August 1 - Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

July 30th, 2021

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First Reading   Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15
The Lord feeds the Israelites with manna.

 

Responsorial Psalm   Psalm 78:3–4, 23–24, 25, 54
A song of praise to God for his deeds to Israel.

 

Second Reading   Ephesians 4:17, 20–24
Christians become a new creation in Christ.

 

Gospel Reading
John 6:24–35
Jesus teaches the crowds that he is the “bread of life.”

Background on the Gospel Reading

This Sunday we continue to read from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, but not continuously. Our Lectionary omits John’s report of Jesus’ walking on water. This event is reported much less dramatically in John’s Gospel than in the Synoptic Gospels. After the feeding of the multitudes, the disciples leave in a boat and Jesus follows them. The disciples are said to be terrified by what they see. Jesus reassures them and rejoins them. In today’s Gospel, we learn that the crowd has noticed the departure of Jesus and his disciples and so seeks them out in Capernaum. In the dialogue that follows between Jesus and the crowds, Jesus unfolds for us the gift of himself that that he gives in the Eucharist.

In today’s Gospel, there are four exchanges between Jesus and the crowd. In the first, the crowd, having followed Jesus to Capernaum, asks a very matter of fact question: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replies by naming their motivation in pursuing him. They have been fed. Jesus acknowledges this, yet challenges them to see beyond the fulfillment of their material needs. The crowds have followed Jesus because they have been fed. They ought to be seeking out Jesus because he can give them eternal life.

As the second dialogue begins, it seems that the crowd might be on their way to accepting Jesus and his mission. They ask: “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus replies that they must have faith in the one sent from God. But in the third dialogue, the crowd reveals their inability to see Jesus’ true identity. They ask Jesus for a sign so that they might know that Jesus is from God. How strange this sounds since Jesus has just fed more than 5000 people. What more is expected?

But the crowd cannot see beyond the surface of the sign. They show this in their interpretation of the sign that came from Moses. In their description, they identify Jesus with Moses, as if to say, as Moses gave the people manna in the desert, give us a sign so that we will know that you are from God. They are looking to identify a prophet without realizing that God is standing before them. Jesus corrects their misinterpretation, saying that the manna received by their ancestors came from God. As God fulfilled their ancestors’ needs in the desert, so God has provided them with food for eternal life. In the bread that they have received from Jesus, they have received physical nourishment and also spiritual nourishment. Jesus wants the crowd to see beyond the surface to the One who provides true nourishment.

The conclusion of the dialogue reveals the crowd’s blindness. They ask for what Jesus has just told them they have found: “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus answers plainly that he himself is the Bread of Life they seek. Jesus himself is the Bread of Life who will satisfy every hunger and thirst. This is the first of several such statements found in John’s Gospel. We understand these better when we remember that God revealed his name to the people of Israel as “I am,” as Yahweh. Jesus is now claiming this name for himself. In the weeks ahead, we will see the offense that this gives to the people.

July 25 - Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

July 24th, 2021

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First Reading  2 Kings 4:42-44
Elisha the prophet feeds 100 people with 20 barley loaves.

Responsorial Psalm  Psalm 145:10-11,15-16,17-18
The Lord feeds his people and answers their needs.

Second Reading  Ephesians 4:1-6
The Ephesians are encouraged to live the unity of their Baptism.

Gospel Reading  
John 6:1-15
Jesus feeds the crowd of more than five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish.

 

Background on the Gospel Reading

Through most of Lectionary Cycle B, our Sunday Gospel readings are taken from the Gospel of Mark. Over the past two Sundays, we heard how Jesus sent his disciples to share in his mission. If we were to continue reading Mark's Gospel, we would next hear his report of how Jesus feeds the crowds in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Our Lectionary, however, leaves Mark’s Gospel for the next several weeks and instead presents this event from the Gospel of John. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and the fishes is presented as a sign of his authority and divinity. Jesus interprets the meaning and significance of this miracle as a sharing of his Body and Blood. This chapter is sometimes called the “Bread of Life Discourse.”

In many important ways, John’s Gospel uses the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to teach about the Eucharist. Like the Last Supper, this miracle is said to have occurred near the time of the Jewish feast of Passover. (In John’s Gospel three Passovers are identified.) Jesus’ language is similar to the language he used at the Last Supper as reported in the Synoptic Gospels. John’s description of this event also anticipates the Messianic banquet of heaven, as the crowd reclines and all hungers are satisfied with abundance. This connection is further amplified by the response of the crowd, who wants to make Jesus a king. John is teaching us that each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are anticipating the eternal banquet of heaven.

Recall that John’s Gospel tells the story of the Last Supper differently than the Synoptic Gospels. Instead of describing the meal and Jesus’ actions with the bread and cup, John describes how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. We hear this Gospel when we remember the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. This recollection of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper complements the institution narrative of the Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s Letters that we hear repeated at each Mass.

In both stories about the Eucharist—the washing of the disciples’ feet and the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes—the Gospel of John teaches us that the Eucharist is an action. Our word Eucharist is taken from the Greek language and describes an action: “to give thanks.” In the Eucharist we are fed by Jesus himself, and we are sent to serve others.

John’s Gospel notes the detail that the bread blessed and shared with the crowd are barley loaves. This is the food of the poor. It reminds us that God feeds and nourishes us, fulfilling our physical needs as well as our spiritual ones. In the Eucharist, we are sent to serve the poorest among us.

The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes recalls a particular aspect of the Mass. In this miracle, Jesus transforms a young boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. In the offertory at Mass, we present the fruits of our labors, represented by bread and wine. These gifts, given to us first by God as grain and fruit, are returned to God in our offering of thanksgiving. God in turn transforms our gifts, making this bread and wine the very Body and Blood of Jesus. We also offer ourselves in this exchange, and we, too, are transformed by the Eucharist.

July 18 - Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

July 17th, 2021

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First Reading  Jeremiah 23:1-6
The Lord promises to shepherd his people Israel.

 

Responsorial Psalm   Psalm 23:1-3,3-4,5,6
The Lord is our shepherd.

 

Second Reading  Ephesians 2:13-18
Christ has reconciled us with God and united us in peace.

 

Gospel Reading
Mark 6:30-34
Jesus invites his disciples to rest after their ministry, and Jesus is moved with pity for the crowds who pursue them.

 

Background on the Gospel Reading

In this today’s Gospel, we read the report of the return of the Twelve, who were sent by Jesus to preach repentance, heal the sick, and drive out demons. When the Twelve return to Jesus, he invites them to come away from the crowds and rest. But the crowds will not give them peace. As the Twelve have shared in Jesus’ ministry, they now appear to share in his popularity. The crowds continue to approach them, and Mark reports that the disciples don’t even have time to eat. In an effort to get away, Jesus and his disciples board a boat in hopes of finding a deserted place. But the crowds notice this and arrive ahead of them. The crowds are so persistent that Jesus and his disciples cannot find a place to be alone. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is moved with pity and begins to teach the crowds.

Our Gospel for today stops here, but Mark’s report of the unyielding demands of the crowd continues in the verses that follow. If we were to continue reading from Mark’s Gospel, we would hear Jesus instruct his disciples to feed the crowd in the familiar miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The work of Jesus and his disciples appears to be a round-the-clock job. In the next few weeks, we will hear the story of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude, but our Lectionary will turn to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John to report and reflect on this story.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the Twelve referred to as “apostles.” The word apostle is a Greek word meaning “one who is sent.” Jesus chose twelve men from among his disciples whom he sent to share in his ministry of preaching and healing. The first report of this is found in the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel, where the Twelve are also called apostles and the names of this select group are listed.

We who are Jesus’ disciples today have also been sent to share the Gospel with others. Perhaps our commitment to following Jesus as his disciple leaves us feeling tired and overwhelmed. In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus affirm the importance of times of rest and renewal. Jesus wanted his disciples to come away and spend time alone with him. This is what we seek and find in our life of prayer and in our celebration of the Eucharist.

July 11 - Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

July 10th, 2021

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First Reading   Amos 7:12-15
The prophet Amos is sent from Bethel.

 

Responsorial Psalm  Psalm 85:9-10,11-12,13-14
A prayer for the Lord’s salvation

 

Second Reading   Ephesians 1:3-14 ( shorter form Ephesians 1:3-10)
Paul teaches that we were chosen for Christ before the creation of the world.

 

Gospel Reading
Mark 6:7-13
Jesus instructs his disciples and sends them to preach repentance.

 

Background on the Gospel Reading

This week’s Gospel and the one for next week describe how Jesus sent the disciples to minister in his name and the disciples’ return to Jesus afterward. These two passages, however, are not presented together in Mark’s Gospel. Inserted between the two is the report of Herod’s fears that Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry is presented in connection with the teaching of John the Baptist. Jesus’ public ministry begins after John is arrested. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, who preached the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

While we do not read these details about John the Baptist in our Gospel this week or next week, our Lectionary sequence stays consistent with Mark’s theme. Recall that last week we heard how Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. The insertion of the reminder about John the Baptist’s ministry and his death at the hands of Herod in Mark’s Gospel makes a similar point. Mark reminds his readers about this dangerous context for Jesus’ ministry and that of his disciples. Preaching repentance and the Kingdom of God is dangerous business for Jesus and for his disciples. Mark wants his readers to remember that we, too, may find resistance as we choose to be disciples of Jesus.

Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus sent out the Twelve. These twelve were selected from among Jesus’ disciples and named by Mark in chapter 3. Mark notes that these twelve are also called “apostles.” The word apostle means “one who is sent.” The number twelve is also a symbolic number, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. By naming twelve apostles, Jesus shows his mission to be in continuity with the mission of God’s people, Israel.

Jesus’ instructions to the apostles are very specific. He repeats the mission that they are sent to preach and to share his authority to heal and to drive out demons. Jesus sends them in pairs, establishing his mission as a communal endeavor. Jesus also instructs them to travel lightly, without the customary food, money, and extra set of clothes. These instructions mean that the Twelve will be dependent on the hospitality of others, just as Jesus depended on others to provide for his needs.

Jesus continues to send us into the world as his disciples. But like the first disciples, we are not sent alone. Jesus has given us the community of the Church, which strengthens our life of discipleship. The Christian message can only authentically be proclaimed in and through the community of faith that is the Church. In our work with others, we build this community of faith and can invite others to share in it

July 4 - Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time year B

July 2nd, 2021

 

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First Reading  Ezekiel 2:2-5
The Lord sends the prophet Ezekiel to the Israelites.

 

Responsorial Psalm  Psalm 123:1-2,3-4
A prayer to God for mercy

 

Second Reading  2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Paul bears insults and weakness for the sake of Christ.

 

Gospel Reading  Mark 6:1-6
Jesus is rejected in his hometown.

 

Background on the Gospel Reading

This Gospel immediately follows upon last week’s stories of the raising of Jairus’s daughter and the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. It sets the context of our Gospel readings for the next two weeks in which Jesus will extend the work of his ministry to his disciples.

Today’s Gospel describes what many believe to have been the typical pattern of Jesus’ ministry: teaching in the synagogue followed by acts of healing. In his hometown of Nazareth, the people are amazed by what they hear, but they also cannot comprehend how someone they know so well might move them so powerfully.

In this Gospel, we learn some interesting details about Jesus and his early life. Jesus’ kinfolk know him to be a carpenter, an artisan who works in wood, stone, and metal. He probably learned this trade from his father. Family members of Jesus are also named. Mark describes Jesus as the son of Mary, which is an unusual designation. Adult males were more typically identified with the name of their fathers. It is unclear why Mark deviates from this custom.

Brothers and sisters of Jesus are also named. Scholars are divided on how to interpret this. As Catholics, we believe that Mary was and remained always a virgin, thus we do not believe that this Gospel refers to other children of Mary. Some have suggested that these family members might be Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, but there is little evidence to support this. Others explain this reference by noting that the words brother and sister were often used to refer to other types of relatives, including cousins, nieces, and nephews.

This Gospel tells us that Jesus is hampered from performing miracles in Nazareth because of the people’s lack of faith. Jesus is said to be surprised by this. He did not predict or foresee this rejection. In this detail we find a description of the very human side of Jesus.

This passage unfolds a continuing theme of Mark’s Gospel: Who is Jesus? His kinfolk in Nazareth might know the carpenter, the son of Mary, but they do not know Jesus, the Son of God. Mark is foreshadowing Jesus’ rejection by his own people, the people of Israel. He is also reflecting on and trying to explain the situation of the community for which he wrote. While many of the first Christians were Jewish, Christianity took hold and flourished in the Gentile community. Mark’s community was mostly a Gentile community, who may have been experiencing persecution. By showing that Jesus himself was rejected, Mark consoles and reassures his first readers. He also prepares us to accept this possible consequence of Christian discipleship.

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