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.
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.