Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 6:53-56 - World English Bible

53 When Jesus and his disciples had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. 54 When they had come out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, 55 and ran around that whole region, and began to bring those who were sick, on their mats, to where they heard he was. 56 Wherever he entered, into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch just the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched him were made well.

In Mark 6, Jesus and his followers arrived by boat in Gennesaret, a plain that slopes down to the Sea of Galilee on its northwest corner. Two items stood out in these verses: the growing reputation of Jesus as a healer and the notion that proximity could effect healing. People flocked to the Lord because of his power and that power could be accessed simply by touching the fringe of his garment.

Fame did attract followers, and, in them, a desire for intimate contact.

Imagine you were in the crowd at the lake shore. How would you try to touch the hem of Jesus' garment?

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Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 7:1-13 - World English Bible

1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together to him, having come from Jerusalem. 2 Now when they saw some of his disciples eating bread with defiled, that is unwashed, hands, they found fault. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews, don't eat unless they wash their hands and forearms, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 They don't eat when they come from the marketplace unless they bathe themselves, and there are many other things, which they have received to hold to: washings of cups, pitchers, bronze vessels, and couches.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why don't your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with unwashed hands?"

6 He answered them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
7 But they worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'

8 "For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men - the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things." 9 He said to them, "Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother;' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.' 11 But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, that is to say, given to God 12 then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this."

Mark 7:6: from Isaiah 29:13.

Mark 7:10a: from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16.

Mark 7:10b: from Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9.

Mark 7 presented Jesus commenting on a minor point of ritual cleanliness: washing hands before eating. Scholars do not know the origin of this practice (along with the washing of pots, pan or utensils). While Jews at the time of Jesus did perform a ritual bath (called a "Mikveh"), the other washings were unknown; some scholars speculate that Jews in the Diaspora washed their hands and cooking dishes to reinforce the notion of kosher that originated in the ritual bath. Meticulous washing created a break between the mundane activities of daily life and meal time when they communed with God (like a meal in the Temple after a communion sacrifice). Washing provided a way to separate life into secular and sacred spheres.

The rural followers of Jesus were not as scrupulous as their urban critics: the Pharisees and the scribes. These city dwellers challenged the country boys to follow the Law in their detailed fashion. The Lord returned criticism; their myoptic focus on detail missed the larger picture of the Law; indeed, such a small view could break the Law. He presented exhibit A: setting aside the Fourth Commandment for the principle of Corban, a donation to the Temple that was free from the financial obligation to support one's parents. Corban lie at the heart of a greater debate: what was more important, keeping the God's Law or worshiping him in the Temple? Jesus argued the acts of mercy proscribed in the Torah trumped ritual sacrifice. (Note Jesus forced the Pharisees to side with their enemies, the Sadducees, on this point.) As a corollary to the argument he made, if the Pharisees allowed this major exception to the Law, wouldn't they make others? As he stated in 7:13, they made "void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down." In this, he implied that the Pharisees were not only wrong, their method of interpretation was illegitimate. In essence, they were heterodox.

Passages like Mark 7:1-13 defined the difference between the Judaism of the Pharisees and that of the early Church. While the controversy could be seen as a caricature (many Pharisees would have agreed with Jesus on the point of Corban), the minute detail to Law still tints the world view of many orthodox Jews today. We must not, however, assume that focus takes away any sense of compassion and mercy. Rabbinical Judaism has much to teach us about God's Law, his will and his expectations for an ethical life.

Are you too scrupulous or obsessive about your spiritual life? Have those behaviors hindered acts of mercy?

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Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 7:14-23 - World English Bible

14 Jesus called all the multitude to himself, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand. 15 There is nothing from outside of the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"

17 When he had entered into a house away from the multitude, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, "Are you also without understanding? Don't you perceive that whatever goes into the man from outside can't defile him, 19 because it doesn't go into his heart, but into his stomach, then into the latrine, thus purifying all foods?" 20 He said, "That which proceeds out of the man, that defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, sexual sins, murders, thefts, 22 covetings, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man."

In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus debated the Pharisees not only over a point in the Law, but the means of interpretation they used. He questioned the very way they applied the Torah to life. Now, he explained his principle of interpretation: separating ritual duties (like keeping a kosher diet) from moral duties. The distinction between the ritual and the moral began with the prophets ("I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." Hosea 6.6a); compassion trumped worship, for such mercy gave a prayerful relationship to God meaning. The Lord, however, took this difference to its logical conclusion by separating the two. This was something unthinkable to a faithful Jew, for they saw morality and ritual purity as two sides of the same coin of the kosher. Jesus did not; for him, righteousness was rooted in moral intent, not in simple ritual behaviors. More to the point, such ritual acts were almost pointless. The true source of the kosher was the heart.

Such thinking was revolutionary. It allowed the followers of Jesus to allow Gentiles into their assemblies, not as second class worshipers, but as equals. Those born unclean could become clean simply by the goodness of their hearts. Such was the message of the Master, such was the will of God.

How do you measure the worth of others, by their acts or their intentions?

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Thursday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 7:24-30 - World English Bible

24 From there Jesus arose, and went away into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. He entered into a house, and didn't want anyone to know it, but he couldn't escape notice. 25 For a woman, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, having heard of him, came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race. She begged him that he would cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not appropriate to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

29 He said to her, "For this saying, go your way. The demon has gone out of your daughter."

30 She went away to her house, and found the child having been laid on the bed, with the demon gone out.

Mark's gospel presented Jesus trying to get some "rest and recreation" in a Gentile territory, where no one would know who he was. Yet, his reputation preceded him. A non-Jewish woman with a demon possessed daughter begged him for a cure. (Talk about "non-kosher"! Here was a Greek - strike one - a woman - strike two - with a demonic daughter - strike three.) Jesus made a dismissive remark that could be seen as racial (the term "dog" was derogatory). Yet, the woman flipped the remark to her favor by ignoring the put-down and interpreting the term "dog" as a family pet. Even "dogs" have a place at the table for they get the leftovers. In other words, the woman believed in salvation for everyone, not just the chosen. He rewarded her faith with the cure of her daughter.

Do we have the woman's faith? Can we flip the out-downs of the world to disarm our adversaries and make them our friends? That requires great trust in Jesus.

How does your faith compare to the woman's?

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Friday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 7:31-37 - World English Bible

31 Again Jesus departed from the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and came to the sea of Galilee, through the middle of the region of Decapolis. 32 They brought to him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. They begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside from the multitude, privately, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat, and touched his tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" that is, "Be opened!" 35 Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was released, and he spoke clearly. 36 He commanded them that they should tell no one, but the more he commanded them, so much the more widely they proclaimed it. 37 They were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He makes even the deaf hear, and the mute speak!"

In this passage from Mark, Jesus traveled east, across the Sea of Galilee, from one Gentile area to another. He departed after one healing; now he would heal again, this time a deaf mute. The difference between the two (demonic daughter vs. deaf mute) was a matter of distance; the first time, he healed through his word, the second time, through his touch. He took the man aside, put his finger in the man's ears, spat (on the ground, as a warning against demons), then touched his tongue. Finally, he looked up to heaven (in a prayer position) and gave the command with a sigh, "Be opened." At that, the man could hear and speak clearly.

If we compare the two healings (Mark 7:24-30 and 7:31-37), we can ask: why did Jesus heal the demonic daughter with a public command at a distance, while taking the deaf mute off to the side and lay his hands on the man? In the eyes of the Lord, was the man a more difficult case than the daughter? Or, was he teaching his disciples that his power could work in any situation, far or near, at a distance or intimately? Either way, he can work miracles, depending upon one's situation in life.

How has the Lord healed you this week?

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Saturday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 8:1-10 - World English Bible

1 In those days, when there was a very great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to himself, and said to them, 2 "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint on the way, for some of them have come a long way."

4 His disciples answered him, "From where could one satisfy these people with bread here in a deserted place?"

5 He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?"

They said, "Seven."

6 He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves. Having given thanks, he broke them, and gave them to his disciples to serve, and they served the multitude. 7 They had a few small fish. Having blessed them, he said to serve these also. 8 They ate, and were filled. They took up seven baskets of broken pieces that were left over. 9 Those who had eaten were about four thousand. Then he sent them away.

10 Immediately he entered into the boat with his disciples, and came into the region of Dalmanutha.

Mark's gospel has two miracle narratives about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes: Mark 6:31-44 (feeding of the 5,000) and this miracle (feeding of the 4,000). Many details remained the same, however. The multitude hungered for food and Jesus fed them. The evangelist implied a greater desire than physical necessity; the crowds sought the Lord in the wilderness, like they did when the Baptist ministered in the desert. But, unlike John, the Nazarene fulfilled their need with little (seven loaves), with a fullness left over (the number "seven" indicated a completeness).

This narrative, like the others multiplication passages, had Eucharistic overtones. Jesus fed the many with the little they had, resulting in an abundance. He does the same today, taking the bread and wine we offer at Mass and giving us something much greater in return, himself.

Do you experience the generosity of the Lord at Communion?

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