"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

29th SUNDAY (B) October 21, 2018

Isaiah 53: 10-11;Psalm 33; Hebrews 4: 14-16; Mark 10: 35-45

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

 

 The 29th

Sunday

Ordinary

Time

If nothing else, the disciples were persistent. A few Sundays ago, when Jesus asked, they admitted to him that they had been arguing on the road about, "who was the greatest" among them. Jesus corrected and reminded them that among his own, greatness would be measured by a willingness to be "servant of all" (Mark 9: 30-37). These Sundays we have been on the road with Jesus and his disciples. In recent weeks Jesus’ focus has shifted away from the crowds and he has been spending his energies teaching his disciples. He is preparing them for what will happen when they get to Jerusalem and he is handed over to be put to death.

Today we learn that, while they may be further along the road, the disciples have not advanced very much in their apprenticeship, because they still reveal their ambition for power and priority. Jesus had just made his third prediction of the passion, but his disciples still don’t understand. Today’s gospel confirms that. James and John envision a triumphant entrance with Jesus into Jerusalem and, before they get there, they want to secure high places for themselves. They presume Jesus’ enterprise will end in worldly glory and they want to be up close to him to get a large share of the pie.

But if they had really been listening to what Jesus had been teaching them, they would have known that to be close to Jesus in his glory means to be close to him in his humiliation, suffering and death. Jesus had been speaking about his kingdom and James and John want to be there with Jesus when he claims it. But when the time comes for Jesus to be raised on the cross and proclaimed as king on the cross, the disciples’ disillusionment is complete. They missed the lesson Jesus had been teaching them on the road about discipleship. In a way you can’t blame the ambitious two, after all, on their travels Jesus had been performing miracles and attracting crowds. They had just presumed things would keep building and, once in Jerusalem, Jesus would be proclaimed king.

When we plan for our future we look to how we can achieve our goals and fulfill our ambitions. We put failure out of our minds as we forge on. How could the disciples, at this high point in Jesus’ and their popularity, ever imagine the reversal that was ahead of them? The two sons of Zebedee would share in Jesus’ glory: as his disciples they too would come to know suffering and dying in his name. They had envisioned the glories of David’s kingdom; but Jesus’ kingdom would be quite different. They had envisioned sitting with the powerful and triumphant in the halls of power, they certainly weren’t imagining the powers overcoming Jesus and putting him to death.

James and John’s request and the indignation of the other ten, who probably wished they had put the request to Jesus first, provide an opportunity for Jesus to once again spell out what membership in his kingdom means – service. He even takes the opportunity to state it more strongly: anyone wishing to follow him, must be "slave to all." That’s enough to shake them to their roots!

James and John are not the only persistent disciples of the Lord. Mark, the evangelist, is also persistent. He is insistent throughout his gospel that the Twelve just don’t understand who Jesus is and what discipleship entails. Mark is writing for an early church being persecuted because they are Christ’s followers. They are having to "drink the cup" that Jesus drank and that he said his disciples would also drink. Mark paints a picture of the Twelve’s misunderstanding of discipleship as a way of reminding his own community that they must not forget what Jesus taught about service and suffering in his name. Mark’s church is having trouble accepting their suffering and is disillusioned about the Lord’s long delay in returning to bring to completion the reign of God he initiated.

Mark reminds the church, then and now, that Christianity can’t be measured by the ususal signs of institutional success: the size of church buildings; the numbers of adherents; acceptance and esteem in the world; influence in the halls of power; acceptance by world media; achievements of individual members; invitations to sit at prominent places at political banquets, etc. The evangelist stresses Jesus’ rejection of worldly approval and his insistence that his disciples must be found in the least likely places: on the wrong side of the tracks and of popular opinion; among the neglected and rejected; supporting just causes; protecting the environment against "progress," etc. Mark has proposed to his readers that in the eyes of the world and maybe even to some Christians, Jesus’ followers look like failures and are the least significant. But then, what else would they look like, if they were following their Master who came, as he said, not "to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many."

I don’t know what to do with the first reading from Isaiah. It is short and terribly off-putting. In addition, it seems to confirm people’s worse fears about God, especially the One some facilely call, "The God of the Old Testament." God sounds cruel and even sadistic in this brief reading: "The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity." I am sure some people suffering disease or recent loss will hear a very discouraging message in the Isaiah reading. They, who may already be feeling alone, may be made to feel even more bereft since not even God seems to be on their side in their pain. Does it really "please" God to "crush" someone with infirmity – especially a servant of God? If that is so, who would want to serve, or get close to this God? How could a just God punish a faithful servant? Wouldn’t we expect, instead, that God comes to rescue the just one from suffering or, at least, to strengthen a good person through his/her trials?

As a preacher I find this all-too-brief selection in the Sunday lectionary very unfortunate. Perhaps the one who suffers sets an example to others by patiently bearing the agony and not turning away from God. If so, some good may come from the suffering, but all in all, I would vote for another reading that would get this message across with less "baggage." Am I alone in thinking this way, or do other preachers find this reading an unfortunate selection this Sunday?

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102118.cfm

ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE PREACHER

"Making Sense of Mystery: A Primer of Theological Thinking," by John J, Marker, O.P. (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic Publications, 2018)

The author begins by posing a question, "What is the meaning of life?" There are innumerable secular and religious responses to this question. This book explores how our own Christian tradition responds to the mystery of God’s existence, presence and involvement in our lives. Preacher and layperson will be encouraged to reflect on their own experience of mystery and its meaning for their lives.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with goodness.

Psalm 33:5

In reading the above quote, I find myself contemplating how I view Jesus. It seems that it is easy to see Jesus in his divinity, his perfection crowned with the term "Messiah" or "Christ," but much less so, in his humanity, even though we hear his stories every week. How did he manage to remain nonviolent in the face of so much of the unjust misery he shared? What did Jesus propose that would make the religious authorities and Roman Empire feel so threatened?

Fr. John Heagle, in Justice Rising: The Emerging Biblical Vision (Orbis, 2010), writes, "In his solidarity with the blind, the lame, the imprisoned, the paralyzed, the leperous, the mentally ill, and the social outcasts, Jesus is already signaling the pathway toward becoming the ‘new humanity.’ Any community that reaches out to its most vulnerable members with inclusive love and liberating justice is embodying this same vision." Today, we have many groups that are modeling Jesus’ life of self-giving in order to stand for justice. This spirit can be found in Maryknoll, Catholic Worker houses, Sojourners, Commissions on Truth and Reconciliation, Pax Christi, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, Pace e Bene, the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Network, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Catholic Relief Services, the list goes on. We have parishioners that are on fire to live out the lay mission "to renew the temporal order and seek the justice of the kingdom of God" called for in the Vatican II document on the laity (7). We also have parishioners who model Jesus’ life in solidarity with the poor through charitable works. I would add that such communities, organizations, and parishioners as these "fill the earth with goodness."

The Vatican II document adds one other important point as regards justice. "The demands of justice must first of all be satisfied; what is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift in charity. The causes of evils, and not merely their effects, should be eliminated" (8). Here is the rub--we live in a culture that promotes the powerful often to the detriment of the vulnerable. This is the hard work of emulating Jesus because we may not see the particular injustice we seek to end actually end. God’s kingdom of justice and right is at hand; we just need to keep its vision alive in our hearts and active in our hands.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Hebrews reading:

For we do not have a high priest

who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

but one who has similarly been tested in every way,

yet without sin.

Reflection:

Hebrews reminds us that the One who has shared our human lot of suffering and temptation is now enthroned in the heavenly realm. But his position "on high" does not make him unapproachable and above our struggles. Thus, when we approach Christ in prayer we can expect mercy and a sympathetic hearing from his "throne of grace."

So we ask ourselves:

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:  http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org. mailto:Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626