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.
Though today’s Gospel passage presents us with Mark’s second step in dying with Jesus, we must start with today’s Wisdom reading to appreciate the point the evangelist is trying to make: “The wicked say, ‘Let us beset the just ones, because they are obnoxious to us; setting themselves against our doings ...’ ”
Who are these “just ones?”
Gospels aren’t biographies of Jesus. These four writings are a unique genre. Except for the Elijah/Elisha “cycles” in 1 and 2 Kings, we’ve nothing quite like them in all of biblical literature.
While it is one thing to hear, it is quite another thing to listen. Have you ever been part of a conversation and suddenly became aware that the other person may have been hearing you, but wasn’t truly listening? Or perhaps you were the one who did not listen, who did not understand and appreciate what was being communicated.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) was fond of describing the Sunday encounter with the sacred texts as looking into a mirror: “The first requirement is that you must not look at the mirror, but must look in the mirror and see yourself in God’s word. Then, while reading God’s word, you must incessantly say to yourself: ‘It is I to whom the word is speaking’ ” (Provocations, The Plough Publishing House, 1999).
It’s hard to put ourselves in the place of Joshua and his family in today’s first reading. Most of us presume all religions basically deal with the same God. That God might go by the name of Yahweh, Allah, or the Lord, but we take for granted there’s only one God with multiple names.
Those who base their homilies on today’s Gospel pericope are actually homilizing on a homily.
Christians once presumed the Gospels were Jesus biographies: day-by-day eyewitness accounts of what this Galilean carpenter said and did during his public ministry. The Pontifical Biblical Commission drove the final stake through the heart of the biography option in 1964. Asked by the bishops of the Second Vatican Council to provide some general rules for interpreting the historicity of Gospels, the scholars eventually published a document titled “On the Historicity of Gospels.” Among other things, the commission insisted that, when reading the four Gospels, we be aware of the three stages that went into their formation.
The disciples did not automatically come to full awareness of the true identity of Jesus and the purpose of his mission. Through the Christian Scriptures, contemporary believers can trace their ever-deepening appreciation of who Jesus was. In Mark’s Gospel, for example, the true identity of the Son of Man and Son of God is withheld until a Roman soldier proclaims the dying Jesus to be that holy one. A couple of decades later, when the Gospels of Matthew and Luke achieved their final form, the early believers clearly understood that Jesus was Lord and Christ from the moment of his conception; the infancy narratives attest to this development in Christian faith. By the time the fourth canonical Gospel was completed (circa 90-100), there was no doubt that Jesus was God, the very Word of God made flesh -- an insight given voice in the Johannine prologue.
Today’s psalm refrain says that the hand of the Lord feeds us and answers all our needs. Sometimes that seems hard to believe. When we hear of wars, drought, hurricanes, tornados and starving children, one wonders just where the Lord’s hand is in it all. Today’s readings invite us to reflect on this problem.
Every Sunday night in the minor seminary we were treated to a movie, usually a three-reel, 16-millimeter copy of one that had been in the theaters a year or two before. Since we had just one projector, we took two breaks while the student projectionists loaded the second and third reels. One memorable night, after our first break, we quickly realized we were watching the second reel of a different movie. Whoever packed and sent the movie had made a mistake. But being good seminarians, we dutifully sat through the second reel, took a break and came back to watch the third reel of the original movie.