Advent: Composer Marty Haugen reflects on the first Sunday of Advent and how music can shape this prayerful time in our lives.
Today’s feast would have created huge problems for Jesus’ earliest followers.
Scripture scholars and church historians often point out the conflicts the historical Jesus and his first disciples experienced when their Jewish reform movement came into contact with the Roman Empire.
It’s impossible to understand today’s first and third readings without an appreciation of the idea of biblical apocalyptic literature.
The Bible isn’t a book, it’s a library. Not only does it include books written by different authors at various times, but, like any library, it contains works composed in different genres. We need only walk into our local library and look at the names above the bookshelves to surface those genres: history, fiction, reference, biography, etc.
Jesus chose unlikely role models for his disciples to emulate. In a society where children were regarded as the property of their fathers, with no rights or voice of their own, Jesus set forth a child and claimed that the kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” He also held up people who were thought to be ritually unclean or even sinful because of a physical malady or their ethnicity (the Gerasene demoniac, the woman with a hemorrhage in Mark 5; the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7; the boy with a demon in Mark 9; blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10).
In today’s liturgy, the Testaments meet. Both affirm that loving God and loving one another are the essential challenges that identify believers and authenticate their faith. However, this love is not about feelings. On the contrary, love is a deliberate decision to serve another regardless of our emotions. Love, as Ralph Kuehner and Joseph Juknialis have noted, is about making decisions based upon the vision of Jesus, despite the allure of those many other visions that may be clamoring for our attention and allegiance (Living the Word, World Library Pub., 2005).
Unless we understand the original context in which Mark placed today’s gospel pericope, we won’t appreciate the important theological message he tried to convey.
Mark has just concluded his last prediction-misunderstanding-clarification passage on dying with Jesus. He and his disciples are leaving Jericho, the last town before they reach Jerusalem. The next narrative describes his triumphant Palm Sunday entrance into the holy city. Mark has just one bit of unfinished business before he narrates Jesus’ last days. His chance meeting with Bartimaeus will take care of that business.
We’ve finally reached Mark’s third way of dying with Jesus. There’s just one problem: Those who chose our Sunday liturgical passage failed to notice Mark’s prediction-misunderstanding-clarification pattern. They left out the prediction: “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him ...”
Gathered together once again in the presence of God’s living and effective word, we are revealed for who we are before God and others and, even better, God is revealed, yet again, in our midst. Like the author of Hebrews (second reading) who understood the power of God’s word to cut to the quick of all matters so as to lay bare the truth, the 12th-century doctor of the church Bernard of Clairvaux was similarly convinced. “The word of God,” Bernard wrote, “is not a sounding but a piercing word, not pronounceable by the tongue but efficacious in the mind, not only sensible to the ear but fascinating to the affection. God’s word is not an object possessing beauty of form, but rather, it is the source of all beauty and form.
The short story “The Eight-Cow Wife” by Patricia McGerr gives us an excellent example of the value of respect among married couples. In the days when dowries were expected, Johnny Lingo, an entrepreneur on the Pacific island of Kiniwata, offered eight cows to the father of Sarita, whom he wished to marry. Sarita was plain and too thin; she walked with her shoulders hunched and her head down. She had no self-esteem whatsoever. Usually, a dowry consisted of three cows or five at the most; eight was unheard of. Nevertheless, that’s what Johnny Lingo gave.
They say that for the ancient Greeks, the ultimate curse was insatiability. Hearing that, we tend to think of an unquenchable appetite for food and drink. In truth, physical hunger and thirst may be among the least of the gluttony issues for the Christian community. Today’s readings bring us to reflect on prestige, power and wealth as cravings that can be extremely detrimental to our individual and communal following of Jesus.