Reflecting on First Corinthians for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on 12:4-6:

Here Paul describes these “spirituals” (pneumatika; 12:1) by three other terms: they are “charisms” (charismata, translated here as spiritual gifts), different forms of service, and different workings. A fourth term is used in verse 7, “manifestation of the Spirit.” Each depicts a different aspect of one and the same phenomenon. On the one hand, they are gifts, not something one produces by one’s own efforts, and hence we should be careful not to equate them with acquired skills, although the gift could bring a new and Spirit-filled anointing to such abilities. A musical ability could, for example, become a gift of the Spirit to the degree that it is placed lovingly at the service of the community, so that it is no longer entertainment but a ministry that truly builds up the body and is recognized as such (see 14:26).

That the gifts are different forms of service indicates that they are not given primarily for the benefit of the individual, though if a gift is a work of the Spirit, there would normally be a good effect in the one exercising the gift, as Paul will later say about praying in tongues (14:4). Nor are they given to establish a spiritual ranking or elitism. Rather, they are given for the good of the community and should be governed by that purpose. Different workings refers to activities that take place in the community and that are inspired by God.

© 2011 George T. Montauge and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Titus for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on Titus 2:12:

In the Old Testament training most often meant educating children in the law of God and disciplining them, even punishing them (Deut 21:18; Sir 7:23), something that God himself does for his children (Deut 8:5; Prov 3:11–12; Heb 12:5–11). In the opinion of some authors, Paul is thinking of the severe physical discipline accompanying education in the Greek world and implying that the cross and suffering is the way Christians get trained. But here it is grace that educates. The thought is very Pauline: in the face of God’s overwhelming kindness shown in Jesus Christ, one cannot help but be transformed, for one is gazing on his brilliant glory through the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). The energy comes more from awareness of God’s love than from his commands or the trials he sends. Suffering itself is of no avail for transformation unless its darkness is bathed in the overwhelming light of God’s love and grace.

The effect of this transforming light is first of all to bring about in the believer a decisive rejection of its opposite: godless ways and worldly desires, the rebellion against God so characteristic of pagan life (Rom 1:18) and the accompanying passions, which Paul earlier calls the flesh (8:3–8; Gal 5:16) and 1 John 2:16 calls the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and worldly pride. Titus 2:12 may echo a baptismal formula recited by converts in the rite of initiation; it is similar to 2 Pet 1:4: “escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.”

The positive effects of God’s training grace are threefold, expressed by three adverbs that, interestingly, address the three objects of charity: (1) Oneself: live temperately—temperance or self-control, highly regarded among the Greek ethicists, was also listed by Paul via another Greek word as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23). (2) Others: justly—justice regulates one’s relationships with others. (3) God: devoutly—devotion or piety directs one’s relationship with God. That God’s grace could accomplish this in those who must live in this world corrupted by sin and ruled by Satan (2 Cor 4:4; John 17:15–16) is amazing indeed.

© 2008 George T. Montauge and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

From The Gospel of Matthew by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 2:1:

The word magi originally described members of the Median and Persian priestly caste who advised the king and interpreted dreams. The term later was used more broadly to denote those who possessed mystical knowledge as priests, astrologers, soothsayers, or sages. Their popular association with kings today may be based on Old Testament passages that recount kings bringing gifts to the royal Davidic son (Ps 72:10–11), including gifts of gold and frankincense (Isa 60:3–6). In the Jewish tradition magi would bring to mind the opponents of Daniel in Babylon, who were associated with enchanters and sorcerers and claimed to interpret dreams and signs (Dan 1:20; 2:2; 4:6–7; 5:7 LXX). Hence, one would not expect magi from the east to be among the first to pay homage to the Jewish messiah. This account thus sets up a theme that will be repeated throughout Matthew’s Gospel: Israel’s king is welcomed by those one would least expect while Jewish leaders work against him (2:4).

© 2010 Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 3:4-6

Gentiles welcome. To Christians of the twenty-first century, most of whom are Gentiles, it is hard to grasp the significance of this “mystery.” It seems old news that Gentiles can belong to the people of God. But for the nineteen centuries between the time of Abraham and the time of Christ, only the Jewish people had been the heirs of God’s promises, and these promises distinguished them from all the other peoples of the earth (Deut 7:6–7). It might be possible to think that this is simply Jewish chauvinism on Paul’s part, but that would be mistaken. Jesus himself, when the Canaanite woman sought deliverance for her daughter from a demon, confirms that the Gentiles did not have an equal claim to God’s provision that had been promised to the children of Israel (Matt 15:22–28).

Beginning with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit, however, a new age has dawned in which all the peoples of the earth are invited to share in the blessings previously promised to one particular nation. This is the “mystery,” the secret plan of God, that has now been revealed. God always loved and took concern for all peoples of the world (Jon 4:10–11; Acts 14:16–17) and intended from the beginning to bless all nations through Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:3; 18:18; Gal 3:8–9). Although the prophets spoke on many occasions of God’s future blessings for the nations (e.g., Isa 49:6; 66:18–20), Israel never imagined this would involve making the Gentiles “coheirs,” and “copartners in the promise,” joining them “in the same body.” Israel was chosen, as we Christians have now been chosen, to bring God’s blessing to others. Christians do this by proclaiming the gospel.

The basis of church teaching. Catholic doctrine rests on the apostles’ testimony to what Christ did and taught and what the Holy Spirit revealed to them after Jesus’ death and resurrection, including an understanding of the Old Testament in light of Christ (Dei Verbum 8–9). The apostles’ teaching has been handed on to us in Scripture and Tradition that together “form one sacred deposit of the word of God, entrusted to the Church” (Dei Verbum 10), authoritatively interpreted by the apostles’ successors, the pope and bishops.

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Today)

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, reflecting on Mark 13: 14

The desolating abomination is an expression from Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11), where it alludes to the terrible sacrilege committed by the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC. After plundering Jerusalem, this infamous tyrant erected an idol of the Greek god Zeus on the altar of sacrifice in the temple (see 1 Macc 1:31, 54–59). A desolating abomination is one so egregious that it leads to the utter destruction of the temple and city, turning it into a desolate wasteland. Here that tragic event of the past is viewed as a foreshadowing of the final desecration of the temple that will lead to its destruction by the pagan armies of Rome (see Matt 24:15; Luke 21:20). Standing where he should not is precisely in the temple sanctuary, the holy place where the living God is worshipped. The masculine “he” suggests that this evil will be carried out by an individual, perhaps a military general, who is a kind of anti-Messiah figure (see 2 Thess 2:3–4).

Let the reader understand is probably intended as part of Jesus’ discourse, calling his disciples to pay close attention to hidden clues in the book of Daniel (see Matt 24:15). According to Daniel, both the sacrilege and the ensuing destruction, although carried out by wicked men, are a consequence of the sins of God’s people (see Dan 9:24). But God allows these disasters so that his people can be “refined, purified, and tested” (Dan 12:10). Jesus is hinting that the appearance of a horrendous sacrilege will signal the onset of a most devastating period of tribulation by which God’s people will be severely tried.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, reflecting on Mark 12:41-44:

Jesus’ comments on the destitute widow are an example of the divine logic that overturns human ways of thinking. Who looked like pillars of the temple that day? Surely it was the well-to-do who helped make possible the splendid  adornment of Herod’s renovated temple. But it was different in the eyes of Jesus. Who contributes most to the flourishing of the Church today? Perhaps it is those who are overlooked and insignificant in human terms. This point brings to mind the story of the third-century martyr St. Lawrence, who was archdeacon of Rome and distributor of the Church’s alms. In 258, by decree of the emperor, the pope and six deacons were beheaded, leaving Lawrence the ranking Church official in Rome. The city prefect summoned Lawrence and demanded that he hand over the treasures of the Church. Lawrence responded that the Church was indeed very rich, and asked for a little time to gather its treasures. He then went all over the city seeking out the poor and infirm. On the third day, he gathered together a great crowd of orphans, widows, and people who were lame, blind, maimed, or suffering various diseases, and invited the prefect to come and see “the wondrous riches of our God.” The prefect was furious; in a rage he ordered Lawrence to be put to death on a gridiron over a slow fire. Lawrence is honored as one of the great martyrs of the early Church.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 12:29-30:

To love God is to have a profound reverence and affection for him, to give ourselves over to him and desire to please him above all else. Jesus is spelling out what he had said earlier about repaying to God what belongs to him (12:17).

Jesus uses four terms that, taken together, signify not distinct faculties or parts of the human being but different ways of referring to the whole person. The heart (kardia) is the inner depths of a person, the wellspring from which all our decisions and actions flow (see 7:19). The soul (psychē) is our whole self as a living being, that which Jesus said we must be willing to give up for his sake (8:35) and which he will give up for our sake (10:45). Jesus adds another term, mind, to emphasize that even our thoughts and reasoning must be animated by love for God. The last phrase, with all your strength, emphasizes that love for God is not a sentiment that arises spontaneously, but a commitment that calls for every ounce of our energy. How can such love without measure be possible? Only by our first knowing and experiencing God’s love for us (Rom 5:5, 8; 1 John 4:11).

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 10:45:

The passage concludes with one of the most important sayings in the Gospel, summing up the purpose of Jesus’ messianic mission: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ own coming into the world (see 1:38; 2:17) was not for the sake of any advantage to himself, but only to serve his heavenly Father and all men and women. Here he explains that this service entails giving up his life as a ransom. The idea of a ransom expresses a price that is paid on someone’s behalf; for instance, to free a slave (Lev 25:51) or to save someone whose life is in jeopardy (Exod 21:30). God is often said in the Old Testament to have ransomed his people from slavery in Egypt or exile in Babylon (Deut 7:8; Isa 35:10), and the Jewish hope was that God would definitively ransom his people from sin and death (Ps 130:7; Isa 59:20; Hosea 13:14; Luke 24:21). The Old Testament never clarifies how God could be said to “pay a price” for his people; only in the passion of his Son does the price become clear. “For” many can mean both “in place of ” and “on behalf of ” many. Though we have nothing to give in exchange for our life (Mark 8:37), Jesus can give his own life, a gift of infinite value, in exchange for us. “Many” is not intended to exclude some, as if Jesus did not die for all (Christ “gave himself as ransom for all”; 1 Tim 2:6); it is a Hebrew way of expressing a vast multitude. The saying alludes to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (Isa 52:13・53:12), who “gives his life” as an offering for sin that is, a sacrifice that atones for sin on behalf of “many.” St. Paul further developed this insight into the meaning of Jesus’ passion (Rom 3:24; 1 Cor 7:23; Gal 3:13; 1 Tim 2:6), which became a crucial part of the Church’s theology of redemption.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 10:18

Jesus’ initial response is puzzling and has occasioned much speculation. Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. But the mistake is to assume that Jesus is repudiating the attribute of good for himself. He is not denying that he is good; rather, he is inviting the man to reflect more deeply on what he has just said (see 10:3; 12:35; John 2:4 for similar examples). On what basis does he call Jesus good? Is it because he is a wise teacher and powerful miracle worker? Because he treats everyone with kindness? Or is there a more profound basis for Jesus’ goodness? Does the man recognize that ultimately, God alone is good, and that what he perceives in Jesus is not merely unusual human qualities but that infinite goodness that belongs to God alone? Jesus gently directs the man’s gaze toward the answer to his heart’s longing.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 10:9-12:

Jesus concludes with his own solemn injunction: what God has joined together, no human being must separate. He thereby confirms what Genesis already implied: the union of husband and wife is no mere human convention but a bond made by God himself (see Mal 2:14–16). No human being is authorized to dissolve that bond once it has been made.

It is no wonder that the disciples, as often happens, find it difficult to digest the radical change Jesus has just instituted (see Matt 19:10). On his own authority Jesus has just taken away a concession given in the law of Moses. Why would he set this stricter standard? Surely it is not to make life more difficult for his followers. Rather, it is because through his cross and resurrection he is now giving them a new power to live according to God’s original plan for human love. They can no longer settle for less. Once again, in a private indoor setting, the disciples ask Jesus to explain himself (see Mark 4:10; 7:17; 9:28). For Mark’s first readers, in the house probably called to mind the Church, which gathered in homes just as the first disciples had often gathered around Jesus in a house (1:29; 2:15; 7:24; 9:33). Jesus unpacks the implications of his teaching by declaring that remarriage after divorce is not permissible. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. This statement is radical in two ways. First, it affirms the indissolubility of marriage, a teaching that is as challenging and countercultural today as it was then. Second, it recognizes adultery as an offense that can be committed against a wife. Jewish law and custom had viewed adultery as an offense against a man, whose wife was considered in some sense his property (see Exod 20:17). Jesus acknowledges the total equality of man and woman, and the mutual belonging of husband and wife in marriage. The final statement reflects the situation in the Roman world where women had a legal right to divorce, and affirms that women are equally responsible for upholding the permanence of the marriage bond.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.