March 4 – Keep Holy the Sabbath

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March 4 – Keep Holy the Sabbath

There’s no better way to deepen our Lenten practice than to review the Ten Commandments. The first three, having to do with our right relationship to God, get the most ink. The one we busy people probably have the most problem with is keeping holy the Sabbath. If we take this commandment literally, babies will go undiapered and dishes will stay on the table, or perhaps meals will not be served. The sick will go unattended and nothing that has anything to do with physical labor will be done. Is mental labor really work? How about changing that dirty diaper (poor baby!)? We need to depend on God to discern how to observe real Sabbath time in our lives. The point of this commandment is that God has given us a great gift: one whole day per week when we are free to rest, worship God, sing, feast, love, and rejoice. As Psalm 19 proclaims: “The law of the LORD is perfect, / refreshing the soul” (19:8). Our Sabbath rest is a great gift, to be received from God with joy, not with nitpicking.

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God tested Abraham by asking not for an ordinary sacrifice, which would have been a partial burning with the meat divided between God and the people and eaten by those who sacrificed, but for a holocaust, a total burning of the sacrificial animal. This type of sacrifice consecrated the entire offering to God alone. This is what God was asking of Abraham in offering his only son, Isaac. When Abraham demonstrated his obedience, that was enough. This story from today’s scriptures foretells the completion of the blood sacrifices of the old covenant in the new covenant: the blood of God’s own Son, offered to us on the cross and in the Eucharist. Abraham’s obedience foreshadows the obedience of Jesus to God’s promise of salvation. The obedience of Abraham is rewarded in the birth to him, through Isaac, of many nations. The obedience of Jesus is rewarded in the salvation of all people for all time.

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February 18 – People of the Covenant

If there is one word that stands out in today’s readings, it is “covenant.” God’s faithfulness and goodness serve as examples to us of how to live. Genesis tells the story of Noah and of God’s covenant not only with all people, but with all of nature. Never will the cleansing waters of the flood bring their destructive power to all the earth again. The sign, the reminder to both God and nature, is the rainbow in the heavens. The psalm reminds us of this compassion of God, and begs God to remember us, not because of our goodness, but because of God’s goodness and fidelity to the promise. God shows us how to be good, not by decree, but by example.

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February 11 – Give God the Glory

A curious feature of the first half of Mark’s Gospel is the pattern of Jesus working a miracle, then telling the recipient of the miracle to keep still about it. Many theories have been offered: Mark is setting the stage for the great “secret” revealed when Peter will proclaim Jesus the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi; more skeptical commentators offer that Jesus, fully aware of human nature, knew that the way to spread the news was to tell people to keep it secret. The insight into this secret-keeping that serves us well, however, is that Jesus was initiating his public ministry according to the pattern that Paul describes. He was doing it for the glory of God—not for his own benefit, but for that of all. Paul would later write in Philippians that Jesus “humbled” himself to become like us. And we see this humility at work in today’s healing of the leper. Jesus is trying to reveal the presence of God’s reign among the people, not so that he himself might receive the glory, but so that God would be glorified through him. Imitating this pattern, which Paul encourages the Jewish and Greek Christian factions in Corinth to do, still serves us well today.

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February 4 – Tireless Discipleship

The stories we’ve been hearing these weeks come from the very first chapter of Mark, and they show us the public ministry of Jesus in its infancy. Today’s account shows some of the strain or adjustment of his new life of preaching the reign of God, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Notice that after sunset, when darkness ended the workday, people brought the sick and possessed to Jesus. The following day he rose before dawn to get away by himself to pray, but to no avail. Simon Peter and the others don’t just look for him, they pursue him, filled with the fervor that his ministry has incited. With the self-sacrificing example he gave until the end of his earthly life, he tells his followers that this is his whole purpose. Through Mark, he is also telling the early church, and he is telling us, that this is our purpose, our vocation: to be tireless in our pursuit of proclaiming the Good News, and in bringing the healing, reconciling touch of Christ to the world.

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January 28 – True Prophets

In Deuteronomy today we hear that God’s very words will fill the mouth of a true prophet, but a false prophet will, in a manner of speaking, put mere mortal words into God’s mouth. In Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus teaching and healing as a true prophet, one filled with the authority of God’s own voice. The whole history of our church is filled with both true and false prophets. Some false prophets were extremely popular and quite well-versed in scripture, and even held positions of authority. But in today’s Gospel we learn that Jesus’ fame spread because he taught with authority; he wasn’t an authority because he was popular or famous. Elsewhere, we also learn from him, in his desert temptation confrontations with Satan, that anyone can quote scripture, even against God’s purposes. Today we hear that his authority was not like that of the scribes, who held the official positions of religious authority in his day. Our work is to do our best to discern the true prophets in our midst, and to be true prophets as well. The psalmist tells us how to do this: by not hardening our hearts when God speaks. If we truly listen to God, it will be God’s very words filling our mouths.

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Today we encounter readings that already have a Lenten feel about them. Nineveh undergoes a forty-day fast, the psalmist reminds us that God alone can show sinners the way, Paul shows us how fleeting the things and events of this world are, and Jesus cries out “Repent!” before he calls his new followers. “Come after me,” Jesus says, but if we are to truly live out the commands and demands of our discipleship through baptism, we must first know our need for conversion, our repentance, our need to believe in the gospel fully. Today’s Gospel opens with the stark reminder of what befell John the Baptist for completely living out his vocation as the herald of Christ and the gospel: he was arrested, imprisoned, and martyred. Though few of us will experience consequences that extreme, we must all be ready to risk some sort of rejection as, heeding the call of Jesus, we live out the kingdom of God at hand, repent of our sins, and believe in the good news of salvation.

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January 14 – The Lamb of God

“Behold the Lamb of God!” We hear this phrase every Sunday at Mass, but there’s a good chance that many Roman Catholics do not know who in the Bible originally spoke it. The phrase appears only in the Gospel of John, on the lips of John the Baptist, who utters it twice. In today’s Gospel reading, John proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God, and two of John’s own disciples then follow Christ. A little bit later Andrew, who heard John and then followed Jesus, brings his brother Simon to be re-named Cephas, or Peter. A careful look at these Bible verses shows us the mission of everyone baptized into the Body of Christ: we must always proclaim our faith in Christ, so that others will follow him. We may not know how the will of God might work through those we bring to Christ; that is not the point. The point is that our ongoing mission as a church is to bring others to Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

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Today Isaiah reminds the people of God that the land shall be restored to their possession, they shall rejoice to see their people return from the bondage of exile, and that they shall be a light to the nations. In other words, through the people of Israel, the Savior shall come to all people who seek God with a sincere heart. This brings joy and the radiance of God’s glory to all the world and to all people everywhere. Through the fidelity of the people of God, and through God’s fidelity to them, all people shall become God’s children and rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel.

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December 31 – Bearers of the Word

The Church has placed a number of notable feast days immediately after Christmas. The feasts of Stephen, John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents form a summary of the life lived in Christ, the Word made flesh. What do these have to do with the feast of the Holy Family, which crowns the Octave of Christmas? These feasts remind us that suffering will occur in fulfilling the mission of Christ, and that we are all called to be bearers of this Word whose birth we celebrate. We also see this manifested in the lives of Joseph and Mary, both of whom took social and religious risks in obedience to the will of God, and both of whom were open to the word of God sent to them from on high. In these ways they prefigured the life of Jesus himself. Most likely, few of us found ourselves at Mass this past Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but the essence of these feasts and the essence of the holiness of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus remain central, a holiness we celebrate today.

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