Holy Spirit

ACTA COMMENTARY

THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK

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READINGS

A reading from the book of Wisdom                                        7:7-11                                       

Responsorial Psalm                                         Psalm 89:12-17.  R/. v.14

A reading from the letter to the Hebrews                             4:12-13  

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark      10:17-30  

     

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Saint Mark’s Gospel is A Tale of Two Cities.  There is the City of God and there is our city, the City of Humanity.  Mark’s is a story of God’s determination, in the sending of his Son, to make these two cities one.  The mission of Jesus, orchestrated by his Father, is to bring heaven to earth. It is to fulfil the words of our prayer,

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done on earth,

as it is in heaven.

It is, of course, a long term project.  The life, death, and exaltation of Jesus have put in place all that is needed to ensure success to God’s handiwork.  The Jewish Scriptures, Mark’s Gospel, the other Gospels and New Testament writings, set out how God’s Spirit is given to humanity so that men and women may embrace the project and continue the incarnation of God’s Son until the dream is realised:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Book of Revelation 21:1-4

  The Book of Revelation, the last book in our New Testament, imagines the dream being realised.  Mark, the first Gospel to be written, set out what must be done, if the dream is ever to come to earth.  In his living on earth and enduring the death that comes to us all, Jesus comes to resurrection and returns to the Father’s right hand, there to be our guide, to be a Presence we must meet, embrace, and gradually, become.  That process we call Eucharist. The Jesus who was must become the Jesus who is, if God’s dream is to come to earth and the new Jerusalem is to be buildéd here.

  Mark’s readers/hearers were sorely tested.  In desperate times, when the all-powerful hand of Nero was raised against them and internal betrayal had led to their decimation, all hope seemed lost.  Mark came to the rescue of a broken people. He believed in the power of words. He wrote a pamphlet. It was an act of rehabilitation, a text to overcome terror, a story to turn despair into hope.  It succeeded. For Mark well knew that in the end God’s will must be done on earth as it is in heaven. He believed that, led by the Spirit of Holiness, and carrying the Cross of Christ, in God’s good time, the saints will come marching in.

  This is why we must be confronted and challenged by the whole of Mark’s story with nothing left out.  We live in dire times. We need the full dose of Mark’s medicine, omitting none of his often bitter pills, if we are to heal the hurt of our times   and to come to life everlasting.

  When I was a child I was exposed to measles, mumps, and whooping cough, and succumbed to all three.  I recovered. Unfortunately, I was also exposed to the Catechism and have never quite recovered. I still carry the scars.  I was not exposed to the Bible. For my generation, and many before, the Bible was a Protestant book and if perchance one found its way into a Catholic house, its sole purpose was to collect dust.   

  The very first page of my Catechism asked an interesting question:

Q:  Why did God make us?

A:  God made us to know,

love and serve him in this life.

and to be with him forever in heaven.

Which, of course, was away over a child’s head and very unexciting.  In those days, of course, you didn’t have to understand it. All that you had to do was learn it off by heart.  The answer may have been theologically correct but educationally of little interest.

  Years later I discovered that it wasn’t even true.  The true answer gets to the heart of the matter:


God made us because God love’s stories.

My story.  Your story.  Everyone’s story.  

Mark: The Project

  Mark knew this, too.  He was the first to understand that to convey the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the best way was to tell the story.  If there were two cities, then God’s determination to make one city was best explained in the story of the man God chose to bring the project to successful conclusion.  Of course, St Paul and others before Mark had put pen to paper. But their concern was mainly with what was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the birth of a community born into the world by those events.  But Mark had a more pressing project. He had little communities of very frightened and betrayed Christians in Rome whose faith was badly broken by the tragedy that had befallen them. He wanted then to sit upon the ground and listen again to the story that had first brought them to Jesus.  He set out to tell the story in as many words as can be read or heard in a little over an hour. Mark knew that it would take a lot longer to digest than one reading but if you hear it often enough, if you go back to Galilee often enough, and there begin the story again, you will eventually get the hang of following Jesus along the way.

  Mark is not concerned to tell the bare facts, as if he were writing a history.  He selects his facts carefully, concentrating on the adult life of the man from Nazareth, from his baptism by John to death on the cross and the strange encounter some women had with a man dressed in white linen.

 What he does is to organise his selection of incidents in such a way as to convince his readers/hearers to live what they have learned.  He wants to speak to their despair and raise it, like a resurrection, to hope. He sets out to rehabilitate a broken people. He does not hide the pain that Jesus endured.  He does not hide the pain that they must endure. Rather, he insists that their pain is equally part of the bringing of the city of God to their city of Rome, and to the world.   He sets out to turn his readers into other Christs, to convince them that carrying the cross of Jesus is the way, the only way, to come to the promised land. To lift them from despair, Mark offers them the way of the cross.  

 That is why Mark presents Jesus the Teacher.  Twelve times in his tiny pamphlet, Jesus is called “Teacher”.  Mark’s is the text book in which we learn from Jesus the Teacher how to live the life he lived.  His Gospel - and Mark invented the idea of Gospel writing - is a classroom, an assembly of Teacher and learners, apprentices, in an academy governed by God.  The hope is that these will graduate as apostles, bearers of Jesus to the wide world. But those men Jesus gathers around him are an unpromising lot, not the brightest, yet ambitious, wanting the top jobs, jealous of each other, in fact, as unpromising a bunch as ever assembled in a classroom.  The surprise is that the Teacher chose this lot and had to make do with them. In Mark’s Gospel they all fail. But they are granted a re-sit. He chose us. We fail. We, says Mark, always qualify for a resit.



Mark: The Teacher

Mark who presents Jesus the Teacher is himself a teacher.  His teaching techniques are many and some more obvious than others.  He tells parables that Jesus told. He includes almost all of them in one chapter as if they were a single lesson (chapter 4).  He hopes that story-telling might become a technique of his students, should they ever graduate and become apostles. He shows Jesus performing “works of power” (dunameis).  This word should not be translated as “miracles”.  Mark wants to impress on his readers that Jesus does the powerful works of God in all his healing.  This Greek word gives us our word “dynamite”. So we can easily appreciate what Mark is impressing upon those who listen to his words carefully.  Mark’s Jesus never cures people; he heals them. He underlines the difference in his explosive works of power.

  Mark often groups his stories is such a way that they are especially affective.  Here are a few examples. Chapter 1 of his Gospel is very carefully organised. Note the following

  1. Jesus calls four fishermen to follow him (1:16-20).
  2. Jesus expels a demon in the synagogue
  3. Jesus turns a sick woman into a ministering servant.

Think of this as a sandwich.

Top slice:

         Jesus calls four fishermen to follow him into a new life.

Meaty bit:

                      Jesus casts a demon out of a man in a synagogue.

Bottom slice:

         Jesus raises up a sick woman to become a ministering servant.

What is happening here?

Jesus calls four fishermen and asks them to follow him in order to be turned into fishers of people.  Then Jesus goes into the synagogue in Capernaum. He goes into the people of Israel as they are at prayer.  This is their holy place; demons have no right here. This is God’s space, and God’s people. Yet demons have entered this place of prayer.  The demon knows who Jesus is and, indeed, identifies him as “The Holy One of God”, the one who has come ‘to destroy us’.  Jesus casts out the demon and the people realise that Jesus has power over all “unclean spirits”.

  

  Then he goes into the house where Peter’s mother-in-law lies ill, takes her by the hand, and raises her up.  She immediately begins “to minister to them”.

  Now we who have read chapter 1 carefully will have noticed that, when Jesus was in the dangerous desert, angels of God came “and ministered to him”.  The word is diakonein in Mark’s Greek.  She is doing what God’s angels did for Jesus.  It is the new quality, the new dimension in the Jesus community.  The simplest service to brothers and sisters, to the world, done with God’s love, done as Jesus did every day, is bringing God to earth.  It is building the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

  So if I read Mark’s sandwich carefully, Jesus calls the fishermen (and Mark’s readers/hearers) to follow him.  Then he does what he was sent to do. Baptised with the Holy Spirit, he is empowered to rid the world of unholy spirits, to free humanity from the power of evil.  That is what God’s angels do for Jesus. That is what Jesus does in the synagogue. Peter’s mother-in-law is raised by Jesus to his status, to be empowered with the new life Jesus brings to our world.  Once raised, she becomes a ministering angel        like Jesus himself, who came, not to be served, but to serve (10:45). This woman is not delivered from her sickness to make the tea. She is resurrected (raised up) by Jesus to the status of a ministering servant in the new community of God, appointed to that service to which God has appointed his only Son.  The tea that Peter’s mother-in-law serves is hot stuff.  

  The purpose of Mark’s sandwiches is to make us explore how the meaty bits in the middle as they throw light on top and bottom slices, so that we can compare and contrast.  Here is another, easier example of Mark’s sandwich technique:

Top slice:

  1.  Jesus is being questioned by the High Priest about his association with God :  “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answers,

I AM!

Meaty bit:

  1.  Peter is accused by bystanders of being an associate of Jesus.   He curses and swears:

                                                               I DO NOT KNOW THE MAN!

  1. Jesus is being questioned by Pilate: “Are you the King of the Jews?”  And Jesus answers that Pilate has got it right:

YOU HAVE SAID SO!

How do you think Peter felt reading that?  Mark uses this technique frequently to force us to think.  What did his first readers/hearers in Rome make of Mark, on the one hand, calling them to be like Peter’s mother-in-law?  And then to see themselves as Peter? Was he asking them to reflect on their betrayal?

  Try it yourself.  Read chapter 11:12-25.  This is the sandwich:
1.  Jesus curses the fig-tree

  1. Jesus cleanses the Temple.
  2.  The fig tree withers away.

What do you make of it?

 Another technique of Mark’s is to present the women we meet in his story as a foil to the men, the learners, the apprentices.  It is the women who are greeted at the empty tomb. It is these women who are appointed apostles to the men: GO! TELL! These are words of commissioning; the women are appointed to “go, tell his disciples and Peter” to return to Galilee, if they are ever to see the Risen Lord and truly learn what he is about.   The contrast between the men and the women who follow Jesus is stark:


The men:  And they all left him and fled (Mark 14:50).

The women:  There were also some women looking on from a distance, among them … (read Mark 15:40-41).

 We must read Mark very carefully.  His is not an easy text but it is a rich one.  It is best worked at in groups, especially in a group that prays.



A reading from the book of Wisdom                                        7:7-11                                       

Therefore I prayed,

and understanding was given me.

I called on God,

and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me.

I preferred her to sceptres and thrones,

and I accounted wealth

as nothing compared to her.

Neither did I liken her to a precious gem,

because gold is but a little sand in her sight,

and silver is accounted as clay before her.

I loved her more than health and beauty,

and I chose her rather than light,

because her radiance never ceases.

All good things come to me along with her,

and in her hands riches beyond counting.

The word of the LORD.

The Wisdom of Solomon does not deliver what it says on the tin.  It was not written by Solomon and, indeed, King Solomon hardly deserved to be regarded as wise, truly wise.  Anybody who has 700 wives and 300 secondary wives hardly has much time for cultivating wisdom.

  The Wisdom of Solomon was written in excellent Greek by a Jew who lived outside the land of Israel, probably in Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander the Great.  No certainty exists as to when it was written but somewhere between 250 B.C and 100 B.C. is as near as we can get. That’s near enough 880 years after Solomon.

The purpose of its author was to encourage the large Jewish population in Alexander’s new city to keep the faith.  Their God and their way of life are, says the author, superior to anything to be found in the city they have adopted.

  His theme is that if you are looking for wisdom, you won’t find it among the Egyptians.  Jewish teaching about God and about how to live comes from the Spirit of Wisdom, from Sophia, from Lady Wisdom, God’s gift to those whom God has protected since the days of Moses.  Solomon prayed for the Spirit of Wisdom, a gift more precious that gold or silver,

and wisdom is a gift given by God to his servants in every age.  Please read Proverbs 8:22-31 and Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach  24:2-22, both hymns in praise of Wisdom.

  Think of Sophia as the Holy Spirit and you will be on holy ground.



Responsorial Psalm                                         Psalm 89:12-17.  R/. v.14



R/.    Fill us with your love that we may rejoice.

So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Return, O LORD! How long?

Have pity on your servants!          R/.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,

and for as many years as we have seen evil.          R/.

Let your work be shown to your servants,

and your glorious power to their children.

Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands upon us.

R/.    Fill us with your love that we may rejoice.

Psalm 89 (90) is a song of contrasts.  It compares God’s eternity to the brief history of humanity’s time on this earth.  Men and women live but a day in comparison to God’s day: in your sight a thousand years are as yesterday that has passed away.  When God holds up human iniquity for inspection, surely our days pass before you in anger.  A human life is seventy years and we spend our lives in trouble and sorrow.  

 We can only survive if you O LORD, shine the light of your face upon us:

Show mercy to your servants!

Satisfy us at daybreak with your steadfast love

that we may sing for joy all our days.



A reading from the letter to the Hebrews                             4:12-13

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The word of the LORD.

The Letter to Hebrew (Jewish) Christians is, as we ought to expect, steeped in the traditions so apparent in the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament.  So Jewish is this magnificent letter that we grasp immediately how Jewish our faith is. That is hardly surprising since our faith comes from the life and death of a Jew, the Son of God, whom we worship and adore.  In his presence we live and in whose glorious resurrection we will, in God’s good time, come to enjoy.

  Today’s reading celebrates the Word of God.  God’s words have accompanied God’s people in all their days.  The Bible of the Jewish people begins with God speaking: Let there be light!  (Genesis 1:3).  That conversation with creation, with humanity is continued throughout the story of God’s people.  Its prophets spoke God’s words: Thus says the LORD was their constant claim.  Wisdom, Sophia, spoke God’s wisdom to guide and counsel God’s people as they made their way through the world.

And then,

… the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark      10:17-30  

As [Jesus] was setting out on the way, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother. ’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But he began to be disheartened at this word, and he went away deeply distressed, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “With what difficulty will those who have riches enter the kingdom of God!” But the disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

The Gospel of the LORD

  The Gospel we least like to ear.  These days, if you know where and when your next meal is coming from, you are rich.  If you have a saucer into which you pitch your pennies and tuppences, you have disposable income and belong to the eight-and-a-half per cent of the world’s people who are so fortunate.   That is, the rich.

  However, you might be equally concerned that, should God manage to get you through the eye of a needle, he will only manage to do so if you have endured, among all the awards he has showered upon you, persecutions.  How do persecutions fit in to your Christmas stocking?

  The rich man does everything right.  He runs to Jesus; he prostrates himself as one would before a famous rabbi.  His address to Jesus is reverent, respectful: Good Teacher.   His question is of the utmost importance.  Of all questions, his is the most important: what must I do to inherit eternal life?

  Yet Jesus objects to the man’s calling him Good Teacher.  Jesus issues a correction: No one is good but God alone.  Thus we learn that all goodness ultimately comes from God.  

  I think that here Mark is urging us to do some thinking.  If all goodness comes from God and if Jesus comes from God, then Jesus is good. Certainly the words of Jesus raise the identity question as regards himself.

  Jesus lists several of the Ten Commandments.  Notice the one he mentions last, not in the order as given in the Bible: Honour your father and your mother.  The last place is the place of emphasis.  So here’s a question: Why does the Bible tell us to honour our parents and never tells us to love them?

See Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16.

  The man has kept all these:  Teacher, I have kept all these.

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  To meet someone who can, hand on heart, declare that he has kept all that God demands, is to meet a unique human being.  And because he loves him, Jesus urges one more step on the way to God’s heart. Treasure in heaven, treasure with God, demands one more step.  You must give everything away, and follow Jesus wherever that will lead. I only know of one person who managed it: Francis of Assisi. The man kneeling before Jesus, gets up and slowly walks away.  

  How would you do if asked?  How would I do if asked?

  And looking around Jesus comments on what has happened to his learners, his pupils, the apprentices who are training to be apostles:

He says to them,

Children, with what difficulty will those who have riches enter the kingdom of God!   

Notice that he calls them “Children”.  They are but beginners in the classroom of Jesus.

  As we have seen, the kingdom of God is, as The LORD’S Prayer explains as often as we pray it, wherever God’s will is done, be it in heaven or on earth.   Not surprisingly, camels and needles come to mind. Not surprisingly, his learners murmur among themselves:  Who then can be saved?  

  In speaking up for the rest, Peter  receives a list as long as your arm of the good things that await those who have left everything and followed the man from Galilee.  Except he wasn’t expecting the “with persecutions” bit.

Joseph O’Hanlon  




 

  






            




 






  






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