Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 5 )
Today’s reading from Ezekiel starts off with a kind of mission statement for all prophets. We know about prophets from the Bible, and we sometimes call people today prophets who speak with an uncanny ability to put things into a new perspective and open our minds to a new way of looking at life. Some people also call fortune-tellers prophets because they predict the future. But the Hebrew prophets simply are humans inspired by God to give messages – both good and bad – to God’s people. We know it is inspiration because Ezekiel explains it this way: “A spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard one speaking to me.”
Prophets then are a kind of receptacle for the Holy Spirit. They are not preaching ideas that their own minds have generated but are speaking things that come directly from God. These messages are not intellectually reasoned out, nor do they have a hidden agenda of their own.
The second thing we learn is that prophets are sent. They aren’t just given a message and told to keep quiet about it. They are sent to a certain group and they are told what they have to say to that certain group. This often isn’t easy as we saw before with Jonah who thought God must have been nuts to send him to Nineveh – to non-believers – to foreign conquerors – and preach to them. However, God says to Ezekiel it shouldn’t matter to him whether the people listen or not. It is enough that have been warned. They need to know that God is still around and that he is speaking to them through someone. That someone is called a prophet.
Our opening hymn today expresses this very well. God has chosen me, says the prophet: to bring good news and new sight. That is what a prophet does.
In the Gospel today Jesus refers to himself as a Prophet and this may surprise us a bit, but if you think about it, he is really just the ultimate prophet. Instead of God telling a mortal man to go and give a message to the people, God is coming himself in the form of a man, and he too gives messages which are both good and bad news. Jesus is preaching in his home town but he knew that it would be for naught. But it didn’t stop him – he began to teach them in the synagogue anyway. He knew they wouldn’t listen because they had preconceived ideas about who he was. They had seen him grow up with them, knew his simple background, knew who his parents were and couldn’t see how he could be this great thing. Jesus comments that it seems to be a cliche that people who prophesy have no honor or respect in their home towns. People can’t get beyond the outward appearances and see that God can talk through anyone – even a carpenter’s son. A much talked about verse that says “Jesus could do no deed of power there”, makes it sound like Jesus might not be an all powerful God, but the power of Jesus as a human being seemed to be fueled by belief. We saw this last week with the woman with the hemorrhages and Jairus. It was their belief, their faith in Jesus that was the catalyst for the cure. In Nazareth there was little belief. In fact we are told that “Jesus was amazed at their unbelief”. We might remember for ourselves then, that the more faith we have in Jesus, the easier it will be for miracles to happen. We should try to do things that would strengthen our belief system.
St. Paul adds something else to the concept of Christian prophecy. Christians have been given revelations, and they are told to go to the world and preach the Good News. Paul says he was elated with this news but perhaps began to think of himself as better than others because he had been given the gift of many revelations or prophecies. He was feeling proud of the fact, and so he says, God had to take him down a peg. Paul himself had nothing to do with these graces – it was God’s gift. So Paul should not get a swollen head about it – he had nothing to do with it. He needed only go and preach the faith to others so that they too could enjoy God’s graces and gifts. So Paul says he was given some sort of physical suffering or temptation to deal with. He is very vague – commentators have been trying to guess for years what it could be. Whatever it was, it bad enough that he cried out to Jesus about it for help. The answer he got back was simply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
That idea that suffering, that taking up a cross, that being tempted, was part of the the following of Jesus is in all the Gospels and certainly in Paul. We are human: we are going to get sick, we are going to be tempted, we are going to feel depressed at times. But we can use those weakness, Jesus says, to understand others, to share in the suffering of Christ, and to empathize. He promises that it will never be too much, because he will always give you the grace to endure if you believe in him. There’s that belief again. And another reason why we need to develop that deep faith and trust and belief in the Lord.
I ask you today to practice doing this a little every day. It can be as simple as offering up some little or big pain or sickness, seeing others who suffer more than you do, realizing the immense gift of grace that is available to us, and looking forward to becoming stronger through our weakness, as Paul did.
This is Good News. This is the Spirit’s message to us today. This is why we are all prophets and God can speak through us. Let God do it!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]
13th Sunday Ordinary time year B Wisdom 1: 13-24, 2: 23-24/ Ps 30: 2-13, 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15, Mark 5: 21-43
Blood, Shame and the Healing Hand of God
Sometimes Mark’s Gospel goes from simple to complex in a sentence or two. Just when you thought you understood, it gets confusing. So let’s look at these two healings in Mark, and see what we find.
On one hand we have a young girl, on the other, a grown woman. The girl’s father comes on her behalf; the girl never speaks. The woman has no one to speak for her (remember, women had no business speaking in public). The girl’s father is bold and interrupts Jesus’ teaching. The woman quietly sneaks up, hoping only to touch his clothing and slip silently away. The father is synagogue ruler; people step aside to allow him to pass. The woman was impoverished by the cost of medical treatment, showing the severity of her illness and impossibility of a cure. This woman was not supposed to be in the crowd. If people knew her condition, they would call out that she was unclean and she would be banished in shame from the gathering. The crowd would feel sympathy for the child, while the woman would disgust them. The woman had been ashamed and isolated for 12 long years, but Jesus addresses her warmly as “Daughter.” The girl was 12 years old, young and innocent, not quite yet a woman.
But what grabs you about this girl and this woman is that for both there is certain sureness and a deep-seated belief that Jesus will cure them. The father says, “Lay your hands on my daughter and she will live”. The woman thinks, “If I only touch his clothes, I will be made well”. Jesus announces the healing of the woman in front of the crowd, curing her shame as well as her illness. He orders the girl’s family not to tell anyone. This is typical of Mark’s Gospel, ever so slowly raising the curtain on the mystery of Who Jesus Is.
It is a rich and compelling healing story. It is amazing from every direction. I can imagine no other scenario where priests and preachers through the ages would even remotely consider hinting at the shame of “female problems” in a homily. What other 1st century Jewish man would be so attentive to a poor, sick, bleeding, woman who broke the rules, who inconvenienced and delayed him on his way to a dying child. By her mere touch, she made him unclean. By her mere presence, she risked shaming him too. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” It is a blessing, it is healing, but most of all, it is praise and even admiration for her actions and her daring, presumptuous faith. Notice that he treated this woman with respect and care equal to the respect and care he poured out on the religious leader and his daughter. Here is true equality. Here is the level of equality that St. Paul is trying to teach in our 2nd reading.
We’ve read the parables of the seeds, then the calming of the storm, then the healings of the daughters. Mark constantly asks, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” The purpose of his Gospel is to make you certain that Jesus is the Son of God. You come to know that truth from straightforward stories with emphasis on what Jesus did.
This Biblical Jesus was strong, yet sensitive; he acted decisively. He was in control of himself and the situation like no one else, whether it was a storm at sea, a hungry crowd, or a dying child. He did not follow the rules of religion or “polite” society. He never said, “Later, I’m busy”. We find Jesus has authority, not human, but divine authority.
Why does Mark include this woman’s story in his Gospel? Your missal offers the option of not reading it. I’m sure there are people who’d really rather not come to church to hear about a bleeding woman. Perhaps Mark treasured this story for the way it portrays Jesus, and for the healing Jesus offers for the things that shame us.
The writers of Genesis and Job and Wisdom struggle with death. But I think the greater struggle we face is shame, whether it’s shame from our mistakes and failures, or shame forced on us. We trusted the wrong person and did things we sorely regret. We made bad decisions that had terrible impacts on others. We abandoned a friend, we broke a promise; we used someone thoughtlessly. We covered up a lie or let someone else take the blame. We watched someone be cruel and didn’t do anything to stop it. Having shame isn’t just needing forgiveness. Having shame means to be deeply embarrassed and having a wound festering in your memory which just won’t heal. Only God can heal shame, and God eagerly responds to the smallest touch from us. God attends to each of our needs in the most unexpected and individual and lavish ways. Our worst moments can be transformed into astounding blessings for ourselves and others. My husband was cruel and abusive. I was deeply ashamed of being in that situation. But now I thank God for the love and understanding I can offer bruised and battered women who come to this little old gray-haired priest.
Jesus stopped in mid crisis to publicly heal and release an unnamed woman from the shame. At that moment, she was the most worthy of all God’s children. He refused to turn away when confronted with a life in the balance. While we might have seen worthy child vs unworthy woman, Jesus knew otherwise. A daughter or son of any age can reach out to our God-with-us, and be given healing and love.
Deacon Harry Hartigan is a CACINA deacon who is featured in an article published by the American Association of Retired Persons.
Today we meet Jairus, a Jewish official in the synagogue and a distraught father whose daughter was dieing. Jesus gave in to his plea for help. As he was going with Jairus, another woman in the crowd who was sick tentatively approached Jesus, being unclean because of her illness and afraid to stand out, she simply reached out to touch his cloak. Immediately she was healed, but Jesus knew and asked “who touched my clothes?” Jesus told the woman her faith has saved her. As they spoke others came and told Jairus his daughter was dead. Jesus told him to have faith. That word Faith so used and at times so hard to understand. Through the centuries, the philosophers and thinkers have told us that spiritually we have three faculties, the head, the heart, and the gut. In our head we think, in our heart we feel, but in our gut we know , know in a way beyond thought and feeling. As much as we can think and learn and be led on a path to believe, thought alone is not going to give us faith. Heart will not give us faith simply because we feel one way or another. These two can bring us to the edge or brink of faith, but the final step the leap, the moment of I believe, I know, is from the gut. Deep within the recesses of our being, our gut knows and tells us what is right. Deep down we know that this is where we are to be where our faith, our belief needs to be. We all know deep within us a voice tells us yes and no. Sometimes we dress it up and call it conscience, but yes our gut tells us yes or no.
In life and in our faith, our gut tells us when we see or hear right thinking or right feelings and when thought and feeling are just wrong. The Woman today and Jairus both rejected the norm of their time which said Jesus was an outsider because their gut told them he was special, a healer, a man of God. They followed their gut and help and comfort in their need and found a new faith in Jesus. All of us as we grow and get older realize how easy it is to just go along, yet as life progresses we learn that choice and moving on and raising a family requires many gut reactions along the way. Jesus blesses those who choose and reach out to him. His love embraces our faith and love, and it is always there even if we occasionally fail. Remember the woman today who was healed who simply reached out and touched his cloak.
This gospel passage is appropriate for Father’s Day in a way we might not notice immediately. I think most of us probably have an image of our fathers as men who kept us safe—sort of stood between us and a world that would gobble us up.
Fear is a basic emotion. One of the most primitive systems in our brain, fear is shared commonly across all species of animals. It developed early as a feature in our brains, and it was so successful that it really hasn’t changed much over the ages. Fear is a basic emotion, but it is one that the scriptures repeatedly call us to resist.
Jesus repeatedly teaches us to think of God as father. To say that is not to diminish the motherhood of God; God is of course maternal in God’s care for us, but God is also paternal in God’s care for us. Jesus in today’s gospel invites us to depend only on God and rely on nothing else; in a way, it is an invitation to put our trust in the fatherhood of God. The kind of trust that is our call is like when a swimming instructor tells a child to let go and fall into the water. At first, terror grips the child, not believing that support is there. When the child finally relaxes, however, she sees she is indeed floating atop the water: that she is being sustained, and acceptance and serenity accompany that moment.
Jesus calls his disciples in today’s gospel to understand the reality of God’s providence: the assurance that God is the one constant in their lives and the true source of comfort, trust, and faith: that God is a true Father who stands between us and a world that would gobble us up.
Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)
Aside from the second reading today, all of the readings have something to do with death, a rather uncomfortable subject for most of us today. Our culture had done everything possible to shield us from the reality of death which was something quite ordinary in the lives of our ancestors. There were few families in the past, when families were large, that hadn’t had death come to a younger person. The mortality rate for children was high. People grew old and died at home, death was a natural occurrence, part of a cycle. Wakes were held in people’s homes. I remember taking my father to a house that his grandfather had built which had now been turned into a gift shop. I thought I would surprise him by taking him back there and visiting his grandfather’s house once again. I was taken aback by his reaction when he entered the house and tears formed in his eyes. When I questioned him about it, wondering if they were tears of nostalgia, he told me that the last time he had been in this house, the wall across from where you entered was filled with flowers, for his grandfather’s body was lying in state there.
I recently spoke to a young relative of mine who had never been to a funeral or seen a dead person – and she was in her twenties and was quite unnerved.
Death is a part of life that we will all have to experience and go through. An older person once said to me that he was ready to go anytime. He was tired, and death no longer frightened him. I think that is a wonderful attitude, and is as it should be. However, when death comes at an early age, before one has lived a full life, it seems much more sad and disturbing. In the Gospel today, Jairus may have been quite familiar with death, unlike people today, but the death of a child seemed unnatural to him, as it always does. The love he had for his daughter forces him to do everything he can to save his daughter’s life – even going to a wandering preacher that he heard was able to cure people. Jairus was a synagogue leader, a teacher, a rabbi most likely. He may have heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or he may only have known about him through reputation. Nothing, however, would get in the way of his humbling himself and asking for a miracle for his beloved daughter.
We are not told what Jesus said or what he may have been thinking, but his response was to immediately get up and go to the girl.
If we think of this story as a sandwich with the bread of the tale – the story of Jairus and his daughter, there is a filling to the story as well. Mark often does this. The story is interrupted by an incident on the way to the daughter in which a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years – which would have rendered her unclean, also wanted a cure from Jesus. Her faith was such that she didn’t think she even needed to ask Jesus, but only to touch his clothing to be made well.
Despite the fact that Jesus was being touched and jostled from all sides as he travelled along, he felt something different when the woman touched him – some power leaving him – so he demanded to know who it was that had touched him. In fear because she knew she was unclean and had touched Jesus, thus according to law rendering him unclean as well, the woman admitted her guilt. Instead of being angry with her, though, Jesus praises her for her great faith, and tells her she is cured. Mark is setting up here the “power” of Jesus to heal because now that power is going to be seen as something even greater – not just healing but raising the dead.
We come back to the ‘bread’ of the sandwich now. Jairus’ daughter has died so some people from Jairus’ home came to tell Jesus to forget it. The girl had died. He was too late to heal her.
Jesus speaks only five words, but they are words which we should memorize and apply over and over to our own lives as well. Groups like AA and Al-Anon talk a lot about their little sayings that help them through life’s problems – like the Serenity Prayer or Let go and let God. Jesus’ words here could very well be a saying for us to apply to our lives whenever things get bad – Do not fear; only believe. Do not fear; only believe!
Then, Jesus comes to cure the child amidst laughter and jeering that someone could actually ‘heal’ a dead person. But I am sure their laughter quite stopped when the girl came out and was not only well, but hungry.
I love the way Mark tells this story because he keeps it vivid but simple, and sandwiching the hemorrhaging woman in the middle of it, prepares us for an even greater miracle which is to come.
Wisdom reminded us today: God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Our God is a God of life, and the movement of history is to life and not death. The kingdom of heaven we talk about so much starts right here – by our living – right now – this moment. The psalmist says “you…restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit….
You have turned my mourning into dancing! That is the richness that Paul talks about today when he says that God became poor, so that by his poverty you may become rich. Our God IS a God of life. Only believe that and live! The kingdom of heaven is here now if we give into it, live it, love in it, and never fear. That is the continuing Good News that Jesus gave during his lifetime here, and the Good News that needs to sustain us as we move to our own death and the eternal life that follows it. Do not fear, only believe!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]
12th Sunday Ordinary time year B, 6-21-15, Job 38:1-11,Ps 107:23-31, 2Cor 5:14-17, Mark 4: 35-41
If last week’s readings were about trees, hope, & the Kingdom of God, then today’s readings are about water, fear, & the Power of God. Our Psalm sets the stage for us. We’re reading Psalm 107, only some 40 verses long; please read it all later today. It starts like this: “Give thanks to the Lord who is good, whose love endures forever – Let that be the prayer of the Lord’s redeemed…those gathered from east and west, from north and south.” This is poetry and we need to look for some poetic symbols. Right off we have east, west, north and south, the four points of the compass. These are all the directions, just these four. You can combine them, of course, like NNE, but there are only 4 directions. 4 is the symbol of completeness.
Then the poet gives us four examples of people who are desperately afraid. What about the symbol of the compass? Well, that tells us that these four examples, with some variations and combinations, will be all the types of situations that cause fear. Our Psalmist labels them: 1) being lost in the desert without food or water, 2) imprisonment, 3) mortal illness, and 4) being in a violent storm at sea. Today we’ll talk about the first and last examples. In the first example, what did the people do who were lost in the desert, starving? “In their distress, they cried to the Lord, and He satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things.” “Filled the hungry with good things” – that sounds familiar – from the Magnificat! Perhaps this Psalm kept the Blessed Mother from fear in those moments when she felt lost or in the storms of life.
In the last example of our Psalm, we have professional deep-water sailors, traders, strong-spirited, and adventurous men, caught in the perfect storm at sea. They have a problem. They are powerless as they and their boat are tossed about – their sailing skills are worthless, fear overwhelms them, and their prayer to God is a despite plea to save their lives. The power of God calms the storm; God’s hand takes them to a peaceful, safe haven. They don’t just shrug and walk away either, but they proclaim God’s praises in front of the people and the leaders. They know they were rescued from certain death.
The best and brightest writers have spent a great deal of time and effort on the questions in the Book of Job. It is the story of a good man who suffers greatly and fears the future. Job has a lengthy discussion with his “friends” about whose fault it is. Of course, fixing the fault rarely if ever fixes the problem. There are 4 (that number again) sets of speeches that examine the situation from every possible direction. They are philosophical, preachy, passionate and pointed. Then a storm comes, and God speaks out of the storm, asking questions like, “Where were you when I founded the earth? Have you ever commanded the morning? Have you entered into the sources of the sea? Which is the way to the dwelling place of light? Does the rain have a father; who has begotten the drops of dew?”
In the end, Job can only say, “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.” Job could have faith in God without understanding everything that happened. Fear no longer overcame Job.
We draw a simple conclusion: God is God, and we’re not God. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts,” God tells us in Isaiah 55. That is why God can help us when our lives are in ruins, our plans and schemes and hopes shattered, when fear is all that we can find. That is why in Isaiah 41,God can say, “It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Throughout the ages those words echo back to us, “Fear not.” You think the angels just made that up, “Fear Not”?
Now we are ready to talk about the Gospel. This scene directly follows the parable of the mustard seed, and is the center scene of this portion of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-6:6) First are the parables, then 4 (4 again) miracle stories where we see fear and faith juxtaposed. The apostles, of course include some skilled fishermen, knowledgeable about this lake. While Jesus slept, a violent squall came up and waves crashed over the boat, filling it with water. Everyone else we have read about today cries out to God. Who do the Apostles cry out to? Jesus, of course. Mark is telling us that Jesus is God. The apostles ask, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” We respond, “God.” Jesus tells the sea to “Be still.” Literally the word he uses means to “muzzle it”, just exactly as he had told the evil spirits in Mark 1:25 – just as a master would speak to a dog. Jesus is the master of all creation.
But Jesus has a habit of asking questions that seem to come out of nowhere. “Why were you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” “Faith” is not just belief that God exists. “Faith” means that we know our God is beside us, God dwells in “our boat”, and that God can and will act. How can we meet Jesus, spend the day with him, listen to his teaching, and still think that fear will help?
What about the violent squalls in your life? St. Augustine wrote this, “When you have to listen to abuse, you are buffeted by the wind; when your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. When the winds blow and waves mount, when your boat is sinking and you are losing heart, when you are insulted, when you want get revenge instead of give forgiveness, wake Jesus to calm the storm and rebuke the sea.” Then remember that the wind and the sea obey Jesus, and we must do the same. Jesus commanded that we love each other; we must be still, and love.
St. Paul, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians sums it all up: Once you have experienced faith and the love of Christ, once you have been rescued from helplessness and fear, you are different, you are a new being. Life has changed, your understanding has changed; you are free of fear and released from the smallness of your own life. Your life has become part of the eternal dimension of God.
Job was an interesting prophet of the old testament. He was most remarkable for his suffering and endurance and his desire for an audience with God. In so many ways he lost hope only to be confronted with God’s love that rewarded his faithfulness in the end. The why and the confusion of the disasters that befell him and haunted him, a righteous man were in the end consumed and extinguished by God’s love bestowed on his creation, In the gospel today, we see the desperation and fear of the disciples at the storm and what looks like their impending doom. Jesus was there with them sleeping peacefully and obviously unaware or unconcerned about his disciple’s plight. Awakened, he quieted the storm and asked why are you afraid, where is your faith, your trust.
I think all or at least most of us have had a moment in our lives when we have turned to God and asked what is going on or why? Life always present moments of pain, or sorrow or disrupted lives different from what we plan. We want to know why we can’t have things as we want. Sickness, injury or even a death can be life changing. Why me we might ask, yet Christ would ask where is your faith, your trust. We all profess our faith but we sometimes forget that the “I” of person hood is submerged in Christ with our I believe. As God’s love embraced and comforted Job, so too it embraces us and strengthens us to a stronger love and faith in Christ. Certainly God doesn’t cause our pain or sorrow, but allows it so that it stretches us to a greater love and understanding. Christ’s life showed us clearly that God’s ways and his love were different and harder to fathom than our own ways. Christ lived so that he could suffer and die for all. Suffering, pain and death are all a part of what humanity is. But let us not forget that Christ is with us. As much as we might feel alone or abandoned, faith tells us he and his love is with us. We must trust an d love and his love will always prevail. In the end, ultimately our whys and doubts will lead us to God’s peace and understanding if we remain open to his love.