Category Archives: Biblical Commentary

Commentaries are similar to homilies but are more of a scholarly work that studies the biblical passage in more detail or depth.

READING CHAIR – Gospel Commentary: Good Shepherd/Good Gatekeeper

Good Shepherd Sunday

John 10:1-10

“I am the Good Shepherd.  My sheep recognize my voice!”

We recognize the Lord’s voice through hearing the Gospels proclaimed every Sunday, the Word of God.  And the Good Shepherd calls us by name.

I have heard from the Brothers who have gone to the Holy Land, that one day they took a trip to the Lake of Galilee but stopped in the hills sides on the way for a lunch break.  The shepherds had also taken their break and were beginning to break up and head back to their respective homes.  Their sheep were all mingled together but at the sound of the voices of their shepherds heading home.  They called to their sheep as they walked away and the sheep fell in behind them.  Slowly the mass of tangled sheep separated, with each strand of sheep following their shepherd, going on their way.

Over the years we hear the gospels read each Sunday and slowly we become familiar with them to the point that hopefully our daily decisions are made in the light of them.  The familiar wrist bands that have the letters “WWJD” written on them, or “What would Jesus do?” were popular several years ago, reminds us to call to mind the Good Shepherd in difficult situations, “What would Jesus do?”

Besides this being Good Shepherd Sunday, we could also call it The Good Gate-keeper Sunday.  Jesus is the Gate through which the sheep enter green pastures.  My fellow seminarian also mentioned that the sheep compound or sheep-fold is surrounded by a tall stone wall build out in the pastures where the sheep can enter at night with the shepherd, but there was no wooden gate.  There is nothing, just an opening.  Once the sheep entered, the shepherd lays down in the opening.  That way anyone entering will have to step over the shepherd to get to the sheep!  Jesus is our Sheep Gate leading us to greener pastures, protecting us, laying down his life for us.

To recognize the Shepherd’s voice, we have to spend a lot of time with the Lord…through Scriptures, and once a week is not enough.  If you want a closer relationship with the Lord, you have to spend more time with him, as in any relationship.  You may have friends that you try to get together once a week, but find it difficult because of family obligations.  I am sure in the beginning you had spent more time with them when the relationship was first growing.  These may have been relationships before marriage.  In order to keep the relationship alive, you still have to spend quality time with the person.

Spending time with the Lord requires they same quality time.  I know some people with children/ grandchildren use the evening time after the kids are in bed to spend with the Lord through Scriptures or Spiritual Reading.  Spending time with the Lord through your family, counts.  For example, you may talk about the Lord to your young children, or even discuss the Gospel Readings after the Sunday Liturgy with them.  Many family members pray regularly during the week, even though it may be the short time before they all go to bed.  My mom would read to us from the “Bible Story Book”.  Imagine all eleven of us crowded on the living room sofa.

There are many voices today that try to impersonate the voice of the Good Shepherd, and some for profit.  Even Jesus knew that such people existed; whether false prophets, corrupt religious leaders, or the money changers in the temple.  “Those who try to enter by going in another way are thieves and robbers!”  We need to know the voice of the Good Shepherd against all the other noisy background voices competing for our souls.

As a community, we know each other.  So when someone new comes to our liturgy, it takes a while for us to get to know them and get used to their presence.  We give them time.  And when they have attended our liturgy over a period of time we feel they have joined our community, sometimes we may even know their names.  Their mere presence over the weeks is enough for us.  In a way, we have become Good Shepherds as a community.  But as an individual, we still represent the Good Shepherds through our words and actions when we influence others in good ways, leading them back to the Lord.  That is a Good Shepherd, merely someone who leads another back to the Lord.

The time comes in our lives when we become the Good Shepherd ourselves to others.  Today there are too many Gatekeepers, those who keep people out because they are different form our community.  The early church had too many gatekeepers.

Orthodox means right or correct belief or teachings.  But who determines those who are right or wrong?  The split between the Roman and Orthodox Churches was over the “filioque” clause that the Roman Church added to its Creed.  Who was right or wrong there, the Roman Church?  In the end it was just another way to describe how the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son: “and the Son” or “filioque”.  Whereas the Orthodox believed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son.  The Romans pictures the Trinity as a triangle; the Orthodox pictures the Trinity as a straight line!  Who is right, who is wrong, who cares?

Pope Paul VI admitted that it was two ways  to view the Trinity and thus ended the 800 and more years of separation.

Today’s nitpicking over the Liturgy (or whatever) will be tomorrows quiet resolution and acceptance of differences.  We need more Good Shepherds, not more Gatekeepers.  We can leave the Gate-keeping up to the Good Shepherd who laid down his life because of all the bickering.

We are called to be “Other Christs”, and that implies being Good Shepherd, that is, to lead others to Christ.  That is why we pray to Mary, as she formed her son, may she form us into other Christs that we may lead others to him.

 

 

 

READING CHAIR – Gospel Comm: “Lazarus Raised from the Dead”

FIFTH SUNDAY LENT: John 11:1-45

“Raising of Lazarus from the Dead”

Today’s Reading is the turning point in John’s Gospel with Martha’s faith declaration of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God who is to come into the world,” which is as profound as that of Peter in Matthew’s Gospel.  It is the confession that the reader of this gospel is to make.  The whole Gospel turns on this declaration by Martha, her proclamation of Jesus as Christ, the Anointed One.  And so should it be our proclamation.  That is why this is the third and last Scrutiny for the RCIA candidates.  Will they be ready to make that declaration at their Baptism on the Easter Vigil Liturgy?  Are we still able to make that declaration ourselves, “You are the Christ,” and even further, “You are my Lord and my Life?

The RCIA Program prepares the candidates for their Baptismal Promises, so our life as Christians prepares us to make that statement every day; definitively on our death beds.

And Lazarus was raised from the dead, and so will we after our death.  But the difference between Jesus and Lazarus is that Lazarus was still wearing his burial clothes!  When Jesus rose from the tomb, he left his burial clothes in the tomb!  Oh, one other small thing, Lazarus would have to die again!

A true Christian looks forward to death, and being resurrected into Eternal Life, not resuscitated.  Why be resuscitated into a life that we would just have to die again, like Lazarus?  Why be resuscitated into a life with all our aches and pains and illnesses and diseases.  No way!  Pull the plugs and let me go!  Many people in our society want to hang on until science finds a way to beat death.  Maybe some want to stay with the devil they know rather than meet the devil they don’t know.

Maybe we should talk about what it might be like after death…let you know your options.  Well, one place is very hot, uncomfortable, to say the least.  In the Gospel of Luke, the rich man went there, while the other poor man named Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham. And when Jesus visited the apostles after his resurrection and appeared to walk through walls and locked doors, he had to prove he was not a ghost or spirit!  He asked them for some fish to clear up that notion.  He met the disciples, after their unsuccessful fishing trip, on the shore with some cooked fish the day after the resurrection.

But the next life is not just the same old, same old, but a new life.  As Saint Paul mentions in his letters, we will be a new creation.  If we had any handicaps…gone!  If we had any addictions…gone!  If we had any bad habits…gone.  Those all need bodies.  We will be ourselves, but not exactly; as Jesus said, we will be like angels.

But will it really matter?  Will we be going home to a place or to a relationship?  In other words, does it really matter where we are, as much as whom we are with?  That is why our confession to Jesus as the Christ, is so important, so that we can build on that confession, to go deeper in our relationship with the Lord and with those we love.

My Mom was very close to the Lord.  One day she was praying her rosary, and in my youthful period of self-centeredness, I asked my Mom out of the blue, “Do you love God more than me?”  She had told me many time of how much she loved the Lord, how much she loved God.  She was quiet for a moment and then deliberately said, “I love God more than you!”  I don’t know why, but it struck me very powerfully.  My mother loves God more than me!  Rather than get angry, I found asking myself, “Who is this God that my mother loves more than me, and why?”

And one day I was blessed with the answer.  Ah!  Now I know why my mother loves God more than me.

Now it is up to you to find the answer for yourself.

But I will tell you point blank, you will not find the answer sitting on your but’s.  You will only find the answer when you pick up the Scriptures and seriously read them and pray them, like Saint Augustine and Saint Ignatius Loyola.

Besides Martha’s faith statement or proclamation of who she believed Jesus was, she also believed that “…whatever you ask God, God would give you.”  That is a faith statement in itself!

In the Eucharist we are also given this chance to ask God, through Jesus Christ, to ask of him whatever we want…within reason.  Hopefully we will ask God to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord in this life, so we never have to worry about where we are going in the next life, but who we will meet!

 

READING CHAIR – Gospel Comm: “Tomorrow Takes Care Of Itself” Mt 6:24-34

Tomorrow Will Take Care Of Itself

Matthew 6:24-34

There are several directions that one could go with today’s Gospel reading.  For example, we could talk about the environment, which the Gospel sort of hints at from the perspective of Divine Providence.  “God takes care of nature, and God will take care of us.”  Or we could talk about trust in God, which is actually the main quote on our dollar bills; “In God We Trust!”  I’m surprised the atheists haven’t complained about that one yet.

At what point in our lives, though, do we begin to teach our children about Divine Providence, or trust in God, since they are still completely dependent on their parents until they leave home.  Of course, some of our senior citizens say that now it has been extended until they are married!  And then there are the grandchildren.  We teach our children to trust in God, but as parents, we are still providing for them; sort of a Parental Providence.  At what point in our own lives did we let go and depend on God?

Speaking for myself, coming from a family of ten other siblings, I couldn’t wait to leave home, but I learned very early that it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.  In fact, when I was five or six years old, I was fed up.  I told my Dad that I was running away.  I was surprised I told him, but more surprised how willing he was to let me go.  So I packed my suitcase and was heading out the door.  Then my Dad called to me as I was leaving, “Where are you going to stay?”  Quite smugly I said, “Uncle Richard’s house.” He was my Dad’s brother and close to our family.  Their family would come over on the weekends a lot, and while our parents played cards, we kids were free to practically burn down the neighborhood.

“He has a big family to take care of himself,” my Dad reminded me.  “Do you think he really wants another mouth to feed?  Besides, that’s our suitcase you are leaving with.  And the clothes you are wearing, I bought them for you, and you know you will hand them on to your brothers next year.  You need to leave what isn’t yours, here.  I provided for all those things.”

Since when did economics start entering into Divine and Parental Providence Providence?  I thought we were supposed to trust in God completely?  I really didn’t want to walk naked to my uncle’s house.  Not only would that be hard to explain, but I realized then and there I’m no Saint Francis.  I guess I would have to wait another ten or twelve years.  But next time I would be ready.  That was when I entered the navy and sort of depended on Military Providence.

So what about Divine Providence?  Does God really take care of nature, let alone the environment?  What about Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”?  What about now…Global Warming?  It seems like we are getting into politics, but we are not.  We are really talking about our home, the planet earth.  God created the world, and God pronounced it GOOD!  But God can only do so much when creation is interfered with by others, like us.  Part of God’s plan, even Divine Providence, includes our cooperation.  And even nature can heal itself if left alone.  Look at the Mistake on the Lake, Cleveland, when the Cuyahoga River caught fire!  What was once an environmental disaster is now a success story; almost too good a success story.

As our faith matures, our trust in God continues to a point where we are asked to let go of everything.  We are asked to let go of Parental Providence, even Military Providence, any providence except for Divine!  One day we will have to let go of everything anyway, including our life!  In Ronald Rolheiser’s book, “Sacred Fire”, he gives an example of an elderly couple who were going to do just that, in a very radical way, let go of everything.  I will let them tell you.

“We have been praying over this for a long time and we feel called in a way like Abraham and Sarah.  We feel that God is calling us into the big, big unknown as he did them.  What we want to do is to sell our house and, after buying two one-way airline tickets, give the rest of money to the food bank.  The one-way tickets we would buy would be for Pakistan.  We feel that God is calling us to spend the rest of our lives as missionaries to Islam in Pakistan.  We picked Pakistan because there is so much tension today between Christians and Muslims, and there is a need for more understanding between us.  Our plan is to go there with no money and to live simply with the poor there, and to die there.  We presented this plan to our children, and they were beyond belief, stunned and horrified.  They think we are insane and demanded that, among other things, we talk to you, Father.  So what do you think of this idea?”  Actually, I met several American Lay Missionary couples living in Africa of the Protestant persuasion.

Let the story sink in.  Pray over it.  What would you do?  Have you thought about such an action for yourself and your spouse?  I would put this trust in Divine Providence at 10 on a scale from one to ten, with ‘one’ being the lowest and ‘ten’ the highest in Trust in God!  When I went to Africa, I was still nowhere near ten, but it was still a radical change in my life, even though I was nicely cushioned by Marianist or Church Providence.  The key here is that the above couple felt very strongly called, and the second thing is that they were sane enough to talk it over with someone else who was sane.  In case you were thinking of buying your tickets next week, even Saint Ignatius strongly recommends a period of waiting.  The more important the matter or decision the longer the wait!  I think his best advice was to Work as though everything depended on you, and Pray as though everything depended on God!

As we celebrate our Eucharist today, we are reminded that there are many ways here to serve without buying a ticket halfway around the world.  To trust in Divine Providence also means that if God wants us to relocate, God will certainly arrange the ticket/s.

 

 

READING CHAIR – Gospel Com: “Let Your Yes Mean Yes”, Mt 5:17-37

“Let Your Yes Mean Yes, and Your No Mean No!”

Matthew 5:17-37

6th Sunday Ordinary Time

As mentioned before, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is the New Moses.  Several Sundays ago, he had Jesus go up the mountain and deliver his nine some “Beatitudes“.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks more specifically on the Commandments, namely the 5th, the 6th and the 2nd.

Do not kill, and do not even get angry against your brother (or sister, or Mother-in-Law).

Do not commit adultery, and do not even think or say nasty thoughts (especially when someone may be recording!)

Do not use the Lord’s name in vane, especially for oaths that you are not going to keep.

The Ten Commandments are divided, unevenly, where three are for the Lord and seven are for our neighbors.  Of the three for our Lord, Do not serve other gods (spelt with a small “g”), Do not take the name of the Lord in vain, and Keep holy the Lord’s Day, I believe the second one is most important.  If one is keeping the name of the Lord holy, then that person will not have other gods and certainly keep the Lord’s Day holy.  If we do this well for God, whom we do not see, then how much more important it is to keep holy the name of our neighbor!  Who would break all the other seven commandments if we hold the name of others as sacred?  Would we kill them?  Hardly not!  Would we steal or covet or bear false witness?  No!  But how do we hold the name of others as sacred or holy, except by blessing them, speaking well of them, and praying for them.

That is what Jesus did, even from the cross!  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!”  And that is why we keep the corpus on the cross!

READING CHAIR – Gospel Comm: “She Anoints His Feet” Jn 11-13

She Anoints His Feet

 INTRODUCTION

 Sometimes it is good to step back and take a look at the Bigger Picture when studying or praying scripture.  One would be surprised what may emerge as a particular passage or pericope is viewed not only within the context of other surrounding passages, but also how a particular pericope may be key to understanding Scriptures in the context of other pericopes or chapters of a Gospel that may follow or even precede.  When we allow the passage to speak to us, through the Bigger Picture, one will notice several interesting patterns emerge that leads us to other passages, and even make interesting connections for deeper understanding.

The common tendency is to study a pericope, and glean as much meaning or information from that passage and then apply it to a similar setting, as when one is developing a Sunday Homily or a Retreat Theme, or to a Study Topic, or even using it within the context of prayer such as in Lectio Divina.  One sometimes forgets that the pericope was taken out of context of the Bigger Picture and may not fit the intended setting, or theme, or situation.  Even though this may be necessary at times, especially when no other passage seems to fit just quite right, it still tends to be an artificial use of Scriptures.  We are using the passage to fit our meaning in a certain setting, rather than allow the Word of God to speak to us and inform us or form.

Even though Lectio Divina approaches Scriptures with a sense of openness to the Word of God in allowing it to speak to us, we still use this approach in a narrow way, since the very passages used in this way of praying the Scriptures can be limited to several verses.  Looking at the Bigger Picture may be a way of deepening our praying experience of Scriptures and certainly our understanding of them.  Most importantly, we will gradually become aware that the Gospel writers wrote comprehensive and coherent works intending to bring the reader to a deeper love and appreciation for the person of Jesus, rather than the more common understanding that the gospels are a string of passages strung like rosary beads with little rhyme or reason.

In this article, we would like to step back from our passage of interest and see how that passage fits into the Bigger Picture of the Gospel story.  We will allow that passage to speak to us in a much larger context, thereby giving the Holy Spirit room to work.  When we allow the Spirit to lead us where it will, one may be surprised at the results and even the journey getting there.  The learning experience will be much deeper and richer, and hopefully more insightful.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

 We have chosen the passage in John’s Gospel, Chapter 12:1-8, as our passage or pericope of interest and starting point, Mary Anoints the Feet of Jesus.  This passage has always been a pericope of fascination, because of the strange action of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and then drying his feet with her hair.  In focusing on this passage from John’s Gospel, we need to be aware that this story has been used by the other evangelists in other settings and contexts.  First, it has been used in Luke where he presents this passage early in his Gospel and before the Passion Narrative.  Second, it is used in other settings, as again in Luke’s Gospel in the house of Simon the Pharisee, or in Mark and Matthew in the house of Simon the Leper.  And third, the pericope is used even where the woman is not named as in Mark and Matthew, or was understood to be a sinner as in Luke’s Gospel.

In John’s Gospel Mary’s action was one of intimacy, affection, and love, done within the context of her home in a personal setting, the family meal, which was given as an appreciation for the return of their brother Lazarus from the dead.  We will look at this story in the light of John’s Gospel and try to forget the other three interpretations.

We will look closely at each passage and related passages beginning with our passage of interest, Mary Anoints the Feet of Jesus, John 12:1-8.  As we take one step back from this passage we see that it is sandwiched between two other passages – Plot to Kill Jesus, John 11:45-57, and Plot to Kill Lazarus, John 12:9-11.  This may be more than coincidence, because important passages are often sandwiched for emphasis by the evangelist.  Such techniques help us to point out a key passage in understanding other passages that follow.

When we will take a second step back from these passages, we find the passage Resurrection of Lazarus, John 11:1-44, before our passage, and the passage Jesus Washes the Feet of his Disciples, John 13:1-17, after our passage.      The passage where Lazarus is Resurrected from the Dead, gives the reason and setting for the scene in our passage of interest, where Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet.

The passage of Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples is interesting because of the possibility of a connection with Mary’s action.  She anoints Jesus’ feet with oil, where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet with water.  Mary’s action is an intimate sign of her love for Jesus and thanksgiving for the raising of her brother from the dead.  Jesus’ action is an intimate sign of his love for his disciples and is meant as an action to be repeated by his Disciples to show their love for each other through service.

AN ACT OF LOVE:

 Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet in Bethany, John 12:1-8

Here is the summary of the passage.  In the Johannine tradition the anointing takes place six days before the Passover in Bethany in the house of Lazarus, the brother whom Jesus raised from the dead.  Jesus was present at a meal served by Martha, sitting at table with Lazarus.  Then Mary took an expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair.  The sweet smell filled the whole house.  Judas complained that the perfume worth 300 hundred silver coins could have been given to the poor.  Jesus in turn admonished Judas to leave her alone, since her act was interpreted by him as a preparation for his burial.  Judas and Mary are contrasted with each other; Mary (true disciple) as the friend of Jesus with Judas (false disciple) the betrayer.

The scene took place six days before Passover, Jesus’ last Passover with his disciples.  There were rumors that Jesus would be arrested by the High Priest or the Jewish Authorities of Jerusalem.  “The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, he must report it, so that they could arrest him” John 11:57.  Bethany was outside the city limits of Jerusalem, about an hour walking distance.  Lazarus’ family may well knew this information and that this could be their last meal together, their Last Thanksgiving Supper in honor of Jesus who raised their brother from the dead.  What an interesting contrast: Jesus gives life to Lazarus and the Jewish Authorities wish death on both.  The family supper was a thanksgiving meal for what Jesus had done for the family.  This was her way of showing her appreciation and love for him.

Sitting at the table was Jesus and Lazarus and we can imagine what an interesting conversation they may have had together.  Lazarus may have told Jesus what it was like on the other side of death.  Many people who have been resuscitated lose their fear of death and even look forward to death.  Within this context of a family meal served by Martha with Lazarus and Jesus conversing together, we then have the action of Mary’s anointing.  Barclay comments that Mary’s action shows three things: Love’s Extravagance with the expensive perfume, Love’s Humility in anointing Jesus’ feet, and Love’s Un-selfconsciousness when Mary wiped Jesus feet with her hair.  “The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment”.  Barclay ends with this observation, that the memory of Mary filled the Church with the sweet memory of her action.

At least three observations stand out from this reading: the celebration of Lazarus’ Resurrection within the context of a Last Supper of Thanksgiving; Mary’s action of Anointing Jesus’ Feet and Drying Them with Her Hair; and the contrast between Mary and Judas in the Johannine tradition.  Before we comment on each observation, let us first step back from this passage and look at the surrounding passages that sandwich it or enclose it and try to see the Bigger Picture.  As mentioned above, the two sandwiching passages are the Plot to Kill Jesus and the Plot to Kill Lazarus too.  These two passages seem to highlight our passage of interest, Mary’s Anointing of Jesus’ Feet, not necessarily isolating the passage, but emphasizing this meal as special despite the dangers that surround the celebration from the world outside.  It is a celebration of life over death and that despite even the death threatening from the world outside “life” will triumph in the end.

The passage also celebrates the love of Mary for Jesus through her anointing of his feet, an intimate action followed by an even more intimate act of drying his feet with her hair.  Within the setting of a family meal Mary uses this last time to be with Jesus to show him her love and appreciation.  This passage is a celebration of Life and Love, as the two go together, surrounded by the two passages of jealous Hatred and plotting their Deaths.

For the first observation, the celebration of Lazarus’ Resurrection within the context of a Last Supper of Thanksgiving, we will step back from even these three passages (Plot to Kill Jesus, Mary’s Anointing of Jesus’ Feet, Plot to Kill Lazarus) and briefly glance back to Chapter 11 with the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead.  As mentioned above, this passage gives the reason for the setting where Martha prepares a Meal for Jesus in thanksgiving.  This passage is full of faith and life as Jesus reminds Martha that, I am the resurrection and life! John 11:25, and Martha’s response from faith in him, You are the Messiah, the Son of God! John 11:27.  With such a powerful miracle, the last sign or miracle in John’s Gospel, the family of Lazarus trusts in Jesus completely as the resurrection and life, even surrounded by threats of death.  The meal is Martha’s way of thanking Jesus and showing her love for him.

The second observation, Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet and Drying Them with Her Hair, shows her love for Jesus in her actions.  Also in the passage of Raising Lazarus from the Dead, shows Jesus love for Mary by his own weeping.  When Mary arrived to where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw him, she fell at his feet, John 11:32.  (She seems to be always at the feet of Jesus.)  ’Lord,’ she said, ‘if you had been here, by brother would not have died!’  Unlike Martha, Jesus does not begin a dialogue with her, but observes how everyone is weeping, and his heart is touched and he is deeply moved.  He weeps.

The third observation is the contrast in the Johannine tradition of Mary with Judas.  This point is underlined more clearly with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the passage that follows.  He complains, Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?  Yet he himself will betray Jesus for a tenth of the amount, 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

There are several ironies here.  A woman of faith, Martha, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God; even before Jesus raises her brother from the dead.  The Religious Leaders obviously do not recognize Jesus as the “Son of God”, the “the Resurrection and Life”, and plan to kill him.  It is better that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish! John 11:50.  One would think that killing would have no effect on a person who can raise someone from the dead and talks of his own resurrection.  Mary, recognizes the inevitable outcome of Jesus, whose whole life was one of love and giving life to others through his miracles and the resurrection of Lazarus.  The irony continues with the Religious Leaders planning to kill Lazarus too.  These are leaders that should be models of the Law, but have taken the law into their own hands through their own lack of Faith and Love.  The Johannine tradition makes these two women models of faith and love and contrasts them with the Religious Leaders and with Peter who denies Jesus and Judas who will betray him.

AN ACT WORTHY OF REPEATING

 Jesus Washes the Feet of His Disciples, John 13:1-17

Here is the summary of the above passage.  The scene takes place the day before the Passover, (three days after Mary anoints his feet).  Jesus and his disciples were at supper.  Judas was present, the one who would betray him.  Jesus was preparing to wash his disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel that was tied around his waist.  When Jesus came to Peter to wash his feet, Peter at first refused to have them washed.  Eventually Peter understood what Jesus was doing and eagerly invited Jesus to wash his whole body.  Of course, Jesus refused, since the act concerned the feet only.  Jesus used this opportunity to state that one of them was not clean.  When he finished, Jesus returned to his place at table.  He then made clear the meaning of his action, that the disciples were to wash each others, feet as a sign of love and equality, “No slave is greater than his master”, John 13:16.  Jesus again pointed out that one of them would betray him.

Clearly, Judas was at this supper and his feet were washed by Jesus.  One wonders what may have went on in both their minds.  Judas was preparing to betray Jesus, maybe to force Jesus’ hand, as some scripture scholars offer.  Jesus was trying to touch Judas this one last time with washing his feet.  This last act of Jesus was an act of love, probably lost on most of the disciples, and maybe was too much for Judas.  John the Beloved understood.

To wash the feet of the guests at a feast was the office of a slave, Barclay reminds us.  The disciples of a Rabbi were supposed to render their master personal service, but a service as foot washing would never have been dreamed of.  Peter’s refusal could come from several misunderstandings, such as the above.  Peter was not a rabbi for whom Jesus’ action might be a sign of respect, NJBC 173, could be another misunderstanding.  Or probably more closer to the truth, such an action by Jesus would certainly be expected to be repeated by the disciples, something Peter would dread.

Three observations stand out in this passage.  The first is the connections to Judas, the second is the Washing of the Disciples Feet, and the third is the Refusal of Peter to Be Washed.  Judas is mentioned in the beginning of the passage as the one who would betray Jesus.  Then twice Jesus indirectly points to Judas, but not by name.  All of you, except one, are clean, John 13:10-11, and The man who shared my food turned against me, John 13:18.  It is not surprising that this passage will lead to the one where Jesus Predicts Judas’ Betrayal.

As we saw in the previous passage, Judas is portrayed as the false disciple, the disciple who did not love Jesus, where as Mary is portrayed as the true disciple.  It is not an enemy who taunts me–then I could bear it–it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me–then I could hide from him.  But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.  We used to hold sweet converse together; within God’s house we walked in fellowship, Psalm 55:12-14.  As Barclay mentions, …in the east to eat bread with anyone was a sign of friendship and an act of loyalty.  Judas was the disciple who did not love Jesus, but used him for his own advancement.  He was the only disciple who came from Jerusalem.  As John describes him, He was a thief, and used to help himself to the community purse.  He knew his way around Jerusalem since he came from there and would have many connections.

Our second observation, where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, may have been modeled by Mary’s act of love for Jesus.  As mentioned earlier, hers was an act of love and an appreciation for Jesus having raised her brother from the dead.  It was done within the context of her home in a personal setting, the family meal.  Jesus’ act was one of love and equality, I do not call you servants any longer…Instead, I call you friends, John 15:15.  It is an act done within the context of a supper, an important supper because it was their last.   Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil; Jesus washes his disciples’ feet with water.  Water pots were kept at the door of a house; and a servant was there with a pitcher and a towel to wash the soiled feel of the guests as they came in.  Jesus’ little company of friends had no servants.  The duties which servants would carry out in wealthier circles they must have shared among each other.  It may well be that on the night of this last meal together they had got themselves into such a state of competitive pride that not one of them would accept the duty of seeing that the water and the towels were there to wash the feet of the company as they came in; and Jesus mended their omission in the most vivid and dramatic way.  He himself did what none of them was prepared to do.”  This is Barclay’s interpretation, and sounds quite convincing.  I agree, but I also believe that Jesus was showing his love for them in a menial task by someone who loves another would take care of them when they are sick.  Barclay also mentions this in his commentary.  Soon the disciples would be quite sick with grief and hopefully they would remember how much Jesus loved them that he even washed their feet at their last supper together.  True love pushes us to do extraordinary acts for the ones we love.  But Jesus also intended that his disciples use this act of washing on each other as not only a sign of respect and love, but also one of equality.  You, then, should wash one another’s feet, John 13:15.

The third observation is Peter’s refusal to be washed by Jesus.  Again we turn to Barclay’s interpretation of the event.  Beyond doubt there is a reference to Christian baptism here (as we look for another meaning in John’s Gospel).  ‘Unless you are washed you can have no part in me’ is a way of saying: ‘Unless you pass through the gate of baptism, you have no part in the Church’…It was the custom that before people went to a feast they bathed themselves.  When they came to the house of their host, they did not need to be bathed again, all they needed was to have their feet washed.  The washing of the feet was the ceremony which preceded entry into the house where they were to be guests.  It was what we might call the washing of entry into the house…What you need is the washing which marks entry into the household of the faith.  The last sentence, ‘marks entry into the household of the faith’ points to what Peter lacks, faith.  In the First Part of this article, we mentioned that Martha was the model of ‘faith’, as was shown here by her statement of belief that she believed Jesus was, the ‘Son of God’.  She was the role model of faith for the true disciple.  Her statement is found on the lips of Peter in the other synoptic gospels.  Considering the above observation, Peter at first refuses to enter the household of faith, maybe more out of bravado, pride, or just plain ignorance.  Compared to Martha, Peter would be the disciple of little faith, and that would prove true with his denial of Jesus.  We would also have to mention Judas again, since his feet were washed, but as Jesus mentioned, All of you are clean, all except one, John 13:10.

CONCLUSION

 We are now ready for a final look at the Bigger Picture.  The structure in this section of John’s Gospel points to several parallels: Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet and Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet.  Mary’s anointing was in the context of an intimate family meal and Jesus’ washing was in the context of a intimate meal with his disciples.  Mary’s action is followed by the death threats of the chief priests against Jesus and Lazarus.  Jesus’ action is followed by the prediction of Judas’ betrayal and of Peter’s denial.  Also, Mary’s action was in response to Jesus’ raising her brother from the dead.  Jesus’ action was in preparation of his disciples for his own death by the prediction of two of his disciples.

We do not want to carry the comparisons to far, but it is an interesting connection that Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet was followed by Jesus washing of his disciples feet, and action that he copied out of love for his disciples?  Such a possibility makes this action of Mary richer and deeper in meaning; an act of love and appreciation for her Lord.  Jesus’ action also reminds us of our obligation to repeat this or similar actions for others out of love for our brothers and sisters in our daily lives.  There are many saints who have done just such actions: Saint Francis of Assisi, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and more, not to mention their followers.  We need to go beyond just admiring such saints and start imitating them.

READING CHAIR – Gospel Comm: “Salt of the Earth”, Mt 5:13-16

Salt of the Earth, Mt 5:13-16

5th Sunday Ordinary Time

“Salt of the Earth”

5th Sunday Ordinary Time

Matthew 5:13-16

You are the Salt of the Earth!  Salt was used in times past not only to flavor food but to preserve it.  Being Salt of the Earth, means not only to flavor the Gospels, make them easier to listen to and accept, but also to preserve the Gospels by living them out in our lives.

The Church is salt for the world, as an example of Christ on earth, as the Bride of Christ (not always the spotless bride).

Last Thursday was the Feast of the Presentation, the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple and consecrated to God.  This is the Feast that all Consecrated Life celebrate by renewing their Vows or Making their First or Permanent Vows.

Religious Life is salt for the Church.  We are expected to flavor the Church by our lives, make the Gospels easier to understand and accept through our actions and lives, but also to help preserve the Church.  So it is a time for the religious throughout the world our Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, the Evangelical Councils or the Gospel Directives on how to live out a Simple Lifestyle, Inclusive Love, and Openness to God’s Will through Others.

In the times of Father William Joseph Chaminade, our Founder, the Church was associated with the rich and the nobility.  Indeed, the bishops would only be chosen from the noble class and the Church in France owned at least one third of the land in France!  It is not surprising that the Church was associated with the landed rich.  And it is not surprising that when the French Revolution broke out, the Church fell with the rich and the landed gentry.  Church land was confiscated, buildings, monasteries and convents were also closed and confiscated.  The Church literally came to a standstill, and was dismantled.  What was left of the Church went underground.  This Salt was violently thrown out and trampled underfoot.

After the Revolution, the Church had to be rebuilt.  Father Chaminade helped in that rebuilding inside and out, but how to renew the Salt?

Chaminade did two things that were a foresight for today’s Church. He started Faith Communities of Lay Persons, and from them he eventually started a women’s religious order and a men’s religious order of brothers and priests.  Chaminade’s Lay Communities were a fantastic success and still continue and grow today at a phenomenal rate throughout the world.

What is so special about religious orders?  You don’t hear about Religious Life unless you are associated with religious, since there aren’t that many left.  But they are there; we Marianists are just one of many groups.  In Africa I was working with formation of our young African men, and was surprised to meet the many different religious orders on the continent of Africa, everywhere.  I was head of a formation program for young novices, men and women, about 350 to 400, and from about 45 different religious orders.  I had never heard nor seen that many in my religious orders in my life!

Again, what is so special about religious orders and what is attracting them, especially in the Africa?  Religious life was never intended to be such large groups running programs in education, health care, orphanages, and homes for the elderly, and so forth, at least in Africa.  Progressive and modern governments have take over such social service today and only poor and third world countries are still working with religious groups and NGO’s.  I know, because our school in Lusaka, Zambia, is one of many Catholic High Schools with teacher salaries paid by the government!  So maybe the work that religious are involved in attract young men and women, considering educating them for such work is a must!

If religious are to be salt of the Church, then a little should go a long way (if people are living their vowed lives).  Even our founder Chaminade intended the religious to be a support for the Lay Communities of young and old.  I am not worried that they are shrinking in the United States, but I will be alarmed if they ever die out.  The lay should and have taken over many social services.

What is it that makes Religious Life so different and so important?  Two things, the First being: Public Witnesses to Their Faith.  The second thing that is important: living the Evangelical Councils, or the Core Gospel Values of Poverty, Obedience, Chastity.

Wait!  Aren’t all Christians supposed to live those core gospel values?  Maybe you are but don’t realize it.  Let’s put them in everyday terms.  Poverty can be lived by embracing a simple life style, like cutting all the expensive things.  Obedience can be lived by being open to other opinions or ideas, informing our consciences through Scripture reading, following the Churches directives, and by being obedient to our spouses.  And every Christian is expected to be Chaste, married or single.  Celibacy means not only to remain single, but it also means being inclusive or open in all our relationships, not exclusive, as to a spouse.

Finally, what makes religious life unique is how we live out those Vows in a way particular to our Rule of Life or Mission Statement that guides us according to our particular Founder.  Franciscans, Jesuits, the Marianists, etc. are all unique in how their founders interpreted and intended their followers to live the vows.  St. Francis emphasized poverty through begging and life style.  St. Ignatius emphasized obedience through his special vow to the Pope and in service to the church through extensive education.  Chaminade emphasized Chaste Celibacy through community living and hospitality.

Chaminade also emphasized a special allegiance to Mary and mixed composition of priests and brothers, among other things.  Naturally the lay groups find many and all of these Marianists gifts to the Church attractive enough to what to imitate and follow them.  Most religious groups today have their lay counterparts.  You know us better through our word here at Governor’s Island and the University of Dayton.  Hopefully over the years ahead you will get to know us more through our proposed programs that I and the other brothers are interested in sharing with you.

To understand what Religious Life is, helps you to better support us and those young men and women also interested in living this wonderful life.

 

READING CHAIR – Gospel Comm: The Beatitudes, Mt 5:1-12

4th Sunday Ordinary Time

Beatitudes, Mt 5:1-12

Forth Sunday OT 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

“Beatitudes” (1)

It is good to go through the Beatitudes since they come at the beginning of Ordinary Time and they are the Mission Statement of Jesus to Israel.

The original beatitudes about the poor, the mourners, and the hungry express Jesus’ mission to the needy in Israel and the dawn of a new era of salvation history from the prophet Isaiah 61:1-4.  Both Matthew and Luke use them in their own way and style.

The beatitude is an exclamation of congratulations that recognizes an existing state of happiness.  It is a cry of joy, based on the nearness of the kingdom of God.  So these beatitudes are a cry of joy for those already living them.

But let us look at them a little closer and see what Matthew meant in each one.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.  By adding “…Poor in Spirit” Matthew changes the emphasis from social-economic to personal-moral: in other words, detachment from wealth, or voluntary poverty.  In the Bible economic destitution, or Poverty, is an evil to be corrected, and wealth is not an evil in itself; indeed, it is a necessity for the well-being of the kingdom.  It is how we live in relationship to material things that is important.  A Vow of Poverty is not meant to be lived in abject poverty, or another mouth to feed, but detachment from material things.  Such detachment from things gives us energy to focus on our relationships with people and with God.

Blessed are the Meek.  Derived from Psalm 37:11, meek means slow to anger, gentle with others, a form of charity.

Blessed are they who Mourn.  For Matthew, they who mourn to see evil reign on the earth.

Blessed are the Merciful.  This refers to the pardoning of one’s neighbor, to love the neighbor, the needy, and even of one’s enemies.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart.  In Matthew, purity of heart stands close to justice and includes covenant fidelity, loyalty to God’s commands, sincere worship.

Blessed are the Peacemakers.  This is from the Hebrew word, Shalom, to be in right relationship, total well-being, closely related to love of neighbor.

All of the rewards for the Blesseds will be in the kingdom of God, in the future, in the next life, except the first and the last: the Poor in Spirit and the Persecuted, for theirs IS the Kingdom of Heaven.

But I believe the rewards of living the Beatitudes is also in the present.  Such a person, the peacemaker, poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, stands in stark contrast to today’s leaders.  Only a community of like minded persons can raise a child of such wonderful characters, or the opposite.

As Christians we try to live the above beatitudes each day, a real challenge in today’s world, but that is where community is plays an important role in support of these virtues.  A virtue is simply a good action that we choose to do repeatedly until it becomes a habitA virtue is simply a good action that we choose to do repeatedly until it becomes a habit, and such habits are reinforced in the individual by a community that practices them.  Wouldn’t the beatitudes change the world if everyone DID them?

Even if we practiced one of the above beatitudes, it would change us, hopefully for the better.  I am sure you know someone here who is the model of at least one of the above.  Let us pray for each other in our support for living the beatitudes that we can change the world beginning here.

(1) Sources from NJBC, Mt 5:1-12.