Second Sunday of Lent

February 25, 2018
Mark 9:2-10

 

Background:

The transfiguration of Jesus is based on the belief that gods can change into different forms. Some schools of mysticism believe that humans and animals can also change form. Movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter contain contemporary expressions of this understanding. In the Jewish tradition the righteous will take on a new heavenly form. Many people hope that their heavenly body will be much different than the body that is theirs while on earth. In the text here, Jesus is transfigured not in the sense of taking on a totally new form, but in the sense that the way he appeared to the disciples is dramatically altered.

The fact that Peter, James, and John are present and witness this event makes it an historical event, not one that takes place only in the spiritual world. Nor is it a vision or dream of some moment in the future when the fullness of God’s presence will be revealed. Jesus is the only one who is changed, and he is the only one who enters into a dialogue with Moses and Elijah. But the disciples are participants in the event as it unfolds. They witness and participate in what is taking place: they see a change in Jesus’ appearance, they recognize Elijah and Moses as they converse with Jesus, Peter addresses Jesus, they are overshadowed by the cloud, and they hear the voice from heaven speaking to them. What is taking place occurs in such a way that they can experience it and participate in it to some extent. From the text it is not clear if they were able to hear and understand the conversation that took place between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. 

Mark’s community would have recognized many of the elements that Mark describes here as being similar to events from their religious heritage. Moses and Elijah each ascended a mountain and there encountered the presence of God. Both underwent a kind of transformation. When Moses returned with the tablets on which the commandments had been written, his face became so bright, after he had spoken with God, he had to cover it so that people could look at him. (Exodus 34:29-35) Elijah, when he died, was taken from earth in a flaming chariot. (2 Kings 2:11) For the people of the day, Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets, the whole of their religious tradition.

The cloud is another familiar image from the Hebrew scriptures that expressed the presence of God. For example: God spoke to Moses from a cloud; while in the desert a cloud led the people and would descend upon the tent whenever Moses entered to confer with God; a dark cloud totally enveloped the temple at its dedication so that the priests had to leave; and the Jews believed that when the Messiah returned the cloud would once again descend upon the temple.

Peter’s suggestion that they build three tents on the mountain reflects the custom associated with the feast of Tabernacles, when the Jews remember a period of their history of living in tents as they wandered in the desert. By the time of Jesus, the feast not only celebrated an important aspect of their liberation from the slavery, but also took on overtones of hope for a time when they would be liberated once again. Peter’s suggestion that tents be built may be an expression of his hope that this time of final liberation might be what is signaled by the events taking place before him. However, Jesus’ exhortation as they come down the mountain to tell no one of the experience “except when the Son of Man has risen from the dead” reminds Peter that there will be no glory before Jesus’ rejection and death. As Mark’s community hears the description of Jesus’ transfiguration, their own hopes for the future are also touched. Jesus’ note of warning would help them maintain some hope as they hear Mark describe Jesus’ rejection and death.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of climbing significant hills or even mountains?
  2. Why do you think climbing a mountain is used as an expression of going to encounter God?
  3. Have you had experiences that changed you?
  4. How has your relationship with God changed you?
  5. Do you feel more like Peter, James, and John, invited to go up the mountain with Jesus, or more like one of the disciples waiting at the bottom for their return?
  6. As we begin Lent, what transformation do you hope for in the world, in the church, or in yourself?
  7. Do you see the transformation you seek more as something you are called to strive after or as something that God is going to accomplish?
  8. Why do you think the Church gives us this reading for the Second Sunday of Lent?
  9. Can you talk to God about the change you would like to see within yourself, or about that change that you suspect God might be inviting you to undertake at this point in your life, or about some other thought that arises in you as you read this gospel?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

1st Sunday of Lent

Working Title/Artist: Peaceable Kingdom
Department: Am. Paintings / Sculpture
Culture/Period/Location:
HB/TOA Date Code:
Working Date: ca. 1830-32
scanned for collections

February 18, 2018
Mark 1:12-15

 

Background:

Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus follows right after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. His account of both the baptism and the temptation are very sparse. We might be tempted to fill in the details with what we remember from the descriptions from other gospel accounts. But this might hinder giving adequate reflection on the text that Mark has provided.

The opening verse of this gospel states that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Mark’s community would be aware that “the Spirit” was the expression of the great power of God throughout their religious tradition. Examples of this would include when the Spirit enabled Othniel to help the Jews defeat their enemies:

“Because the Israelites had offended the Lord by forgetting the Lord, their God, and serving the Baals and the Asherahs (foreign gods), the anger of the Lord flared up against them, and he allowed them to fall into the power of Cushan-risha-thaim, king of Aram Naharaim, whom they served for eight years. But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a savior, Othniel, son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, who rescued them. The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the Lord delivered Cushan-risha-thaim, king of Aram, into his power, so that he made him subject.” (Judges 3:7-10)

When Samuel anointed the young shepherd, David, as the next King, the Spirit came upon him to guide him.

“Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. The Lord said, ‘There–anoint him, for this is he!’ Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” (1Samuel 16:12-13b)

It was also that same spirit who came upon ordinary people and led them to be great prophets of God. The spirit who had animated so many people throughout their history was now acting once again to drive Jesus into the desert.

In the second verse Mark states that Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days, was tempted by Satan, was in the company of wild beasts, and was ministered to by angels. All of these statements would have been full of meaning for the people for whom Mark was writing. They would have presumed that the declaration of honor that was heard throughout the spirit world at Jesus’ baptism would be challenged: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) While Mark does not give the details of the testing, he lets his audience know that Jesus has prevailed. In the very first verse of Mark’s gospel he states, “The beginning of the proclamation of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Mark states in the second verse of this reading that Jesus is present in the desert with the wild animals and that angels waited on him. Then in the third verse he begins to describe Jesus as he begins his public ministry. Without stating the details, Mark is indicating that Jesus has come through his trials and has prevailed. That Jesus was among the wild animals and they did him no harm would have suggested to people of the day that the original order of creation as it was in the garden had once again been established.

 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What do you associate with a desert, with dryness, and with being tested?
  2. What have been your desert experiences?
  3. What would those who heard that Jesus was “driven” into the desert recall? How did the experience of the desert affect their understanding of themselves and their relationship to God?
  4. What are some of the ways that Jesus might have been changed by his experience of being in the desert, being tempted, being with the wild animals, and having had the angels minister to him?
  5. Do you think there is a connection between Jesus’ experience in the desert and his ability to proclaim, “This is the time of fulfillment”?
  6. Given the everyday life of the people of the day, what are some of the things that might have gone through their minds as they heard Jesus proclaim: “This is the time of fulfillment”?
  7. When you hear this gospel proclaimed, do you take these words seriously?
  8. Where do you see the action of the spirit operating in your life?
  9. How will your Lenten practice lead you into an experience of desert, temptation, wild animals, being ministered to by angels, and being able to proclaim that “this is the time of fulfillment”?
  10. Can you take some time now to talk with God about whatever thoughts or feelings arose within you as you reflected on this gospel; about your desire for your Lenten journey this year; or about any other thought that you need to bring to God?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Background:

The first reading from Leviticus is included this week, because it sheds light on the seriousness with which people dealt with the disease that is called leprosy in the culture of Jesus’ time. Reading the entire thirteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus would give a fuller picture of the concern people had about leprosy. An infected person was removed from society because of the highly contagious nature of the condition. The priest would examine the person and determine the length of quarantine/exile. Before the person could rejoin the community, they needed to be examined by the priest and declared clean. People were exiled despite the fact that a person’s survival was dependent upon maintaining family and social relationships. When appropriate, a funeral service was held for the person being permanently expelled.

Last week the gospel concluded with Jesus rejecting Peter’s suggestion that they return to Capernaum where folks were gathering who wanted to see him. Instead, Jesus said, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose, have I come.” (Mark 1:38) The last line of the text was “So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons through the whole of Galilee.” (Mark 1:39) The gospel text for this Sunday follows. Jesus continues to demonstrate that he is more powerful than those evil spirits that were believed to be the cause of sickness.

The person described in the text has a skin condition that makes him both a social outcast and ritually unclean. By coming forward and presenting himself to Jesus, the man is disregarding the law that isolates those with his condition. Jesus is described in the text as being moved with pity. The verb in the Greek text would suggest moved with “deep inner groaning.” By touching the man, Jesus himself becomes ritually unclean. Responding to the man is more important than maintaining his own ritual purity. The touch which renders Jesus unclean brings healing to the man. Because ritual cleanliness needs to be verified by a priest, Jesus sends the man to the priest, with the warning not to tell anyone what has taken place. The text does not indicate that the man went to the priest, but instead he began to tell people what had taken place. As a result, large numbers of people were seeking out Jesus. This suggests that they could readily observe that the man had been healed of his condition. 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you ever been quarantined?
  2. Have you ever known someone who was quarantined? How did that affect your relationship?
  3. Do you have areas of your body that you consider more attractive? Are there other areas of your body that you try to keep covered or hidden?
  4. What do you think it was like for this leper to have Jesus touch him?
  5. The text says that Jesus was moved with pity when he encountered the leper. Are there times when you find that you too are moved with pity for others? Are there also times when you are not? Do you know what keeps you from being moved with pity?
  6. The leper says to Jesus: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Have you ever spoken in a similar fashion to God? If yes, what do you recall now about that experience? If not, why not?
  7. Can you take some time now to talk with God about your desire to be touched by God, about those around you who are in need of being touched, or about some other thought or feeling that arises in you from this text?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2018
Mark 1:29-39

 

Background:

Last Sunday, the Gospel described Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum, and on the Sabbath going to the synagogue. On that Sabbath Jesus took his turn to teach, and cast an unclean spirit out of a man. Those who witnessed the event were amazed and remarked that Jesus was teaching with a new kind of authority. (Luke 1:27) The text for last week ended, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” (Luke 1:28)

The text for this week follows immediately after last week’s Gospel, and it is composed of four events. Like last week, the events are told with sparse detail: Jesus cures Simon’s mother in law, Jesus cures those who are brought to him from the town, Jesus seeks out a place of solitude to pray, and finally Jesus speaks with Simon about the priorities of his mission. 

After Jesus leaves the synagogue, which suggests that it is still the Sabbath, he enters the house of Simon. They tell Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law, and he goes to her, touches her, and restores her to health. In their understanding, illness was associated with the power that death had over a person. The word used to describe the healing is “ederiro” which means “raised up,” an expression that is typically used in accounts of the resurrection. She then begins to wait on them, and the word here is “diagoneo” which is not the word that would describe the typical service roles of women of the day. Rather, the term denotes “service within the community.” As he did in last week’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates his power over an evil that threatens life.  Peter’s mother-in-law is freed to minister to the community.

In the second scenario, Mark describes the result of the spread of Jesus’ reputation throughout the area. The crowds wait until after the sun has set and the Sabbath has ended. Travel is now permitted, and they come with the sick to be cured. 

Jesus needs to finds a place of solitude in order to pray.  The verb carries the connotation that his intention is an “extended time away.” Simon and the others go looking for him, and their statement, “everyone is looking for you,” (verse 37) suggests that they think he should return to those who are seeking him. Jesus responds by saying he intends to go to other villages to preach. The text ends with a statement summing up Jesus’ ministry in the area as preaching and driving out demons (verse 39).

Last week the gospel brought to light a contrast between the evil spirits, who knew who Jesus was, and the crowd and disciples who were all left asking, “what is this?” (Mark 1: 27) This week, the contrast is between the disciples, who think that Jesus should respond to crowd who have come seeking him, and Jesus, who knows that he must get away from that crowd in order to pray and then move on to other villages and minister to those who need to hear his message.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your typical reaction to people who are sick and contagious?
  2. How does being sick and unable to do your normal routine affect you?
  3. Using this text, what are some of the values that seem to matter the most to Jesus? What are some of the things that Jesus does not seem to be concerned with?
  4. What are some of things Jesus might have talked with His Father about during his prayer that morning?
  5. How do you think Simon and the others felt when Jesus rejected their suggestion that they return to those who were looking for him?
  6. Have you ever felt like you needed to abandon something that you were successful at in order to do what you felt God was calling you to do?
  7. Jesus seems to have walked away from curing people who were coming to him back in Capernaum, in order to peach to others. Have you ever felt like God had walked away from you and your needs?
  8. Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to live as God’s disciple and the struggles or questions that you have in doing that, or some other thought or feeling that arose within you as you read this text?

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018
Mark 1:21-28

Background:

The gospel text for this Sunday follows Mark’s call of the first disciples that was the gospel for last week. This is Mark’s description of Jesus as he begins public ministry. Jesus is described as a teacher at the beginning and the end of the text. But he is not like the other teachers of the day, the scribes, who would have taught by citing the teachings of other great teachers who had gone before them. One might think of a teacher who quotes many highly respected sources in the course of a lecture.

Jesus’ teaching is described in the middle verses of this text. But Jesus’ teaching is not an instruction in the usual sense. Rather it is Jesus’ encounter with the unclean spirit. People of the day believed in the presence of many spirits. Some were kind, others were menacing, but all were believed to be more powerful than humans. The people believed that only God was more powerful. A person with an unclean spirit would have made all those who had contact with him also ritually impure. If such a person were found in a synagogue, he would have been removed. The spirit in this gospel tries to take the upper hand in the situation by claiming to know Jesus’ name, calling him Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy One of God. But Jesus is the more powerful, despite that fact that the spirit can call out his name. Jesus tells them, all of them, to be quiet and come out of the man. Because they obey Jesus, he has taught those who witness this event that he is more powerful than the spirit that possessed the man. This will raise another familiar question: What is the source of Jesus’ power?

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you believe in the existence of spirits, either good or evil?
  2. Do you generally operate believing that you have power over your own life, over how your life is unfolding, and over what you choose to do or not to do? Can you think of examples from your daily life that support your assumption?
  3. Are you also aware of places in your life that would suggest that you may not be as in charge of your own life as you would like to think?
  4. When you think of Jesus as a teacher, what are some of the great moments of Jesus the teacher?
  5. When you think of Jesus revealing his authority, what are the moments you recall? What does it mean for you that Jesus taught with authority?
  6. Who are the people who have taught you with authority? What about them gave them their authority?
  7. Where do you find examples of people who confront evil and at the same time restore the honor of the individual?
  8. Can you talk to God about your desire to have people who can teach you with authority, or your desire to be that kind of teacher for others, or some other thought that arose in you as you reflected on this gospel?

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 21, 2018
Mark 1:14-20

 

Background:

The gospel text for last Sunday was John’s account of the call of the first disciples. As was mentioned last week, John presents the call of the first disciples in a way that his community could recognize as having similarities to their own coming to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Mark begins his gospel with John the Baptist in the desert announcing a baptism of repentance, to prepare for the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Mark then tells of the baptism of Jesus. Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for forty days where he lived among the wild beasts, was tempted by Satan, and then was ministered to by angels. All these events are told with brevity (14 verses), and then Mark takes up the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The beginning of that ministry is described in the gospel text for this Sunday.

Mark’s text does not make clear why he chose to mention the arrest of John the Baptist. Scripture scholars believe that initially Jesus may have been a disciple of John, setting out on his own after John was arrested. (John 3:22) However, here Jesus is portrayed as traveling among the towns and villages of Galilee rather than in the desert wilderness, which was the backdrop of John’s ministry. The message of Jesus in verse 15 is very similar to that of John as described in other gospels. “In those days John the Baptist appeared preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2)

The “kingdom of God” was loaded with meaning for the people of the day. The earliest traditions would identify the people of Israel as the kingdom of God. God was understood as the true ruler of the people. The king ruled only as a representative of God. The failure of this system led many to put their hope in some future intervention by God, rather than hoping for a faithful ruler who would reestablish the kingdom of God. Jesus’ proclamation states simply that “now is the time” when the hoped-for future kingdom of God has arrived and the time for hoping is over. The “time of fulfillment has arrived” would be a message that stirred people deeply. Jesus’ proclamation is a bold statement that would have also attracted the attention of the political and religious leaders who would have found such comments a threat.

The announcement of the gospel is followed by Mark’s account of the call of the first disciples – the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John. These disciples are called not just to be pupils of the teacher, which was the traditional role of disciples of the day, but they are also called to work with Jesus in gathering other disciples. They are to become “fishers of men.” In exchange, they are invited to live with him, but they are not told where. They must be willing to learn by being with Jesus and letting him lead the way. These men of responsibility are being asked to leave their families, the sea, and a way of life that was successful, and become dependent on Jesus. In addition, this would have been a significant break with the basic understanding of family responsibility upon which much of the society of the day was based. Many would have looked on such a move with disdain.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are there areas in your own life where you have hoped for change for many years?
  2. What do you think it was like for the Jews to sustain their hope in a Messiah for generations?
  3. Upon the arrest of John, what do you think are some of things that Jesus thought about before he decided to continue to proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom?
  4. Why do you think Andrew, Peter, John and James would have made good disciples?
  5. In Jesus’ day there were many who admired him, his teaching, and the way he lived his life, and some became his followers. Are there places in your life where you are more admirer than follower?
  6. Imagine yourself in the boat with James and John. What would be going through your mind as you watch them leave the nets, get out of the boat, and begin to walk away with Jesus?
  7. Can you also imagine that you are again in the boat and Jesus also invites you to come join him? What goes through your mind and you consider Jesus’ invitation?
  8. Can you talk with God about your desire to be one of his disciples, about whatever keeps you from responding to God as fully as you would like, or about some other facet of this gospel that caught your attention?

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel