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Homily: The Resurrection of the Lord [B]

you say: okay, so what? I’ve head that type of story before. What does it matter to me? Why should I care? And that’s when Paul would answer: yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead and God is concerned with bodies. God is concerned with justice. God is concerned with cleaning-up the mess of the world. Here is what we are doing, do you want to join us?
John Dominic Crossan

The readings for the The Resurrection of the Lord cycle B (John 20:1-9) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that John’s Gospel developed many characters. Some of these characters were introduced at the beginning, like Nicodemus. The last character John introduced was the disciple whom Jesus loved, or the beloved disciple. This disciple plays a prominent role in Sunday’s Gospel reading. The beloved disciple was the first to believe in the resurrection.

Since the beloved disciple represents the ideal model for a follower of Jesus we are expected to emulate the beloved disciple and carry out the work of Jesus. In order to emulate this model of a follower of Jesus we are expected to believe in the resurrection.

On Easter we can expect to hear from the pulpit a message of the resurrection. Val Webb, in her sermon Examining Doubts at Easter, tells us that “we are finding we need to tell the Easter story and the transformation of Jesus’ followers in different language and ways.” She says that “many people have trouble today with the resurrection as a condition for belief.”

What I needed was someone to assure me that my doubts were valid — for a clergy person one Easter to address my questions from the pulpit, not simply repeat the biblical soup story as if there was nothing to question, or avoid the discussion altogether to avert the anger of some literalists in the pews.
Val Webb

If we are concerned with the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus we have missed the point John was making. If the resurrection, in order to be real, requires us to see the physical body of Jesus in order to believe we are not emulating the ideal model of a follower of Jesus.

The beloved disciple is truly our model for being a follower of Jesus. When we read the Gospel carefully we will notice that the only thing the beloved disciple saw was an empty tomb. If there were no other resurrection stories recounting visitations of Jesus it would not matter to the beloved disciple. The empty tomb was enough. What does belief in the resurrection really mean?

Val Webb tells us that “what we can be sure of is that some transforming experience happened to the disciples and Paul after the death of Jesus that forced them into a new way of living, a call to new life.” This experience after Jesus died that transformed the disciples is the real resurrection.

We experience the resurrection when we follow the teachings of Jesus. When we love our enemies and turn the other cheek we are experiencing the resurrected Jesus in our lives and that resurrection is then reflected back to others. As long as we continue loving our neighbors as we love ourselves the resurrection of Jesus is real.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the resurrection of Jesus, while not physical, is real. Don’t become distracted by arguments for or against the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus. Allow the message of Jesus to transform your old life and call you into a new life with the resurrected Jesus.

Death did not stop Jesus from transforming our lives, and through us our world. The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is within our grasp and within our control. This is the reality of the resurrection.

God bless,

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Homily: Second Sunday of Lent [B]

…not just as another preacher, but rather as the next step in the history of the Jewish people—truly, the successor, or even fulfillment of the law, represented by Moses, and of the prophets, represented by Elijah.
Rev. Samuel J. Smith

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent cycle B (Mark 9:2-10) can be found here.

The Transfiguration story brings to mind different things for different people. For scripture scholars the Transfiguration ends Jesus’ Galilean ministry and begins His journey to Jerusalem. The scripture scholars also note that form criticism identifies that the Transfiguration story was written to be used in the liturgy of the synagogue, specifically for the Jewish Festival of Lights. Jesus is the new Temple and the light is a reminder of the cleansing and return of the light that dispelled the darkness of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples of Jesus came to this understanding and Mark built it into the story of the Transfiguration.

I like to think about the “aha” moment when the realization, recognition, and comprehension of Jesus reached a new understanding among His most devoted followers.

This Sunday we are asked to focus on our growth in faith. We are asked to remember the “aha” moments in our faith life.

Think about that time we had our first realization and understanding of Jesus. Think about those feelings and how the disciples of Jesus felt when they reached the moment of the Transfiguration.

To help us reflect on our faith the Rev. Dawn Hutchings has provided a setting. She explains that the “transfiguration of Jesus includes all the elements of a perfect love story. Jesus and his best buddies travel up to the top of a mountain, just like ever other hero of the day, travelled up to the top of a mountain, and when he got there, they had such a great time, it was amazing… Jesus was the one they’d been waiting for all their lives, Jesus was the one who could lead them, and just like the leaders of old, just like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus had what it takes to move them out of the hell they found themselves in… Let’s pitch a tent and just stay here.”

However, our faith must continue to grow. We can’t be expected to remain in one place forever. The deeper we delve into our faith the richer our experience. The Rev. Dawn Hutchings puts it best when she says that “even though it sounds appealing to stay up there on the mountaintop with Jesus, frozen in time, just the way he was when we first met, there is so much more to the Christ experience…”

This is a time in our Lenten journey to deepen our understanding of Jesus’ message. We need to ask ourselves where is Jesus leading us? As our faith grows we become better at understanding the words of Jesus and better at translating those words to the community around us.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that as we remember Jesus and His teachings it is helpful to recall how it all began for the disciples and for us. Those feelings bring back strong emotions and during Lent we can rededicate our faith to living the words of Jesus.

I pray that our shared faith experience will lead to building the kingdom of heaven on Earth.

God bless,

Homily: First Sunday of Lent [B]

The kingdom of God is for the earth. The Lord’s Prayer speaks of God’s kingdom coming on earth, even as it already exists in heaven. It is about the transformation of this world
Marcus Borg

The readings for the First Sunday of Lent cycle B (Mark 1:12-15) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that Mark was the first Gospel written. As such, many stories are short and to the point. Matthew and Luke had Mark in front of them and were able to build on and elaborate those stories. For example, in the Gospel for this Sunday there is only a brief mention of the temptation in the wilderness, which does not include any details.

The Marcan community would not have needed many details because they would have been familiar with many Hebrew scripture stories of prophets and their 40 days and nights of trials and tribulations. The mere mention would have brought to mind stories of Moses and Elijah.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
Exodus 34:27-28

And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” And [Eli′jah] arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
1 Kings 19:7-8

John Shelby Spong explains that “increasingly the early Christians saw in the Hebrew scriptures the anticipation of the messiah’s life and when they became convinced that Jesus was the expected messiah, they began to interpret these scriptures as anticipatory of their day and of Jesus’ messiahship.”

In this Sunday reading Jesus says the kingdom of God has drawn near. This message is vital for our salvation. Many sermons will likely be centered upon these words of Jesus. The focus will be on the end times, but completely miss what the nearness of kingdom of God means.

Depending on the traditionalist leanings of our parish we are likely to hear sermons about death, judgement, heaven and hell. More time will be spent explaining how to prepare ourselves in this life for the next life. That preparation in this life is meant to help us purify our souls and to break us free from our connection and affection to this world. Does this sound familiar?

The Gospel message of Jesus, this Sunday, is to prepare ourselves in this life to transform our world here and now.

Here are a few phrases I pray we all heard in our Lenten worship this Sunday:

“To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth.” CCC 763

“To welcome Jesus’ word is to welcome ‘the Kingdom itself.'” CCC 764

“The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved.” CCC 765

Christopher Morse, of Union Theological Seminary in New York, tells us that “what the church, or what the majority conventional view of heaven is, is very different from what we find in these biblical testimonies. The end times are not the end of the world — they are the beginning of the real world — in biblical understanding.”

And so it’s not a Platonic, timeless eternity, which is what we were all taught. It is very definitely that there will come a time when God will utterly transform this world — that will be the age to come.
N.T. Wright

We are God’s representatives, and if God will transform this world it will be through us. If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we are asked to create heaven on Earth. Jesus showed us the way and if we welcome His words we welcome the kingdom.

During this time of Lent we should prepare ourselves by reading the words of Jesus. We should dedicate ourselves to living the teachings of Jesus. At Easter will take a step closer to transforming our world.

The kingdom is at hand.

God bless,

Homily: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

… join the leper at Jesus’ feet and pray, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Lamar Williamson (Mark) p. 62

The readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (mark 1:40-45) can be found here.

The Biblical historian will explain that leprosy is a sign of the wrath of God. If you were stricken with the skin disorder it was clearly a sign that God was punishing you.

One story that clearly illustrates this comes from 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 where we meet king Uzzi′ah. He was prideful, false before God and his anger led to his inevitable destruction. The king contracted leprosy and “they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.” Uzzi′ah died an outcast due to his leprosy. Cursed by God, lepers were the lowest people in the Jewish society.

In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus heals a leper by touching him.

The scripture scholar will tell you that Leviticus outlined the rituals and sacrifice needed for a leper to enter back into society. Until these requirements have been met a leper was not allowed to be seen in the midst of the people, let alone touched.

The 1st century Jewish attitude toward leprosy is something all scholars agree on, but the emotional response of Mark’s Jesus continues to spark lively debates. I would be remiss if we did not speak to this scholarly debate in the homily.

The actual words (in Greek) used to describe the emotions of Jesus vary depending on the manuscript. Most manuscripts use the word pity to describe the emotional response of Jesus. A few manuscripts, however, use the word anger to describe Jesus’ response.

The USCCB online text of our Gospel reading represent the general understanding that Jesus is moved by “pity” and cures the leper. The alternative “anger” is likely the authentic word used by Mark, so it deserves to be explored.

The best explanation I have found comes from F. Scott Spencer in his book Horizons in Biblical Theology, Volume 36, Issue 2, pages 107 – 128

A close analysis of Mark 1:40-45, in conjunction with key Markan co-texts (6:14-29; 10:35-52; 14:32-36; 15:6-15) and ancient and modern theories of emotion, demonstrates that the leper chiefly provokes Jesus’ ire by belittling his deep desire or will to heal (ἐὰν θέλῃς).

Once Jesus heals the leper He summarily dismisses the man by showing him the door. Alan Goertemiller puts it this way: “There! Show them that healing comes from a loving touch, and not punishment and demanding ritual!”

What are we to think of an angry and dismissive Jesus? Rabbi Dr. Earl A. Grollman explains that he “was taught as a child, angry thoughts make bad people. Wrong. Angry thoughts make very human people.”

Jesus was human, after all, and we should learn a lesson of compassion from these Gospel verses. Jesus touched and healed a leper. He may have responded in anger, but He also responded with compassion.

It may have been bad form for the leper to question Jesus’ will to heal, but that didn’t stop Jesus from touching the man and healing him.

God heals, but we may often be the essential intermediaries through whom God’s will is accomplished, whether that means a curing of the body or a healing of the spirit, whether we are medical practitioners, chaplains, or loved ones. This means that each of us has a responsibility as well as a response-ability.
Christina M. Puchalski (A Time for Listening and Caring) p. 209

In the Jewish community healing has two components; physical healing and spiritual healing. Jesus cured the leprosy and the physical health was restored, but Jesus also knew to send the man to the temple to perform the sacrificial examination and rites to enter back into the Jewish society so that the spiritual health could be restored.

As Church we have an obligation to be a conduit of compassion for Jesus to our society. If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to remember that there will be times when we get angry but we cannot forget to be compassionate. In our compassion we must also remember to heal the person both physically and spiritually.

Who pushes your buttons? Who gets on your last nerve? Who should we touch and heal?

If it were easy anybody could do it, but it is hard so we will leave it to those who folow Jesus.

God bless,

Homily: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

“In communion with Him and with one another, let us discover once again where and for whom the Lord is calling us today to serve in His name.”
Sr. Mary Sujita (9th Superior General of the Sisters of Notre Dame)

The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (Mark 1:29-39) can be found here.

The scripture scholars understand the healings and exorcisms written in the Gospels through the discipline of “Form Criticism.” Scholars will tell you that the formulaic structures of these stories indicate use in liturgical settings, such as synagogue worship services. These stories of healing and exorcism fit well with the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, and perhaps they were written and used for just this purpose.

Mark Allan Powell tells us in his book Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee that “the healings and exorcisms were experienced as an incursion of otherworldly power. Historically, we must acknowledge that Jesus presented himself as a person through whom such power could and did operate, and that those around him experienced him as a channel of such power. The fact that the power was said to operate for healing is also significant, for it indicates what sort of spirit person Jesus was.”

What sort of spirit people are we?

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.
Mark 9:38-40

In the healing traditions of the Catholic Church we have something called Extreme Unction. The words may sound strange to you, but you know them by another name; Last Rites, or Anointing of the Sick.

Richard Rohr called Extreme Unction a “sin management system” because we tended to use the anointing as the last chance to get things right with God. Healing does not have to be a last ditch effort. We are called to heal and in the process transform ourselves and our communities.

Extreme Unction may be as close as we get to experiencing the healing touch of Jesus, and it is sad that it only comes at the end of our lives.

Megan McKenna, in her book Tasting the Word of God: Commentaries on the daily lectionaries, tells us that “the disciples have seen Jesus heal, and now they are sent out to the villages with the authority to heal and cast out any spirit that hinders people from living as the children of God, imitating his own work.”

Megan also reminds us that “as believers, this is our work, our calling together – some for a lifetime, others for a time of apprenticeship and learning, others to encourage and sustain those on the road for the Lord.”

So, this is our work as believers, and if we are going to imitate Jesus and heal people, we are going to get our hands dirty. This is not something we can add to a list of prayer intentions or names of people we pray for during hourly adoration. No, if we are going to imitate Jesus we need to recognize those people in our lives that need healing and offer the compassion of Jesus.

Another item to note; Jesus did not heal only those who were Jews. There was no litmus test for people to be deserving of healing. Jesus didn’t even require people to believe in God before they were healed. If we are going to imitate Jesus we are called to heal Atheists as well as Christians.

A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah, the five books of Moses, while standing on one foot. And Hillel did.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Torah, he said. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.
Modern Lessons From Hillel

If you ask, how do I heal those around me, the answer begins with compassion. We need to eliminate our emphasis on being right and replace it with compassion for others.

If you take one thing from this homily it should be to search your heart and ask yourself what is painful to you, then never bring that pain to somebody else. That is the sort of spirit people we are called to be.

It will not be easy because we have created lepers and outcasts in our society and we are encouraged to treat those people with injustice, inequality and lack of respect. Some of our religious leaders have institutionalized injustice, inequality and lack of respect, but we can always turn to Jesus for our example.

I pray that when you hear words of violence, hatred, or disdain for others that you will remember instead those stories of Jesus healing the sick and respond with compassion.

God bless,

Homily: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

Perhaps we could spend some time examining our preconceptions about whom we consider “worthy” of leading or teaching us. How do we even begin to look at one another with the eyes of God, to see in the most unexpected of people those whom God has chosen to lead?
Kate Huey

The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (Mark 1:21-28) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that the scribes taught through the words and deeds of Rabbis and the OT scripture. This is where they derive their authority.

Jesus, unlike the scribes, did not teach by leaning on the authority of the Jewish establishment. Jesus taught by his own authority, and the people were amazed.

The scripture scholar will also tell you that Jesus’ teaching was more than mere words. Jesus taught through His healing deeds. Healing the man with the unclean spirit is one of the many healing stories of Jesus and healing is a significant theme of Mark’s Gospel.

They point to the very prominent role that healing plays in the Gospel records. These stories also deepen our understanding of Jesus’s message, showing that God’s healing action can come through human instruments used to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Francis Geddes (Contemplative Healing: The Congregation as Healing Community) p. 21

What does it mean to be a healing community? Just like Jesus, we need to place healing people’s suffering at the center of our deeds. Our communities must be grounded in compassion for all creation.

In the Gospel account for this Sunday, Jesus didn’t look at the man to determine if he was worthy before healing him. We are asked to heal those we disparage, judge unacceptable or as unimportant without assessing worthiness.

People who are broken, entrenched in poverty, suffer from violence and injustice need our love and healing.

This is not something we can simply add to our list of intentions at Sunday Mass. It is not something we can hand-off to the parish priest. We need to perform the deeds, just as Jesus did. If we are successful people will be amazed and wonder under what authority we teach and heal.

“Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.”
Reverend Henry Melvill

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that our communities are a source of God’s healing power. We are asked to look around and see who in our lives needs healing. In our compassion and through our Church we can be an agent of healing for those who suffer. Jesus showed us the way, and now it is our turn.

God bless,

Homily: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

Just when we think we know, there is something to face that we never expected and did not take into account. There is the call to discipleship and to catch people in the net of the Kingdom; the call to deny one’s very self and take up the cross that is laid on us by our sharing the truth and sufferings on behalf of justice; and there is the call to community in the Resurrection.
Megan McKenna (Mark My Words!)

The readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1:14-20) cycle B can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that Mark foreshadows the passion of Jesus with the arrest of John the Baptist. John preached repentance and Jesus’ message of good news about the kingdom of God echoed that theme.

The main thrust of the Sunday Gospel deals with the call of the first disciples. The message throughout Mark’s Gospel is that God’s kingdom will require us to refashion our lives. There can be no greater model of acknowledgement for us than the call of the disciples.

The historian will tell you that to say fishing was a major industry in Galilee, at the time of Jesus, would be an understatement. The economics of Galilee was built around fishing. Mark tells us that the first disciples to be called were successful businessmen who owned nets and employed other fishermen. The cost of discipleship is clearly on display.

Jesus called these four fishermen into an entirely new way of being. It wasn’t based on study or theory or right interpretation. It was based on life and it was based on practice. People who fished were to become fishers of people. People who worked the land were to become laborers in the field of God’s harvest. Jesus would be their teacher not because he would teach them right doctrine but because he would show them a right life. It was a personal call and it was a specific call. Come follow me. Do what you see me do, speak like you hear me speak; imitate me. He would show them how to live and he would reveal the character of God.
Rev. Dan Holland United Parish of Bowie.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an entire book on the cost of discipleship. In it he tells us that “discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension.” To underscore this Bonhoeffer explains that “the will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

We are called to cast the nets of the kingdom and draw others to God. We must leave the comfort and security of our lives and follow Jesus. What we perceive as a good life is shaped by a society that is not built on God’s love.

We are not alone in this. The Gospel recounts many struggles the disciples of Jesus faced trying to reconcile their old understandings of life with those taught by Jesus. It is a lifelong struggle.

This Gospel reading reminds us that we are daily called to discipleship with Christ. We can answer that call if we say no to ourselves, and say yes to God.

If you take one thing away from this Homily it should be that God is calling us to change our lives. We need to shed our old understandings and to appreciate others as better than ourselves. We need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

I pray that you can follow the example of the first disciples and leave your old ways behind to follow Christ. Let Jesus take the lead, step where He steps and love how He loves.

God bless,