Holy Spirit







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A reading from the book of Ezekiel                                          2:2-5                                             

Responsorial Psalm                                                Psalm 122 (123)

A reading from the second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians  


A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark         6:1-6  

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Every year, around Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  In the section of the Gospel according to St Mark read to us today, the family of Joseph and Mary consists of Jesus, his brothers James and Joseph and Judas, and Simon, and there were at least two sisters.  When the incident recorded in today’s reading occurred, it would appear that Joseph had already died. So there were, in addition to Mary, seven children at least in the family living in Nazareth. Why do we limit the Holy Family to three people, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus?  We understand the heavenly circumstances surrounding the conception of Jesus and the subsequent teaching that was handed down as the Church reflected on the nativity stories in the Gospels of Matthew and, to some extent, St Luke. But why exclude the other six children (at least) who sat down to eat with Joseph, and Mary, and Jesus?

  We live in a time when the word ‘family’ refers to a variety of ways people, out of choice or circumstance, live together.  We have come to accept that the neat, tidy father and mother, duly married, parents to their neat, tidy children are far from the norm.  We have to learn to live with the variety we find, not only down our street, but in our parishes, and on the benches in our churches (if we are blessed by their presence).  A feast day celebrating the messiness of the holy families would be a blessing. There are times one has to say to our Church: Get real!

  We need to be aware that Mark’s Gospel is not very tolerant of the family of Jesus.  There is no mention of the conception and birth of Jesus in his Gospel, and no word about him until he is baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.   Chapter 3:20-21 needs delicate translating and being as careful as possible, the following seems accurate,

And he goes into a house, and again a [the] crowd gathers, so that they weren’t able even to eat, and hearing, his family set out to seize him, for they [= his family] were saying that he was out of his mind.

It is not perfectly clear to whom “his family” refer.  Immediate family? Distant relatives? But we know his mother, brothers, and sisters come on the scene almost immediately:

   His mother and his brothers and sisters come and, standing outside, they sent to him, calling him.   And a crowd was sitting around him and they say to him, “Look! Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside, looking for you”.  And answering them, he says, “Who is my mother and [who are] my brothers?”  And looking around at those who are sitting around him in a circle, he   says, “You look!  Here is my mother and here my brothers and sisters.  For whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and mother”.   

The above is a very exact translation. Consider the repetition of outside, stressing that there are those outside and those inside or what we might call insiders.  It is these insiders, those sitting around him as a crowd of learners would sit around a teacher, to whom Jesus speaks.  He does not shout out to his mother or to his brothers and sisters. For he has a new family whom he addresses as my brother, my sister, my mother.   The implication is that Jesus is inside the house with those who are being taught by him.  His mother and family are among the outsiders. We must not expect everything in the Gospels to be nice.

A reading from the book of Ezekiel                                          2:2-5                                             

[Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.]

And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God. ’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Exile is the single most formative factor in the history of the Jewish people.  That is why 1948 is the most significant year in Jewish history since the time of King David, that is, in the last 3,000 years.  That is why we are where we are in the Middle East.

  In 597 B.C. Ezekiel, a prophet and a priest, was exiled to Babylonia (modern eastern Iraq) with King Jehoiachin, to be followed by waves of enslaved people.  Ten years later the grim news of the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s House, the Temple, where God dwelt among his people, came over the mountains. Ezekiel grapples with three questions:

  1. 1.   Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed?
  2. 2.   Why did God allow the destruction of his Holy City?
  3. 3.   Why did God allow the deportation of his holy people?

As a priest, the departure of God from the Temple (chapter 1) means the departure of God’s presence from among his people (chapter 9).  The glory of God has left Jerusalem and the reason is plain to see:

The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice.                           Ezekiel 9:9

The desolation of Temple, city, and people is brought about because the house of Israel and the house of Judah abandoned their holiness.  So their Holy God abandoned them.

  As the citizens of Jerusalem did not listen to the prophets in their midst, so the villagers of Nazareth do not listen to the Holy One of God in their midst (Mark 1:24).

Responsorial Psalm                                                Psalm 122 (123)

R/.   Our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us.

To you I lift up my eyes,

O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

Behold, as the eyes of slaves

look to the hand of their master.

R/.   Our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us

As the eyes of a slave-girl

follow the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us.

R/.   Our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

Our soul has had more than enough

of the scorn of those who are complacent.

enough of the contempt of the proud.

R/.   Our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us.

What starts as a private prayer (To you I lift up my eyes), becomes a prayer of all the people.  The prayer is that all may look steadily on the LORD God and be delivered from the contempt of the wealthy, the scorn of the contemptuous, and the disdain of the proud.   These are the sins that eat away the soul of the nation.

A reading from the second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians  


So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Last week we were in chapter 8 of Paul’s letter.  Today we have skipped ahead to chapter 12. Since chapter 10 Paul has been confronting people in the Corinthian house-churches who were seeking to undermine his ministry.  The final chapters sound like a tit-for-tat exchange of insults. Paul seeks to gain the high ground and win his Corinthian communities back to obedience to the gospel of God as he proclaimed to them when he first came among them.  If, as they seem now to expect, he does not present a bold front and is too meek and too humble, then he is imitating the humility and meekness of Christ.


  Today’s excerpt has Paul claiming that his physical ailments kept his pride in check.  He was always convinced that what sustained him was not physical prowess but the grace of God.  His weakness is as the weakness of Christ. And so he can make a bold claim: When I am weak, then I am strong.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark         6:1-6  

He [Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.

The Gospel of the LORD.

The rejection of Jesus by the people of his home village of Nazareth is scarcely surprising.  We have already met the attitude of his immediate family to his teaching and healing. If his family were of the opinion that he was mad (3:21), what are his neighbours to think?  However, it is not only the fact of rejection that concerns Mark. As ever, he is concerned with who Jesus is. When we reach the end of the Mark’s Gospel, we will see Jesus rejected and done to death.  There, too, the identity question will be to the fore (14:62, 15:2, and 15:39 are prime examples).

  The challenge to the people of Nazareth, his neighbours, is the same as elsewhere in the Gospel.  They have heard the teaching. Many in the synagogue were initially impressed. But the small-town mentality is there in spades.  Jesus is not allowed to be himself. Or rather, his neighbours are insisting he be himself, a mere carpenter, a building worker, an illiterate who thinks he’s above the rest of us, claiming the wisdom of a teacher, as if he were somebody.  That’s the whole point. He is somebody.

 There is a where question, a what question, a how question, all pointing to a who question. Someone must have given him such power. He must have borrowed his wisdom from someone else.  How are such powerful deeds done by his hands, a worker’s hands?  He’s only a carpenter. His mother we know.  His brothers and sisters we all know.

  And so the small-minded villagers are……what?   And that’s where it is hard to get it right. The Jerusalem Bible translation in our Lectionary has And they would not accept him.  The New Jerusalem Bible offers the same.   The Revised New Jerusalem Bible translation has And they took offence at him, a translation offered by the (Catholic) Westminster Version of the Sacred Scriptures, published in 1916.   That is the translation given by the English Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version.  The old Douai version has And they were scandalized in regard of him.     

  This may seems to be a bit of nit-picking.  But occasionally we need to be reminded that those good men and women who strive to translate the Bible have many sleepless nights.  The difficulty here is to grapple with the Greek word skandalon.   Sounds like scandal but we must go carefully.  The word skandalon means “a thing you will trip over”.   The verb based on the noun means “to trip up”, “to cause to fall”, like a stone in the road.  When used as a metaphor and applied to dangerous ideas, dangerous teaching, it means ideas or teaching that can lead one away from accepted, tried and trusted teaching.  In religious terms it means to divert someone from the true path of faith, to go against traditional firm beliefs. In other words, Jesus is regarded by the good citizens of Nazareth as one who is leading people away from true faith in God, leading them into sin, into heresy.  The people in the synagogue were not just upset. They were shocked to the core that this upstart was leading the village into sin, leading them away from God.

 All of that is riding on an accurate translation.  But what word in English covers it? Perhaps, they were shocked beyond words might cover it.  Or they were disgusted? What is certain is that they were sure that this so-called teacher was leading them away from God.

     So far we have met Jewish leaders, Pharisees, scribes, and so on, belittling Jesus, even saying he was possessed by devils.   But the ordinary folk in the synagogue in Capernaum lauded his teaching to the heavens. Sadly, not in his home town. Sadly, Jesus quotes the old adage about prophets in their own backyard.  Mark goes so far as to say that Jesus could do no works of power there, except to heal a few sick people. To be despised in his home village, within his own family, and in his own house is sadness indeed.  We may need to meditate deeply on this when we next get around to celebrating the Holy Family.

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Joseph O’Hanlon

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