Holy Spirit

 ACTA COMMENTARY

THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK

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READINGS

A reading from the prophet Isaiah                                      53:10-11

Responsorial Psalm                             Psalm 33:4-5. 18-20. 22. R/. v.22

A reading from the letter to the Hebrews                             4:14-16  

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark      10:35-45  

     

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The thing about St Mark is that you have to watch your step.  While he is not William Shakespeare, he is a better writer than most preachers give him credit for.  Take the way he uses words. For example, have you noticed that the word “immediately” occurs 43 times in the fifteen or so pages his tiny Gospel takes up in your Bible?  What affect does this have? Does it not move you along speedily from one event to another, in breathless haste? In his very first chapter “immediately” occurs eleven times.  Check it out!

  So if we read carefully, and pay attention to his “immediately”, we will be caught up in a headlong dash from Galilee to Golgotha, from the quiet service of a mother-in-law to a cry from a cross: My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?  

  I want to draw your attention to words that occur frequently in Mark.  He does not use them haphazardly. He is trying carefully to speak to your mind and heart, to underline twists and turns in his story of Jesus, and so impress on you the journey he wishes you to take, if you are to follow Jesus along the way that he has trod.

WAY

The word way occurs sixteen times in Mark’s Gospel.  The Greek word I have translated “way” is the ordinary word for “road”, “street”, “path”, “highway”, or “track”.  Mark begins his story with a quotation from the prophet Isaiah who, speaking in God’s name, announces,

Behold!

I am sending my messenger before your face

who will prepare your way,

the voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the LORD,

make his paths straight!

At the very beginning Mark emphasises that God has set this story in motion. God is sending John the Baptist to prepare ‘your way’, to prepare the way for Jesus.  John is to be a voice out in the desert. He will summon people and make them ready for ‘the way of the LORD’.  The way of God is coming into the world and that ‘way’ will be the Jesus way.  Mark has named Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. It is God’s way that becomes the way of Jesus.  So clearly ‘way’ here does not mean a road or a street or a path. It is a word to watch.

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  Now every time the word ‘way’ occurs in Mark’s story you are forced to stop and think.  Does it mean just ‘road’? Might Mark be hinting at more than the road Jesus is walking along?  Here are a few sentences that ought to provoke you to thinking, to asking yourself “Am I in there?”

(i)  And he calls the Twelve and began to send them out, two be two, and he gave then power over unclean spirits, and he instructed them to take nothing on the way , except a staff—no bread, no money …                                                              Mark 6:7-8

Where do you fit in here as you travel the way with these disciples of Jesus?

(ii)  I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.  And if I send then away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way …                                                                                      Mark 8:2-3

Where do you fit in?  If you are on the way with Jesus, are there people sent hungry away?

(iii)  And they were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going ahead of them, and they were amazed, and those who followed him were afraid …                            Mark 10:32

Amazed?  Afraid? How are you, asks Mark, as you are on the way with Jesus, journeying with him as he makes his way to Jerusalem and beyond?

By his consistent use of the simple word ‘way’ Mark forces his reads to sit up and ask: Am I on the way of Jesus, am I walking with him?

A reading from the prophet Isaiah                                      53:10-11

But it was the will of the LORD to crush him:

he has brought him to grief.

Yet when his soul makes an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring;

he shall have length of days.

The will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul

he shall see the fruit of his suffering

and be satisfied.

My servant,

the righteous one,

by his knowledge

shall make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

The word of the LORD.

 The Book of Isaiah is the best-loved of all the books of the prophets of Israel.  The three books of the Old Testament most frequently quoted or referred to in the New Testament are the Book of Psalms, the Book of Isaiah, and the Book of Deuteronomy.  Notice that there is one from each of the three great divisions of the Jewish Bible.

  Isaiah himself is responsible for very few of the sixty-six  chapters that make up the book that bears his name. He lived in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.  These were dangerous times. The cruel Assyrian Empire (made up of south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq on today’s map) destroyed the little kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C, and scattered its people in exile throughout its empire.

  Since the Book of Isaiah encounters and comments on historical events covering almost three centuries, it is necessary to isolate the prophet’s contribution and those of subsequent generations who carry on his hopeful visions of God’s concern for his people.

  The first nine chapters may well go back to Isaiah himself and the next thirty to those who came after him with the same vision of God’s greatness above all rulers and all created things.  Subsequent chapters imagine a future, a time when God will restore the people and re-establish their destiny to be a light to the world. These devout people saw Judah’s woes as punishments by God for their lack of faith.  Repentance was the way to peace and safety. The first of these inspired disciples of the great prophet looked forward to the arrival of a new king, a descendant of David, sent by God to save the little kingdom of Judah. This quotation will be familiar to you:  

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,

and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

Isaiah 11:1-8

This once and future king is never called God’s Messiah, that is, one anointed by God to bring peace and harmony to God’s people, and, indeed, to the world.  Strangely, the only Messiah in the whole Book of Isaiah is the pagan Cyrus II, a Persian King. He is hailed as the one who allowed exiles to return home (after 537 B.C.).  Not only that, he is God’s appointed tool through whom God brings salvation to the Jewish people and to the whole world:



Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,

whose right hand I have grasped,

to subdue nations before him

and to loose the belts of kings,

to open doors before him

that gates may not be closed:

“I will go before you

and level the exalted places,

I will break in pieces the doors of bronze

and cut through the bars of iron,

I will give you the treasures of darkness

and the hoards in secret places,

that you may know that it is I, the LORD,

the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob,

and Israel my chosen,

I call you by your name,

I name you, though you do not know me.

I am the LORD, and there is no other,

besides me there is no God;

I equip you, though you do not know me,

that people may know, from the rising of the sun

and from the west, that there is none besides me;

I am the LORD, and there is no other.

I form light and create darkness,

I make well- being and create calamity,

I am the Lord, who does all these things.

“Shower, O heavens, from above,

and let the clouds rain down righteousness;

let the earth open,

that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;

let the earth cause them both to sprout;

I the LORD have created it.

Isaiah 45:1-8



  There is yet a third vision of God’s future deliverance of humanity from all that is evil.  This is, perhaps, the most difficult to grasp. It is an image of suffering that somehow transforms the earth into a paradise of peace and wellbeing.  The image is of a servant of God who will restore the people of Israel to their true vocation as a light to the nations:

And now the LORD says,

he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,

to bring Jacob back to him;

and that Israel might be gathered to him—

for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD,

and my God has become my strength—

He says:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to bring back the preserved of Israel;

I will make you as a light for the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Isaiah 49:5-6

But it transpires that this servant’s suffering at the hands of faithless people will be accounted by God as if the whole nation repented.  The suffering servant stands before God for all the people and ‘by his suffering we are healed’.

  This is the most profound vision in the whole of Isaiah.  It is the most profound revelation in Christian faith. For Christians believe with heart and soul that the man who hung on the cross took our sins upon himself and that through his offering all humanity is brought safely home.

Responsorial Psalm                    Psalm 33 (32) :4-5. 18-20. 22. R/. v.22

R/.  Let your steadfast love, O LORD,

be upon us,

even as we hope in you.

For the word of the LORD is upright,

and all his work is done in faithfulness.

He loves righteousness and justice;

the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.      R/.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,

on those who hope in his steadfast love,

that he may deliver their soul from death

                     and keep them alive in famine.                R/.

Our soul waits for the LORD;

he is our help and our shield.

Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,

even as we hope in you.

R/.  Let your steadfast love, O LORD,

be upon us,

even as we hope in you.

  Psalm 33 is a song of creation, that is, it praises God’s creative word as seen in the very first chapter of our Bible:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  God spoke is word: Let there be light!  That word is always a word of love, a word of steadfast love that endures forever. This is a love like no other for it never falters, never ends.  That is the ground of our hope. So we sing that that love may be upon us today and every day.



A reading from the letter to the Hebrews                             4:14-16  

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The word of the LORD.

Once a year, on the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered into the Holy of Holies, into the very Presence of God, to beg forgiveness for the sins committed by all the people in the year just ended.  The writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians stresses that Jesus, God’s only Son, stands before God as our High Priest, the priest of all humanity.  Having lived among us, though he himself was without sin, our High Priest knows us through and through and understands our weaknesses. Our High Priest, now raised from the dead and exalted into God’s presence, stands before the throne of God’s Mercy and makes confession for us.  And so we receive mercy every moment and every moment of our lives is graced by God’s love. The words of today’s responsorial psalm perfectly sums up what the second reading declares:
                         

Let your steadfast love, O LORD,

be upon us,

even as we hope in you.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark      10:35-45  

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I am drinking  you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am being baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Gospel of the LORD.

This is where leaving out great chunks of St Mark’s text really hits the buffers.   Before the Gospel reading selected for today Mark wrote this paragraph (which I shall give you in my translation):

Now they were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going ahead of them, and they were amazed, and those who were following were afraid.  And again taking the Twelve aside, he began to tell them what things were about to happen to him.  “For behold!  We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles.  And they will mock him and spit on him and scourge him, and kill him.   And after three days he will rise.”  

Mark 10:32-34  

This is what goes before the account of James and John trying to twist Jesus’ arm to get the places on his right hand and left hand “in your glory”.  

  To understand what is happening at this point in Mark’s story we need to notice two things.  First, this is the third time Jesus, with increasing detail, has sought to teach his intimate disciples what lay ahead in Jerusalem.  Here is what happens:

Incident 1:


  1.   Jesus teaches his intimate disciples what was to befall him

     in Jerusalem.  This he said plainly.                          Mark 8:31-32

  1.   Result:   Peter rebukes Jesus as if he were possessed by a

     demon.  Jesus renames Peter “Satan”.                  Mark 8:32-33

Incident 2:

  1.   Again Jesus teaches his intimate disciples what was to befall

     him in Jerusalem.                                                        Mark 9:30-31

  1.   These intimate disciples don’t listen.   For on the way,

      while Jesus was endeavouring to reveal to them what lay

      ahead, they were busy discussing which of them was the

      greatest.                                                                      Mark 9:33-34

Incident 3:

  1.   Again, a third time, Jesus tries to teach the Twelve what

     would happen to him in the city of Jerusalem - as they were

     making their way there.                                          Mark 10:32-34

  1.   James and John, the fishermen called at the very beginning

      of the story, are trying to get Jesus to give them seats

     on his right and left hand “in your glory”.           Mark 10:35-45

  Mark has carefully orchestrated these scenes to show his readers/hearers how even the most intimate, the most carefully chosen learners/apprentices/pupils/disciples fail to grasp what Jesus is trying to teach them.   They cannot face up to the reality of suffering in the life marked out by God for Jesus of Nazareth. Is it any wonder that the handing over of Jesus to the chief priests and the scribes is done by Judas, one of the Twelve, so that the betrayal of Jesus begins with one of those whom Jesus declared to be “my brothers” (Mark 3:34)?  Is it any wonder that in Gethsemane Jesus prayed and his disciples slept? Is it any wonder that “they all forsook him and fled” (14:50)? Is it any wonder that Peter cursed and swore and denied that he knew Jesus? Betrayal is at the very heart of Mark’s Gospel.

  But there is more to it than that.

There is a verb that runs through all of Mark’s Gospel like a warning sign, an ominous verb that keeps reminding readers/hearers of betrayal.  The verb may be translated by a variety of English words (to arrest someone, to betray someone, to deliver someone into another’s hands, to hand someone over).  It is best to translate Mark’s use of the verb consistently with the same translation every time the verb occurs in Mark’s text. If we do so, then this is what we get:



1:14  

           Now after John was handed over, Jesus came into Galilee,

           proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is

           fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in

           the gospel”.



3:19

            and Judas Iscariot, the one who handed him over.



9:31      

             The Son of Man will be handed over into the hands of men,

             and they will kill him.

10:33

            Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will

            be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will

           condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles …

13:9

           But be on your guard. For they will hand you over to councils,

          and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before

          governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.

13:11   

           And when they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not be       anxious beforehand …   

13:12

And brother will hand over brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.  And you will be hated by all for my name's sake.

14:10   

              And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests

              in order to hand him over to them.

14:18    

             And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said,

            “Amen, I say to you, one of you will hand me over, one who is   eating with me.

14:21

             For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him.   But woe to that  man by whom the Son of Man is handed over.  It would have    been well for that man if he had not been born.

14:41

  And he comes the third time and says to them, “Are you still    sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come.  Behold! The Son of Man is handed over into the hands of sinners.  

14: 42   

Get up.  Let’s be going.  Behold! The one who is handing me      over is at hand.

14:44    

Now the one who handed him over had given them a sign, saying, “Which ever one I kiss is he.  Seize him and lead him away securely”. And coming, going up to him, he says, “Rabbi”, and he kissed him.

15:1   

And immediately in the morning the chief priests with the elders and the scribes and the whole Sanhedrin,  binding Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

15:10   

For he perceived that it was through jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over.

15:15    

Thus Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and having scourged Jesus, he handed over to be crucified.




There are some conclusions that Mark must want his readers and hearers to grasp by his hammering away at the truth that ‘handing over’ is at the very heart of the story of Jesus.  

  First, the handing over of Jesus begins among his own.  Betrayal begins with Judas and every time his name is mentioned Mark’s audience were reminded that he was “the one who handed him over”.  Those who first heard Mark’s story were those who had survived Nero’s vicious attack on the little Christian communities in Rome. They would know that some of their own had handed their brothers and sisters into the hands of the cruel emperor.  They would know that there was treachery within.

  Secondly, Mark records that John the Baptist was handed over into the power of another tyrant, Herod Antipas.  The sordid story of the dancing girl and the cruel mother is told in detail in chapter 6. Jesus himself again and again warns that he will be handed over and that is what happens to him, betrayed and denied by his own and by the authorities. Chapter 13 warns Mark’s readers that brother will hand over brother, fathers their children, children their parents - and have them put to death (13:12).  It seems that to join in the Jesus enterprise, whether you are John the Baptist, or called to be an intimate disciple as Judas and the rest were, or a new Christian freshly baptized in the great city of Rome, is to be in danger from within and from without. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  You have the word of Jesus on that (Mark 13:13).

  All of the above must be grasped if we are to have any understanding of what it means to walk the way of Jesus, to be a servant and a slave in the family of God.  The family of God, called into being to heal the world, is a family of people who must be Jesus to the world. And model is there for all to see:

For the Son of Man came not to be served

but to serve,

and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Joseph O’Hanlon

 
























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