Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:1-12 - World English Bible

1 Jesus began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a pit for the wine press, built a tower, rented it out to a farmer, and went into another country. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to the farmer to get from the farmer his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 They took him, beat him, and sent him away empty. 4 Again, he sent another servant to them; and they threw stones at him, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. 5 Again he sent another; and they killed him; and many others, beating some, and killing some. 6 Therefore still having one, his beloved son, he sent him last to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 7 But those farmers said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 They took him, killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9 What therefore will the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmers, and will give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven't you even read this Scripture:

'The stone which the builders rejected,
the same was made the head of the corner.
11 This was from the Lord,
it is marvelous in our eyes'?"

12 They tried to seize him, but they feared the multitude; for they perceived that he spoke the parable against them. They left him, and went away.

In Mark 12, Jesus spoke in familiar images to his opponents. But, like many of his stories, he turned social convention on its head in the parable of the tenant farmers. The vineyard was Israel (Isaiah 5) and the owner was YHWH. However, the owner was a foreign (Gentile) rich man; the juxtaposition of the God with a hated pagan set up the dissonance that carried through the rest of the parable. The religious elites were the tenant farmers who had sympathy from the general populace as downtrodden victims; now they were the antagonists, guilty of killing the prophets (the rich man's servants) and, finally, the Son, in the mistaken belief that, without an heir, they would take possession of the nation (the vineyard). Of course, justice demanded punishment for the leadership (the farmers), but that should not be the outcome in the popular mind. After all, Israel was God's Chosen people; they were supposed to be the winners in the conflict. Jesus had another message in mind when he quoted Psalm 118:22-23. God chose the loser to be the cornerstone of his new, living Temple, the new Israel.

Where do you fit into the new people of God?

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Tuesday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:13-17 - World English Bible

13 The religious leaders sent some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians to Jesus, that they might trap him with words. 14 When they had come, they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you are honest, and don't defer to anyone; for you aren't partial to anyone, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 15 Shall we give, or shall we not give?"

But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why do you test me? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it."

16 They brought it.

He said to them, "Whose is this image and inscription?"

They said to him, "Caesar's."

17 Jesus answered them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

They marveled greatly at him.

The controversy over payment of taxes in Mark 12 cut to the heart of the Jews' self identity. Were they subjects to YHWH or to a foreign power? The coin Jesus requested, a denarius, was the average wage of the common man. It had image of the Emperor embossed on it, representing not only the political reality imposed on Palestine at the time, but also the will of the Roman gods. Paying taxes with a denarius, then, recognized the power of the state and its gods. That cut to the heart of the debate. Did a Jew deny his identity and his God by paying tribute to Rome?

The leaders thought they caught Jesus in a trap. If he said "No" to paying taxes, he committed treason against Rome, a capital offense. If he agreed, he denied his own allegiance to YHWH. He slipped out of the trap with a realist's answer: give to Caesar the tax owed to him, but give to God your all.

Implicitly, Jesus recognized ethical living was not painted in blacks and whites; sometimes there were shades of gray, times of compromise necessary for a greater good. Paying taxes in his time was one of those necessary evils to keep the peace for the region. There were times to stand on a principle and times to compromise. To determine the right time for the right action required wisdom, not zeal.

When have you compromised for the greater good?

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Wednesday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:18-27 - World English Bible

18 There came to Jesus Sadducees, who say that there is no resurrection. They asked him, saying, 19 "Teacher, Moses wrote to us, 'If a man's brother dies, and leaves a wife behind him, and leaves no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up offspring for his brother.' 20 There were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and dying left no offspring. 21 The second took her, and died, leaving no children behind him. The third likewise; 22 and the seven took her and left no children. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be of them? For the seven had her as a wife."

24 Jesus answered them, "Isn't this because you are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God? 25 For when they will rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 But about the dead, that they are raised; haven't you read in the book of Moses, about the Bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are therefore badly mistaken."

In these verses from Mark 12, Jesus entered into a intricate debate with the Sadducees that might elude the modern reader. The Sadducees were a small, but powerful party of Temple elites. As theological minimalists, they restricted faith and duty to worship of YHWH found in the Torah; they rejected any tenet outside the first five books of the Bible, including belief in the resurrection. When they argued with the Lord, they presented a scenario based upon "kinsman-redeemer" law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10); its absurd conclusion (whose wife will the woman be in the resurrection?) meant to show the incompatibility of the belief with the Law. God's word could not be broken and faith in the resurrection was outside that word, they concluded.

Jesus counter-argued in two ways. First, he said the institution of marriage did not exist in the resurrection; the raised are like angels. Second, he trumped the passage the Sadducees sighted with the passage of the primary revelation: Moses before the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). YHWH, the living Deity, revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus hinged his argument on the term "living." Obviously, God could not die; he always lived. But, the Lord added the notion that, for God to be God, he needed worshipers, living beings to give him the praise he was due. The dead could not worship, so there must be those in the heavenly court who lived (for example, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Hence, he concluded "He is not the God of the dead, but the living." Ergo, the resurrection.

While the argument Jesus had with the Sadducees might strike us as odd, it cut to the heart of faith. What kind of deity do we worship, the God of the dead or the living? In other words, do we live our faith as if there is a tomorrow, a life with God forever? Or do we exist as if faith didn't matter?

What kind of faith do you show to others?

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Thursday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:28-34 - World English Bible

28 One of the scribes came, and heard the leaders questioning together. Knowing that Jesus had answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the greatest of all?"

29 Jesus answered, "The greatest is, 'Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. 31 The second is like this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

32 The scribe said to him, "Truly, teacher, you have said well that he is one, and there is none other but he, 33 and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from God's Kingdom."

In Mark 12, a scribe inquired about the "arch-commandment," not only the greatest command in the Torah, but the touchstone of interpretation, the lens through which all the others are given importance. The Lord gave two: love of God above all else and love of neighbor as self. Both of these passages had importance by themselves. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) declared not only one's attitude before YHWH, but one's place at worship, and the importance of passing along that value. As the pinnacle of the Holiness Codes, love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) stood within a bible chapter that pronounced the name of YHWH more times than any other chapter in the Scriptures. Jesus took these two passages and welded them together around the word "love." Hear love meant more than a warm feeling; it meant allegiance. A person showed allegiance to God through worship and respect for his creation; he demonstrated allegiance to others through charity. Above all, such love focused on the Other, not only the self. Allegiance, then, stood taller than mere ritual observance, for such allegiance meant commitment, the same type of solidarity found in the disciple who "picks up his cross" and follows the Lord.

How do you show your commitment to God and others?

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Friday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:35-37 - World English Bible

35 Jesus taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 For David himself said in the Holy Spirit,

'The Lord said to my Lord,

"Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet."'

37 Therefore David himself calls him Lord, so how can he be his son?"

Who will the Christ be? In the time of Jesus, many people asked about the identity of the Messiah, for they had an apocalyptic expectation his appearance was immanent. The scribes replied with the standard interpretation that the Chosen One would be a Solomon figure, the son of David. He represented the height of power and wealth for the kingdom of Israel; such a empire builder would return the nation to its former glory. Of course, he would be a descendant of the David, but the emphasis would be on his image and role, not only his lineage, per se.

Jesus rejected this line of logic with a quote from Psalm 110:1, the first verse from a royal hymn that could have been part of the coronation ceremony. The song began with a divine invitation for the new regent to sit as the "second in command," as the "prime minister" over the cosmos. This high honor implied a hierarchy of creation, where the enemies of the new Davidic king would be shamed and subjugated ("make you enemies your footstool"). Jesus used 110:1 in that sense, but reminded his audience who (they assumed) wrote the song. In other words, the hymnist David addressed his praise to someone greater than himself. The Lord simply asked the question, "How can someone lesser than David, his son, be recognized as greater than David?" This rhetorical question undercut the logic of a Solomon figure and allowed the possibility for a Christ from the back country of Galilee.

What image of the Christ do you have? How has it be challenged in the past? Has the test helped your faith to grow?

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Saturday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Mark 12:38-44 - World English Bible

38 In his teaching, Jesus said to the people, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk in long robes, and to get greetings in the marketplaces, 39 and the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts: 40 those who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation."

41 Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and saw how the multitude cast money into the treasury. Many who were rich cast in much. 42 A poor widow came, and she cast in two small brass coins,* which equal a quadrans coin. 43 He called his disciples to himself, and said to them, "Most certainly I tell you, this poor widow gave more than all those who are giving into the treasury, 44 for they all gave out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on."

In Mark 12, Jesus wrestled with the religious leaders in different controversies. Now, he commented on their leadership style: arrogant and predatory. Certainly, the selfishness he portrayed in 12:38-40 was a caricature of the scribes in general, but there were enough of these men with such self-absorption to maintain this view. It was a case of "one rotten apple spoiling the entire barrel."

Jesus turned to the offering of a poor widow as a counter example. People lined up at Temple collection baskets several times a day to contribute to the Treasury, a fund dedicated to the needy in Jerusalem. (Rich patrons like King Herod paid for building improvements and upkeep of the Temple, so the Treasury could be used for charitable outreach.) While the rich gave out of their surplus (sometimes in a show of generosity to build up their reputations), the needy widow gave what she had to live on for the the day: two coins ("lepta" in Greek) worth about as much as the smallest denomination the Empire issued at the time ("quadras" worth 3/8 cent). The Lord commented on her charity; she gave everything so that someone else as poor or even poorer could live. The selfishness of the scribes stood in stark contrast to the selflessness of the widow.

When have you been selfish? Selfless?

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