Reflecting on John for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:24-35

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Earlier the crowd thought that Jesus was the promised Prophet-like-Moses (6:14–15). Now they realize that he is claiming to be even greater than this promised prophet, indeed, greater than Moses himself. They ask him for another sign so that they may see and believe in him (compare Matt 16:1–4). If Jesus is greater than Moses, they reason, he should do something even greater than the signs and wonders Moses did.

They cite Scripture and appeal to a great act associated with Moses: Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Their citation does not exactly match any biblical text, but it is closest to Exod 16:4, which recounts the Lord’s gift of manna to the Israelites (see also Ps 78:24; Neh 9:15). This scriptural text about the manna is at the center of the whole ensuing discourse.

Presented with this text, Jesus begins the Bread of Life Discourse. The discourse follows an established manner of Jewish preaching, which elaborates on the elements mentioned in a biblical quotation, in this case, Exod 16:4, referenced in John 6:31.11

Jesus begins his response to the crowd’s challenge with the assertion that it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven. As with the Samaritan woman (4:20–21), Jesus redirects the crowd’s attention from their ancestral past to the present moment: My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. Moses was not the source of the manna: it was the Lord. The Lord provided Israel with manna, and he continues his providential care by now providing true bread from heaven. The modifier “true” should not be taken to imply that the manna was false, but rather that it was incomplete or less than perfect. The manna was a genuine gift from God, and it also foreshadows the even greater care that God provides in Jesus.

The description that this bread comes down from heaven connects this bread with Jesus, who, as the Son of Man, came down from heaven (3:13, 31). This heavenly bread gives life to the world. Like the Samaritan woman who asked for water that would quench all thirst, the crowd says, Sir, give us this bread always (see 4:15). As he has done before, Jesus will now raise the discussion to a whole new level.

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on John for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 6:1-15

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Upon seeing a large crowd approaching, Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Jesus does not ask this question out of ignorance but to test Philip. By doing so, he invites Philip to grow in his faith in him. Instead, Philip thinks in terms of money: it would take an enormous sum, the better part of a year’s wages, to feed such a large crowd—and only for each of them to have a little.

Andrew intervenes in the conversation by calling attention to a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. His mention of barley loaves recalls the incident in 2 Kings 4:42–44, where the prophet Elisha fed more than one hundred men with twenty barley loaves. But like Philip, Andrew contrasts the enormity of the crowd with the small means at hand: What good are these for so many?

Jesus acts on his intention to feed the crowd. He first tells the disciples, Have the people recline: get them ready to eat. The comment about grass recalls Ps 23:2, where the psalmist says of YHWH his shepherd, “In green pastures he makes me lie down.” The disciples obey Jesus’ instruction, and the men reclined, about five thousand in number. With the presence of women and children, the crowd would have been even larger.

Jesus’ gestures resemble accounts of the Last Supper in the Synoptics: he took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them. While John’s Gospel does not narrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, it underlies Jesus’ teaching on the giving of his body and blood throughout chapter.

Another important detail concerns the one who feeds the crowd. In the Synoptics, Jesus gives the bread to the disciples, who then feed the crowds (Matt 14:19; Mark 6:41; 8:7; Luke 9:16). But John does not mention any role of the disciples; Jesus feeds the crowd directly. John thus underscores that Jesus is the ultimate source of the bread for the crowd. Philip and Andrew stressed the scant means to feed such a huge crowd, but Jesus miraculously produces a superabundance of bread. The entire crowd was completely satisfied, for all had as much bread and fish as they wanted.

 

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 6:30-34

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The previous scene ended with Jesus and his disciples going off to a “deserted place” for some much-needed rest. The moment word gets out that Jesus is taking off by boat the people anticipate where he will go and run there on foot, arriving before them. By the time the boat lands the shore is no longer deserted but lined with a “vast crowd.”

The hoped-for retreat has been sabotaged. But instead of reacting with exasperation Jesus is moved with pity at the sight of the needy crowds. This is one of the few occasions where Mark gives us a glimpse into the emotions of Jesus, here using a verb that connotes a deeply felt, gut reaction (see 1:41; 8:2). Pity, or compassion, is one of the most distinctive attributes of God (Ps 86:15; Isa 54:7–8; Hosea 11:8).

Jesus recognizes that the people are like sheep without a shepherd, a phrase often used to describe the condition of God’s people in the absence of sound leadership. As shepherdless sheep are likely to scatter, get lost, and quickly become vulnerable to predatory beasts, so when leadership fails, God’s people are likely to stray away from fidelity to him and become prey to their enemies.

After Israel had experienced centuries of incompetent, self-seeking, and corrupt leadership (as exemplified by Herod Antipas), there was a growing recognition that ultimately only God himself can adequately guide his people and provide for their needs. The prophets had announced a great promise: “Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. . . . I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest” (Ezek 34:11, 15; see Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10). Mark hints that Jesus himself is the divine Shepherd (see John 10:1–18), the fulfillment of God’s promise to care for his people directly and no longer through an intermediary.

In Matthew’s version of this incident, Jesus responds to the people’s need by healing the sick (Matt 14:14). But for Mark, Jesus exercises his saving power first and foremost by teaching. Indeed his teaching is healing, since it liberates people from their captivity to evil (see Mark 1:27). At the same time, his teaching is feeding, since by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom Jesus is satisfying their spiritual hunger.

Often in Scripture receiving divine wisdom is symbolized by eating and drinking (Prov 9:1–5; Sir 15:3; 24:18–22; Amos 8:11). Even before Jesus multiplies the loaves, the people are already feasting on a banquet of wisdom—a point made explicitly in John, where the “bread” is Jesus’ teaching (John 6:35–50).

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 6:7-13

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In the Jewish tradition of hospitality (see Gen 18:18; 19:13; Job 31:32), it was common for travelers to be welcomed spontaneously into homes along their way, especially since not every village boasted an inn. Jesus instructs the Twelve to stay in whatever house they enter, not moving about from house to house.

The reason may be to avoid any rivalry or jockeying for prestige that could arise among villagers wishing to host them. Nor may the apostles upgrade their accommodations. Like Jesus, they were likely to be besieged by crowds once they began the ministry of healing and exorcism in a given town (see Acts 8:6), and staying in one place would limit unnecessary distractions.

The stakes involved in accepting or refusing the gospel are high. Jesus equates the response given to his apostles with a response to himself (see 9:37). To welcome them is to welcome him. And to refuse to listen is to forfeit his invitation to eternal life (see 8:38; 16:16; John 3:18).

To shake the dust off one’s feet was a symbolic gesture of repudiation (Acts 13:51), meant as a solemn warning to those who rejected the apostles’ message. For Jews, the soil of Israel was holy (see 2 Kings 5:17; Isa 52:2); upon reentering the land after a journey they would shake the pagan dust off their feet as a sign of separating themselves from Gentile ways. This gesture would serve as a testimony against such unreceptive villages on the day of judgment. It is also a reminder to the apostles not to be discouraged by the resistance they will sometimes encounter. Their job is to carry out their mission obediently; success is in the hands of God. No one can be compelled to accept their message.

Mark describes the apostles’ preaching in the simplest of terms: like John the Baptist (1:4), they preached repentance (metanoia), the call to turn away from sin and toward God in a complete change of heart. The fullness of the Christian gospel, the victory of the crucified and risen Lord, can be proclaimed only after the resurrection. But their message, like that of Jesus, carries authority (6:7); it is accompanied by works of power that serve as visible signs confirming its truth.

 

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 6:1-6

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According to his usual custom (Mark 1:21, 39; 3:1), on the Sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue to teach. At first the villagers seem to react in the same way as other audiences: they are astonished at his wisdom and authority (1:22; 11:18). But in this case it is an astonishment at what seems inappropriate and out of place to them. To their minds Jesus is just “one of the guys,” someone they have known all their lives. They had never seen anything extraordinary about him. All this itinerant preaching and miracle-working seems to them to be putting on airs.

Where did this man get all this? Their questions display not a sincere pursuit of truth but rather indignant skepticism. They are asking the right questions, which all the readers of the Gospel are meant to ask, but with the wrong attitude. They cannot accept that the answer might be “from God.” Wisdom and mighty deeds (dynameis) are attributes of God himself (Jer 10:12; 51:15; Dan 2:20), and Scripture often refers to the great deeds accomplished by God’s “hand” (Exod 32:11; Deut 4:34; 7:19). But the people cannot bring themselves to draw the logical conclusion of their reasoning.

The villagers deem that Jesus’ hands would be put to better use by returning to his former occupation: woodworking (the Greek word for carpenter, tektōn, can also mean builder or craftsman). Their reference to Jesus’ family members by name shows their close familiarity with his background. Only in Mark is Jesus referred to as the son of Mary, an unusual designation since Jews customarily referred to sons in relation to their fathers (Matt 16:17; Mark 10:35). It may have been a veiled slur, alluding to the fact that Mary was not yet married at the time of Jesus’ conception (see John 8:41), or perhaps simply an indication that Joseph was deceased.

Their questions suggest that they have pigeonholed Jesus: they are confident that they know all there is to know about him. So they took offense at him (skandalizomai, meaning to stumble over an obstacle). The idea that their hometown carpenter, Jesus, could be inaugurating the kingdom of God was scandalous; it did not conform to their preconceived ideas about how God would and could act. And their attachment to their preconceived ideas became an obstacle to faith.

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 5:21-43

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Who touched me? The disciples think Jesus’ question is absurd, given the thronging crowds. As on other occasions where he is about to display his sovereign power, they completely miss the point. They even feel obliged to help their Lord gain some common sense and realism (as in 6:35–37; see John 11:12, 39). But their perplexed reaction only reveals how much they still have to learn.

What made the woman’s touch unlike that of all the others in the crowd was her faith. She had wanted to touch Jesus’ garment lightly, without attracting any attention to herself, whereas others were jostling roughly against him. Yet her touch was more efficacious than all the rest, because through faith it came into contact with the person of Jesus and his healing power.

Jesus looked around, desiring that she meet his gaze and enter into a relationship with him. As soon as the woman realizes Jesus is seeking her out, she is afraid. And no wonder, because by deliberately touching another person she has just breached the rules regarding ritual impurity. But as the leper discovered (1:41), it is impossible to make Jesus unclean; rather, his touch makes the unclean clean.

The woman’s fear and trembling expresses not merely timidity but human awe at the mighty deeds of God, as at the calming of the storm (4:41; see Exod 15:16; Ps 2:11; Jer 33:9). She already knows she has been healed (Mark 5:29) but perhaps at a deeper level now, she realizes what has happened to her: she has come into contact with the Lord. She falls down before Jesus (a gesture of homage, as in v. 22), and confesses her daring act.

Far from reprimanding her for her boldness, Jesus reassures her, addressing her affectionately as daughter. Like all those who “do the will of God” (3:35), she is welcomed into his family. Jesus will later commend Bartimaeus with the same words: Your faith has saved you (10:52). The Greek verb sōzō, used here in verses 23, 28, and 34, means both “save” and “heal.” The woman’s faith has opened her to receive not only physical healing but also the ultimate salvation of body and soul that it prefigures.

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 4:35-41

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The Sea of Galilee is known for the violent storms that can arise without warning, as wind is funneled through the steep valleys among the hills surrounding the lake. In this instance the gale is so fierce that it terrifies even seasoned fishermen. Waves come crashing over the boat, swamping it and threatening to sink it. Yet in the midst of this fury, Jesus is in the stern, asleep. Anyone who has ever been in a violently storm-tossed boat has reason to think that this ability to sleep through the storm was the first miracle! Jesus exemplifies the perfect trust in God that is often signified in Scripture by a peaceful and untroubled sleep (see Job 11:18; Ps 4:9; Prov 3:24).

But his serenity is not shared by the disciples, who awaken Jesus with a stinging reproach: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? It is the first time in the Gospel that Jesus has been called “Teacher,” having just completed a day of teaching (Mark 4:1–34). This time there will be a powerful lesson of faith, learned by experience. The tone of the disciples’ question suggests that they have a vague idea that Jesus can do something about the storm, but they think he is indifferent to their desperate plight, as if he has no concern for their safety or survival. How often God’s people reproach him this way, from the Old Testament (see Exod 14:10–11; Num 14:3) to this day.

Jesus does not leave his disciples in their panic but immediately awakens and rebukes the raging elements. He does not pray that God would calm the storm, but commands it himself with sovereign authority: Quiet! Be still! (literally, “Be muzzled!”). Rebuked is the same word used to describe his casting out of unclean spirits (1:25; 3:12), suggesting that demonic powers somehow instigated the squall that threatens to deflect him and his disciples from their mission. In the Old Testament the sea is often viewed as a symbol of chaos and the habitation of evil powers (Job 26:12–13; Ps 74:13–14; Isa 27:1). Jesus exorcises these adverse forces of nature with the same authority with which he freed human beings from demonic oppression.

Instantly the howling wind subsides and the choppy waters become calm. The wording parallels Ps 107:28–29: “In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril, Hushed the storm to a murmur; the waves of the sea were stilled.”

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 4:26-34

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It is as if Jesus is thinking aloud, searching for ways to help his listeners to grasp the mystery of the kingdom (see 4:11). Because the kingdom is a divine reality, it cannot be defined or contained in human categories. It can be understood only by using analogies, word pictures that force the listener to think and ponder at a deeper level.

Once again, the earthly reality most suitable as an analogy to the kingdom is, of all things, a tiny seed. In this third seed parable, the emphasis is on the seed’s smallness. For Jesus’ Jewish audience, the idea of the kingdom as a seed must have been quite a surprise. A more predictable comparison would be a mighty army (see Isa 13:4; Joel 2:11) or a cataclysmic earthquake (Isa 29:6). But no, the kingdom is like a mustard seed, which Jesus describes (using the device of hyperbole, or exaggeration, for effect) as the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants (another hyperbole).

In mentioning large branches that shelter many birds, Jesus is evoking the Old Testament image of a lofty, shady tree, symbolizing an empire that grants protection to peoples of different races and tongues (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9). The parable of the mustard seed thus points to the future worldwide reach of the kingdom of God. From its humble, inauspicious beginnings in Jesus’ itinerant preaching in Galilee with a small band of followers, the kingdom will mature to an immense tree in whom the Gentiles will find a home. This growth will not be due to human methods but to God’s hidden power. Jesus speaks with utter assurance of the future success of the kingdom, urging his disciples to persevere with hope and patience.

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

Reflecting on Mark for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

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Mark’s whole account of the public ministry has illumined and prepared readers for what Jesus is about to do. The disciples had shared many meals with Jesus. They had learned that he overturns social and legal barriers, that he is the messianic Shepherd who feeds God’s people, and that he is able to provide more than enough to satisfy all. They had learned that he would “give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45) and be raised from the dead. Although they had not understood “about the loaves” (6:52; 8:17–21), and will still not fully understand until after the resurrection, now the mystery is being unveiled: Jesus himself is the bread, broken and given for many.

To understand Mark’s succinct account, it is important to read it in light of its setting as a Passover supper (see vv. 12–16). A Passover supper would include the traditional elements: a blessing by the head of the household, the ceremonial foods and wine, the retelling of the story of the exodus, and the singing of hymns. Jesus’ initial actions are typical of the host at a Jewish banquet, and are identical to what he had done in the two miracles of the loaves (6:41; 8:6): he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. The customary blessing was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for having provided for his people. The sharing of one loaf was a sign of the fellowship the banqueters were enjoying. Mark implies that even Judas is included in this fellowship, since he has said nothing about his departure.

According to custom the host at Passover interprets each of the ceremonial foods by relating them to the exodus. But Jesus’ interpretation goes far beyond the Passover and brings the meal to an entirely new level: Take it; this is my body. With these simple words, the Last Supper becomes a prophecy in gesture, anticipating and interpreting the passion that was to occur the next day. Jesus identifies the broken bread with his own body about to be broken on the cross. In Hebrew thought, “body” is not merely the flesh but the whole person as a physical being. Jesus is revealing that his death will be a gift of himself to them (see 10:45). By asking them to “take,” that is, to eat the bread that is his body, he is inviting them to receive this gift of himself into the depth of their being.

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

Reflecting on Matthew for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 28:16-20

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Every lifelong commitment must have a beginning. Discipleship begins with a sacramental initiation, with baptizing all new followers of Jesus in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.

Although the doctrine of the Trinity would not be clearly articulated by the Church until the fourth and fifth centuries, the seeds of this teaching are present in this command of Jesus and in many other New Testament texts. Besides that, readers of Matthew first encountered the Father, Son, and Spirit in the context of Jesus’ own baptism (3:13–17). Thus the relationship of baptism to the three Persons of the Trinity does not come out of the blue, for they have already been linked together at that earlier point in the Gospel.

Along with baptism, new disciples are to be instructed in the teachings of Jesus. The importance of hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice, emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount (7:23–27), is here confirmed. Of course this will entail an introduction to basic principles and precepts, but eventually the disciple is to receive a full presentation of all that Christ commanded. The gospel is meant to give shape and direction to our entire life, so believers must be informed of how it impinges on family matters, economics, relationships, employment, government, education, and so on.

In other words, the good news of Jesus Christ must ultimately go beyond personal formation to a broader inculturation. The Lord wants the truth of his message to Christianize all nations as nations. Only when both individuals and societies are conformed to the gospel can we say that the Father’s will has been done “on earth as in heaven” (6:10).

The parting words of Jesus bring our minds back to the beginning of Matthew, where Jesus received the name Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us” (1:23). Here the same idea is expressed in the statement: I am with you always.

This is his promise to remain forever present with the Christian community (see 18:20). The disciples are not left to rely on their own resources as they march forth with the gospel. Jesus is there to unleash its power and to prepare the hearts of all who receive it. When the disciples proclaim the good news, it is the words of Jesus that the hearers accept or reject (see 7:24–27). When the disciples administer baptism, it is Jesus who baptizes “with the holy Spirit and fire” (see 3:11). It is the active presence of Christ that makes the Church the “universal sacrament of salvation” for the world.

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