CACINA

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

Posted in Christianity, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on February 1, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

The plight of Job is the classic case of the the person who suffers and doesn’t deserve to suffer. At the point when he talks to his so-called friends today, he is pretty low. He has been hit with all sorts of misery over and over again. In his own words he says he has had “months of emptiness” and “nights of misery”. Like a depressed person he sees “no hope” and in his quickly fleeting life, he doesn’t think he will see anything good again.

Our reading ends there leaving us rather depressed and hanging. Surely there is hope for everyone. Why would God allow such suffering as this? Most of us have been there, at least a little. Those of us who have had serious illness, or lost a spouse or child, or suffered job loss or bankruptcy have all been down the same path as Job.

But, although we don’t read about it today there is hope for Job, especially because he stays faithful to God. Now, he does get a little gutsy after his entire family dies and he is a little sharp with God, but he never renounces God.

The whole point of the Book of Job though, it seems to me, is that pain and suffering are part of the human condition. God allows it but God is not punishing anyone. The point is how we react to pain and suffering in terms of our faith in God.

Job’s suffering runs the whole gamut of pain. That is why he is an ‘everyman”. He has physical pain in rashes and sores, blisters and boils. He has mental pain in that his reputation has been shattered and his social standing taken away. He has emotional pain in the death of most of the people he knows, including his whole family, and he has spiritual pain because he thinks he must have done something to deserve all the pain.

Through it all, however, even at the end, Job says that ‘he came naked from his mother’s womb and will go back their naked. God gave, and God took away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. In other words, who are we to question why God allows such suffering and pain? God has a wider plan both for us and for civilization. Through his suffering, Job and we learn a lot by our questioning, In the end Job is restored and rewarded because of his faithfulness to God.

This is why in Psalm 147, after that depressing first reading, we can shout “Sing praises to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.” And also “God’s understanding is beyond measure.” And all this is related to “How good it is to sing praises to our God.” In other words, if we continue to sing praises to God, even in our misery, somehow good will come of it.

In the second reading, Paul suffers all sorts of things in his life as well, but he does it all for the Gospel, he says, so that he may share in its blessings. He also says that “If I do this of my own will, I have a reward.” This is similar to Job’s understanding – if we stay faithful to God, if we carry out his will for us (Paul uses the word “commission”) then we will somehow be rewarded.

We know that God does intervene to help people, although from our point of view, it may seem unfair or very random. Some get cured, others don’t. On earth, though, Jesus showed his God-like nature by healing (physically and spiritually) all sorts of people. Perhaps it was because Jesus was also human, and so was able to cry at Lazarus’ death and feel great sympathy for so many of the suffering people he came up against. In any case, Jesus was first achieving fame as a healer.

Very early on in his career he was healing. Today we read of how he went to Simon Peter’s house and Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever, an infection probably, of some sort. Jesus took her hand and cured her. We also learn that John says early on ‘the whole city” came out to Peter’s house with the diseased people of the city and the mentally ill. And Jesus took care of them all. It is that empathy that comes with Jesus’ humanity that allows God to interrupt the chain of random events and change natural law. So our prayers for the ill should not stop. It may be there there is a greater good in some illness that we can’t see, but we should still cry out to God, who through Jesus was able to suffer along with us and knows what it feels like.

Although he was a healer, the healings were interrupting what Jesus had actually set out to do, and that was preach and tell the Good News of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus took time to pray alone in deserted places to prepare himself, and then moved to the next town to preach, where likely he was interrupted by the pained and suffering people there.

What I see the readings today reminding us of, then, is that we must never give up our faith in God, we must never give up our cries to God to stop suffering and pain, but we also need to realize that their is a greater purpose, one that we are not in on. And so, we place our trust in God, and by doing that, hope that God will reward us in some way. And this is the Good News of trust that we need to be reminded of today, as we continue our constant pleas to the God of healing.

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”]

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Homily February 1, 2015 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on January 28, 2015

4sun ord2Today Jesus enters Capernaum and goes to the Synagogue. When he stands up to teach, he is very different from the men who usually rise to speak. His comportment is different, he has a commanding presence and he speaks with authority. Some kind of diabolical spirit or spirits recognize and challenge him and he drives them away by telling them to leave a possessed man. 4sun ord3The people are stunned and of course talkative and spread what they have seen. You might think we pass information and gossip on quickly today, but ancient times had their network of gossip too. Thus the beginning of Jesus’ notoriety began and drawing crowds started to be a common thing. Jesus spoke not as if he was interpreting or repeating past writings but as an authority who spoke on his own part. To many, this could be unsettling as it changed their perception and understanding. Jesus was different, yet he was faithful to their religion and traditions.

In a way, they had lost sight of the fact that God was a living person, not a static set of rules or laws. What was written or passed down was meant to serve the living out of faith and love in God. Even today we lose sight and forget that the spirit works within us to bring about the best response possible. Each and every person is different as is so many times the issue and concern before us. The Spirit acts in us to assist our sensitivity to the love of God and answering that love as best possible at that time. What we can never forget is that there is only one judge of a person’s soul and life. This authority and understanding somehow shown through Jesus the man before the people listening to him. 4sun ord1He did not speak the language of scholars but spoke in parables and stories. Even more confounding was that he was a simple man traveling with a band of followers. He sought out the poor, the ordinary people, the farmers, the fisherman, yes even the tax collectors. The rulers, the priests, the scholars he left alone. He knew and understood that they were satisfied and cut off and closed up in their self-satisfaction. Even today there is the same trap that says nothing changes or evolves especially understanding. Unfortunately, it is a part of what is a fallen nature, one that makes bad choices some times. The freedom to choose is not bad, but the failure to lovingly choose and hurt others in that failure is bad.

So, in Mark’s gospel so far we Jesus the man calling his Apostles and standing up in Capernaum and a 4sun ord4certain presence or attraction about him that draws others to him. It is a goodness that seizes our senses that even today we see some times in people who are about selfless helping of others. In our time, we are often quick to make heroes and hold them up to a passing fame. But think. Jesus’ presence has surpassed and endured the time of many generations and his presence is relevant even now. We need only turn our hearts to him.

Holy Trinity Parish Homily Sunday January 25, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, Eucharist, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Fr Joe R on January 25, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 25, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2015

In the Book of Deuteronomy which is the last book of the 5 books that make up the Hebrew Pentateuch or Law, Moses speaks to the people just before they are to go into the Promised Land. Moses has not been permitted by God to go into the Promised Land and so he knows that he will shortly die. In his three long speeches to the Israelites he includes, near the end, a prophecy. Though we often think of Moses because of the Exodus story as a larger-than-life warring patriarch, he was actually a prophet of God. God spoke to him and he reported what God said to the people.

In our first reading today we hear the prophecy of Moses. Moses explains that the Israelites were afraid to hear the word of God directly lest they die, so that prophets were sent by God, like Moses, to let them know what God was saying to them. At this point Moses is saying that he is about die, but that God will raise up another prophet, similar to Moses, from the Israelite people. That Prophet needs to be listened to.

God says that he will put his own words into the mouth of the prophet and the prophet shall speak everything that he or she  is commanded to speak.

Now there were many prophets, as you know, because they all have books or prophecies in the Bible – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah…and so on. But this is a special prophet because he will be like Moses…Moses, who led the people out of slavery and into a Promised Land.

Christians have seen in this prophecy the foretelling of Jesus who led us out of the slavery to sin and gave us the kingdom of heaven. The emphasis in Deuteronomy and in the Psalm today is on hearing this prophet and listening to his voice.

So when we get to the Gospel reading today what we see first is Jesus teaching, speaking to those gathered in the synagogue, and teaching them with authority. He is speaking God’s word for he is God in the flesh. The people in the synagogue are amazed at what this simple carpenter is saying to them, and word gets out that this man is a prophet.

But he is more than just a prophet for in the next section he performs an exorcism. The devil or the “unclean spirit” that is inside this man recognizes Jesus for who he is, and in fact calls him the Holy One of God. Jesus is not yet ready for the Hebrews to recognize the Messianic qualities about him so Jesus commands the unclean spirit to be quiet and exorcizes him, again with “authority”. That phrase comes up twice in the reading today – with authority – and because Mark’s Gospel is so short, to have something repeated makes it even more important. For someone to speak with authority, even today, means that the person is expert, knowledgable, forceful and in control. This “authority” is in direct contrast to what they know the man to be – a simple peasant from the poor outlying area, born of simple  working parents.

So at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel people are beginning to realize that this Jesus is no ordinary person, and they began to spread word around that Jesus was someone to be watched. His 15 minutes of fame had begun!

What has this to do with us today? I think first and foremost that we, too, have to recognize that Jesus is more than just a man. It is common today for people to think of him as a good man, but just a man, who had an intriguing take on what it meant to be a Jew in that day, and whose teachings have influenced many over the years. But Jesus is much more than that – and the mystery that Mark is trying to create here helps them and us to come to a realization of who this “man” really was, and what he was to do.

We take Jesus for granted in many ways today. Yes, we ask questions like “What would Jesus have done or said,” but many of us still think of him as simply a moral teacher. Somehow we have to have a recognition at some point in our lives that the man being talked about is more than a man. When that realization really hits us, we too can be “amazed” and “astounded” as were the men of Jesus’ time.

If we really believe that Jesus is God, that he is present here with us today, spiritually and physically, and that he has graced us with salvation and is ready to listen to our needs and prayers, we will celebrate with great respect, wonderful awe and great thanksgiving. That is why we come here each week – certainly not to be entertained or even enlightened – but to praise God, thank God and show our love and care for each other as a result of that love. That is what the word “Eucharist” means.

So as Mark gradually unfolds the mystery of the who Jesus Christ really was and is, let us try to unravel it with him in our hearts so that we can come to know Jesus in the fullest way possible and live out what he has freely given us in praise and thanksgiving. And that is the thrust of Mark’s Good News today!

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”]

Homily By Rev. Martha Tolen for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary time January 25, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit by Fr Joe R on January 24, 2015

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
File that away for a few minutes. But first, it’s time for a pop
quiz. Here are the rules: I ask 3 questions.
If you know the answers, I give you a blessing and sit down. If you
don’t, you’re stuck with me for 8 minutes. No help from Fr. Joe. OK?

After the Ninevites repent, there is a final scene with 3 characters –
God, Jonah, and the third character is? Why does that character die?
Why did I start with that quote from Jesus?

Our first reading today was 6 verses from the Book of Jonah; the only
time the Sunday Lectionary uses it. Let’s take a moment to get a
little historical background. Nineveh was a huge city, the capital of
the Empire of Assyria, the arch-enemy of Israel. The Assyrian king
wanted to conquer the world. He trained his soldiers as fierce and
brutal killers; they slaughtered and burned everyone and everything
everywhere they went. They were feared & hated. God decided to
destroy Nineveh, but gave them one last chance.

You know how the story goes. Jonah was chosen by God to go to Nineveh
and tell them to change their evil ways. Naturally he was afraid, so
instead of going to Nineveh, he got on the first boat that was going
the other way. But God sent a huge storm and the boat was sinking.
Jonah admits to the sailors that he’s running away from God, and the
storm is his fault. The sailors reluctantly decide the only way to
stop the storm and save the ship is to throw him overboard. But God
did not let Jonah drown. He sent a whale, and the whale spews Jonah
up on the shore at Nineveh. The story seems very silly.

Jonah started walking in Nineveh, calling out, “Only Forty days and
Nineveh will be destroyed.” And to his surprise, the very first day,
the King told all the people, “Pray to God, stop the violence, and
change your ways.” Man and beast were to wear sackcloth! (Seriously,
A cow in sackcloth?) Because of their repentance, God didn’t destroy
the city.

But Jonah was SO angry with God. This is where it is no longer a
children’s story. Jonah wanted the city destroyed and the Assyrian
people to die; Jonah really hated the Assyrians for the terrible
things they had done. Jonah sat in a hut; he was angry enough to die
himself. So God grew a plant, the 3rd character in this last scene,
which gave shade to Jonah that day, making him safe and comfortable.
Then next day the plant died, leaving Jonah suffering in the heat, and
Jonah was again very angry with God, this time for the plant dying.
The plant is an object lesson for Jonah, its dying is how God shows
Jonah the value of the Ninevites.

God told Jonah, “So you’re concerned over a single plant, when you
didn’t even put the seed in the ground? Then how do you think I feel
about a whole city of people dying? Don’t you think I should show
pity to 120,000 people I created, who have repented and decided to
live in peace?”

Jonah, you see, has been acting like America, I mean, Biblical Israel.
He has been lacking in sympathy, selfish, and intolerant. Like many
of the Israelites of his day, he was narrow minded and vindictive. He
ran away, unfaithful to God, like all those times the Israelites
reverted to worship of pagan idols (and the stuff in the stores).
Meanwhile, God reveals his salvation, with his amazing mercy and
profound grace for ALL people.

This is a very hard lesson, this loving people who are your enemy,
loving people who have hurt you. God’s love is to be shared with
people who are not very lovable. God can be trusted to change things
that you don’t think can be changed. God loves and values all people,
and wants them to live in peace.

It is also about the nature of the forgiveness of God. The Ninevites
who were forgiven were clearly sinners; they had done evil things.
But when God came to them, they listened, and repented. Forgiveness
works deep inside us, in the very cells of our being. Forgiveness
only fails to change us when we refuse it. Sadly, we can become
“comfortable” with our sins, adding to our burden. God may forgive
us, but we grab the guilt back, and hold it close. The guilt stops us
from moving on. That is why Paul preaches freedom; he tells us that
we have been released, we have died to what bound us, and we serve in
the new spirit. Read chapters 5-8 of Romans. God empties the garbage
bins of our lives, if we allow it. I tell you in 8 minutes what it
has taken me 40 years to learn. Each year I give more of my old, worn
out guilt and shame to God, and become amazed at how much lighter life
becomes, how joy increases, and easy the yoke is with Jesus.

That leaves us with the last question. “The Kingdom of God is at
hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Why did I start with that?
Well, if you understand what Jesus is saying, it’s all you really
need to know. What we need has already been given to us; the Kingdom
is here, now. What must we do? Repent, allow God to forgive us,
welcome the indwelling of the Spirit, and believe that God’s love and
mercy is available and waiting for our response; and our response is
belief, belief that grows deeper and deeper each day.

Homily January 25, 2015 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

3sunord1Today, we once again go back to the gospel of Mark. John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus has started preaching Repent and believe in the gospel or good news. Mark as we know wrote a very clipped to the point narrative and started his gospel with Jesus preaching. We see him encounter Simon and Andrew and call them to follow and then he encountered the Zebedee brothers and called James and John. This notion of call we have heard now for three weeks. I think we can examine it a little bit to better understand it. When Jesus called these men, it was at the very beginning of his time as a preacher. He certainly wasn’t the stark figure tha John was with his looks and life in the desert. Yet, these men dropped everything and followed along to see where it led them. 3sun ord2Of note is the fact they didn’t lay back and contemplate or try to discern the best course they should follow or if Jesus had some divine truth to learn and follow. No, they followed Jesus because he called, because he had a presence, a way that altered the perceptions of the Apostles. Note that their response was immediate and away they went. Their answer was to Jesus and to him personally. What was a “fisher of men” supposed to be? Their answer was to a man and not to an ideology or doctrine or to an institution.

And so, we can see that Christ calling is to a relationship, to a way of life, to a way of intimacy with him. The centuries can not change this, except that now he is present in a slightly different way. He is present in the Eucharist and speaks and interacts with us through his spirit present by virtue of our Baptism. He lives and moves through us and calls us in many 3sun ord3ways throughout our life. We are called in so many ways, but it requires that we be open and ready to respond, to answer, to do what it is he calls for us to do. Oftentimes, we can put ourselves in the way of his call by over thinking, by putting ourselves and other concerns first. The story of Jonah, as satirical as it may be, points out that our concerns are not as important as to what Christ calls us to do.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B 2015

Posted in Called, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 18, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B 2015

This week’s Gospel is Mark’s version of the same Gospel we heard last week by St. John – the call of Jesus to follow him and be his apostle. We know that 12 men were called by Jesus, bringing to mind, of course, the twelve tribes of Israel.  In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus just walks up to several people, asks them to follow him, and they do, giving up their livelihood and families. Hardly seems a possibility that that could happen, does it? Mark’s Gospel though is very short, direct and sketchy and he seldom goes into any detail at all, so I am sure that more went into what Jesus said or did, and I am tempted to think that John’s version gives a more accurate picture of Jesus as a charismatic speaker that Andrew was drawn to and then invited his brother Peter to see for himself. In any case, there had to be some connection made between Jesus and these men that they would give up most everything and follow him. Or perhaps, they followed him part-time. We do know that Peter had a wife and mother-in-law, and that Jesus stayed with them on occasion. Perhaps, Peter and Andrew still did some fishing as well.

No matter what the actual story was, it was still impressive that twelve men would follow Jesus this early in his career as itinerate preacher and healer. Surely they got to know the person of Jesus and came to love him in order to follow him.

We too need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It isn’t everything to have this relationship as many Protestant sects seem to believe, but I don’t think we can really love a person unless we know that person, have a relationship with that person, and completely trust that person. We can know a lot of things about Jesus by our reading of the Bible and other literature, but knowledge alone is not enough. We have to somehow meet Jesus face-to-face. Talk with him. Be with him.

I also want you to note that Jesus picks up on the message and preaching of John the Baptist. When he starts proclaiming the good news of God, Mark says that Jesus proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” If that sounds a lot like John the Baptist, it is because it is. The focus is a little different in that we are given a distinct reason why we need to repent – we need to repent because the kingdom of God is approaching, and secondly, we have to believe in the words of Jesus which contain the “good news”.

I wonder, too, whether the apostles really knew what they were getting into when they followed Jesus. In their minds they were following a Messiah (at least that is what John said last week), but I wonder if they would have followed had they known that following involves service and suffering. For us, too, it will never be a smooth journey – there will be suffering, and pain, happiness and awe, even death. But through it all we are told by Jesus that he will be with us, he has suffered it, too, and his yoke will be easy and his burden light.

Our first reading which doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with anything in the Gospel is actually a reminder that when people listen to God, and do what God says (again, the people of Nineveh  were asked to repent, and they did – by fasting and sackcloth) that God will save them. It isn’t very often in the Hebrew Testament that we hear people listening to the prophets and doing what they say, but in the case of Jonah, the people of Nineveh did listen and their city was saved. I am not sure that God really changed his mind as Jonah says, since he knows present, past and future, but the point is the same: when we do what God asks, he will find a way to reward us.

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians today believed that the kingdom of heaven that Christ began on earth was going to be completed very soon and the Second Coming was imminent. What he calls the “appointed time” has not been very short. We are still waiting after 2000 years, and in that amount of time we can forget that it is always imminent. We still need to lead our lives in such a way that we never fear the death that is just around the corner or the coming of Christ, both of which could come at any time. Paul’s advice sounds a lot like giving one day at a time and not letting ourselves get tied to material things, keeping our eyes on the final prize. He was wrong about the timing, but right about the advice.

Let us today then ask the question of ourselves whether we are ready to follow Jesus, follow him through all the ups and downs of our lives, through the suffering and the joy, never losing hope that God is with us and something better is always in store for us. This is the Christian way, the Christian journey, the Christian hope.

And that is the Good News that Jesus brought his first followers and re-iterates to us today!

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”]

Homily 2nd Sunday of Ordinary January 15, 2015

2sun ord1A ringing phone, a ringing doorbell immediately get our attention. We turn, we immediately give our attention to the phone or to the door. So much so we need to be reminded some places to turn off our phones lest we be a distraction to others. Our time leaves us vulnerable to immediate contact almost every moment. Our readings today take us to a different time when things were quieter and more low key. We see Samuel’s introduction to the Lord as a very subtle and slow realization with the help of Eli. John the 2sun ord2Baptist in John’s gospel today testifies to Jesus to John and Andrew who receive Jesus’ call when they asked where he was staying. Jesus said “Come and see.” Andrew in turn went to his brother Simon and said we have found the messiah. On meeting Simon, Jesus said you will be called “Cephas” or Peter.

All of these men heard their call and accepted. They were willing to listen, to hear the voice of God. To each that call was in one way or another life changing for it shaped the way their life would go on. Believe it or not each of you has been called and each is known by God by your name. Only He knows what 2sun ord3lies ahead for you, but are you ready for it? His call is to a life of love and giving and to most likely a family and all it entails to bring yourself and loved ones to him. He asks that we listen and be ready to hear the promptings of the Spirit given to us at our baptism when we were given our name and call to him. Yes that moment in our life can come when we must be ready to say speak lord I am ready to listen. The Lord never requests anything more than we can give, but he does at times ask that we give of ourselves, of our time, of whatever we have and are. The joy of hearing and responding is hard to describe but hard or easy he asks that we give our best. God woks with each and everyone of his faithful. His love embraces and fills each one and relates as each one is capable of relating. No one knows us better, not even ourself. That is why at time we can pen our hearts over and above and respond in ways we never before envisioned. Samuel, John, Andrew, Peter never knew what lay ahead but their openness and faith led them to where they could never have imagined to be.

So let us remember we are called and follow God’s work. At the same time 2sun ord4let’s remember that we need to be open for his work has not yet ended and we should still be ready if he calls.

Homily from Holy Trinity Parish for the Baptism of Jesus January 11, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr Joe R on January 11, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 4, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

{using Isaiah 42.1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34 and Mark 1.7-11)

Christmas is now quite over and once again we begin the story of the public life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ as we continue in what we call Ordinary Time. I am oftentimes frightened by how many times we have to preach each year on elements of this same introductory story. We get it in Advent, we get it on this feast, we get it on other John the Baptist’s feasts, and it comes up each year in whatever Gospel we are concentrating on. I always wonder whether I can find anything new or relevant for you in the story. But simply because the story is read to us so many times in its different versions in the four Gospel, I realize the import of it, and always manage to find something to say about it.

The opening reading today from Isaiah is not about John the Baptist as we saw in the Christmas readings of Isaiah.  This is not about the man who announces the servant of the Lord, but is about the servant himself, so the focus of today’s feast is not on John but on Jesus himself.

There are four “servant” songs in Isaiah, and today we hear one of them. We often think of Christ’s sayings about being a servant to others, his washing of the feet of his apostles, his dying on the cross to serve as a sacrifice to redeem us. Isaiah talked about a servant who was to come – a chosen one of God, one in whom God puts his Spirit. Those first two qualities Isaiah foretells are picked up by Mark today in his telling of Jesus’ baptism. Being chosen, and being filled with the Spirit are the same two themes Mark uses. God chooses Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”, and in the baptism the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. So it is clear, then, right from the beginning that for Mark, Jesus is the servant of God that Isaiah foretold.

It will follow then that the rest of the prophecy will also be carried out by Jesus, so if we look at the list of things that Isaiah proclaims about this servant, we should see exactly the same things played out in the life of Jesus. Isaiah says that “he will bring forth justice to the nations.” He will do what he has to do quietly, not like some preachers who cry out and rant and scream. Both of the these qualities we see in Jesus.

The image of the bruised reed and dimly burning wick probably refer to our own weakness and proclivity to sin. Or it may be an image of the poor or derelict in society who delicate and bruised. Isaiah says that the servant will not break the reed or quench the fire that still burns on the wick. It is an image of gentleness, of care for those who are suffering or in pain.

The servant will faithfully bring forth justice. Certainly that is an image of the Christ. Social justice issues are all through the New Testament, in the sermons of Jesus and in his actions.

Lastly, the servant will carry through his job till the end: “he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”

All of these prophecies of the servant fit Jesus so perfectly, and give us much to meditate on in our own dealings with people and problems.

Lastly, the Isaiah passage talks about what the servant will mean to us. Most important is the idea of our having with a God New Covenant. God says: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.

If you haven’t noticed the dominant imagery of “light” over the Christmas season, you really haven’t been listening or singing our hymns.  It has been a major theme during our Christmas celebrations. Christ is our light, just as God says his servant will be a light to all the nations, again opening up the covenant, creating a new covenant that enlarges the scope of the older one.

In the final few lines we hear the lines that Jesus himself so often uses as a description of his mission on earth – his purpose, his goal: “to open the eyes off the blind, to bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” And these are both actual and metaphoric . Actual, as we see in the second reading from Acts when we are told that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” and metaphoric since we are often blind to the spiritual realities of life, often held prisoner by our habits and our misunderstandings.

Jesus is the servant of God foretold by Isaiah, and at his Baptism, Mark sees the beginning of the servant’s role announced and played out. If we are to follow Jesus as he asks us to, we must also be servants to others, develop a social justice awareness and act on it, and realize that we too have God’s Spirit within us to help us achieve that state of perfection. It won’t be easy – we will all have crosses to carry – but that is what the readings today suggest to me that the Good News is all about.

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”]

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