets.  There were about four thousand people.

This is Mark’s second story of the loaves and fishes.  The principle distinction that scholars have noted is that the first crowd was largely Jewish and the second probably Gentile.

What strikes me here is the attitude of the disciples.  They had already witnessed the first miracle that Jesus performed with the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Why didn’t they assume that Jesus would do it again?  I think it was because their preoccupation was their own well being.  They had seven loaves of bread and a few fish among them — enough to appease their hunger until the next day when they could move on and replenish their supplies.  Instead of offering what they had to the great crowd spread out before them, they wanted to keep the little amount of food they had to themselves — and, besides, these were Gentiles, others not the chosen people of God.  In the first account, the disciples’ excuse was that they didn’t have enough money to buy food for the crowd.  This time their excuse is that there is no bread to be found in this deserted place.  Their perspective was one of scarcity while Jesus’ was one of abundance.

I wrote an article several years ago for a professional journal.  “Abundance…describes a state of mind, an attitude, or a paradigm. There are people who give and those who don’t. Among those who do, some are extraordinarily generous in proportion to their financial wealth. They exemplify what author Stephen Covey terms ‘the abundance mentality (which) flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody…. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.'”

I think that’s what Jesus is teaching me here.  God has provided enough for us all.  He calls us to approach life with an attitude of abundance, the certain faith that there is enough for us all.  That means I have to share with others.  I have to get beyond the disciples’ preoccupation with their own well being, feeding themselves first.  I have to have compassion for those with less or nothing just like Jesus.  I have to feel more than just pity; I have to take action.  This advent season, of course, is an obvious time to do so.  I am presented with many opportunities to act on the belief that there is plenty for everyone, that there is enough for my own needs and to share with others.  I prayed at Thanksgiving as I do everyday in thanks for the blessings that God showers upon me.  His love and generosity toward me is certainly abundant; He wants me to emulate Him and to share that abundance.  That is how I can thank Him most sincerely instead of worrying if there is going to be enough for myself, letting my attitude of abundance overcome my fear of scarcity.


He looked up to heaven and groaned

November 26, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from Mark 7:31-37.

Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowed. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And [immediately] the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.”

He groaned. That’s what strikes me here. Lately in trying to pray for people who are seriously ill or injured I don’t know how to pray or, rather, what to pray for. I end up more of less groaning — a kind of voiceless plea to God to comfort, strengthen, and bestow peace upon those who are ill, suffering, and perhaps approaching death. I don’t know what else to pray for. It doesn’t any longer seem a proper prayer for me to ask for God to intervene or to take some specific action. I know that He can, but I don’t think that’s what He wants me to ask Him for. The healing will take place or it won’t whether I pray for it or not — at least I don’t think so. I think it is the inner healing that He wants me to pray for — for the one who is suffering and for my own suffering. Mainly to rest in Him, to experience His peace, to place ourselves trustingly in His hands. Sometimes I put all this into words and at other times it’s more like an incoherent cry or groan. Incoherent to anyone else other than God. Anyone listening to Jesus would not have been able to discern any meaning from his groan, but His Father knew what meant and asked. So all my groanings have meaning to God — groans of pain or grief or thanksgiving or pleading.

Most of the miracles — the hearings — that God performs in my life go unseen by anyone else. But I know when He has touched me, when He has wrought something that I could not do on my own, when He has responded to my pitiful, inchoate prayers. Times when He has opened my mind or my heart to something or someone I had previously rejected or scorned. Times when I have been moved with compassion to action, to actually doing something rather than just praying or talking about it. Times when I have been calmed in the midst of anguish or chaos or anger.

So often, like this crowd I am astonished. He has turned my deafness into hearing; He has turned my muteness into words of healing. Each time He touches me I am still astonished. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that sense of surprise and astonishment. In some ways I hope not. It is as if His love, His presence, is an unexpected gift. It never fails to delight me. All I can do usually is express my delight as a kind of groan. He knows it is my way of trying to express the inexpressible pleasure of my love and gratitude for Him.


For saying this you may go

November 25, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

I have been away a while. It’s good to be back with the good news from Mark 7:24-30.

From that place he went off to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

A few initial thoughts come to mind. This image of the Gentile woman falling prostrate at Jesus’ feet called to mind that at Sunday’s Mass we acknowledged Jesus as the King of the Universe. She, too, recognized Jesus’ supremacy and his power to answer her prayer. It was customary to show one’s humility to a superior authority by bowing, resting on bended knee, or lying prostrate. It was a sign of subjection and loyalty. It must have been an arresting sight, because Jesus had no outward sign of power, no rich raiment, no crown or gold rings, no sword. Instead he was clothed in a demeanor of compassion and love and mercy. That’s what drew people to him, not absolute power. Otherwise who in their right mind would question a man of power and authority, who would talk back to him in such a foolhardy, insubordinate manner without fear of punishment or rejection?

I can talk to him like that, too. I can question; I can be impertinent. I can be real, revealing all my thoughts and feelings without fear of rejection or punishment. I can do this because he has shown over and over again in scripture and in my life that he has only compassion and love and mercy for me. That’s the power he has for me.

Jesus came into the district of Tyre and was acknowledged as a superior authority by this Gentile woman though he had no accoutrements of power. This is contrasted with what Joshua tells us in the Hebrew Bible when the Israelites were given their inheritance by lot. The fifth lot fell to the tribe of Asher that included the fortress city of Tyre. It’s ironic, though, in Barclay’s words that the Asherites “had never been able to subdue their territory and they had never entered into it. Again is it not symbolic? Where the might of arms was helpless, the conquering love of Jesus Christ was victorious. The earthly Israel had failed to gather in the people of Phoenecia; now the true Israel had come upon them. It was not a strange land into which Jesus came; it was a land which long ago God had given him for his own. He was not so much coming amongst strangers as entering into his inheritance.” Jesus conquers by love. How many times do I have to be reminded of that? How many times do I have to be reminded that God created me for the purpose of channeling His love to others. I am His vessel and His instrument, just as Jesus was.

So, what I take away today — not for the first time — is that I am both the recipient of HIs love and the instrument of His love. As Jesus said, that pretty much sums up the whole of God’s law. Such a simple thing to keep in mind, but such a hard thing to carry out! When I place my trust in Jesus’ love for me and faith in his compassion and mercy, my demons — the demons of fear and pride and all the rest — will leave me just as in this story — if even just for a short time.


From their hearts come evil thoughts

November 12, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is in Mark 7:14-23.

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? 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 a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

Why do we choose to commit these evils upon one another especially those we profess to most love? There are endless answers to those questions particular to each one of us. Barclay writes, “Pleonexia [greed] is that lust for having which is in the heart of the man who sees happiness in things instead of God.” He is referring to greed, but I think it applies to all evils in our hearts. We so often seek our happiness in experiences instead of God. We think that sex will fulfill us or that revenge for some harm will be sweet justice or that if we just had something we’ve always dreamed of, we would be happy. Of course, it never turns out that way once the moment of pleasure is past or the thing possessed.

It’s good I read this passage this morning. I’ve been weighing the lure of a tempting experience and my moral integrity. With such a clear distinction you’d think my choice would be a foregone conclusion. Oh, if it were only that easy for me! My heart’s desire is a persistent longing. It feels like the strong current of a river. It’s so much easier to float with it, to indulge, to immerse myself in its power. It’s much harder to swim against, to resist. Jesus knows this about me; he knows my weaknesses.

Notice that he doesn’t rank order what defiles us? I think it’s because all of these things separate us from God, cause us to choose temporary pleasure instead of the happiness to be found in being in relationship with Him. I just finished a really insightful book titled Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. The main premise is that until we experience and believe through and through that God loves us as we are (as He created us), we can’t love ourselves and satisfy the longings of our hearts. When I am able to seek out His spirit within me and rest in His love, then I am ready to do His will and to resist the temptations to separate from Him. That’s how I really love myself, not in engaging these vices that Jesus tells me defile myself.

I never win once and for all, though. It is a continuing struggle for me to choose to seek my happiness in God or in indulging the temptations that bedevil my restless heart. Barclay observes, “It is a truly terrible list which Jesus cites of the things that come from the human heart. When we examine it a shudder surely passes over us. Nonetheless it is a summons, not to a fastidious shrinking from such things, but to an honest self-examination of our own hearts.” An honest self-examination. I often don’t want to go down that road because I know where it will lead — to denial of satisfying my dark desires. God is always there, though, to flood me with His love and His strength to resist if I will just turn to Him. He’s there in my heart, too.


You nullify the word of God

November 11, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today’s good news is from Mark 7:9-13.

He went on to say, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban”’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the world of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things.”

The New American Bible defines qorban as “a formula for a gift to God, dedicating the offering to the temple, so that the giver might continue to use it for himself but not give it to others, even needy parents.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary explains, “The recipient of the gift is God. By declaring property or money a gift to God, a son could remove any claim on it that his aging parents might have.” I’m having a hard time understanding why an adult child would do something like this unless he hated his parents for whatever neglect or abuse they may have inflicted upon him, real or imagined. But that’s beside the point that Jesus wants to make.

Barclay states the point clearly, “[T]here were cases in which the strict performance of the scribal law made it impossible for a man to carry out the law of the ten commandments. Jesus was attacking a system which put rules and regulations before the claim of human need. The commandment of God was that the claim of human love should come first; the commandment of the scribes was that the claim of legal rules and regulations should come first. Jesus was quire sure that any regulation which prevented a man from giving help where help was needed was nothing less than a contradiction of the law of God.”

It makes me think of the controversy surrounding our treatment of the unaccompanied minors who are crossing our southern border from their homes in Central America. Certainly our laws make it clear that they are criminals; they have broken our laws. There are two issues. One is how we treat them while they are in our country. Some communities have refused to allow them to be housed temporarily. Other groups have protested that they should not be enrolled in school or be supported through any of our social programs. The other issue is deportation, which means subjecting at least some of them to violence and possibly death back home. It seems to me that Jesus’ position is quite clear — God’s commandment to love trumps our laws.

That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about the Catholic Church and other denominations with a strong value of social justice. They put the human needs of people first before the law of the land. They provide medical treatment without insisting upon documentation to prove that someone is in this country legally. They feed and clothe. They put provisions in the desert where people are crossing the border to help assure that they don’t die of thirst. They are following the commands of the law, God’s law.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary observes about this passage, “What looks like pious behavior is actually a way of circumventing religious obligation.” That’s what incensed Jesus so much and why he called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. We claim to be a Christian country and have one of the highest rates of church attendance in the world. Let’s be honest at least. Jesus would have a hard time looking at some of our behaviors as following his example and obeying God’s commandment to love one another. We can’t be both scribes and disciples of Jesus. We can’t nullify the word of God in favor of our laws without incurring Jesus’ judgment of us as pious hypocrites.

It starts with me, though. I have to consider another’s human need of care and love before my own ideology and scrupulousness. I have to admit that I don’t always do that. There are times when I am a hypocrite and even cover it with piety. Jesus is pushing me to be honest with myself first and then to respond to God’s commandment of love by attending to others’ need for care and respect. That is clearly my primary responsibility according to Jesus above my obedience to the laws of the Church or the laws of my country.


You cling to human traditions

November 10, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today comes from Mark 7:6-8.

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

One of the things I pray for regularly is to be freed of my tendency to be judgmental. I catch myself all the time making instant judgments about people I don’t know and will never know, people I pass on the street or stand in line with. The problem is like the scribes and Pharisees I am judging by my standards, not by God’s. God does not reject someone because they’re overweight or smoke or even bigoted. At least I don’t think so; I don’t think He rejects anyone. He never turns His back on any one of us; it us we who turn our backs to Him.

“Who am I to judge?” That’s the most memorable thing to me that Pope Francis told reporters in one of his first interviews. How refreshing coming from our spiritual leader. Lots of scribes and Pharisees in the Church took notice and have objected ever since. It was a sign that Francis means what he said when it was announced last Friday that he had removed American Cardinal Raymond Burke from his position as head of the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the final court of appeal for all canon law disputes in the Church. Burke has publicly on numerous occasions exhorted priests to refuse the Eucharist to anyone who does not endorse the moral positions of the Church such as same-sex marriage. Surveys of American Catholics now show that a majority support such unions. In an interview last month he stated that gay relationships are “profoundly disordered and harmful.” He also suggested that parents should not allow children to have contact with gay persons including participation in family celebrations like Christmas. Burke also applied an interdict — an order barring someone from receiving the sacraments — to a Sister of Charity nun for supporting the ordination of women to the priesthood. Last year he co-authored a book opposing any change in Church policy regarding the remarriage of divorced Catholics and their reception of the Eucharist.

The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the topic of pastoral challenges of the family met last month after being called by Pope Francis a year ago. It was the first time in the Church’s history that input via questionnaire was solicited from every parish in the world. A draft report or interim discussion document considered the content of 265 speeches and position papers from the participants. The report had a decidedly accepting and welcoming tone for those who feel outcast and unwelcome especially divorced and gay Catholics. Cardinal Burke vehemently objected terming the draft as “manipulated” by the principal author Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte known “for pushing the pastoral envelope on dealing with people in ‘irregular’ unions while staying true to Catholic doctrine.” The final document was considerably watered down in response to criticism. It is a preparatory report for a larger synod on the family to meet next year. Of the 62 paragraphs only three did not received a 2/3 vote of acceptance. However, Pope Francis ordered that they be included anyway. Two of those concerned allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist and the other taking a welcoming position toward gay Catholics. In his closing speech Pope Francis said he wanted the Church to avoid “hostile inflexibility” to the letter of the law.

It seems to me that Francis hears the word of God spoken by Jesus. I think his heart is close to Jesus and that he honors him with his lips — “Who am I to judge?” I think that Burke on the other hand is like the hypocrites that Jesus rebukes for clinging to human precepts instead of God’s commandment to love one another — “in vain do they worship me.”  There I go again being judgmental!


The tradition of the elders

November 7, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news this afternoon is the beginning of a long passage from Mark 7:1-5.

Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”

Barclay gives us a history lesson about the subject of this passage. “Originally, for the Jew, the Law meant two things; it meant, first and foremost, the Ten Commandments, and, second, the first five books of the Old Testament, or, as they are called, the Pentateuch. Now it is true that the Pentateuch contains a certain number of detailed regulations and instructions; but, in the matter of moral questions, what is laid down is a series of great moral principles which a man must interpret and apply for himself. For long the Jews were content with that. But in the fourth and fifth centuries before Christ there came into being a class of legal experts whom we know as the Scribes. They were not content with great moral principles; they had what can only be called a passion for definition. They wanted these great principles amplified, expanded, broken down until they issued in thousands and thousands of little rules and regulations governing every possible action and every possible situation in life. These rules and regulations were not written down until long after the time of Jesus. They are what is called the Oral Law; it is they which are the tradition of the elders.”

The Pharisees and scribed believed had the same authority as Mosaic law. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the Pharisees’ rationale was that they wanted to impose the rituals applied to priests in the Hebrew scriptures “to all Israelites, thus making actual the vision of a priestly people.” They continued to raise the bar for what it meant to be a devout, pious Jew. In other words, the Jewish faith became ever more exclusive and consigned most people to a perpetual state of impurity. They were told over and over that they weren’t good enough for God basically and that they were punished in this life and the next.

The Pharisees and scribes had set themselves up as critical observers, judging and condemning people for acts of omission and commission without regard for a person’s sincere faith and practice. Further, only they knew all these rules since they weren’t even written down. What ordinary person could commit thousands of them to memory? It was an impossible bind that they put people in. The washing of hands referred to has nothing to do with hygienic; it is all about ritual purification with explicit instructions for how the hands were to be washed and the nature of the water to be used.

This absurdity is what confronted Jesus. Barclay writes, “To the scribes and Pharisees these rules and regulations were the essence of religion. To observe them was to please God; to break them was to sin. This was their idea of goodness and of the service of God….There is a fundamental cleavage here — the cleavage between the man who sees religion as ritual, ceremonial, rules and regulations, and the man who sees in religion loving God and loving his fellow-men.”

Rituals have their place, but they can’t usurp what is means to be Christian, which is essentially to follow the great command that Jesus gave us to love God, love ourselves, and love one another. Everything else is mere distraction. Pope Francis seems to understand this and is making efforts to return the Church to what is fundamentally important to being Christian. He has his work cut out for him, though. There are a lot of scribes and Pharisees in the Church hierarchy who relish their roles as enforcers of canon law. That’s where they derive power and sustain their elitism — the very things that Jesus railed against. He was a rebel and revolutionary and was killed for it.


The tassel of his cloak

November 6, 2014

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is from the end of Mark chapter 6 verses 53-56.

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there. As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him. They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or town or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.

This passage contrasts sharply with what we have just read about the disciples’ fear and inability to understand just who Jesus is. It seems that the more familiar we become with someone the less we hold them in awe. Jesus’ disciples clearly saw how popular Jesus was and witnessed the extraordinary power he had to heal, to exorcise demons, to perform miracles of many kinds. Yet they still questioned him and even argued with him because they didn’t understand that he was more than a healer and wonderworker. How could they, really? The son of God? They had no context in which they could be easily led to that conclusion. God come down from heaven in the form of a man, a poor, itinerate preacher from Galilee with no formal religious training? They could see that he derived his power and authority from God, but to be God’s son? That had to be almost impossible to understand let alone accept.

All these people bringing the sick to Jesus weren’t encumbered with all these questions. They simply knew by word of mouth that Jesus had the power to heal. They didn’t need to know any more than that; they just wanted their hopes fulfilled. It seems that Mark is making the point that the more I know Jesus, the more I’m exposed to him, the more questions I’m going to have and the more I have to grapple with understanding and accepting his identity. Faith isn’t an easy, simple matter — at least not for me. It is something that I am continually growing into. It has so many aspects — seeking answers to questions, surrendering to God, resting trustfully in HIs love for me, following Jesus’ example of loving others, and the list goes on. It is a full-time way of being and living for me. That gives me some inkling of what it was like for the disciples to live with Jesus day in and day out. It wasn’t easy; it was a struggle and it was all-consuming. I have a lot of empathy for them. It would have been much easier to be one of those who simply wanted to touch the tassel of Jesus’ cloak, be healed, and resume life as it was freed of whatever illness or disability they suffered, grateful for God’s blessing. God wants much more of me than that, though. He wants me to consume and be consumed. That’s what the Eucharist is all about, it seems to me.