Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 8:6-13; Mark 3:13-19)

Some have tried to provoke an argument by saying that Jesus did not found the Church.  They propose Paul as the more logical founder.  Of course, Jesus did not create the orders of bishops and priests.  And he certainly never established the Roman bureaucracy.  But the four gospels do indicate that he had an organizational structure in mind.  Today’s gospel pictures him acting quite intentionally to build a basis for his mission of preaching.

The passage notes that Jesus climbs a mountain evidently alone.  There, like the President-elect selecting his cabinet, he calls up twelve disciples to join him.  These are to become not just an inner group of advisors but are to prepare themselves to go out and preach.  The twelve are named in order of prominence.  Peter with a gift for proclamation is the first mentioned.  Second, James and John, who also are recognized for their locutions, are noted.  Then the others are named.  The last, of course, is Judas Iscariot, who does not lack ability but who will do the mission irreparable harm.

Perhaps the people who want to sell Jesus short on an organizational plan have difficulty appreciating how capable he is.  They see him with limitations like the rest of us.  But the four gospels indicate that he is a man like no other.  He does everything well – preach, organize, give of himself freely.  We are grateful to have been called to be his followers.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 7:25-8:6; Mark 3:7-12)

A marvelous book written by theologian Jaroslav Pelikan describes eighteen models for considering Jesus. Jesus through the Centuries pictures Jesus as rabbi, king, liberator, and in fifteen other ways.  Tellingly, however, it does not see him as priest.  Although people may be hesitant about seeing Jesus with this image, it is a central focus of the Letter to the Hebrews.  Today’s passage from the letter gives several reasons for thinking of Jesus as a priest like no other.

The Letter asserts that Jesus lives forever.  Whether one is an early Christian suffering persecution or a twenty-first century American facing religious indifference, Jesus always pleads to the Father on his or her behalf.  The Letter also hints here, and states elsewhere, that Jesus has experienced pain and will make known to the Father how humans feel.  Also, the Letter emphasizes that Jesus’ perfection carries two advantages.   First, his sacrifice of self has no blemish so that it pleases the Father like no other.  Second, he can focus on others’ needs without having to worry about his own sins.  Finally, Jesus occupies a sanctuary so close to the Almighty Father that his intercessions cannot be ignored.

The difficulty we have in seeing Christ as priest may be the idea that his sacrifice paid the debt of human sin.  We do not like to think of God as a magistrate who demands payment for our crimes.  Let us recall, however, that if God is the judge demanding payment, He is also the one who pays our debt. Out of love He took human form and then died on a cross to satisfy the injury to creation caused by our sin.  Because of this satisfaction we can live with justice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 7:1-3.15-17; Mark 3:1-6)

The word tithe originally meant just a tenth part. Today, however, it is considered exclusively as a tenth of what one earns. Pastors like to think of the tithe as the appropriate amount for a church member’s donation.  In the reading from Hebrews today we find a biblical antecedent for that understanding.

The purpose of the passage is not to counsel churchgoers about their offerings.  Rather it establishes Jesus’ foundation as the eternal high priest.  Like the mysterious Melchizedek, Jesus’ origins are eternal.  What is more, as the father of faith Abraham honors the priest Melchizedek so we are to worship Jesus for his sacrifice of self on the cross.  Finally, as the name Melchizedek means “King of Peace” and the person comes and goes amicably, Jesus is called “the Prince of Peace” in the gospels and preaches nonviolence.

We can count on Jesus for everything that is good.  He is wiser than the ages, and his words will guide us to happiness.  More importantly, he not only died to free us from sin, but his resurrection has assured us of an eternal destiny.  More than anything else in life, we should endeavor to be faithful to him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot

(Hebrews 6:10-20; Mark 2:23-28)

When Fr. Dan gave retreats for priests, he insisted that they take seriously the “Sabbath.”  He explained that God designated one day of the week for complete rest.  Jewish Law designates the seventh day – Saturday – as the Sabbath.  In this way it conforms the practice of the people to the Book of Genesis where God rests after six days of creation.  Christians have transferred the Sabbath to the eighth day -- Sunday – on which Christ’s resurrection recreated the universe.  Fr. Dan recognized that priests work on Sunday in performing their ministry.  So he told them to find and stick to another day for rest.  He was applying the same kind of flexibility that Jesus shows in today’s gospel passage.

The Pharisees perform an invaluable service when they promote fulfillment of the Sabbath Law.  Too often people abuse their own good and do not give God His due by foregoing Sabbath ritual.  But the Pharisees were too strict in their interpretation.  They were unable to see exceptions even in the case of extreme need.  Jesus is more flexible.  He admits that in the case of hunger one might pick grain to eat: “’The Sabbath,” he says, “’was made for man.’”  He makes another crucial point when he says, “’…the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’”  This indicates his divinity.  Since God instituted the Sabbath law, only He might alter it.

The Sabbath principle, as observing one day of worship and rest each week is sometimes called, causes difficulty today.  We want to take weekends off with no concern about attending mass.  We also have work obligations every day, including Sundays. We should follow Jesus’ pointers in today’s gospel.  Some slack may be given for work because the Sabbath is made for human good.  But we should make a reasonable attempt to attend mass as a way to give due praise to “’the lord of the Sabbath.’” 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 2:18-22)

When the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and companions called the bus strike in Montgomery, Alabama, many African-Americans there walked to work.  It was no small sacrifice since the walkers often stood on their feet all day at their jobs.  Yet they were willing to make it because the strike showed their children and anyone else who cared to notice that they had dignity.  One elderly lady who had participated in the strike expressed her satisfaction at day’s end. “My feet are tired,” she said, “but my soul’s at rest.”  The gospel today hints at a similar satisfaction from knowing Jesus.

Fasting is a penitential practice.  People fast to express sorrow for their sins.  Jesus’ disciples cannot fast because he brings them joy.  To fast when Jesus is present would be like sleeping when the president comes to visit.  His care for all expels sorrow.  His clarity provides sure direction.  A time will come when Jesus’ personal presence will be missing.  Then noting their shortcomings, his disciples will do penance.

Today the United States honors one of its greatest statesmen. It is not a time for regret over the sins of slavery and racism.  Rather, like the disciples with Jesus at hand, we want to rejoice for having had Dr. King in our midst.  In Jesus’ name he preached hope not just for African-Americans but for the world.  He articulated and practiced a vision of all races, creeds, and nationalities living together in peace.