December 28, 2009

Commentary

Holy Family
Luke 2:41-52

Importance of Family Religious Routines

The passage from Luke emphasizes the religious routines of the Holy Family, "Each year, Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival customs." This simple fact indicates the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus have tradition and routines.

In addition, their family life is similar to any human family, with blessings, joys, as well as unanswered mysteries, questions, and challenges (in this case, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and the raising of an adolescent child!)

The example of the Holy Family, however, teaches us to do the normal things of family life, with its blessings and issues, without loosing sight of the bigger picture - God's picture. They appreciate and preserve religious and spiritual tradition and routines. They pray and reflect. That is what Mary's "keeping all these things in her heart" can teach us. In this way, in their common family life, they ponder and discover God's plan and each person's vocation in their daily life.

December 24, 2009

Commentary

Christmas
Luke 2:1-14

A Savior Has Been Born for Us in "the House of Bread"

Today, on this beautiful celebration of our Savior's birth, instead of a "technical" commentary, let us have a quick look at 3 details from the passage of Luke's gospel, and draw some connections from them.

(1). The angel of the Lord proclaims to the shepherds, "I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord."

The good news of great joy is that a savior has been born for all the people, for all of us, for me!

(2). The Savior is born in the city of David. This city, as well-known now, is Bethlehem. Beth-lehem, in Hebrew, means, "house of bread." It is believed to refer to "its many field." [1]

Jesus today continues to come to us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus is the bread of life. Each church, each altar, is now a Bethlehem, where the Savior comes to us.

(3). Mary and Joseph "laid Jesus in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Is there room for Jesus in the inn of my heart when he comes to me today, in the Word, in the Eucharist, and in his brothers and sisters?

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[1] The Little Blue Book, Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, 2009; entry for December 21, 2009.

December 22, 2009

December 19, 2009

Commentary

4th Sunday of Advent - B
Luke 1:39-45

How Does This Happen to Me?

"How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" The question Elizabeth raises expresses her humble astonishment at the single blessing she receives from Mary's visit.

That question should be ours also. "How does this happen to us, that the mother of our Lord should come to us?" The Lord comes to visit the whole human race, and each one of us. And so, "How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Indeed, it is the Lord who is coming to us. Elizabeth's blessing is for all of us. So should her humble astonishment be ours.

Moreover, not only are we the recipients of the Lord's visit, we are also the carriers of the Lord's presence. Through our baptism, we become, like Mary, the bearers of Jesus Christ to our world.

How does this happen to me that I should be the carrier of the Lord? And so we are blessed!

Mary becomes God's bearer through her obedience to God's will and then, through her act of charity. A cousin reaching out to a cousin in need is no longer just an act of kindness. With Jesus in her womb, her act of charity becomes an encounter with the Savior for Elizabeth and her son . And Christ redeeming act begins.

December 11, 2009

Commentary

3rd Sunday of Advent - C
Luke 3:10-18

Do What You Are Supposed to Do First, then More

Tax collectors and soldiers come to ask John of what they should do. These are the people the society then despises. They are Jews who have become agents of a foreign ruler. They obey an illigimate government; then in turn, lord it over their own people. They often abuse their power for their own gains.

Yet, surprisingly, John does not tell them to quit and find another job. He tells them to be who they are supposed to be, and do what their responsibility demands of them.

It is indeed a provoking and challenging lesson for us who often wish we had a different life or a better job before we can do good.

In the human community, each person has a unique role. And that is also true in God's family. Fulfilling our vocation is the sure way of bringing God's reign of peace to our world.

Once we have done what we ought to do, and be who we are called to be, then we can do more. "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise."

But John does not stop at telling us to "Be Nice." John's core message is also his life vocation. "A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him" (John 1:6-7). It is John who points out to all people, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).

John's vocation is also ours. And today, John teaches us how to live that vocation well.

December 5, 2009

Commentary

2nd Sunday of Advent - C
Luke 3:1-6

God in human time and place

St. Luke gives us a list of the civil and religious leaders at the time when John the Baptist introduced Jesus.
Luke also gives us the location of John's ministry. Why? Is Luke interested in teaching us a history lesson?

Not quite. But that is how Luke tells us that it is in a concrete moment of human history, at a particular location that "the Word of God came to John."

The Word of God entered and altered human history for ever. And that happened "within the setting of ordinary, every-day event and personalities." [1]

God continues to reveals God's love and presence among us in the same way. As John proclaims, "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." It is in the here and now that we all can encounter the eternal God.

How can I prepare for such an encounter? How can I become more sensitive and alert for God's saving presence in my daily and ordinary life?

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[1] Francis J Moloney, SDB. This is the Gospel of the Lord: Year C. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1994, p. 50.

November 28, 2009

Commentary

1st Sunday of Advent - C
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Do Not Be Drowsy Because of the Anxieties of Daily Life.

The Gospel for this year's First Sunday of Advent does not look at the key Biblical figures commonly associated with Advent and Christmas, such as Isaiah, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, or the Virgin Mary. Nor does it speak of preparation for the first coming of the Messiah in Bethlehem. Instead, it speaks of the future coming of the Son of Man in the first half of the passage (verses 25-28).

Jesus uses images common to his Jewish audience to speak of the end time, the time of his return. The message, as vivid as it may sound, says nothing about the exact time of such events. We know from Jesus' teachings elsewhere, and from human experience, that we do not know the time nor the hour. Moreover, it is beyond our control. It's in God's hands.

The only thing we can do is how we live our lives in the here and now. And that is the best preparation for the Messiah's future coming.

The second part of the Gospel passage (verses 34-36) then instructs us how to live the present moment. Jesus warns us not to "become drowsy." Drowsiness is often caused by "carousing and drunkenness." But Jesus also warns us of another sourse of drowsiness, namely, "the anxieties of daily life."

If I believe that God loves me and cares for me, then I would not become anxious of daily life.

The same loving God who watches over my future, and in fact, the future of the whole universe, is the God who loves me today. It is the same God who gives me this day out of love. And that's the only thing I have for sure. It's only today that I can and need to live well. And if I live well today, I would not be drowsy and miss the presence of God in my daily life, nor will I miss the Messiah on the day he comes.

November 18, 2009

Commentary

Christ the King
John 18:33b-37

Truth and Love- the Qualities of the King and His People

It is quite clear in Jesus' response to Pilate's interrogation that Jesus' Kingdom is in the world, but not of the world: "My kingdom does not belong to this world." He does not deny his kingship, but he adds, "as it is, my kingdom is not here."

As it is, the kingdom is not here. So, what conditions must there be for Jesus' kingdom to be among us?

The answer is given in the mission that Jesus identifies himself with. "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."

And Jesus gives us the truth at another place in John's gospel, "God so loves the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). The truth is "God is love." (1 John 4:8, 16) [1]

That truth reaches its climax on the cross, when Jesus gives his life out of love. [2]

And citizenship in the Kingdom Jesus established on the cross is for "Everyone who belongs to the truth" -- the truth of love.

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[1] Francis J Moloney, SDB. This is the Gospel of the Lord: Year B. Homebush, NSW, Australia: St. Paul, 1993, p. 203.
[2] Ibid.

November 14, 2009

Commentary

33rd Sunday - B
Mark 13:24-32

What's certain, and what's not?

The way Jesus explains it, everything of this world that we take for granted will not last. That's certain. It begins with the end of the physical realities of the sun and the moon darkened, and the stars falling from the sky -- traditional Jewish cosmic signs of the end time. And it extends to the powers that people might think control events of life. All will end. And that is certain.

It is also certain that the power of God, revealed in "the Son of Man" will prevail. And it is not by accident. He will come to "gather his elect."

When that will happen is uncertain to us.

Yet, that we are God's elect is certain. And Jesus assures us that his words will not pass away. That fact should give us hope, even when everything we know passes away.

November 7, 2009

Commentary

32nd Sunday - B
Mark 12:38-44

The Widow who Offers Her Life to God

The English translation of the currency in Mark 12:42 does not provide a clear idea of how little money the poor widow puts in the treasury. In the Greek text, we learn that she puts in two lepta, which are worth 1/64 (one-sixty-fourth) of a denarius - a day's salary of a regular laborer. [1]

She may have offered just a tiny amount of money, but it's "her whole livelihood." (v. 44) In fact, the word bios used for livelihood also means "life." This double meaning of the word suggests that she offers to God more than just what she has to live on, but her very life. For this trusting generosity, Jesus praises her, commenting "This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors." (v.43)

In the larger context of the entire Gospel according to Mark, the disciples of Jesus have given up their livelihood when they abandons everything to follow him (1:16-20; 2:13-14). Then, throughout the Gospel, especially after each time Jesus predicts his passion and death, Jesus invites them to give up their lives in serving other (9:33-37; 10:41-44), and in carrying the cross and follow him (8:34; 10:38-40). Now, he points out to them an example in the trusting and generous widow who gives all she has, even her life. [2]


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[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; footnote 168, p. 247.
[2] Ibid., p. 247.

October 31, 2009

Commentary

All Saints
Matthew 5:1-12a

We Become Saints Together

Matthew gives the setting of the Sermon on the Mount in this way, "[Jesus'] disciples came to him. He began to teach them."

Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus hardly ever teaches one person individually. And it's no difference here as Matthew presents the core of Jesus' teaching.[1]

This simple sentence , therefore, is an appropriate reminder for all followers of Christ as the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. None of us will become a saint alone. It is to the community of believers that God chooses to reveal the truth of salvation. It is in the community that we find the support and inspiration we need to live God's way. This community of saints begins in our families. It then extends to all believers, both in heaven and on earth, and even those who come after us. Together, we build God's Reign.

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[1] "For Christians, next to the Ten Commandments as an expression of God's will, the eight beatitudes have been revered for expressing succinctly the values on which Jesus placed priority." Raymond Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997; p. 178.
- Reference: Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1965 and 2764.

October 24, 2009

Commentary

30th Sunday - B
Mark 10:46-52

Obstacles in Being Followers of Jesus

From previous passages in Mark's Gospel, we learn what prevents the disciples from being authentic followers (disciples) of Jesus. Their own idea of the Messiah, their self-importance, and their ambition are probably their three biggest obstacles. And in today's passage, these elements come up again. This time, they prevent the disciples from truly understanding and following Jesus. Moreover, they even cause the disciples' attempt to stop the blind man Bartimaeus coming to Jesus.

The disciples have witnessed Jesus moved with pity for the crowd who had no shepherd or were hungry (6:31; 8:2), and reaching out to those in need (for example, the blind man at Bethsaida in 8:22) [1] . Yet, they still have not understood Jesus nor acquired his attitude. As a result, they "rebuke" Bartimaeus and tell him to be silent. They want Jesus and others to operate by their standards.

The disciples see only their own importance. They fight over who is the greatest. They try to secure the best position for themselves. And they become "indignant" when they learn that others were trying to outdo them. Bartimaeus, who is blind, on the contrary, sees his desperate situation and knows his need for Jesus. So he cries out, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And nobody can stop his act of total faith in Jesus.

The disciples' ambition is evident at the various incidents mentioned above. Unlike them, Bartimaeus is humble. When Jesus calls him, he throws aside his cloak, "the only vestige of dignity," [2] springs up, and comes to Jesus. He addresses Jesus as "Master" and makes his request.

The disciples carry their baggage of their own ideas about the Messiah, their pride and ambition. As a result, though they journey with Jesus, they have not yet followed him. Bartimaeus, on the other hands, sees past his blindness and accepts the Messiah as he is. Acknowledging his needs, with humility, he ask the Messiah to have pity on him. He then "receives his sight" and "follows Jesus on the way" - the way to Jerusalem.

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[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 209-210.
[2] Ibid.

October 17, 2009

Commentary

29th Sunday - B
Mark 10:35-45

What a Teacher We're So Lucky to Have!

This passage in Mark is significant on a number of levels. First, this is the last conversation Jesus has with his disciples before he enters Jerusalem to accomplish his mission. Secondly, this conversation takes place after the third time Jesus tells his disciples of his passion and death (The verses between what we heard last Sunday and today - Mark 10:31-34 - reports this prediction). Thirdly, this is another time the disciples fail to understand Jesus.[1] In the case of John, it's the second time he shows his lack of understanding.

It is quite upsetting, on the human level, to hear that the disciples who seem to have the hardest time to understand the teaching of Jesus and to accept God's way are those who are closest to Jesus. After all, Peter, James and John are the privileged disciples. Besides witnessing with other disciples Jesus's power at different healings and his teaching authority, they are the only three who Jesus would select to be at special events in his life and ministry, such as the cure of Peter's mother-in-law (1:29-31), the raising of Jairus's daughter (5:35-43), and the transfiguration (9:2-8). Moreover, the three of them, together with Andrew, have been with Jesus the longest, since they were the first of the disciples whom Jesus called (1:16-20). And yet, they are the ones who fail to understand Jesus over and over again. As a result, though Jesus has just told them - for the third time - that he would be condemned to death, James and John still tell Jesus, "We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." The other ten are not much better, since "they become indignant at James and John" when they hear of their request.

Yet, Jesus would not fail them. Patiently, over and over again, he teaches them, explains God's way to them, and forewarns them of what will happen to them. Most consolingly, Jesus does not give up on them. By the fact that he keeps inviting them to live his way, he shows his trust in them. In addition, he prepares them to become true leaders in the community of his followers. [2] Ultimately, he inspires them to live as he does. "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man comes to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
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[1] After the first time Jesus tells his disciples of his passion, Peter tries to talk him out of it (Mark 8:31-33). After Jesus' second attempt to warn them of what will happen to him, the disciples turn around and argue among themselves who is the greatest (9:30-37). John then complains to Jesus that some person is driving out demons in Jesus' name, but the man does not follow the disciples (9:38).

[2] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 206-7.


October 10, 2009

Commentary

28th Sunday - B
Mark 10:17-30

Thank God, it's not up to us!

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" the man asked Jesus. From the very beginning of the conversation, he has already asked the wrong question. For him, it's all about what he has done and wants to do. "What must I do?"

With that approach, God's commandments become a list of obstacles to overcome, or a list of items to check off. The man now feels that he has accomplished all that, then what's next.

The man has lost sight of God's loving intention when God gave the commandments to Moses. The Lord God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the place of slavery (Deuteronomy 5:6). God then gave them the commandments so they "may live and prosper, and may have long life" (Deuteronomy 5:33). In fact, God's commandments were given as the way to life and liberty, not as obstacles to overcome, or things to check off.

The man has been treating God's commandments as obstacles not as gift. Consequently, he feels a false sense of accomplishment. "All of these I have observed."

Coupled with that false sense of accomplishment is his wealth, which seems to have created in him a tendency toward self-reliance and self-determination. Together, his negative approach toward God's commandments, his false sense of accomplishment, and his tendency of self-determination become obstacles for him to follow Jesus. He only wants to follow Jesus in his own way - "What must I do," not in Jesus' way.

The disciples, in contrast, put their question in the passive voice, "Then, who can be saved?" This suggests that they have a better understanding that the Kingdom of God is not something humans can acchieve. [1] God alone can save. Moreover, for those who do not rely on their own wealth, possessions, and connections; those who follow Jesus in God's way are rewarded "a hundred times more now in this present age,... with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."

Today, we must ask ourselves, "What or Who do I rely on?"

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[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 202.


October 2, 2009

Commentary

27th Sunday - B (October 4, 2009)
Mark 10:2-16

Can It BePossible?

Many of us probably have had the experience of dealing with loopholes, being either the ones who tried to look for and took advantage of loopholes, or the ones who suffered when somebody else did that to us.

And when that happens in any human relationship, it is impossible for it to be authentic.

That seems to be the attitude of the Pharisees who test Jesus in this passage in Mark's Gospel. They want to find loopholes for their selfish gains.

And in response, Jesus gives the plan that God has for human relationships "from the beginning of creation." Such relationships existed before selfishness and sins destroyed the fullness of God's love in us.

Then, taken in the context of the entire Gospel according to Mark, this passage of 10:2-16 forms a part of Jesus' teaching on God's Kingdom as he journeys towards Jerusalem (beginning at 8:31). There, he will restore the original goodness of God's plan of love with the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross. With his gift of self, Jesus enables human relationships to be authentic again.

On our part, authentic relationships are possible if we accept Jesus' gift of himself like a child, who totally depends on the love and care of a mother or a father. Once we accept ourselves, and all we have and are as God's generous and gratuitous gift, then we can give ourselves to others generously.

27th Sunday - B (October 4, 2009)



September 26, 2009

Commentary

26th Sunday - B
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

The Kingdom is both costly and cheap

Jesus came to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God. And since, there is nothing more valuable. It is so precious that it's worth losing a hand, a foot, or an eye so as not to lose the Kingdom. And it is so precious that it's better for a person to die a violent death than to live and cause "one of the little ones" to sin and lose the Kingdom.

And at the same time, the Kingdom seems so cheap. A cup of water given to a person because that person belongs to Christ is enough to win the reward of the Kingdom.

The gift of the Kingdom, so precious, has been made so cheap and plentiful. It is possible solely because the Kingdom is a free gift that God gives gratuitously to anyone who is willing to accept it.

September 19, 2009

Commentary

25th Sunday - B
Mark 9:30-37

A Patient and Forgiving Teacher

For 2 weeks in a row, we hear from Mark's Gospel of the disciples' failure to understand Jesus. They just don't get it.

First, Peter shows that they are stuck in their own idea of who Jesus is (last week's Gospel, Mark 8:27-35). He gives the right answer, but not knowing what it means.

Now, as Jesus for the second time tells them that he will "be handed over" and be killed, the disciples do not "understand the saying, and they [are] afraid to question him" (9:31-32). Consequently, they think of the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus as a victory march, and there, the Messiah will establish his earthly reign. So, they turn around and fight over their places in that earthly kingdom (9:34). [1]

And in response, Jesus tries once more to teach and explain to them his mission and their call to follow his example. Knowing his disciples and their struggles, he now focuses all his attention on them. Thus, "he [does] not wish anyone to know " their whereabout (9:30). Then, once in the privacy of the house, he sits down and teaches them (9:35).

We, as disciples of Jesus, also have his patience and his love to count on when we fail.

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[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 188.

September 12, 2009

Commentary

24th Sunday - B
Mk 8:27-35

A Turning Point

This week's Gospel reading gives a turning point in the Gospel of Mark. Up to now, Jesus has shown his identity in his miraculous action and his powerful words. But not everybody recognizes him. We also know from previous passages in Mark, there are still people who even challenge Jesus' teaching authority as a rabbi. As we learn in the disciples' responses to Jesus' question, for most people, Jesus is just "one of the figures expected to usher in the days of the Messiah." [1]

The disciples know what people are saying about Jesus. But, it is not enough for the disciples to know what others think of Jesus. Jesus asks them for their own faith, "But, who do you say that I am?" (8:29). Here is the turning point in the disciples' following and understanding of Jesus.

There has to be a similar turning point in every Christian's journey of faith. We all learn the faith from somebody else. For most of us, it was first our parents and grandparents who pass on to us the faith. We also learn it from our religious educators, clergy, other Church ministers, and friends. But at one point or another, we all must answer that same question, "But who do you say that I am?" Who is Jesus for me, not somebody else?

Yet, as we learn from the hard lesson that Peter learns, it is not enough to know Jesus according to our own idea or concept. Peter gives the right answer. Nevertheless, he cannot come to understand or accept what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah in God's plan. Peter even goes as far as "rebuking" Jesus. He has a hard time accepting a Messiah who will suffer, be rejected, and die.

At that point, Jesus puts Peter where he belongs, "Get behind me."

Then Jesus gives us the ultimate turning point in any disciple's journey of faith. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." (8:34).

It is not enough to know Jesus according to our ideas and plans. We must come to know and follow him as the Messiah, who out of obedience to the Father and out of love for us, gives up his life so that we might live.

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[1] Francis J. Moloney, SDB. This is the Gospel of the Lord, Year B. Homebush, NSW, Australia: St. Paul, 1993; p. 182.

24th Sunday - B (September 13, 2009)




September 5, 2009

Commentary

23rd Sunday - B
Mark 7:31-37

How do I approach Jesus?

Last week, as we returned to Mark's Gospel, we heard Jesus' invitation, "Hear me, all of you, and understand" (Mark 6:14). Meanwhile, some Pharisees and scribes - the religious leaders of Israel, had difficulties accepting the message of Jesus. Ultimately, they would not recognize or accept Jesus for who he was.

Today, we find Jesus in the territories of the Gentiles. There, he had first helped a Syrophoenician woman who "begged him to drive [an unclean spirit] out of her daughter" (7:26). [1]

Her humble attitude is also the attitude of the people who brought the deaf man to him. They "begged" him (7:32). And he healed the man.

The Gentiles did not have the covenant God made with Abraham, the Law God gave to Moses, and the words God spoke through the prophets. Yet, they recognized Jesus for who he was. The Syrophoenician woman even called him "Lord." Their humility, the awareness of their nothingness, and their realization that Jesus alone could heal them opened their ears to hear Jesus' word, their eyes to see the Divine Presence, and their mouths to proclaim God's glory.

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[1] The story of the Syrophoenician woman, found in Mark 7:24-30, is not used in the Gospel readings for Sundays of this year B.

23rd Sunday - B (September 6, 2009)




August 29, 2009

Commentary

22nd Sunday - B
Gospel

After 5 weeks reading Jesus' teaching on the Bread of Life from the Gospel according to John, today, we return to the Gospel according to Mark. And here Mark reports a new development in the life and ministry of Jesus - a conflict with "the Pharisees and some scribes."

The conflict begins with their observation that "some of Jesus' disciples eat their meals with unclean, that is unwashed, hands." (v. 2) This seems to mean that while some of the disciples do not observe Jewish ritual purity, other disciples do. [1]

Yet, the Pharisees and the scribes do not challenge just the disciples who they judge have broken the law. They question Jesus. Moreover, they phare the question to include all of Jesus' disciples, and in that manner, they include even Jesus himself, "Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders...?

This Gospel passage should remind us to examine ourselves when we disagree with a person or some people, "Am I fair and objective?" or "Do I stereotype and discriminate?"

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[1] Francis J. Moloney. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 138.

August 22, 2009

Commentary

21st Sunday - B
John 6:60-69

The Words of Jesus - do I find them shocking or life-giving?

In chapter 6 of the Gospel according to John, there are three groups of people who hear Jesus' words: the crowd, the Jews, and the disciples.

The crowd listens to Jesus mostly out of curiosity and self-interest, as Jesus observes their motivation, “you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (v. 26).

Then, suddenly, the crowd seems to disappear and the Jews become the main audience. They have a hard time accepting Jesus’ words. First, they think they know his origin, so they question his authority, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" (v. 42) Later, they quarrel among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (v. 52) As a result, they could not accept his teaching.

Next comes another sudden shift when the disciples of Jesus take the front stage again. [1] (They have disappeared after the crossing of the sea in verses 16-21).

Earlier, the disciples witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ words when he multiplied the loaves and the fish (vs. 5-13) and when he calmed their fears at the stormy sea. Most significantly, during the crossing of the sea, it was the disciples alone, and not the crowd, who had the privilege of witnessing the divine authority of Jesus as he revealed himself to them. In fact, Jesus showed his divine power over the sea just as Yahweh did in the Old Testament. Moreover, his words “It is I” (v.20) resembled God’s self-revelation to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 and elsewhere.[2]

Many of these very disciples now find Jesus’ words “hard” and challenging – “who can accept it?”

To all the disciples, Jesus asks, “Does this shock you?” Some of them find his words so shocking that they leave him. Thankfully, Simon Peter and the Twelve answer him, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus might be asking me the same question today. What would be my answer?


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[1] Francis J. Moloney, SDB. This is the Gospel of the Lord, Year B. Homebush, NSW, Australia: St. Paul, 1993; p. 176.

[2] Francis J. Moloney, SDB. The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 203-204; and The New American Bible, footnotes on John 6:20 and Mark 6:50, available on www.usccb.org/nab/bible.

August 15, 2009

Commentary

20th Sunday - B
John 6:51-58

Eat My Flesh

In Greek, just like many other languages, there are different verbs used to describe the same activity, each with its own nuances. Similarly, there are different verbs that can be used for "to eat."

However, there are only two places in John's gospel where the verb trogein is used, here in 6:54,56,57,58 and 13:18, when Jesus told the disciples at the last supper, "The one who ate my bread has lifted the heels against me." (1)

Trogein literally means to chew, to munch, to crunch with the teeth. And here, it is used intentionally to replace a more polite verb for to eat. (2)

Obviously, Jesus is not speaking in symbolic language. He really means "my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink," and "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life."

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(1) Francis J. Moloney, SDB., The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 224.
(2) Ibid., p. 221.

August 7, 2009

Commentary

19th Sunday - B

They Shall All Be Taught by God

In the Jewish religious tradition, the food that comes from heaven is not just the manna that nourished them in the desert. It is God's words given in the law that is the true food from heaven.

Jesus declares that he is the true bread that comes from heaven. He is God's Word who has come to fulfill the promise God made through the prophets, "They shall all be taught by God."

It is no longer a chosen few who can hear God's words and be taught. In Jesus, God now draws all people to God's love and salvation. In Jesus, all shall be taught by God. In Jesus, all can receive the food of eternal life.

August 2, 2009

Commentary

18th Sunday - B
John 6:34-25

Losing sight of the bigger picture

This passage of John 6:24-35 follows the Gospel of last Sunday (6:1-15), but not directly. In between the two passages, Jesus has sent the disciples across the sea. He then walks on the water to meet them during a storm. That is why the crowd has to come to Carpenaum looking for him.

Regardless of that fact, the crowd’s question, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” is quite lame, given that they have witnessed the miracle of the loaves and the fish. They still cannot recognize who Jesus truly is. And Jesus knows them well, “you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

And their shortsightedness seems to be the reason behind their demand for more signs. When Jesus asks them to believe in him, the demand, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?”

It is also worth noting here in the theology of John’s Gospel, a faith that is based on seeing signs is shallow. Such is the faith of the disciples at the wedding in Cana. John comments, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (2:11). We know that the disciples’ faith is not strong enough because they will abandon Jesus at the hour of the cross. In contrast, not only does the mother of Jesus believe in his words, she also tells the waiters to do whatever he tells them. Her unconditional faith will enable her to be with Jesus at the foot of the cross.[1]

The crowd, unlike Mary, cannot be satisfied with one sign. They ask for more. That is the danger of the kind of faith built not on a total trust in God, but on our own ideas of God. Our human limits can cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture as we try to make God fit out idea of God.

Jesus gives us the challenge, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

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[1] Francis J. Moloney, SDB., The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), p. 69.

July 25, 2009

Commentary

17th Sunday – B
John 6: 1-15

Does God fit my plan?

A large crowd follows Jesus “because they have seen the signs he was performing on the sick” (v.2). It seems that they follow Jesus either because they are curious or because they want to see more signs.

They come with their own agenda. Therefore, after witnessing Jesus multiplying the bread and fish to feed them, they want to make him king (v.15).

Their own agenda prevents them from seeing God’s agenda for them. Their own agenda blocks their ears to hear Jesus’ words that give life. Their own agenda blocks their eyes from seeing Jesus the true bread from heaven.

The crowd wants to fit God into their worldly agenda. Unfortunately, their own agenda prevents them from living in the reality of God’s reign that Jesus has brought them. They want more, but fail to appreciate the gift of God.

July 18, 2009

Commentary

16th Sunday - B
Mark 6:30:34

Blindness of Worldly Success and False Pride

“Jesus appointed the Twelve that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). Then, at the beginning of chapter 6 of Mark, Jesus “summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits” (6:7; last week’s Gospel passage).

Mark makes it very clear that the Twelve were sent by Jesus; and that it was by Jesus’ authority that they preached and drove out unclean spirits.

Yet, here the Twelve returned, and “reported all they had done and taught” (6:30). They tell Jesus what they have done, as if it were by their own power.

Moreover, the New American translation uses “report,” a rather mild and neutral verb. In the Greek, the verb used here actually means “announce” or “proclaim.” It is the same verb used by Jesus after he freed the man once possessed by a legion of violent spirits. He said to him, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you" (Mark 5:19).[1]

The Twelve do not just simply report to Jesus. They announce to him what they have done and taught.

And while they think they have done it all, there is still a vast crowd of needy people who track Jesus down to hear him and receive his help. “They are like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34).

The Twelve have allowed temporary successes to blind their eyes to the needs of the people, and pride to blur their minds and hearts from their own need of being Jesus’ disciples.

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[1] Moloney, Francis J., The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 128.

July 11, 2009

Commentary

15th Sunday - B
Mk 6:6b-13

Who Is Qualified to Preach the Gospel?

In the previous weeks, the Gospel passages from Mark portray Jesus in his public ministry. Jesus is constantly on the move, preaching, teaching, and healing to both Jews and gentiles.

Jesus has called the Twelve to follow him in his ministry. Mark says in 3:14 - 15, “He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons.” They have learned from what they hear and see, and now, they seem ready to be sent out.

Yet, if we look back over the events since their call to now, we see that the Twelve are not really ready yet. Three weeks ago, we learn of their lack of faith when their boat struggle in the storm. Jesus then reprimands them, “Do you not yet have faith?” (4:40). And even though they have witnessed the power of Jesus’ words and actions, they show no understanding when Jesus heals the woman with hemorrhages. They retort at Jesus, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'" (5:31)

They do not seem ready or qualified to preach, for sure not as Jesus does. And yet, he sends them out.

How about me? Jesus is sending me today. Do I wait until I am qualified or my faith is ready?

June 28, 2009

Commentary

13th Sunday - B
Mark 5: 21-43

Life-giving Life

“There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.”
“The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.”

It is not by coincidence that the number twelve appears twice, in reference to two difference people in this Gospel passage.

For the woman afflicted with hemorrhages, 12 years of illness is a long time. But that is surface reading. We know from Jewish religious traditions that she has been considered impure. As a result, she has not been a part of any religious or social functions for all these 12 years. She is alive, but her life is not unlike death.

Moreover, her illness would have made her childless.

Now, the healing power of Jesus enables her to both reenter the community of God’s family and bring forth life.

The girl dies just as she reaches the customary age of marriage. [1] As Jesus restores her to life, “she rises to womanhood.”[2] Not only is she now alive, she can bring forth life as a mother.

That is how rich and how life-giving God’s life is. And that gift of God’s life is in us by the healing touch of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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[1] Moloney, Francis J., The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 110.
[2] Ibid., p. 111.

June 20, 2009

Commentary

12th Sunday - B
Mk 4:35-41

Let us cross to the other side.

The disciples are terrified as the storm tosses their boat about. The incredible calmness of Jesus, who is sound asleep in the stern, does nothing to calm their fears and inner turmoil.

Through this detail of Jesus sleeping, St. Mark already shows that Jesus is the lord of nature. He is truly the Son of God, as the author has introduced him from the beginning of this Gospel (1:1 – the introduction states, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”; and 1:11 – the voice from heaven at the Jordan, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.").
[1]

And yet, to the disciples, Jesus is only “teacher” as they wake him. They even doubt his concern for them, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
[2]

They quickly forget, in times of struggles and dangers, that Jesus himself had set out on the journey with them. It was never their initiative. It was Jesus who ordered, “Let us cross to the other side.” It is the same Jesus who is still with them. It is the same Jesus who will calm the sea with the power of his words.


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[1] Moloney, Francis J., The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002; p. 99.
[2] Ibid.

12th Sunday - B (June 21, 2009)

Readings

June 5, 2009

Commentary

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Matthew 28:16-20

We are One with the Trinity and One Another

In this Gospel passage, before ascending to heaven, Jesus affirms the disciples, "behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (v. 20). Jesus came into the world to reveal to us the unity and love of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By becoming one with us, Jesus draws us into that divine relationship.

Now he physically leaves us, but he is with us. And with Jesus, we are one with the Trinity until the end of the age.

However, this relationship that the Trinity shares with us is not to be preserved to a chosen few. Jesus commands us, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (v. 19). Unlike with the first Chosen People, relationship with God is now open to all. In Judaism, "only males could be properly introduced into the fullness of life in the People of God through circumcision, now the universal possibility of baptism is offered to all nations and to all people, women and men." (1)

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(1) Moloney, Francis J. This is the Gospel of the Lord, Year B. Homebush, NSW, Australia: St. Paul, 1993; p. 135.

Most Holy Trinity (June 7, 2009)




May 30, 2009

Commentary

Pentecost
John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

We Are a Team, and the Holy Spirit Is the Quarterback

This passage is taken from the words of Jesus during the Last Supper. The Lord says to his disciples, “The Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father [will] testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:26-27). In Chapter 15, before and after these verses, Jesus predicts the hatred his disciples will endure from the world.

In that context, the Spirit is Jesus’ gift for his disciples to help them remain as faithful witnesses.

Disciples throughout the ages share the same mission of testifying to Jesus. Unlike the first generation disciples, we do not have the direct knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Yet, just like those disciples, we have the same Spirit who “will guide [us] to all truth. He will take what is [Jesus’] and declare it to [us]” (16:13, 14). So, though we do not know Jesus directly like the disciples, we know Him. The Spirit leads us to Jesus. He also leads us forward to testify to Jesus. The Spirit is our true quarterback.

May 22, 2009

Commentary

7th Sunday of Easter – B
John 17:11b-19

Jesus’ disciples do not belong to the world …

In this passage of John’s gospel, Jesus prays for his disciples before he is taken from them. His words also convey parts of his farewell message to his friends. Jesus is coming to the Father. His friends will remain in the world, but “they do not belong to the world any more than [Jesus belongs] to the world” (v. 16). They belong to Jesus because he sends them into the world. Moreover, Jesus prays to the Father for his friends so that just as the Father consecrated Jesus for his mission, the Father now consecrates the disciples for their mission.

The disciples will be consecrated by God who is holy (v. 12), and whose word is truth (v. 17). This act of consecration makes the disciples holy because they are set apart for God and God’s purpose.[1]

As a result, they belong to God.

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[1] Barclay, William. The Gospel of John, Revised Edition, Vol. 2. Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1975; p. 153.

May 9, 2009

Commentary

5th Sunday of Easter – B
John 15:1-8

Secret of A Fruitful Branch

In the short span of 5 verses (vs. 4-8), Jesus uses the word “remain” 7 times. The emphasis is clear. It is obvious that just as a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine, neither can we apart from Jesus.

But even when a branch is on the vine, there is no certainty that it will bear fruit. These branches would be cut off so as not to waste the vine’s energy. And for the branches that bear fruits, the farmer still has to prune it. Pruning means taking away what prevents the branch to be most productive, or prevents the fruits to be of best quality.

“The Greek verb used (for to prune) can also mean to cleanse.”[1] It is the same verb Jesus used during the washing of the feet when he says to Peter, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, but is entirely clean; and you are clean, but not every one of you” (13:10). And as disciples, we are pruned by Jesus’ words (15:3).[2]

So we have here the secret of a fruitful branch: to remain with Jesus, the vine, and to allow God, the vine grower to prune us with the words of the Son, Jesus, our Risen Lord.

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[1] Winstanley, Michael. Symbols and Spirituality: Reflecting on John’s Gospel. Bolton, England: Don Bosco Publications; p. 155.
[2] Moloney, Francis J, SDB., The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina Series, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998; p. 420.

May 2, 2009

Commentary

4th Sunday of Easter – B
John 10:11-18
The Father knows me and I know the Father

Qualities of the good shepherd:
- He lays down his life for the sheep, unlike the hired man who runs away in face of danger and abandons the sheep.
- He does not work for pay
- He has concern for the sheep
- He knows the sheep and the sheep know him.
- He gathers the sheep to his fold so that there will be one flock, and one shepherd.
- He leads.
- The sheep hear his voice.
But the main quality is his willingness to lay down his life for the sheep, a point Jesus repeats three times in this short passage.

All these are the qualities of the Good Shepherd. And in the Greek text, the word used for good here is kalos, which means “noble” or “ideal,” not simply “good at” something[1]

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, possesses these qualities thanks to his intimate relationship with the Father. “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

In Christ, we experience God’s love for us and for all humanity.

In Christ, we discover the secret to live our vocations as He does, namely to know the Father who is the loving Father of all.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, please pray for vocations and that all Christians learn to lead others to God through sacrificial love.

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[1] Perkins, Pheme. “The Gospel according to John.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990; p. 968.