Reflecting on Mark for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 1:14-20

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The kingdom of God is a favorite theme in the Synoptics and the most characteristic term Jesus uses to signify what he is about. Later he will unfold its meaning in a series of parables (4:1–32). Although this phrase never appears in the Old Testament, it sums up Israel’s yearning for the full manifestation of God’s authority in Israel and in the whole world: “The Lord of hosts will reign” (Isa 24:23; see 52:7; Zech 14:9).

Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom is at hand suggests both a present and a future quality, like a sunrise below the horizon. The kingdom is already present, embodied in Jesus’ own person. Indeed, throughout his ministry it will become evident that the “foreign occupation” of sin, Satan, disease, and death is being overthrown. Yet the kingdom is incipient and partly veiled; like seeds sown in the ground, it will keep growing until it reaches its consummation (4:26–29).

The arrival of the kingdom calls for a twofold human response: to repent, and believe in the gospel. Jesus is taking up a theme of the prophets: God’s continual call for his people to repent or “turn back” to him with all their hearts (Neh 1:9; Isa 44:22; Hosea 14:2). The Baptist had already begun to sound this call (v. 4). But Jesus adds a new accent with the invitation to believe, that is, trustingly accept and yield to what God is doing in him. The kingdom is near enough that anyone who so chooses can reach out and lay hold of it through faith.

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

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

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As in the previous passage, Paul concludes by placing the whole issue in the context of the Trinity. Being one spirit with Christ means that the Christian shares in Christ’s own character as a temple of the Holy Spirit. The very body of each Christian then becomes a temple of the holy Spirit.

Paul does not say that the soul is the temple. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who was a contemporary of Paul, spoke of the intelligence as being a temple, but he never applied the image to the body. But in the Christian view, it is the body itself that enjoys union with the divine persons. In relation to Christ, the believer’s body is a member (v. 15); in relation to the Holy Spirit, the body is a temple.

The emphasis is on the Holy Spirit, which makes sexual immorality a sacrilege. The Spirit is from God, but he is also truly possessed by the Christian (you have the Holy Spirit from God). Christians may not dispose of their body as something of their own. Each believer has been purchased. The whole theology of redemption is contained here.

There was an ancient practice of freeing a slave by a rite in the temple of the gods. He was declared “servant of Apollo” and thus entered the state of freedom from slavery to his human masters. Much was made of the price paid on this occasion, and the term used for slave was sōma, “body.” When we realize that the majority of the population of Corinth were slaves, and that many in the Christian community were either slaves or freed slaves, we can understand how meaningful would be the allusion to the liberating ransom of redemption by Christ (1:30; Gal 4:5; 5:1).

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

Reflecting on Acts for the Baptism of the Lord

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 10:34-38

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Skipping Jesus’ infancy (Luke 1–2), Peter focuses on Jesus’ public life beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. Peter uses a shorthand expression that combines John’s preaching of repentance with his ritual act of baptizing people, which together were an indispensable preparation and catalyst for the public ministry of the Messiah. John’s baptism of Jesus, when the Father affirmed him as his beloved Son, was at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 3:21–22).

Like Luke’s Gospel (3:22; 4:1), Peter emphasizes that God anointed Jesus . . . with the holy Spirit and power. Although the Spirit was with Jesus from his conception (Luke 1:35), at his baptism the Spirit empowered Jesus’ human nature for his ministry of preaching, healing, and exorcisms, just as the Spirit empowers the Church for ministry in Acts.

Fortified by the Spirit and divine power, Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil. Peter’s explanation that God was with him emphasizes the presence of the Triune God with and in Jesus’ humanity. Luke’s emphasis on Jesus’ humanity— rather than on his divinity, which John’s Gospel more frequently accentuates— shows that Jesus worked miracles not only as God, as stressed in John, but also as a Spirit-empowered man, who is therefore a model for all his disciples.

This enables Luke and Acts to underline the continuity between wonder-working prophets like Moses and Elijah, the miraculous prophetic ministry of Jesus, and the miracles of his Spirit-empowered followers like Peter, Stephen, and Paul in Acts. Peter and others imitated Jesus’ healings as part of their prophetic witness to God’s saving message; so such works are likewise possible for Spirit-empowered Christian readers of Luke-Acts.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Matthew for The Epiphany of the Lord

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 2:1-12

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The magi’s long journey reaches its climax as they enter the house and see the child with Mary his mother.

This reference to Mary and the child in a house in Bethlehem can stand in complete harmony with Luke’s account of the child being laid in a manger (Luke 2:7). Since first-century peasant homes in Palestine often had the lodging place for persons on one level and animals dwelling with a manger on a lower level, the house the magi visit in Matt 2 might be the same house where Jesus was born in Luke 2. Another possibility is that Jesus was born in a cave near Bethlehem (a tradition that goes back to second-century pilgrims traveling to Bethlehem) and that later the holy family moved to a more comfortable dwelling, a house, which is where the magi find them.

The magi do not simply kneel before Christ; they prostrated themselves on their faces and did him homage. Though prostration before kings was common in the ancient Near East, elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel prostration and giving homage are associated with divine worship (4:9–10; 14:23; 15:25; 28:9, 17). The Gentile magi, therefore, offer Christ the worship that Herod, the chief priests, and scribes failed to offer.

The gifts of gold, frankincense (an expensive perfume used for incense in worship), and myrrh (an exotic spice) represent luxurious gifts fit for a king. They recall the Gentile queen of Sheba bringing spices and a large amount of gold for King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1–2). Jesus, the new son of David (1:1–17), is welcomed with similar gifts by these Gentile magi. The gifts also recall prophecies about the nations coming to pay homage to the king of Israel, falling down before him and offering gifts of gold and frankincense (Ps 72:10–11; Isa 60:1–6). As such, this scene underscores that Jesus is not just king of the Jews (2:2)—he is king of the whole world.

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

Reflecting on Colossians for The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Colossians 3:12-17
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And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. Apart from Paul’s benediction in the prescript of the letter (1:2), this is the only other occurrence of the noun “peace” (eirēnē, as in the name Irene). But Paul surely chooses the word with awareness of his reference to Christ’s “making peace [eirēnopoiēsas] by the blood of his cross” in the climactic line of the Christ hymn (1:20).

Obviously, “the peace of Christ” is not merely the absence of war or violence but also the serenity and good order in relationships that proceeds from self-giving and self-denying love practiced in the Christian community, which participates in the self-emptying love of the Son.

And how exactly does one let the peace of Christ “control” one’s heart? The verb for “control” is another rare word, used only here in the New Testament. It carries the connotation of decisiveness. The imperative is addressed to the community as a whole, so it could be paraphrased, “Beloved brothers and sisters, let the reign of Christ’s peace be the determining factor in all your personal and community relationships.”

The image of the word of Christ dwelling in you richly draws on the cosmic poem in chapter 1. As the fullness of divinity dwells in Christ (1:19), the word of Christ dwells in the gathered worshiping community. Although one might easily hear “dwell in you” as applied to the individual, the pronoun is plural and the phrase can also be translated “among you,” and probably should be in this context.

How does this indwelling of the word of Christ come about? By way of teaching and admonition, and by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Thus Paul gives us a fascinating interpretation of what actually goes on in liturgical song. Even as we are praising God musically, we are supporting and teaching one another by way of this shared prayer of praise.

© 2013 Dennis Hamm, SJ, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Mark for the Second Sunday of Advent

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 1:1-8

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The first verse of the Gospel is a title to the whole work. Like Matthew and John, Mark opens with an echo of the book of Genesis. The beginning recalls the first line of the creation narrative in Gen 1:1, and suggests that the good news that Mark is about to tell is a new beginning, a new work of God as original and stupendous as the creation of the universe.

What does gospel mean here? The Greek word euangelion (root of the English word evangelize) means “good news” or “joyful tidings,” and often referred to festive public occasions such as a military victory or the coronation of the emperor. An inscription from about 9 BC calls the birthday of Caesar Augustus “good news for the world.”

For the Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, the “good news” is not a past event but a promise that God is coming to save his people:

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God! (Isa 40:9; see Isa 52:7; 61:1)

Mark’s announcement of “the beginning of the good news” is a resounding proclamation that now, in Jesus, the long-promised visitation of God has begun. The gospel is something to be preached (1:14; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15) and believed in (1:15). Indeed, so good is this good news that it is worth more than life itself (Mark 8:35; 10:29–30).

What is the content of this good news? In a word, it is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son the God.

 

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

Reflecting on Mark for the First Sunday of Advent

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 13:33-37

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Be watchful! is the refrain that has been repeated throughout the discourse (vv. 5, 9, 23). This time Jesus adds, Be alert! (or “stay awake!”), as he will again urge the disciples during his agony in the garden (14:34). The fact that the disciples do not know when the time will come means that they are to live in a state of constant watchfulness….

Be on the watch (grēgoreō) is another verb that means to stay awake and be on the lookout, part of the duty of prophets (Lam 2:19; Ezek 3:17; Hab 2:1). Again Jesus emphasizes that they do not know when he is coming. Lord (Greek kyrios) refers to Jesus in his lordship over the house of God—both the temple of the old covenant and the Church of the new covenant.

He may appear at any of the four divisions of the night, in Roman reckoning. Jesus is speaking of his sudden and unexpected coming at the end of time, when he will judge his disciples for how they have exercised their authority in the Church. But Mark also links this warning to Jesus’ passion by structuring the passion narrative precisely in terms of these four night watches: evening (Mark 14:17), midnight (implied in 14:32–65), cockcrow (14:72), and morning (15:1). Jesus warns that he may come suddenly and find them sleeping—which is just what will happen during his agony in Gethsemane (14:37–41).

To be asleep signifies spiritual torpor and self-indulgence (Rom 11:8; 1 Thess 5:6–8); to be awake is to be alive in faith (Rom 13:11; Eph 5:14). The trial in Gethsemane is the beginning of the trial that will last throughout the whole age of the Church, in which Jesus’ followers are called to be constantly alert and attentive to the presence of their Lord.

The final verse affirms that his warning is directed not only at the four who are privy to this discourse (13:3), but to all his disciples for all time: Watch! There is no room for complacency in the Christian life.

© 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 Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 25:31-46

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The opening verse sets the scene. It is the return of the Son of Man surrounded by heavenly angels and seated majestically on his glorious throne. Christian tradition interprets this as a vision of the last judgment, when the thoughts, words, and deeds of the entire human race are weighed in the balance by Jesus the judge.

The Son of Man’s first action is to assume the role of a shepherd who divides the sheep of his flock from the goats. It is often pointed out that Middle Eastern herdsmen normally allow their animals to graze together and that sheep and goats tend to be valued equally. This makes it difficult to say for sure why the judgment is depicted as a separation of sheep from goats. Nevertheless, it is clear from the outset that the sheep represent the saints, for they are placed at the Lord’s right, which in ancient cultures represented the good, fortunate, or honorable place (see 1 Kings 2:19; Ps 110:1), while the left represented the bad, unfortunate, or dishonorable.

The verdict of the king is that those on the right are blessed by the Lord and are the beneficiaries of his kingdom. These have shown themselves to be children of the Father and thus heirs of his heavenly estate (see 5:9, 44–45). Ever since the foundation of the world this plan of salvation was in place in the grand designs of the Almighty.

The reason for all this is then revealed. Whatever else can be said of the righteous, they have led lives of generosity and compassion toward others. They supplied basic human needs to the hungry and thirsty of the world. They took in a stranger, put clothes on the naked, sat at the bedside of the ill, and helped comfort those in prison. Serving their fellow human being through acts of kindness and mercy has secured their heavenly inheritance. The sheep are surprised to learn, however, that in caring for the needy they have cared for the Lord himself.

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

Reflecting on Matthew for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 25:14-30

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When the master returns to settle accounts with his servants, the first two are praised and promoted. Since both made a 100 percent return on their investments, both are told: Well done, my good and faithful servant and Come, share your master’s joy. Having been trustworthy in small matters, they are promised great responsibilities. This is the same principle enunciated in 24:47, namely, that fulfilling spiritual duties well earns even more of the Lord’s trust.

Then the servant in charge of one talent renders his account with an excuse for giving back the same amount. Because he knew his master to be a demanding person, raking in profits wherever he could, he was paralyzed with fear at the thought of losing his master’s money. This is why he buried the talent rather than invested it.

The reply of the master is a stern and stinging rebuke. In his view, the very reason cited for burying the talent should have been the motivation to trade with it. The fact that the servant knew his master to be a tough businessman should have prompted him to pursue some kind of financial undertaking. Even the small amount of interest he could have earned from a bank would have been better than no return at all. But having failed to make even a minimal effort, he is branded a wicked and lazy servant.

Confining ourselves to the storyline of the parable, the master’s rebuke seems excessively harsh. But if the talents represent each servant’s “knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (13:11), then the severity of the charge is understandable. Being entrusted with the message of salvation entails great responsibility. To sit on that message or to bury it for ourselves is a serious breach of responsibility to the Lord, who calls us to share his good news with the world. He does not want us to give it back to him unshared and unfruitful.

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

Reflecting on I Corinthians for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17

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Paul develops the image of the Church as God’s building, but from the viewpoint of the builders, meaning the ministers, with Paul himself as the first. Speaking from his own experience, he recalls that it was according to the grace of God given to me: thus it was God’s choice, not his, that he should be a founder of churches in Gentile territory. He does not hesitate to call himself a wise master builder.

His task was to lay a foundation on which others could build. That is why Paul did not settle in one place very long. He would invest as much time as necessary to give the new community sufficient stability, appoint local leaders, and move on. This policy shows an enormous trust both in the Holy Spirit and in the fledgling leadership in whose hands he left the community.

But he warns the Corinthians against any builder who would lay a different foundation than the one Paul has already laid: Jesus Christ. This was no small matter in a place like Corinth, where every imaginable cult had its hawkers, and syncretism — the mixing of elements from various religions — was rife. Others not of apostolic origin could introduce pagan or even Jewish extraneous elements and dilute or transform the gospel into an unrecognizable counterfeit.

But even assuming that the minister builds on Paul’s foundation, the quality of his work may vary, from gold to straw. The first three elements Paul mentions are not combustible, the last three are. Paul, then, has been like the master contractor who, after laying the foundation, has let out the rest to subcontractors. If these build well, their work will stand on the day of judgment, biblically associated with fire (Dan 7:9–10; Mal 4:1–2; 2 Pet 3:7).

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