THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK
Download: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr B
Mark invented the idea of selecting incidents from the story of Jesus and putting them together in such a way that they spoke to the people of his day. His intention was to address their concerns, their worries, their pain. By so doing he invented what we call a Gospel. All four Gospels do what Mark did, but each made a different selection from the rich tapestry of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Matthew, Luke, and John, adopting more or less Mark’s framework, organised their selection from the many incidents that made up the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and arranged them to meet the concerns and challenges of the churches for whom they wrote. The concerns of the little house-churches in Rome were not the same as those of the house-churches of Antioch in far-off Syria. Each Gospel-maker had to address the needs and concerns of churches far apart and of different complexions. That is why our Gospels are so alike yet so different. That is why, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John each provides an individual take on the life, death, and resurrection, their subtle differences and nuances meeting the individual needs and concerns of the churches they served, and, indeed, challenged..
That is why the policy of semi-continuous readings from the Gospels is seriously flawed. Unless you have a congregation exceedingly well acquainted with each of the Gospels, a congregation capable of filling in the gaps, then skipping bits is a very poor policy. The exclusion of the story of the man from Gerasa possessed by a Legion of demons seriously disfigures Mark’s intention at this point.
There are four miracle stories grouped together for a very specific purpose. A reminder of what these stories are about:
The Calming a Storm.
Healing of a Man possessed by many demons.
Healing a woman with a persistent haemorrhage.
Bringing a girl back to life.
These stories serve one purpose. They are intended to force Mark’s readers/hearers to reflect deeply on one question:
Who do you say that I am?
Jesus will confront his disciples with this question, as we shall see (8:27:30). But first he challenges us to think, to reflect, to make up our own minds. Mark does this before he tells that the people of Nazareth, including his own household turn their backs on Jesus. Their lack of faith, as we shall see next Sunday, is so intense that Jesus can do hardly any works of power there.
So though the story of the unfortunate man possessed by a legion of demons is omitted from our Sunday Lectionary, it is imperative that we hear it, meditate upon it, and in our hearts answer the question:
Who do you say that I am?
A Legion of Demons: Mark 5:1-20
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon- possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon- possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.
Jesus confronts the Legion
A legion of the Roman army consisted of 6,000 foot soldiers, 120 cavalry, and probably at least 200 support personnel. The legions were posted all over the empire from the Scottish borders to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The purpose of the legions was to terrorise local populations and to extract from them whatever they could, including young men as women to serve as slaves, in order to enrich the fat cats in Rome. A local leader in the north of England went to war against the Roman conquerors, saying to his troops:
To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire. They create a desert and call it peace.
We need to ask what the Romans did for us and to remember the truth of the matter. The straight roads were meant to facilitate conquest and the easy movement of plundered wealth in people and produce to the city of Rome.
The storm-tossed boat, saved by the power of Jesus, comes to the Gerasa countryside, east of the Jordan river, outside the confines of Palestine, in pagan territory. Mark is careful to note that only Jesus disembarks. He alone confronts the demons there.
A man emerges from a graveyard, a place many ancient peoples regarded as a residence of evil spirits. The man has dwelt among the tombs. Mark emphasises the madness of the man, beyond control, inflicting terror. No one is able to bind him. Such is the depths of possession that the man inflicts hurt even on himself :
Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
He is a hopeless case.
That demons have knowledge of who Jesus is we know from the beginning of Mark’s story. The demon in Capernaum screamed: We know who you are, the Holy One of God! (1:25). Here the demons call Jesus Son of the Most High God. Jesus demands to know the name of the possessing demon and learns that the man is possessed by a Legion of demons.
When the demons beg for a safe haven, Jesus delivers the demons into a herd of pigs who race down the mountain and are drowned in the sea. And we know from the storm story that the sea falls under God’s ruling power.
There the story might have ended but there is more that must be told. The herdsmen ran to the city and told what had occurred. The people rushed to the scene and see “what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs”. Like the disciples in the boat, they feared with a great fear and begged Jesus to leave the district. We might ask why. Why should the people who know the uncontrollable terror caused by the demonic powers, want Jesus to get out of their territory?
It may have been that talk of the name Legion caused unease. The authority such as the coercive, vindictive, exploitative Roman empire will always raise hopes among ordinary people that drowning in the sea is too good for them. But such thoughts are dangerous. Could Mark’s first Christian readers come to this story and hear of an evil force name Legion that terrorises all who come within its power, and not think of their own suffering at the hands of Nero’s henchmen? Might such people not hope that what Jesus does to the pigs might be done to their oppressors? Is not the story politically subversive?
Finally, the man begged Jesus to let him come with him. But Jesus refused and instead gave the man a new vocation:
Go home to your own house, to your own people, and announce to them what the LORD has done
to you and had mercy on you.
Look carefully at what the man did. He went away,
… and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done to him and they all marvelled.
So who then is Jesus?
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A reading from the book of Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 30 (29):2. 4-6. 11-13 . R/. v.2
A reading from the second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark
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A reading from the book of Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Death is not God’s doing.
He takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living.
To be - for this he created all;
the world’s created things have health in them,
In them no fatal poison is to be found,
and Hades holds no power on earth;
For virtue is undying.
Yet God did make man imperishable;
he made him in the image of his own nature;
It was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.
The word of the LORD.
English Bibles tend to divide the Old Testament, more properly called the Hebrew or Jewish Scriptures, into four parts: The Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Prophets, the Wisdom Books. These titles, however, are not the same as those in Jewish Bibles. In our Bibles, first there is the Pentateuch, a Greek title, which means the “five Books”. The name refers to the first five books of the Bible, in English called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The English names are derived from ancient Greek translations of the Holy Scriptures that began to be translated about two hundred and fifty years before the time of Jesus. The difficulties with the ancient Greek divisions is that they do not tell you much about the nature of the Old Testament. The name does not reveal what the Jewish Bible is for. The Jewish division of their Scripture is far more informative.
In the first place, the Hebrew name for the Jewish Bible is Tanakh. This is not a real word, simply a word made up to reveal how the Bible is divided up, and what the divisions are intended to teach. The division are T, N, KH, Torah, Nevi’im, and Kethuvim, Torah, Prophets, Writings. These are so named in order that its readers can come to understand what each section is about. Why are we people of a book? How does the Bible tell us how to live? What does God want from us? What is the purpose of it all?
This is how it works:
THE JEWISH BIBLE
T A N A K
The first section of the Bible is called TORAH. The word means “teaching”, “instruction”. Basically it means “to hit the mark”. The idea is that the teaching or instruction to be found in the first five books of the Bible contains all that must be done to live as God teaches people how to live. These five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) contain all we need to know in order to live in the love of God. All we need to know forms God’s covenant, the binding commitment of God to a people who have accepted that God’s way of living is in fact an assurance of shalom, of peace. Sometimes in the Bible the word Torah can mean “Law”. This use of the word teaches that there are commandments to be obeyed regarding almost every aspect of life, including the Ten Commandments given in the Book of Exodus chapter 20 and in Deuteronomy chapter 5. Nearly all the dietary law are in the Book of Leviticus. And there, too, are all a devout Jew needs to know about living in holiness. The books of the Torah are sometimes called the Books of the Law because they can be regarded as a rule for living the life according the God’s design.
Much of the great stories found in these five books of Torah are intended not only to recall the great saints (and sinners) of the past but as a means of teaching. Abraham is our father in faith because, despite his lapses, he struggles always to listen to the God who called him. The story of the five daughters of Zelophehad teaches that God is concerned that women have rights and these must be observed. Cain kills his brother and tries to lie his way out of the consequences: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4) Forty chapters later, after many stories, Joseph declares I am your brother Joseph (chapter 45). Moses is the great leader and teacher, heart-scalded by a people who want to go back to the flesh-pots rather that journey into the future. In other words, teaching by story, by poetry and preaching, the Torah is the basis of faith. These five books are the non-negotiable terms for living as God created human beings to live.
Of course, while great faith is to be found in the Bible, great unfaithfulness abounds in equal measure. There are, as I have said, saints and there are sinners. Sometimes it seems that the whole of God’s people have ceased to walk with God. So the next great section of our Bibles is entitled NEVI’IM which mean the Prophets. The books of the Prophets go from the Book of Joshua to the Book of Malachi. Christians regard the books from Joshua to Esther as Historical Books but this is misleading as these books, though given over to accounts of rulers of God’s people, are not really historical. These figures are judged insofar as they have followed God’s ways, kept God’s commandments, and were good or bad shepherds of God’s people. They are, therefore, of the same kind of books as the books devoted to the prophets. For the prophets are there, not to predict, but to teach. When kings and/or people forsake God, it is the prophets who call them back to faith in God and to true worship of God. What prophets do is to shout when people are going astray, warn of the consequences, and outline a way of penitence and return to God’s path. The three greatest of the prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and there are 12 minor prophets, minor because their books are shorter, not less important. The word “prophet” means “one who speaks on behalf of”, not one who foretells the future. Prophets are God’s sentinels. Their calling is to ensure that God’s people live by God’s Torah. Generally speaking, the prophets are a very healthy pain in the neck.
The third group of books are called KETHUV’IM, the WRITINGS. They are a collection of books that cherish wisdom. Christians often call them the WISDOM BOOKS. This is a title that points to something very important about this little library of books. The reason for this is that there is no idea of heaven in the Old Testament. The Jewish Bible is all but silent on the very Christian idea of a life of bliss after death. This question will come up when we tackle chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel. For almost all of the books of the Jewish Bible old age, not eternity, was humanity’s destiny. Old people were held to be people of wisdom and so in the Writings or Wisdom Books we find much that is wise.
The Psalms teach you to pray. The Song of Songs teaches you the joys of falling in love and staying there. The Book of Job teaches you to question God. Naomi and Ruth will help you get by in a man’s world. The Book of Proverbs teaches families how live together in peace. Ecclesiastes warns of the absurdity of life. Lamentations is a book of tears. Esther is a woman to avoid on a dark night.
In the perspective of the Jewish Scriptures, wisdom is the greatest gift, for by wisdom everyone will choose peace. Wisdom in the home makes for happy, contented, studious children. Wisdom is as Joseph in his dream-coat was wise: in seven good years you save food; in seven lean years you eat of what you have saved. There is a prayer in the Psalms that is really a prayer for wisdom:
Unto old age and grey hairs
To sum up, the threefold division of the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, indicates a direction, a goal to be achieved. Torah, the Law, tells you what you are, the Prophets are guardians of the life to be lived, and the Writings display the purpose of it all: to become wise, wise to the ways of the world and, above all, wise to ways of God.
The New Testament, the Christian books of our Bible, is not so carefully or so strategically arranged. But the Four Gospels at the beginning teach us that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the foundation of Christian existence, the Letters of St Paul and the rest indicate how we are to make that life our own, and the Book of Revelation constructs the New Jerusalem to where we are bound.
Today’s First Reading
After all the above, the Book of Wisdom quoted today is not in the Jewish Bible. Some books, mostly written in Greek and after most of the Hebrew Scriptures were written, were never accepted into TaNaKH though they are honoured for their wisdom. Some Christians, including Catholics, accept them into their Bible. Wisdom is one such book.
Today’s reading, meant to foreshadow the raising of the girl in the Gospel reading, claims that the devil brought death into the world. While this is hardly an historical statement, it is obviously recalling the Adam and Eve story and hinting that the serpent (not a devil) caused death to enter human experience. The Garden of Eden story is a myth, that is, it is a cautionary tale, not an account of an historical event. However, as we are told today, God intends humanity’s destiny to be with God. St Paul, because of his profound understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus cried out,
Death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:55
Today’s reading from the book of Wisdom would ask the same mocking question.
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 29 (30):2. 4-6. 11-13 . R/. v.2
A song at the dedication of the Temple.
R/. I will extol you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up!
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from She’ol;
you restored me to life
from among those who go down to the pit. R/.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
R/. I will extol you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up!
This psalm has become part of the introductory liturgy of the daily service in the synagogue and on some special feast days. This is because of its history. At first it may have been a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance after a time of national calamity. It was an appropriate prayer when the people returned from their many exiles and were enabled to meet again with God in their Temple. It was prayed when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in 164 B.C. and is, therefore, a central prayer on the Festival of Hanukkah which celebrates that joyous event every year. So the “I” in the psalm represents all the people. In our liturgy it is a fitting prayer on a day when we remember and celebrate a woman healed and a daughter saved.
A reading from the second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.
The word of the LORD.
This reading from St Paul has been badly cut up. Several sentences have been removed and the train of Paul’s thought has been seriously affected. We must hope that in future if people who construct a new Lectionary chop up the sacred text they will suffer the plagues threatened in Revelation 22:18-19.
The comparison between Jesus and the good Christians in the little house-churches scattered about the port of Corinth must not be taken to mean that Jesus was wealthy but handed over his money to the poor. Something far more profound is in Paul’s mind. The generosity of Jesus is far more earth-shattering and it this supreme example that must motivate the Corinthians in their generosity. Paul sings of the generous heart of Jesus in a hymn he borrowed in his letter to his beloved Christians in Philippi:
Have this mind among yourselves,
which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Paul is asking that Corinthian Christians contribute generously to a collection he is promoting to help the impoverished Christian house-churches in Jerusalem. The model he puts before them is the Son of God coming among us, putting off his glory with the Father to walk humbly along human paths.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark 5:21-43
And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me? ’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The Gospel of the LORD.
We have seen the storm still, we have watched the demons drowned in the sea. On each occasion a question rings in the air: Who is this man? Two further astonishing events add further weight to that question and those events are put before us in today’s the Gospel. The same question will be put before us again and we are asked to deliver our answer.
Jesus crosses the lake back into his own country. The drama opens with Jairus, a well-respected man entrusted with the upkeep of the local synagogue. His daughter is at the point of death. Falling to his knees, he begs Jesus to come and place his hands on her. And this is the surprise: in order that she may be saved and live. Mark’s readers/hearers will have jumped at the words “saved” and “live”. For in their newfound Christian vocabulary these words mean more than the restoration of good health. Jesus immediately sets out with a very anxious father. A great crowd followed Jesus and there is much jostling and pushing. As the story says, “they thronged about him”. Never forget to keep your eye on the crowd when you are reading a Jesus story. The crowds are an important actor on Mark’s stage.
An Ill Woman
The woman with the haemorrhage is a sad case and Mark underlines it. But her last hope is here and she manages to get close and touch his cloak, saying, If I touch even his garments I will be made well. Or her words can be just as correctly translated “ … I will be saved”. Mark loves these double-edged puns. In an instant, she knew that all had been made well. So did Jesus for he felt it. And the woman in fear and trembling falls to her knees before him and tells him what he already knew. But with Jesus there is never reason for fear and trembling. Our translation misses a very tiny yet beautiful detail. What the translation above offers is “And he said to her …”. No. What Mark wrote was “But he said to her … .” As she in her trembling blurts out “the whole truth”, he rushes to assure her, to overcome her fears, and to call her “Daughter” And to praise her faith. Above all he gives this woman the gift of peace - the only person in the whole of Mark’s Gospel to whom Jesus gives the greatest gift of all - peace, shalom - is this woman.
By the way, did you notice that both Jairus and this wonderful woman both got on their knees before Jesus. Now why would they do that?
A Dead Girl
The woman goes from serious illness and therefore uncleanness to a haven of peace, all in the meeting with Jesus. The woman’s faith enabled her to struggle through the crowd. Jairus’s faith must struggle with death. Jesus must cope with the mocking crowd. But Jesus leads the dead girl’s parents and three of his disciples to where the dead child lay. Again, notice “taking her by the hand”. We saw the same gesture as he raised Peter’s mother-in-law from her sick bed (Mark 1:29-31). Especially noticeable is that Mark records the Aramaic words Jesus spoke: Talitha, cumi (Little girl, rise up). We have very few recorded words of Jesus in his own language. It is noticeable, too, that the words here, ‘arise’ and ‘got up’, occur everywhere in resurrection stories which might have suggested to Mark’s hearers that the girl’s rescuing from death is a sign of the resurrection that Jesus promises to all.
Who then is this man?
Four stories, each raising the same question: Who is this man? The identity question keeps coming up and Mark’s readers are being pressed for an answer. We must ready ourselves for soon Jesus will ask us the question: Who do you say that I am? For the question he will shortly put to Peter is addressed as directly to us as it is to him.
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