Monthly Scripture Reflection

“I am teaching you . . . that you may live.”
Deuteronomy 4:1

September is back-to-school time, and what a refresher course on understanding the Bible lessons this month’s readings can be! Some of us old old ones remember when the same readings were used over and over year after year. Along came Vatican II saying “The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word.”  Now we have a three-year cycle of carefully chosen readings.

Notice that the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, and the Gospel are linked in theme. We might miss clues in the first one, but go back after reading the Gospel and, and “aha”, we see the connection. So Deuteronomy admonishes the OT leaders to “not add to what I command you nor subtract.” In St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus castigates the Pharisees for “teaching as doctrine [their] human precepts.” Isaiah speaks of God who “opens the eyes of the blind, clears the ears of the deaf . . .  the lame leap, the mute sings.” People in Mark exclaim of Jesus, “He has done all thing well, the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Wisdom tells of people plotting to “condemn [the just one] to a shameful death” and see if “God will defend him.” Jesus predicts “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him.” Numbers tells the story of unauthorized people prophesying and Joshua wants to stop them but Moses says No, the Lord has bestowed his spirit in them, too. Same scenario in the Gospel: the disciples want outsiders, not one of us, who are driving out demons in Jesus’ name to be stopped. Jesus says, “Why? Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Mark, the earliest evangelist, wrote a gospel that in some ways is a straightforward, “just the facts, ma’am” account. He faithfully records what has been handed down orally by the faithful, what Jesus said and the wonders Jesus did. He shows a Jesus always being besieged by people, wanting pieces of him. But Jesus keeps ordering his listeners “not to tell” when he works wonders. When he planned to go to Galilee “he did not wish anyone to know about it.” And that secrecy lends an underlying excitement in Mark:  that there was a secret he himself would love to tell. Listen for it. Then it was when the disciples argued among themselves about who would be the greatest that Jesus began revealing the secret. Yes, they’ll all be great – – but at a hard-to-swallow price. “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected . . . and be killed and rise after three days.”  Whoever wants to be his disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

For the second readings we have the wonderful, practical Epistle of St. James to remind us of how Jesus wants us to live, and what happens if we don’t. “Welcome the word.” “Be doers . . . and not hearers only.” “Pure religion is this: care for the orphans and widows.” “Show no partiality.” Do not “become judgmental.” “Jealousy and selfish ambition lead to disorder and foul practice.” “Wisdom . . . is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits.” The rich “have stored up treasure for the last days” which have all now “rotted away.” “The wages you withheld from the workers . . . are crying aloud” and have “reached the ears of the Lord.”

Class dismissed. But in the words of a favorite pastor, “Now go home and read it for yourself.”

“Because you belong to Christ.”
Mark 9: 41