Sunday of week 10 of Ordinary Time (Year A)

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Saturday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:1-8

Today we have our last reading from 2 Timothy organised in two parts. The first part consists of an exhortation by Paul to Timothy to be unwavering in his work of evangelising and preaching.

Paul gives this urging with great solemnity:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead…

He is also keenly aware of the twin facts of Christ’s return and the coming establishment of God’s kingdom in its fullest expression.  After all, the eternal lives of his listeners will be depending on the commitment Timothy gives to his work.

So Timothy is charged to preach the Word through thick and thin. Paul says:

I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.

This is necessary because there will come a time when people will tire of solid teaching and will go chasing after all kinds of novelties:

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

Ears that want to be “tickled” by words which are in keeping with their evil desires.  Instead of standing by their faith in Christ, they chase after fables and fairy tales.

What was true in Paul’s time is just as true today.  In spite of the spiritual wealth and wisdom that we have in our Christian tradition, we have so many, including Catholics, dabbling in elements of the so-called ‘New Age’, which include distorted forms of Buddhism and Hinduism and Yoga and other Eastern practices.  People move from one titillating excitement to another – there is no end.

However, some of this, we Christians must admit, is because of our own weaknesses and remissness in communicating our message.  The Christianity that many reject is frequently a serious distortion of the original message, because it is all they have ever heard; many others have not even heard the message in any form.  It can lose all meaning in face of the bombardment of new ideas which pour out from all kinds of sources.

In all such situations, Timothy is urged to ‘keep his cool’. There is a need to:

…be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry [service to the Gospel Way] fully.

That is what we all have to do.  But to do so effectively, we must be, as we saw in yesterday’s reading, deeply inserted into the Word of God in the Scriptures.

In the second part of the reading, Paul himself can look back on his own record as an evangeliser with a certain amount of satisfaction:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.

It was the custom both among Jews and other religious believers to pour libations of wine, water or oil over the victims to be sacrificed. Paul views his approaching death as the pouring out of his life as an offering to Christ.  Earlier, he had written to the Christians at Philippi:

But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the service of your faith, I rejoice, and I rejoice together with all of you (Phil 2:17)

He knows his “departure”, that is, his leaving this life, is not far away.  Now in prison and at the end of his life, Paul sees himself being poured out as a total offering to God.  He has given his all and is holding nothing back:

I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

Paul looks back over 30 years of labour as an apostle (from about 36-66 AD).  Like an athlete who had engaged successfully in a contest (“fought the good fight”), he had “finished the race” and had “kept the faith”, i.e., had carefully adhered to the teaching of the Gospel.

Like a runner in a race, he now deserves the garland of victory with which he is confident that the Lord will crown him when the Lord, whom he so passionately loves, comes again in judgement.  He could be referring to the winner of a race or he could be referring to (1) a crown given as a reward for a righteous life, (2) a crown consisting of righteousness or (3) a crown given righteously (justly) by the righteous Judge.

Can we make the same boast as Paul?  Almost certainly not. But there is still time.  Let us start today.

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Thursday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Wednesday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:1-3,6-12

For the remaining four days of this week we will be reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, one of the so-called “Pastoral Letters”.  (The First Letter of Timothy is read during Weeks 23 and 24 in Cycle I of the First Readings.)

There are questions about the letter’s real authorship, but it is presented as a letter from the apostle Paul to one of his most faithful assistants and companions, Timothy, who came from the Roman province of Galatia in what is part of Turkey today.  In the opening of today’s letter Paul refers to Timothy as “my beloved child”.  There was, indeed, a large age gap between them.

Paul calls himself an ‘apostle’, one specially commissioned by Christ, putting him on the same level as the Twelve who accompanied Jesus in his public life.  And his mission is for:

…the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.

As an apostle he is being sent out to preach and explain that the Good News of that unending life with God is available to all those who open themselves to it. There then follows a prayer of thanksgiving as Paul remembers and prays for his companion, Timothy.

The main part of the letter now begins, starting with exhortations to Timothy.  Paul begins by urging Timothy to “rekindle the gift of God” (the Holy Spirit) which had been given to him when Paul laid his hands on him.  The gift of the Spirit can lie dormant in us unless we exercise it regularly and make it an active element in our lives.  It is something we are all in constant danger of doing.  Probably few of us effectively use the special gifts that God has given each one of us for service and benefit of others.

And Paul emphasises:

…God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

We need strength and courage, coupled with wisdom, if we are to be effective in sharing the Gospel with others.  It is possible that a certain lack of confidence in him by Paul was a problem for Timothy.  This may have arisen because of Timothy’s relative youth.  What the Spirit gives is “power…love and…self-discipline”.  That power is an inner strength and not the kind of power that dominates others.  The love is the great desire to work for the well-being of others, especially to bring them to become aware of and to respond to the love of God that comes to them through Jesus Christ.  Self-discipline is not the suppression of desires, but rather a passion to do what is good and right.

And, for that reason, Paul tells Timothy neither to be ashamed of the witness he is called to give, nor of his companion Paul, who is now languishing in prison for the sake of the Gospel.  In fact, he is to expect some measure of hardship in preaching the Gospel.  That is something we all need to be prepared for.  The threat of death hangs over every Christian who proclaims the Gospel, but Jesus has brought us life and immortality which no one can take away.

At the same time, Paul says, we have this huge gift of having been called to a life of holiness.  We have not merited this in any way; it is pure gift.  It is part of God’s plan from the very beginning but now made visible through the life of Jesus, the Word of God among us:

…he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. (Eph 1:4)

It is in the service of this Gospel that Paul was called as preacher, apostle and teacher and it is precisely because of this service that he now suffers imprisonment.  Clearly he is not ashamed of this and has no regrets. Paul says with the lovely, much-quoted saying:

…I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust…

This is his total confidence in his Lord.  It is a person-to-person friendship which nothing can shake.  Paul is sure that his Lord will protect him to the very end.

Would that we had that confidence in Jesus that Paul had!  Would that we were ready to suffer any hardship so that the Gospel might be heard and accepted by more of those around us!  As the Christian apologist, GK Chesterton, said: “Christianity has not failed; it has not even been tried.”

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Tuesday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on 2 Peter 3:11-15,17-18

The early Christians had high expectations that the Lord would come back to them very soon.  As time passed, they began to realise that it might not be as soon as they had first thought, namely in their own lifetime.  This is reflected in the way later books of the New Testament are written.

But even here in this relatively late book the anticipation is still there.  We are even urged to hasten that day.  How can we do this?  By working harder to bring more people to know the Way of Christ, to share his vision of life and thus realise the full establishment of the Kingdom.  We still have a long way to go!

The “Day of God”, the end of the world is visualised as utter destruction of all we know now but it will be replaced by “new heavens and a new earth”, words taken from Isaiah and also used in the book of Revelation (21:1).  This new world is “where righteousness is at home”.  There truth and goodness will dwell as unchanging and unchangeable elements. This will be a time when what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer – “your Kingdom come, your will be done” – will be fully realised.

For each one us, it is a reminder to lead lives “without spot or blemish” (words applied to Jesus in 1 Peter) and at peace with God.  In this way, we are always prepared no matter what time the Lord decides to take us to himself.  We are told to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation”. This echoes words of Jesus in the Gospel that he has come not to condemn but to bring life.

We are told to be:

…beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability.

In this case, the warning is against Gnostic teachers who held ideas which were in conflict with the Gospel. In our day too, there are many kinds of “error” which can lead us far from the ways of truth, love and justice.

But we are also told to:

…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To grow in grace is to open ourselves more and more to the experience of being loved by God.  To grow in the knowledge of Jesus is not to know more about him, but to grow into a personal and intimate relationship of mutual love.

This kind of knowledge is on a different plane altogether from the esoteric knowledge that the Gnostics proclaimed.  In our own day, some come pretty close to it when they put an excessive emphasis on doctrinal orthodoxy.  It is a modern version of Pharisaism.  Jesus said that people would know true Christians not by their theology, but by the love they show for each other, and especially for those in any kind of need:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)


I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23)

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Monday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on 2 Peter 1:2-7

Today we begin reading from the Second Letter of Peter.  There will be just two readings, today and tomorrow.

According to the Vatican II Missal:

“Second Peter is one of the most interesting New Testament books.  Written perhaps by a later disciple of Peter, it may be the last written book of the Bible.”

The letter begins by asserting a theme which runs through it, namely, that the only knowledge we really need is a personal knowledge of God and his Son, Jesus.  The author is challenging the heretical teaching of the Gnostics, who said that the only thing needed was knowledge, independent of any behaviour.  Knowledge of God and Christ necessarily leads to following the Way of Jesus, a way of both knowing and doing.

God’s loving power has given us everything we need to live a life that is full and meaningful, which is a life in close relationship with him.  God has made available all that we need spiritually through our knowledge of him.  No special ‘secret’ knowledge, only accessible to initiates, is necessary for the Christian to achieve fulfilment of life.  The glory and power of God was manifest in the teaching and signs that Jesus gave, clearly indicating his divine origin.  Later in the letter, the author will mention specifically the experience of the Transfiguration, of which Peter was a witness.

The Gnostics, who followed a way of thinking which was a constant challenge to the early Christians, believed that salvation depended on having a knowledge of “mysteries”, secret revelations, only given to them.  They also tended to see evil in all material things, a kind of distorted Platonism.

God, in his love for us, has showered us with precious gifts, including material gifts.  And, provided we abandon a world corrupted by irrational and hedonistic desires (a false infatuation with the material), we can become sharers in the very life of God, that life of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  Our whole Christian life is ordered to having that experience.

The rest of the reading lists the steps by which we develop a well-rounded and fruitful Christian life. The foundation of our inner goodness is our total faith and trust in God’s love and our commitment to the Way shown to us by Jesus. That faith is supplemented and fulfilled by virtuous behaviour which flows from it. Virtue must be accompanied by knowledge. In other words, virtue that is not a mere pious veneer but one that comes from an ever deeper understanding and grasp of the way of life that Jesus proposes to us in the Gospel – a Message accessible to all.

This knowledge leads to self-control.  Many of those infected by Gnosticism, which put all emphasis on the acquisition of secret knowledge, believed that self-control was completely unnecessary.  Knowledge, not behaviour, was the source of salvation.  The Christian belief is quite different.  The deeper our knowledge of God and Jesus the more our whole lives, including our behaviour, are affected.  We do good, not because we have to, or force ourselves to, but because we want to.  Our behaviour flows naturally from our insight into what is true and good.

Self-control, in turn, leads to endurance, to perseverance even in the face of either competing attractions or painful obstacles. Endurance in turn is supported by devotion, which implies a deep warm-hearted commitment and not just a dogged stubbornness. Devotion leads to mutual affection.  To be a Christian is not to go alone to God but in companionship with others who share the same vision. This mutual affection then blossoms into love, that outgoing, unconditional desire for the well-being of the brother and sister.

This is a very different picture from the purely head-centred intellectualism of the Gnostic which can only end in a cold isolationism with little regard for the well-being of the world in which we live, and through which we Christians are convinced is the place in which to find and love our God.

Among other things, the author here is warning us against any form of elitism, which is a constant threat to our understanding of the Christian life.  Such an elitism can lead to the formation of groups which lay claim to a higher level of Christian living and look down on ‘outsiders’.  The beauty of the Gospel is that it can be grasped adequately by even the illiterate.  (Perhaps that message was brought home some years ago when the founder of Opus Dei and scholar, Fr Escriva, was beatified together with a Canossian Sister, who had formerly been a slave in Latin America and had no formal schooling whatever.)

That does not mean we should not do all we can to have a deeper understanding of our faith.  If we have the intellectual capacity to do so, we should.  A great scandal among us is the ignorance of many educated Catholics about Scripture, theology and spirituality. At the same time, we also have to affirm that the very highest levels of mystical prayer are accessible to those with no education at all.  Knowing Jesus is a lot more important than knowing a lot about him.

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Saturday of Week 8 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on Jude 17, 20-25

As we come to the end of this week, we have a solitary reading from the Letter of Jude.  It is a very short letter, consisting of just one chapter of 25 verses.  Our reading comes from the latter part of the letter.  In general, the letter is a stern warning against false teachers who are doing untold harm to the community.

The first piece of advice is to keep in mind the prophetic teachings of the apostles.  The coming of godless heretics should not take believers by surprise, for it had been predicted by the apostles.

Addressing them as “Beloved” (Greek, agapetoi), in contrast to the ungodly false teachers about whom this letter speaks at length, Jude gives them some exhortations on how to cope with these threats to their faith.  He urges them to pray under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, they are to remain persevering in the love of God.  God keeps believers in his love and enables them to keep themselves in his love.  As Paul had said so graphically:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

As long as they remain open to that love, the Christians can be sure of being able to:

…look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

At the same time, some who are confused by the false teachers need to have their thinking corrected, while others need to be snatched from imminent destruction and loss:

And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

But they are cautioned that in showing mercy and compassion to those who stray, one may oneself be trapped by the allurement of their false teaching. The wicked are pictured as so corrupt that even their garments are polluted by their sinful nature.

The reading ends with a magnificent doxology, one of the finest in the whole of the New Testament:

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

After all the attention necessarily given in this letter to the ungodly and their works of darkness, Jude concludes his letter by focusing attention on God, who is fully able to protect those who put their trust in him.

Every age in the Church, not least our own, has people going around with all kinds of strange and new messages.  And there are always those who, in Paul’s words, have “ears tickled” for the latest novelty.  Some of these novelties can be highly destructive as we have seen in the case of some of the more outlandish sects where many people, including children, unnecessarily lost their lives, or where there was indulgence in behaviour that was either bizarre or humanly degrading and abusive.

The Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, have their faults and need continue to learn where the Truth is, but there is a solid foundation in the Word of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ that we abandon at our peril.

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Thursday of Week 8 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on 1 Peter 2:2-5,9-12

Yesterday Peter was speaking of the gift of God’s word to us.  Today he sees that word as a form of nourishment – “spiritual milk”. We should be as eager as newborn babies for that “milk”. The author is speaking figuratively.  Milk is not to be understood here as in 1 Cor 3:2 or Heb 5:12-14 – food for the immature in unfavourable contrast to solid food.  With the complete nourishing ‘milk’ of God’s word we “grow into salvation”.

For those who have already got a first taste of what God has given to us in Christ (“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” Ps 34:8), there is an eagerness for that nourishment which will lead to growth and maturity in the Spirit. Since this taste has proved satisfactory, the believers are urged to long for additional spiritual food.

Peter now moves to another image when he speaks of Christ as a “living stone”, rejected by many, but precious in the eyes of God.  This Stone is the very foundation of the Church.  It is ‘living stone’ both in the sense of referring to the real person of Christ and as a source of life for others.  Christ as the Son of God has life in himself.  He is also “living water” (Jn 4:10-14; 7:38), “living bread” (Jn 6:51) and the “living way” (Heb 10:20).

It is a stone chosen by God, but so often rejected by human beings.  In his addresses to the people in Acts, Peter repeatedly makes a contrast between the hostility of the unbelieving towards Jesus and God’s exaltation of him.

But, not only that, the Christians, too, are living stones:

…built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…

They derive their life from Christ, who is the original living Stone to whom they have come, the life-giving Spirit.   These references to stones may well reflect Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel (16:18), where he tells him he is the Rock on which the whole structure of the future community is to be built, called here in today’s reading a “spiritual house”.

The house is spiritual in a metaphorical sense, but also in that it is formed and indwelt by the Spirit of God.  Every stone in the house has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, sent by the exalted living Stone, Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament temple provides the background of this passage. It reminds us of Paul’s telling Christians that they are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and where the letter to the Ephesians speaks of each Christian as a stone contributing to building up the whole edifice of the Church.  For now it is the people and not a building which is the Temple housing God’s presence in the world.  Paul will say to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
(1 Cor 3:16 and see also Eph 2:19-22)

The purpose of that sacred building is to be a “holy priesthood”.  This is the priesthood of the whole body of believers.  As priests, believers are to:

  1. reflect the holiness of God and that of their high priest,
  2. offer spiritual sacrifices,
  3. intercede for others before God,
  4. represent God in the presence of all.

Through our priesthood we offer “spiritual sacrifices”, as opposed to sacrifices of animals and fruits.  These can include: bodies offered to God (Rom 12:1), offerings of money or material goods (Phil 4:18; Heb 13:16), sacrifices of praise to God (Heb 13:15) and sacrifices of doing good (Heb 13:16).  These sacrifices are “acceptable to God” through the work of our Mediator, Jesus Christ.  In brief, believers are living stones that make up a spiritual temple in which, as a holy priesthood, they offer up spiritual sacrifices.

Quoting the book of Exodus (19:5-6) Peter, in a phrase much used in our liturgy, calls the Christians “a chosen race” (Is 43:20-21), “a royal priesthood” (Is 61:6), “a holy nation” (Deut 28:9), “God’s own people” (Deut 4:20; 7:6; 14:2; Is 43:21; Mal 3:17).  It is a phrase originally directed to the Israelites but now extended to God’s people of all races, Jews and Gentiles alike, who have chosen Jesus as their Lord.

And in words recalling a passage from the prophet Hosea (2:23), we who were once called “no people” have become God’s own people.  Once we were beyond God’s mercy and now we have found mercy. In Hosea it is Israel who is not God’s people; in Romans it is the Gentiles to whom Paul applies Hosea’s words; in 1 Peter the words are applied to both.

The final two verses (11-12) belong to the third part of this letter, where the position of the Christian in a hostile world is discussed. They are reminded that privilege and choice brings also responsibility. There is no room for complacency.  We have to realise that in this world we are strangers and exiles. The word ‘world’ can be understood in both its scriptural senses.  We do not belong to that world which is opposed to all that God and Jesus and the Gospel stand for. But even in the sense of the material environment in which we live, we are not meant to be here forever. It is not our permanent home. It is a place we pass through to a much greater destination.

Hence we are not to indulge our baser instincts which can undermine our spiritual destiny.  We are not to be bothered by attacks made on us by outsiders who may call us ‘troublemakers’.  Given our different life vision, this is only to be expected.  Our Way is a “sign of contradiction” for many.

We are to persevere in following the Gospel because many unbelievers, seeing how we behave, seeing our integrity, love, compassion and sense of justice and peace, will ultimately come to praise not us but the God who enables us to live this way.  Jesus had said the same in the Sermon on the Mount:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:16)

May they observe the good things that we do so that in time they are led to change their ways and give glory to God “on the day of visitation”.  The Greek word translated ‘observe’ refers to a careful watching, over a period of time.  The pagans’ final evaluation is not a ‘snap judgment’.  The “day of visitation” is perhaps the day of judgment and its ensuing punishment, or possibly the day when God visits a person with salvation.  The believer’s good life may then influence the unbeliever to repent and believe.

It is a very meaningful reading.  It is full of lovely images of Christ and of our relationships with him, and it concludes by reminding us how we are to reveal the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us by the way we relate to all those around us.

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Wednesday of Week 8 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

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Commentary on Mark 10:32-45

We now come to the third and final foretelling of his passion, death and resurrection by Jesus.  It is not insignificant that it follows immediately on the story of the rich man and the teaching of Jesus that goes with it.  We are now going to see what discipleship of Jesus really means.

The first sentence is a statement of fact, but full of meaning:

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem…

They were on the road – not just any road – but the road…and that road goes to Jerusalem and points to all that Jerusalem will mean for Jesus and his followers.  Jesus is the Road, the Way and his way brings him to Jerusalem, the carrying of his cross, the letting go of his life in love of his Father and us, leading to the final triumph.  Those who wish to be his disciples have to be ready to walk that road with him.

The disciples have not quite reached this stage of discipleship yet.  As Jesus steps out firmly on the road to Jerusalem, his disciples straggle behind. The apostles:

…were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

As far as they were concerned, Jesus was out of his mind.  To go to Jerusalem at this time was asking for trouble, serious trouble.  Everyone knew the Jewish leadership was out to get Jesus.  Jerusalem was the last place to go.

Jesus shows them he is under no illusion about the situation.  He gives them a detailed description of what is going to happen to him, more detailed than in the previous foretellings.  The key term “handed over” is used again and, for the first time, a handing over to the “gentiles” is mentioned.  Condemnation to death will come from the leaders of his people, but the carrying out of the execution will be the work of the Romans.  It was not just some Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death; we were there, too, in the person of the Roman gentiles.

Nevertheless, earlier on the disciples had acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour-King of Israel.  In the second prediction they had revealed an awareness that what Jesus was predicting was going to happen and so debated who his successor might be.  Now, for the first time, the last part of the prediction – rising after three days – seems to be getting through.

Perhaps it was, in that frame of mind, that Jesus is approached by two of his closest disciples, James and John.  However, it is also clear that they showed little understanding of all that Jesus had taught them so far.  They approached him gingerly:

Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.

Replies Jesus:

What is it you want me to do for you?

(Note the question, because we will meet it again in tomorrow’s reading.)

The answer of the two brothers indicates how little they have understood of the mind of Jesus:

Appoint us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

Left unstated was their reasoning: “After all, you did say three times that you were going to rise again after your death.”

This is a perfect example of using a personal acquaintance or relationship to get in by the back door and obtain a favour otherwise out of reach. And by “glory” they are almost certainly thinking in worldly terms of Jesus as an earthly, victorious, all conquering king.  The kind of person they expected the Messiah to be.

Jesus tells them:

You do not know what you are asking.

They neither know the kind of King Jesus is going to be nor do they know the price he is going to pay to enter that kingship.  This is clear from the next question he puts to them:

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

This is a clear reference to Jesus’ passion and death, the price he will pay to reveal God’s love for his children.

We remember, later in the garden, as the weight of his coming passion presses him down, Jesus prays that the cup be taken away.  “Baptism” implies a total immersion, and Jesus will be totally overwhelmed with suffering and shame and humiliation.

Do the two disciples realise this?  Are they ready to go through this with Jesus on their way to the privileges and glory they are asking for?  “We are able” they confidently boast without realising just what is involved.  In fact, with the rest of their companions, they will scatter and disappear when these events overtake their Master.

Nevertheless, looking further ahead Jesus generously tells them that they will indeed one day share Jesus’ cup and his baptism of suffering and death.  James would be one of the first martyrs of the young church.  However, as to giving them the places of honour they were looking for, that was beyond Jesus’ power to give:

…but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to appoint, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.

In other words, these places are not just for the asking; they have to be earned.  They will be given, not to those who furtively ask, but to those whose love most closely approaches that of Jesus himself.

Not surprisingly, the other ten were highly indignant when they found out what James and John had done behind their backs.  They were not indignant at the impropriety or the daring, but that they had been beaten to it…they wanted exactly the same things themselves.

Following the same pattern as the other previous incidents, the prediction of the Passion and Resurrection is followed by a show of misunderstanding by the disciples, leading to a teaching. And that is what comes now.

Jesus now patiently gives them another lesson on what real greatness in his Kingdom consists of. In the ‘world’, “among the gentiles”, to be great is to have power over others, to exercise authority, to be able to control and manipulate people to be at your disposal, to use people to attain your ends.  However, in Jesus’ world, those really great put themselves and their unique gifts to use by promoting the well-being of brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.  And the more people we can serve the greater we are.

‘Authority’ is not to control, but to empower.  And it is the role of anyone in authority to generate ideas, energy, creativity in those for whom one is responsible.  In other words to serve those who have been entrusted to one’s authority.  But it is a corruption of the word to become ‘authoritarian’ in such a position.  After 2,000 years of Christianity it is a lesson practically all of us have yet to learn.

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Wednesday of Week 8 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

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Commentary on 1 Peter 1:18-25

Peter reminds us that we have been “ransomed” (“redeemed” in some versions).  In the Scriptures, to ‘ransom’ (literally, ‘buy back’) means to free someone from something bad by paying a penalty.  Similarly, in the Greek world slaves could be made free by the payment of a price, either by someone else or by the slave himself.

In this case, the ransom price is not silver or gold but something far more precious, Christ’s own blood poured out for us by his death on the cross.  The result is the “forgiveness of sin” and our reconciliation with God.

The readers are told that they have been “ransomed from the futile conduct”, an empty way of life, that had been handed down by their ancestors.  Some maintain that the letter is addressed to former pagans, because the New Testament stresses the emptiness of pagan life.  Others think they may have been Jews since Jews were traditionalists who stressed the influence of keeping the Law.  A life simply based on the observance of external laws could not bring salvation and redemption.  In the light of the context of the whole letter, probably both Jews and Gentiles are addressed.

They have been redeemed (or ransomed):

…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

This unblemished Lamb was foreseen long ago in God’s plan to bring us all back to him and replacing all other animal sacrifices of the Old Testament which were only a pale foreshadowing of what was to come.  The Old Testament sacrifices were types (or foreshadowings) of Christ, depicting the ultimate and only effective sacrifice.  An unblemished lamb was the centrepiece at the Passover meal.  But for us, Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb:

…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
(John 1:29)

It is through this Lamb, raised by the Father into glory, that we have become believers in God and that, through our faith and hope, our lives have become centred on God, the only source of meaning to our lives.

Before time began, Jesus was already chosen, but only revealed in these times to those who are called:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… (Col 1:15)

Some think the Greek for the word ‘chosen’ better translates as ‘foreknown’.  In other words, God knew before creation that it would be necessary for Christ to redeem the human race, but he has revealed Christ only in these last times.  Others interpret the word as meaning that in past eternity God chose Christ as Redeemer. It is through this Jesus, raised from the dead to eternal glory, that we put all our faith and trust in God.

Our submission to this understanding of our origins leads necessarily and unavoidably to a deep love for our brothers and sisters:

…you have genuine mutual affection, love one another deeply from the heart.

All in all, our being re-born is the result of an enduring seed planted in our heart, that seed is the Word of God. And while:

The grass withers,
and the flower falls…the word of the Lord endures forever.

(Is 40:6-8)

Our new birth comes about through the direct action of the Holy Spirit, but the “living and enduring” word of God also plays an important role, for it presents the Gospel to the sinner and calls on us to repent and believe in Christ.

The writer concludes by quoting from the prophet Isaiah who says:

All flesh is like grass…
The grass withers…but the word of the Lord endures forever.
(Is 40:6-8)

It is this word which the Letter is proclaiming, a word which is a source of life.  It is the Gospel which we hear proclaimed to us.  That Gospel can be summed up in the two points brought up in today’s passage:

  1. We have been bought back from sin by the priceless blood of the Lamb, poured out on the cross for us.
  2. We show our gratitude for this by the unconditional love we show for our brothers and sisters everywhere.
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