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.

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

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 9:39-40:

Jesus’ reply directs his disciples to take an expansive rather than a restrictive approach toward others who are acting in his name: Do not prevent him. There is no place for exclusivism among those who invoke the name of Jesus. Paul illustrates a similar principle in Phil 1:15・18: “Some preach Christ from envy and rivalry. . . . What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice.” The disciples should not presume to restrict the invocation of Jesus’ name, because no one who performs a mighty deed in his name can at the same time speak ill of him. There were plenty of people who did speak ill of him, and Jesus will take all the friends he can get! To do a work of healing or deliverance in his name is to honor him, and is not compatible with being his adversary. For whoever is not against us is for us. Jesus is directing the disciples to take a stance of openness toward those who are not within the formal bounds of the Christian community, and not to consider them foes. But the converse is stated in Matt 12:30: “Whoever is not with me is against me.” In the end there is no neutral ground in relation to Jesus: sooner or later everyone chooses (consciously or unconsciously) either to be on his side or to oppose him.

© 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-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 9:35:

Jesus sits, the customary posture for a teacher in the ancient world (see 4:1), and calls the Twelve around him for a further lesson on discipleship. For those appointed to leadership in the community Jesus is founding (3:13・15), there is all the more need to preclude a false idea of authority. If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. To be first means to have priority over others, as for instance the “leading men of Galilee” (literally, the “firsts of Galilee” in 6:21) had more influence, prestige, and power than ordinary folk. Jesus does not condemn the innate desires for grandeur in the human heart. But he turns human thinking on its head: the only way to fulfill these desires, paradoxically, is to put oneself last in priority. And this is not merely a pious thought; it must be expressed in concrete actions, by becoming a servant (diakonos) of all. This was a radically unconventional idea in the ancient world, where humility and meekness were viewed not as virtues but as signs of weakness. Those in authority should expect to be served and showered with honors. No one in their right mind would aspire to be a servant. The early Church’s embrace of this new ethic was part of what made Christianity so novel and attractive to many in the ancient world. The same principle is expressed by St. Paul to the believers at Philippi: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:3・4; see 1 Pet 5:3).

© 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-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, comnenting on Mark 7:33-35:

Many of Jesus’ healings take place in full public view (see 3:3), but here, in contrast, he takes the man off by himself (see also 8:23). This detail suggests that Jesus intuitively understands the unique needs of each person. For some people it is important to have a private encounter, away from the stares of the crowd, so that Jesus can minister to their needs one-on-one. Jesus performs the healing in no less than seven steps, as if speaking in sign language so the deaf man can follow what he is doing. After taking him aside, he puts his finger into the man’s ears, spits, touches his tongue, looks up to heaven, groans, and says to him, Ephphatha! The spitting should be interpreted as Jesus’ spitting on his own finger, then touching it to the man’s tongue, so that both his impaired organs are healed by Jesus’ direct touch. In the ancient world saliva was considered to have therapeutic qualities. Jesus’ looking up to heaven is a gesture of prayer (see 6:41), expressing his total reliance on the Father. It is the only place in the Gospel where Jesus is said to groan (or “sigh,” RSV, NRSV, JB, NJB), perhaps because of his grief over a person so ravaged by the effects of the fall. St. Paul uses a form of the same word to speak of the “inexpressible groanings” of the Spirit as he intercedes for us (Rom 8:26).

© 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-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark by Mary Healy, reflecting on Mark 7:1-8:

This passage regarding “human tradition” is sometimes cited against the Catholic understanding of the authority of Tradition together with Scripture as the rule of faith. But it is crucial to note that Jesus is not rejecting tradition per se, which becomes an important term in the early Church for the handing on of authoritative apostolic teaching (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 2 Thess 3:6). Rather, he is rejecting merely human traditions that are not based in God’s word, that in fact negate the intent of God’s word. Paul himself exhorted Christians to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thess 2:15). The apostles handed down what they received from Jesus and the Holy Spirit first in oral form through their teaching and example, and later in the written form of the New Testament (see Catechism, 96・100). Indeed, the formation of the canon of Scripture was itself an exercise of apostolic tradition.

This passage is also sometimes cited in disparaging Catholic liturgical and devotional practices as mere “human traditions.” This misunderstanding is due in part to a real problem: religious practice is often superficial and routine among those who have not been adequately evangelized and whose faith fails to impact their choices and behavior in any significant way. Jesus is speaking about an attitude toward God that he saw in the scribes and Pharisees and that can be found among Christians in every church: the tendency to substitute religiosity for genuine obedience to God and his word. What is needed is a personal encounter with Jesus leading to a deep transformation of heart. When that occurs, religious practices come to life and serve their true purpose.

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

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 5:32:

Marriage, a sacrament. Although the New Testament teaches about marriage in a variety of places, Eph 5:32 is the primary basis of the Church’s recognition of Christian marriage as a sacrament. Sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (Catechism 1131). How then is marriage “efficacious” and how does it dispense divine life?

Before the coming of Christ, God’s purpose for marriage was often thwarted due to the hardness in human hearts (Mark 10:5), and for this reason the law of Moses permitted divorce (Deut 24:1). The good news is that in the New Covenant through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus removes our “stony hearts” (Ezek 36:25–27) and makes us capable of fulfilling God’s will (Rom 8:4), including lifelong marriage. “By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” (Catechism 1615).

How is this accomplished? When a woman and a man give their consent before the Church, when the Holy Spirit is invoked on the couple through prayers and blessings, “the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever-available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity” (Catechism 1624, citing Eph 5:32). In other words, the husband and wife become participants in the love between Christ and the Church—they become capable in a new way of drawing on that powerful divine love that surpasses human strength.

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

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, comenting on Ephesians 5:18:

The first phrase of verse 18 quotes an Old Testament wisdom text that warns against being enamored of wine. Paul is objecting to getting drunk and losing control of one’s speech and actions, whatever the alcoholic beverage or drug of choice may be. Paul criticizes drunkenness on the basis of what it leads to: debauchery, the ruin that comes from excess or throwing off restraint, and the opposite of the wise conduct recommended in 5:15. Saint John Chrysostom comments, “Immoderate indulgence makes one rash, passionate, prone to stumbling, anger and severity. Wine was given to gladden us, not for intoxication” (Homilies on Ephesians).

In a surprising contrast, Paul tells his readers to be filled with the Spirit rather than to be filled with wine. Why would Paul view being filled with the Spirit as an alternative to intoxication? At Pentecost, skeptical bystanders accused the Spirit filled apostles of being “drunk with new wine” because of their joyful praise of God (Acts 2:13). It seems likely that both Paul and Luke understand the gift of the Spirit as fulfilling the messianic promises of superabundant “wine” (Isa 25:6; 55:1–2; Joel 2:24–26; Amos 9:13–14) that symbolize the fullness of life and joy God promised his people. In the New Testament the Spirit brings joy and exultation.

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

Reflecting on Ephesians for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, reflecting on Ephesians 4:30-5:2:

It is striking how much of Paul’s practical instruction about our conduct is based on what God has done for us in Christ rather than on divine commands or ethical reasoning (as in ancient or modern moral philosophy). How we are to live derives from the fact that through faith and baptism we have acquired a “new self ” that has been “created” (v. 24) to be like God, which unites us to Christ and to the other members of Christ’s body.

More than that, this “new self ” exists in a personal relationship with the three persons of the Trinity in a manner that profoundly shapes our actions. We try not to grieve the indwelling Holy Spirit by our words or deeds, not wanting to sadden the Spirit, whose nature is joy. Rather than lose ourselves in destructive anger, as beloved children we aim to imitate the Father’s love and forgiveness toward those who wrong us. That is what the one whom Christians can call “Abba” does (Matt 5:43–48; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Finally, we seek to follow our Messiah Jesus in a way of life marked by self-sacrificing love: “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

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