Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 9:14-29 - World English Bible

14 Coming to the disciples, Jesus saw a great multitude around them, and scribes questioning them. 15 Immediately all the multitude, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and running to him greeted him. 16 He asked the scribes, "What are you asking them?"

17 One of the multitude answered, "Teacher, I brought to you my son, who has a mute spirit; 18 and wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth, and wastes away. I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they weren't able."

19 He answered him, "Unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to me."

20 They brought him to him, and when he saw him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground, wallowing and foaming at the mouth.

21 He asked his father, "How long has it been since this has come to him?"

He said, "From childhood. 22 Often it has cast him both into the fire and into the water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us."

23 Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out with tears, "I believe. Help my unbelief!"

25 When Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, "You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!"

26 Having cried out, and convulsed greatly, it came out of him. The boy became like one dead; so much that most of them said, "He is dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up; and he arose.

28 When he had come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we cast it out?" 29 He said to them, "This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer and fasting."

"I believe. Help my unbelief!"

How many times have we been caught in a moment of crisis to call out in prayer? The prayer itself is an act of belief, but the immediate panic underlining the prayer revealed our doubt. This is not an "either-or" situation, but a moment of human indecision when we cry out for help. Such was the problem an unnamed father faced with his demon possessed child.

The situation was dire for the man. His son displayed self destructive issues that would even cause us to shrink away; he was a deaf-mute who foamed at the mouth, threw himself into fire and water, even to the point of wasting away. The father asked the disciples who were not able to exorcise the demon. So the Lord ejected the spirit with a command. Notice the death-resurrection motif that foreshadowed what Jesus would experience; the more "infected" the person, the more that poor soul needed to die to the "infection" in order to live. Indeed, the Lord himself needed to suffer death, so he could conquer death. Fighting with great evil, Jesus said, required preparation, in the case of the deaf-mute, prayer and fasting.

"I believe. Help my unbelief." Our times of panic do pass, but do they strengthen or weaken our spirituality? It depends how we prepare for them We can't prepare directly, of course, but through prayer and other spiritual disciplines, we can keep our eyes on the Lord and fight off attacks from evil.

How do you prepare each day for times of trial?

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Tuesday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 9:30-37 - World English Bible

30 Jesus and his disciples went out from there, and passed through Galilee. He didn't want anyone to know it. 31 For he was teaching his disciples, and said to them, "The Son of Man is being handed over to the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, on the third day he will rise again."

32 But they didn't understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

33 He came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing among yourselves on the way?"

34 But they were silent, for they had disputed one with another on the way about who was the greatest.

35 He sat down, and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any man wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all." 36 He took a little child, and set him in the middle of them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one such little child in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me, doesn't receive me, but him who sent me."

In these verses from Mark 9, Jesus taught the true measure of Christian leadership. For him, being a leader in the community meant service, even to the point of death. He would show the way by going to Jerusalem, dying and rising from the dead. He went on to correct the disciples' petty ambitions with the presence of a child, the lowest member of ancient society. Whoever offers hospitality to the child (or child-like missionary) received the Lord and, so, his Father in heaven.

How have you led others lately? Have you shown kindness to the child-like?

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Wednesday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 9:38-40 - World English Bible

38 John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone who doesn't follow us casting out demons in your name; and we forbade him, because he doesn't follow us."

39 But Jesus said, "Don't forbid him, for there is no one who will do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is on our side."

Us vs. them. Whoever is your enemy is my enemy. While these stark distinctions might seem childish, they do reveal the cultural mind set behind the implied question of John: how dare an exorcist who doesn't follow Jesus cast out demons in his name? Actually, this question might reflect a controversy in the early Church about faith healers and the use of his name. The name of the Lord had power, even outside the community of believers. Did they have an inherent right to its use?

Jesus answered "No" and for good reason; use of his name by others on the outside evangelized them. That insight was summed up in Mark 9:39: "... no one who will do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me."

How do you use the name of the Lord? How do you exercise its power?

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Thursday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 9:41-50 - World English Bible

Jesus told his followers:

41 "For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ's, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward. 42 Whoever will cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around his neck. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having your two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire, 44 'where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched.' If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having your two feet to be cast into Gehenna, into the fire that will never be quenched— 46 'where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched.' 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out. It is better for you to enter into God's Kingdom with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire, 48 'where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched.' 49 For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

In Mark 9, Jesus employed positive and negative images to reinforce the example of a disciple. On the positive side, a simple act of hospitality, extending someone a drink of water, would gain divine reward. On the negative side, the act of scandal would result in God's wrath so dire that not existing would have been a better option. Here, the Lord employed extreme imagery to make his point, a tactic not uncommon in the ancient world. Excising the eye, hand or foot from the body was metaphorical, since the Torah expressly forbade self-mutilation. It was not the body part that was to ejected, but the activity associated with that part; if what the person saw caused sin, turn away; if what the person did with his hands or traveled by foot caused sin, turn away. The parable of mutilation, however, had a deeper irony, for Jesus inferred that a person who made himself unclean by mutilation could enter the Kingdom, while the whole sinner could not. He described punishment for sin with a reference to Gehenna, an infamous area outside Jerusalem known human sacrifice using a white-hot fire (2 Chronicles 28:3, inferred in Isaiah 30:33 as the "burning place"), and by quoting Isaiah 66:24 ("where their worm doesn't die, and the fire is not quenched"; the best texts omit the repetition of this phrase in 9:44, 46).

Jesus finished the discourse with some strange turns. First, he shifted fire and sacrifice (inferred in the Gehenna image) from an act of punishment to an act of persecution; both fire and sacrifice were like salt, which "seasoned" the disciple, preparing him for the Kingdom. Finally, he spoke of salt as a parable of seasoning; those who survived oppression have an inner strength (salt) to carry on, but those who lose that strength were as good as useless. That inner strength brought confidence and communal peace, despite challenges from the outside.

How's your "salt?" Does your example add to the faith of others or detract from it?

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Friday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 10:1-12 - World English Bible

1 Jesus came into the borders of Judea and beyond the Jordan. Multitudes came together to him again. As he usually did, he was again teaching them. 2 Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

3 He answered, "What did Moses command you?"

4 They said, "Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written, and to divorce her."

5 But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

10 In the house, his disciples asked him again about the same matter. 11 He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her. 12 If a woman herself divorces her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery."

What does it mean to be married? Is it a divinely ordained covenant or merely a legal (hence, social) contract? Those are the two poles of our modern debate on the meaning of the institution, but what did it mean to be married in the time of Jesus? Strangely enough, the controversy between the Lord and the Pharisees rotated around those same understandings. Jesus took the spiritual sense; the religious leaders held to the legal sense.

Was it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? In an ancient society that was dominated by males and segregated by gender, the answer to that question was a matter of life and death. If a man could divorce his wife on a whim or as a means to shame her family or as a way to advance socially with a bride from a more powerful family, he had no responsibility for his ex-wife's fate. If her family did take her back into the fold, would she be treated with respect or shunned as "damaged goods?" Her odds at remarriage were low; would she face the unfair reputation as a failure? If her family would not receive her, would she be subjected to a life on the streets, begging, at best, prostituting herself, at worst? These were real life questions for the woman in ancient times.

Jesus responded to the leaders' question by trumping them in rabbinical debate. Yes, Moses did allow for divorce, but, by the rules of debate, an early ruling in the Law could modify (even effectively nullify) a later ruling. So, Jesus' quotes of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 outweighed the passage of Deuteronomy 24:1 the Pharisees favored. In fact, Jesus insisted the marriage bond expressed in Genesis was the will of God that could not be broken. Indeed, the will of God defined marriage; if anyone broke the bond between man and woman committed adultery.

Of course, modern times do not spell dire consequences for the ex-wife. And most of us have experienced divorce directly in our lives or vicariously through the heart break of family or close friends. Yes, divorce is legal and even preferable in many circumstances. But, we must not forget the spiritual ramifications of marriage. They can and do loom large in bond between joined partners.

Personally, my marriage with my wife is a true blessing, because the relationship I share with her has always been rooted in our faith. Our life together is something I truly cherish.

How have you experienced marriage? How have you experienced divorce?

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Saturday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 10:13.16 - World English Bible

13 People were bringing to Jesus little children, that he should touch them, but the disciples rebuked those who were bringing them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said to them, "Allow the little children to come to me! Don't forbid them, for God's Kingdom belongs to such as these. 15 Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive God's Kingdom like a little child, he will in no way enter into it." 16 He took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Unlike modern Western society, children stood on the bottom rung of ancient cultural ladder. Women bore children as cheap labor, increasing the wealth of the clan. They were also part of the social safety net, insuring care for the most important members of the extended family, the elderly.

When people brought their children to Jesus for blessing, in the same way they brought their sick and demon-possessed for healing, naturally the disciples tried to dissuade the crowd. Why bother the Master with the insignificant? But that was the point the Lord was trying to make. The Kingdom was made for the least in society; in fact, one had to have the status of a child to enter into God's realm. So, one needed to extend hospitality even to the smallest to be a citizen in the Kingdom.

As an example to his followers, Jesus welcomed and blessed the children.

How do you serve the least in your world?

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