Reading I : Gn 9:8-15
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II: 1 Pt 3:18-22
Gospel: Mk 1:12-15
Liturgical colour: Violet.
My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ:
The season of Lent in the Church Liturgical year has begun. The purpose of Lent is for each and every one of us to prepare ourselves for the upcoming sacred days of Holy Thursday with the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday with the Lord’s Passion, and Holy Saturday with the Lord’s triumph, the Easter Vigil and with the resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.
Now the word ‘Lent’ itself means ‘springtime!’ “but Springtime so early?” you well may ask. The answer is “Yes!” In ancient English, the word ‘lent’ is short for the meaning of ‘lengthening,’ as in ‘when winter’s darkness begins to give way to the ever-lengthening light of day.’
Lent, then, announces to us the beginning of the Church’s springtime season.
Whilst Lent is, indeed, a season of penitence — a season of calling us to turn our lives around and to bring our hearts back to God — it’ should not become a time for us to moan and groan or to feel shame for our past sins and for our present failings.
Rather, Lent is a time for us all to rise up and to prepare ourselves to greet the dawn of the new season of hope and of joy.
Lent is first and foremost the celebration of the presence of the Lord among us. For our Lord has come indeed, and he has come to stay: to live with us, to suffer with us, even to die to the past and rise with us to embrace a newness of life together. This saving grace of Jesus, and his redeeming presence, are with us again, and always, as is spoken in the Holy Scriptures, “His love is everlasting.”
What, then, are the works that we are called to do during this Lenten Season — we who are called to change the world?
How small and insignificant are we, and hardly able for the task. And yet, consider for a moment the size of the ant.
When I was a young girl, on a summer’s night, I loved to sneak out of bed, run outside and gaze at the ants busily going about their busy lives, ants, the smallest of the smallest of God’s creatures. I’d gaze and look upon how they darted about every-which-way, but filling my eyes with wonder and flooding an empty heart with new hope and dreams.
So too, must we learn from the ants, and let our good works shine forth and we ought to dart about showing the light of Christ and the warmth of his love in this often-dark world in which we now live, and listen to the words of Jesus our Lord, “Let your light shine before others, so that seeing the lovely things you do, they may give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Since ancient times there have been only three basic works common to a proper Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer, for the good of our soul:
A return to a daily, intimate dialogue with God our Father, speaking and listening with the heart, experiencing His presence and love not only in the safety of our own solitude but in the work of building up a community of love with each other — remembering his words, “Wherever two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of you.”
For this, during this sacred season, we must search out quiet places and, even more importantly, we must learn to sit still!
Fasting, for the good of the body:
Fasting to feel and share in the experience of the hunger of the breadless poor and to taste the tears of those who live on the edges of despair. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice sake” … those who work for the growth of peace and harmony, for the righting of wrongs, for the breaking down of barriers and for a new birth of compassion, understanding and love in this world…
Yes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice sake, for they shall be satisfied.” Christ is one with them when he cries out from the cross: “I thirst.” Who, if not we, are listening? Who, if not we, are to respond? Take courage: For as it is written: “In the chaos of learning to love, we are redeemed.”
Almsgiving, for the good of our neighbour:
To take upon ourselves personal responsibility for helping a brother or sister in need is to reach out and touch God Himself. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, this you do unto me.” (Matthew25:40)
Let us finish with this prayer from Dimitrii of Rostov:
Come, My Light
Come, my Light,
and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life,
and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician,
and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love,
and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart
with the flame of thy love.
Fine, powdery, dark gray and black ashes, smudged onto our foreheads in the shape of a cross, for all the world to imagine what we’ve been doing, looking like we bumped our heads while cleaning out the fireplace, and forgot to wash that part of our faces…
Just a few ashes…symbolizing more than most of us realize as we go through the motions of Ash Wednesday. What do we say to people who ask us the obvious question: What IS that on your head? Why do you have black stuff on your face?
Why WILL we participate in this strange custom this evening? What DOES it mean? The spiritual practice of applying ashes on oneself as a sign of sincere repentance goes back thousands of years. Frequently in the days of the Old and the New Testament, when someone had sinned, he clothed his body with sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. [Jer. 6:26] The sacramental that we are observing today arises from that custom, the spiritual practice of observing public penitence. Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one’s forehead during the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eighth century. This was accompanied by different forms of fasting, prayer, sacrifices, charity towards others, etc… The writings of St. Leo, around 461 A.D., tell us that during the Lenten Season, he exhorted the faithful to abstain from certain food to fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of forty days. In the days of the Old Testament, many tore their clothing as a sign of repentance.
Today, we use the ashes as a reminder of who we are. The Bible tells us
that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return. The first
human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed
life into that dust. That is a powerful image. One that is meant to
remind us that without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are
just like these ashes: lifeless – worthless.
The ashes that many of us will wear tonight are meant to be for us symbols of our repentance and signs that we truly seek to follow in God’s path.
The people in the Biblical stories probably put the ashes on top of their
heads – so why do we, instead of putting these ashes on our heads, put them
in the sign of the cross on our foreheads?
We do so because it is a reminder of how we are sealed for Christ. In most
churches when a baby is baptized the minister or priest uses oil to mark
the child with the sign of the cross. The mark of the cross is a mark of ownership. These ashes tonight remind us that we are Christ’s – that he died so that we might live. These may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot. They are a symbol of our need for God. We are nothing but dust and ashes apart from God.
But what about Lent itself? What is it? Why do we have this season? Most of us were taught that the lengthy period of Lent was one of penitence and fasting, a time provided for those who were separated from the church by their sins, so they could be reconciled by acts of penitence and forgiveness.
For most of us, Lent is the time of sometimes painful self-examination, during which we scrutinize our habits, our spiritual practice, and our very lives – hoping to make ourselves better, trying to make ourselves worthy of the love of God. We “step up” our prayer, fasting, and self-denial in order to remove worldly distractions from our lives. And we take on Bible study, classes, and service projects in order to add meaning and depth to our existence. For some children, Lent means no sweets, for teenagers, less time on Facebook. For adults, it may be consuming less meat or alcohol, or attending that Lenten course offered by the Church.
However we go about it, the goal is pretty much the same: Lent makes us ready for Easter. Quite simply put, we are better able to appreciate Resurrection joys come Easter Day by enduring these Lenten disciplines now.
The Old Testament Lessons, the Psalm appointed for today, and today’s Gospel Reading all tell us the “how” and “why” of Lent. But then, there is Paul. Saint Paul tells is, right off the bat, in the very first verse of the Epistle for today, to “BE RECONCILED TO GOD.” Nowhere does he say, “Observe a Holy Lent, THEN be reconciled to God.” Not after enduring a forty-day fast. Not after lengthy Bible study. Not even after prayer, but now, here, today: Be reconciled to God. Paul not only invites us to be reconciled to God, he actually beseeches us. That is, he pleads, implores, presses, begs, and demands. “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. … Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”
If we but recognize this, if we are but reconciled to our God NOW, and THEN work toward our Lenten goals of fasting, of prayer, and of penitence, if we seek to discipline ourselves during Lent, and make those disciplines into daily habits, we will not only most assuredly have the Holy Lent we all desire, but will come to live a more holy life in general. And isn’t that, really, what Lent is all about in the first place? Amen.
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
Before we unpack what was unusual about the encounter in Mark 1:40-45, the OT book of Leviticus gives us a biblical-contextual understanding of who this leper was and what leprosy was about. Understanding the Old Testament allows us to understand the New Testament and the gospels in the fullness of their biblical-historical context. One of the best ways to read and understand the Bible is therefore through the lens of the Bible itself. The table below breaks down the key points of the passage:
Back to Mark 1:40-45: this leper who approaches Jesus should by all accounts be required to live in isolation apart from his community. He is a societal outcast, quite literally an untouchable. Luke 5:12 even tells us that this man was “full of leprosy”!
By now it should become clear why the encounter between the leper and Jesus was unusual. Jesus whose status was that of a common Jew, was inside of society, while the leper was outside of society! Their paths were not supposed to cross under any circumstances.
Given the culture at the time, some might describe this leper’s actions as audacious. Such a scenario may be hard to imagine in Singapore as ethnic and community tensions are somewhat mitigated by social cohesion policies that are put in place by the government. Somewhat. In many countries around the world such discrimination and drawing of fault lines still exists. India’s Dalits, or untouchables, are one example, and discriminatory segregation between black South Africans and African Americans is another.
Perhaps an equivalent would be someone in torn clothes smelling of sweat and urine walking into a fancy restaurant in MBS and asking one of the diners to do something for them. What would you do if someone like that walked into your air-conditioned church and asked around for a favour, perhaps even for someone to pray for them? Before they can even open their mouth to ask, I’m not proud to say that the majority of us, myself included, would probably tend to judge them on their appearance. Friends, would a leper be accepted in your church?
But here’s another way to look at it: the leper’s actions in Mark 1:40 can be thought of as desperate rather than audacious. On one hand, he’s desperate, but on the other, also hopeful, trusting and deferential. His actions (i.e. kneeling, imploring) and what he says display faith in Jesus, rather than an arrogant challenge to Jesus’ power. Hear his words! “If you will, you can make me clean”.
So whose will is the leper focused on for his cleansing? Note that he begins his request by saying ‘If the Lord is willing’. Jesus’ ability and His power are not even in question. How often do we find ourselves praying “Your will be done”? There are churches that teach that God just cannot wait to pour out His healing upon us and our unbelief is in fact preventing God from working His healing power! So all we have to do is to receive. Just name it and claim it.
But is that really what the Bible teaches? We see here that the leper did not say to Jesus ‘I declare that there shall be healing in your name or that I am safe from all harm and affliction’. Instead he says “If you will, you can make me clean”. We should not be in any doubt about God’s power to save or to heal. But we should not presume God’s prerogative to deliver that healing.
In some ways, the leper’s posture of submission to the will of God over his circumstances gives us an example of how we are to come before God. The leper recognized the authority and the power of Jesus Christ – and in faith, asked Jesus to make him clean. Friends, do we adopt the same posture that this leper – one whom our hearts would be quick to ostracise and judge – adopts? We have much to learn.
3 details stand out immediately (Mark 1:41) from Jesus’ response – (i) First, Jesus was moved with pity; (ii) Second, he stretched out His hand to touch the leper; and (iii) Third, He cleanses the man by the power of His word.
If Mark is in such a hurry, why does he emphasize the first two details? “He stretched out His hand to touch the leper” take up 9 precious words of bible real estate amid the urgency of Mark’s gospel. He could have just said something like “…and Jesus made the man clean”. It’s also interesting that Jesus doesn’t always lay hands on those that He is healing. Therefore when He does we should ask if it has any significance.
The answer is in Lev 13 – remember that lepers were not supposed to come into contact with anyone. Anybody who came into contact with a leper became ceremonially unclean. Even Jewish rabbis, who were supposed to teach and model godly behavior for the people, have been known to despise and shun anything to do with a leper’s presence. If you think about it, the only way you can touch someone or something unclean and not become unclean yourself is if you make the other person or thing clean. You can’t both stay the same. The people at the time knew this. There were only two logical outcomes for a person who had the audacity or the misfortune to touch an unclean leper – they either became unclean, or it must have been God Himself.
Only God Himself, pure and holy, could choose to touch this leper in order to demonstrate His power and His divinity. And notice that His power was demonstrated by his word. “Be clean”. Therefore, when Jesus reaches out to touch this leper, He cleanses the diseased man instead of becoming defiled by him. With one touch He reveals His identity, and implicitly reveals Himself as the fulfilment of the Law. This should be apparent to the priests in the temple!
In Lev 14, there are certain prescribed ways for lepers to re-enter the community. On the rare occasion that they recover, they had to approach a priest for re-examination and perform a whole bunch of other rites as part of their purification and re-entrance into the community. The priest also has to affirm the leper’s recovery. This was clearly set out in the Law.
Therefore, Jesus’ instructions in Mark 1:43-44 can be explained by two main reasons: the first was quite clearly to enable the man’s reconciliation or reintegration into the community. Basically, what Jesus told him in Mark 1:44 is i.e. “don’t make a big fuss out of this, go straight to the temple and let the priests examine you. Then do what the Law commands and offer the sacrifices that you need to offer for your cleansing”. This will be a proof to the priest. We see that this was a priority for Jesus because He sternly charged the man with this instruction and sent him away at once. Jesus cares about the restoration and the reconciliation of the lost and outcast.
The key to understanding the second reason is right at the end of Mark 1:44 – “for a proof to them”. What ‘proof’ did Jesus intend the priesthood to have? Another word for proof is also testimony – the man was to go straight to the priests to get himself examined and restored to the community, but more importantly, so that having been cleansed, he would give testimony of the one who had cleansed him. The one they call Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ power and the miracles that He performed pointed to His divinity. The message for the priesthood would have been loud and clear – the Messiah has come; the Kingdom of God is at hand. And He had come not to overturn the Law, but to fulfill it! So the second reason for Jesus’ instruction to the man was that it was intended to reveal Himself to His people, specifically, to the priests and the religious leaders, the shepherds of God’s people, as the Messiah.
How many times have we heard, “I’ve been through alot this past year and I’ve always wanted to believe in God.. I’ve tried.. but I don’t understand why there’s so much suffering in the world.. why do people beg and plead and pray to God to not let loved ones die.. and they die anyway? What kind of God would allow that? The horrific things people go through and see while praying to God for help.. I don’t get it and saying it’s a part of God’s plan or you just have to have faith doesn’t work for me either.. I’ve prayed about it and listened and tried to understand but I just don’t.. I’m an open-minded person and I respect everyone’s beliefs but I’m just not able to accept that a loving God would let good people suffer.”?
This question is as old as humanity. First of all, God does not ‘give’ us the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that happen in our lives. Life happens. Crap happens. People make poor choices. Natural disasters occur. We get sick. Nowhere does Holy Writ support the claim that any of these things is God’s doing. What kind of God would we worship if he, indeed, sent us all the trials and tribulations and suffering and horror for which He is blamed?
We have to remember that, even though God is firmly in control, Satan has power and he fights against our Lord. Ephesians 2:2 says: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1–2, emphasis added). In this text the apostle Paul describes Satan first as a “prince” with power, because he has authentic power in the world (1 John 5:19). This power has been given him by God (Luke 4:6). Satan has power over some illnesses (Luke 13:16; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7—it’s unknown if Paul’s “thorn” was an illness or something else). In some sense, Satan has power over death (Hebrew 2:14). The reason Satan is called a prince rather than a king is because there is only one King—Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:15).
Satan also has power over some people. The “sons of disobedience” referred to in Ephesians 2:2 are those who have not trusted Christ as Lord and Savior (cf. Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 13:12). The demons are also under the rule of Satan (Matthew 12:24), and one of his titles is “prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34). Satan has a kingdom (Matthew 12:26) and a throne (Revelation 2:13). Satan is called a prince because he is a ruler and possesses power to manifest evil in the world through influencing people and commanding demons.
“The air” in Ephesians 2:2 may refer to the invisible realm above the earth where Satan and his demons move and exist. This space, of course, is the location of the earth’s atmosphere or “air.” In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This evil realm called the “air” could be an actual locality, but it could also be synonymous with the “world” of John 12:31. This whole world is Satan’s domain (Matthew 4:8–9).
Although Satan has power and authority in the current world system in which we exist, his power is limited, always under the sovereign control of God (Job 1:12), and it is temporary (Romans 16:20). God has not revealed all of the why’s and when’s concerning Satan’s rule, but He has made it clear that there is only one way to escape the power of Satan’s dominion, and that is through His Son, Jesus (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13–14). It is Jesus who, speaking of the impending cross, declared victory: “Now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).
Now, when Satan has so much power, what are we left with? The Bible DOES say that that he will, when we are suffering temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.
Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executioners, (consider the Holy Martyrs.) Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt, this can be helpful.
When “bad” things happen to any of God’s children, God is grieved and suffers with us, and this was experienced most vividly in the hurt and suffering of Jesus Christ for all humanity. Any “bad” thing which happens is never the last word. Rather, God is the deepest and last word, and that word is love and eternal life with God.
The Bible clearly teaches that God does not cause us to suffer. For example, the Bible says that when we go through trials, it would be a mistake to say: “I am being tried by God.” Why? Because “with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) In other words, God never causes the trials we face or the suffering that follows. To do so would be wicked, but “God does not act wickedly.” (Job 34:12.)
If God does not cause us to suffer, then who or what does? Sadly, humans are often victimized by other imperfect humans. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Additionally, we may face calamities because of “unexpected events”—that is, because of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) The Bible teaches that ultimately “the ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil, is responsible for human suffering, for “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) It is Satan—not God—who causes people to suffer.
God is aware of our suffering. From the very start of human suffering, not a single teardrop has gone unnoticed by our loving Father, whose “watchful eyes” see everything. (Psalm 11:4; 56:8) For example, when his worshippers in ancient times were being oppressed, God said: “I have certainly seen the affliction of my people.” But was he only vaguely aware of their pain? No, for he added: “I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) Many people have found comfort in that truth alone—the thought that God is aware of everything we suffer, even the trials that we or others may not be aware of or fully understand. (Psalm 31:7; Proverbs 14:10.)
God feels for us when we suffer. Our Heavenly Father is not only aware of human suffering but also deeply moved by it. For example, God was sincerely troubled when his ancient worshippers faced trials. “During all their distress it was distressing to him,” says the Bible. (Isaiah 63:9) Although God is vastly superior to humans, he feels empathy for those who suffer—as if their pain were in his heart! Indeed, “Our Heavenly Father is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11) Additionally, Our Heavenly Father helps us to bear our suffering. (Philippians 4:12, 13.)
We must also remember that our Lord Jesus knows what it is to suffer, to mourn. He wept at the grave of Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, and he suffered horrifically during His Passion.
God will end all human suffering. According to the Bible, God will bring an end to the suffering of every human on the planet. By means of His Heavenly Kingdom, God will drastically change the human condition—for the better. Regarding that time, the Bible promises that God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) What about those who have already died? God will bring them back to life here on earth so that they too can enjoy life free from suffering. (John 5:28, 29) Will anyone be plagued by painful memories of past suffering? No, for Our Heavenly Father promises: “The former things will not be called to mind, nor will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17.)
Jesus could have come and healed Lazarus when he was still alive.
Instead, He waited to raise him from the dead when he was already in his grave.
God could have made David become king the day after he was anointed.
Instead, He waited 15 years to rise to the throne, many of those years spent fearing for his life, hiding out and running away from his own father-in-law.
God could have spoken to Moses in the desert about sending him to help free His people from slavery 40 days after he ran away from Egypt.
Instead, He made him wait for 40 long years.
God could have gotten Joseph out of prison one year after he was sentenced there.
Instead, he was stuck in that dungeon for 10 years before he was finally set free.
God could have given Abraham the son He promised him when he was still a young man.
Instead, He waited until he was 100 years old and because of physical reasons would have a more difficult time conceiving at that age.
God could have answered prayers and met the needs of these men of God much quicker, but He didn’t.
He made them wait instead.
And He often makes us do the same.
He makes us wait for healing to come after we’ve been praying for years and there is no sign of recovery.
He makes us wait to fulfill His call in our lives after He puts the desire and passion in our hearts to serve Him in a certain way.
He makes us wait to give us the desires of our hearts, whether it’s a baby, a spouse, or a new job.
He makes us wait for direction when we are stuck at a dead end and we don’t know where to go or what to do.
He could answer that same prayer that you’ve been praying for years every night in a millisecond.
That same prayer that has been bringing you to tears.
That same prayer that the longer that it goes unanswered, the more it makes you question whether He even hears.
He kept Moses in a desert for 40 years.
Joseph in a prison cell for 10 years.
Abraham without a child for 100 years.
David on the run for 15 years.
And maybe He is keeping you right where you’re at for the same reason He kept these men for so many years: to build your faith.
To build your faith in a dungeon cell, during the valley in your life where it’s too dark to see and too hard to believe.
To build your dependence on Him when you are barren and empty to see if He is truly all you desire and all you need.
To see how well you will trust and serve Him when you are still stuck in the background somewhere, doing seemingly nothing too significant for Him.
To build your trust in Him when the storm keeps raging, the battle keeps going and breakthrough and victory doesn’t seem near.
That we grow in faith.
That we learn to only depend on Him.
What are you waiting for today?
What longing do you have that seems so far from ever being fulfilled?
What prayer do you keep on praying that seems to never reach God’s ears?
I want to remind you that God is not deaf to your prayers.
He is not blind to your constant tears, to your desires, and to your needs.
IF He is making you wait, there is a very good reason for it.
If He is telling you “no” today, maybe it’s because He has a better “yes” waiting for you tomorrow.
If He is keeping you in the same place you’ve always been today, maybe it’s because He’s helping build your faith before you enter your Promised Land tomorrow.
If He is not healing you or bringing you victory today, maybe it’s because you will have a greater testimony when He waits to help you be an overcomer tomorrow.
Wherever you are at today know that God is right beside you and that there is a purpose for you. Even if that purpose is to wait.
Don’t give up just because you don’t see anything happening today.
Maybe there is nothing physically happening that your eyes can see but there is definitely something happening in the spiritual realm as you learn to rely on Christ.
Don’t allow your waiting period to make you hopeless about what tomorrow will bring.
Instead, let it build your faith and give you even greater hope for what God has prepared for you.
He made some of the greatest men of faith wait.
Don’t be discouraged if He makes you wait as well.
He will come through for you, just like He came through for them.
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” – Psalm 27:14
After Daddy’s mesothelioma diagnosis was deemed critically terminal, one of his great comforts was chewing gum. He went through at least a pack a day. I’ll never forget this conversation between he and Momma when Daddy was in the hospital:
Daddy: Did I ask you to bring me some gum?
Momma: Yes, Honey.
Daddy: Did you bring me some gum?
Momma: Yes, Honey.
Daddy: Then why ain’t I achewin’ it?
And we all laughed, Momma gave Daddy his gum, he began “achewin’ it” and all was as right as it could be under the circumstances.
The Responsorial Psalm appointed for today comes from Psalm 25. Here it is:
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
And the Gospel for today comes from Mark 1: As he (Jesus) passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
Now, you ask me, what in the world does Daddy’s gum have to do with those scriptures? I’m gonna tell ya. Momma was prepared. She had done Daddy’s bidding, but just hadn’t quite followed through with it yet. How many of us are like that when it comes to doing our Lord’s bidding? Like the Psalmist, we have all of us asked “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” But have we followed through?
In the Gospel reading for today, we read of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him. And they did. We have many of us been called to follow Christ. And we do. Mostly??? Sort of??? Kind of??? In a round about way???
In the past few weeks, how many of us have said/posted/read/agreed with things that would most definitely not be considered Christ-like? How many of us have let our personal political beliefs get in the way of acting like the “little Christ” we are called to be? Sure we can disagree, often vehemently, but under no circumstances can we allow ourselves to allow those differences of opinions to get in the way of our witness for our Lord. (You gotta remember that even Peter and Paul argued, but they didn’t let that stand in the way of building Christ’s Kingdom.)
Let us not forget that in many cases, we are the only Bibles that many folks will ever read, and we are the only Jesus that some folks will ever see. It is up to us to see the Jesus in everyone, regardless of political belief, race, creed, color, sexual orientation, whether we cheer for Duke or for Clemson, or anything thing else that can be used to divide us. We are all of us HIS people, the sheep of HIS pasture, and we have far more in common than we do the things that divide us, if we truly identify as HIS.
As Christians, have we lost our focus of what is truly important? Regardless of politics, of whether we are ‘blue’ or ‘red’ or ‘rainbow,’ we are to remain focused on the one thing that really matters in this world and the next: Spreading and sharing the love of and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No matter who sits in the Oval Office, our job, our mission, our focus, has not changed and will not change: We are called to love and to serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart. We are called to care of each other, regardless of our politics. We are commanded to ‘bless those who persecute us’ and we are called to ‘pray for our enemies.’ We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. (Matthew 25:31-46).
I think we all of us are familiar with the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” And what is the next line? Yep. “And let it begin with me.” Isn’t it time we lived up to that? What are we doing to bring about change? To bring about equality? To bring about that healing this country so desperately needs?
It is up to each of us to conduct ourselves in a manner fitting our faith. Look at what you say. Look at what you post. If you were accused of being a Christian, would your timeline bear witness to the fact?
In the movie “Sister Act” the nuns sing another song that we’re all familiar with. “I Will Follow Him.”
I must follow him, ever since he touched my hand I knew that near him I always must be And nothing can keep him from me He is my destiny. (Songwriters: Arthur Altman / Franck Pourcel / Jacques Plante / Norman Gimbel / Paul Mauriat)
So, having said all of the above, shouldn’t we, like the nuns, like Peter and James and John and Andrew and Paul actually do what we are called to do?
Follow Him. In every word that we speak. Follow Him. In every post that we make. Follow Him. In every action we take. Follow Him. Amen.
Disciples of Jesus or Disciples of a man?
John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.
In just the last ten days we have seen violence, hatred, anarchy, and just plain disobedience. Our country is in deep trouble because of how a few followers of one person have acted out and caused such turmoil. These are disciples of a man. A small man. A bitter man. Someone who needs his giant ego stroked and requires praise and worship. NOT TRUE CHRISITIANS! True Christians are those people who follow Jesus, Act Like Jesus, and bring others to Jesus. Riots, mayhem, and violence are not the ways of our Lord.
Who do you follow? Who have you become disciple of? Are you disciples of a certain politician? Are you disciples of money? Are you a disciple of a boy band singer or a movie actor or actress? Do you spend more time searching the internet for videos of these people than you do reading your Bible? If so you need to step back and look at your life and the way you are living it. The last four years in the United States has been the scariest I can remember in my life. Racial violence, pandemics, political violence, and just general hatred to fellow humans seems to be the norm now, but that is not what our Lord wants for us. All these things can go away and all it would take would be for each of us to act and be the Jesus that others see. Love on another the way Jesus loved us – after all – He commanded this of us in John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
What does it mean to be a Christian these days? Who do you follow? Your preacher, the politician with the most charisma, the current popular rock singer, or Jesus? Open your eyes, open your hearts, open your lives. Be a disciple of Christ, not the newest fad or politician. Spread love and peace, not hatred and discourse. Be a fan of Jesus and not that football player or baseball star. John Wesley said: “The church changes the world not by making converts, but by making disciples.” Live your life making disciples and being the Jesus others see.
Heavenly Father: show us how to be disciples and how to guide others to your Son Jesus Christ. Give us the knowledge and wisdom to know that Your son Jesus Christ is the only one we need to follow and be disciples of. Amen
The Baptism of Our Lord.
Reading I: Is 42:1-4, 6-7 OR: Is 55:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 OR: Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
Reading II: Acts 10:34-38 OR: 1 Jn 5:1-9
Gospel: Mk 1:7-11
Liturgical colour: White.
Let us begin by looking at today’s Gospel Reading:
This is what John the Baptist proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In this reading from the Gospel of Mark, we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It begins with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River and God proclaiming that Jesus is the Beloved Son. Our baptism reminds us of who God created us to be. It joins us to the Body of Christ, gives us freedom, and commits us to following the way of Christ. But we don’t do this alone. Our baptism bonds us all in the Christian Church.
We all came into the world as the individuals which God created. We came into the world with love and mercy that each and every one of us, were created to give and to receive. We are all intentional creations of God.
Unfortunately, over time, we forget that part of who we are. The memory of that loving heart is exchanged with worries about what others may think of us: we may think, Are we good enough? Are we successful enough? Are we enough?
In the beginning…God created. In the beginning…John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus. In the beginning…Jesus set forth on his mission to save the world.
The Gospel of Mark doesn’t begin in the same way as the gospels of Matthew or Luke. There is no genealogical history. There is no account of Mary and Joseph wrestling with this strange news that will change the course of their lives. There is no birth narrative…no manger….no shepherds…no wise men…. Mark’s Gospel begins at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
John the Baptist is described pretty as the messenger prophesied by Isaiah. John’s out in the wilderness baptizing people who repent of their sins. Mark’s description of him makes him a man on a mission, literally, he on a mission, a mission from God. He’s focused. He’s doing what God has called him to do. He’s not a self-promoter. He’s baptizing people with water to receive forgiveness of their sins.
But John the Baptist tells us that he’s just the messenger…that God is sending another, more powerful man. This man will call down the Holy Spirit to baptize us.
Then Jesus appears on the scene and is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. And, for Mark, this is a new beginning, not only for Jesus, but for the whole world. Mark says: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’.”
For Mark, it’s not the birth of Jesus that rearranges all of history. It’s the baptism of Jesus. In that moment, “the heavens are torn apart!” The veil is lifted and heaven and earth are one again, just like at the beginning of Creation.
In this moment of Jesus’ baptism in Mark, God’s love and the Holy Spirit break into this world to declare that Jesus is the Beloved Son. And just as God proclaimed that creation was “good,” God proclaims the goodness of the Son.
Mark makes clear that Jesus isn’t just a prophet, Jesus is God walking around this world in the flesh, in all its joy and sorrow and fragility. Jesus is the one the world has been waiting for. The one who will bring God’s kingdom to earth. This is a new beginning.
Baptism is a new beginning for us, too. When we’re baptized, we take part in the rite that uses the outward and visible signs of water, oil, the cross, the Paschal candle, and the people of God. All of these things connect us to the Body of Christ, to all of those people who have gone before us, walk with us now, and will follow us on the journey of following Jesus.
This is our birth into the church as Christians. It’s our proclamation that we will strive to bring love and justice and mercy to the world. But we know that we can’t do it alone. We need God to walk with us on this path. We need Jesus to show us the way and the Holy Spirit to guide us. And we need God’s people to walk with us.
When we’re baptized, the waters that are poured over us are the very waters that were present at creation. They’re the waters upon which God breathed and creation began. These are the same waters that baptized Jesus, that announced to everyone that the Saviour was in the world, offering a new beginning. These are the waters that create new life in us, too.
Baptism is also referred to as our “new life in Christ.” This new life doesn’t mean that who we were before wasn’t good enough. It’s not like we aren’t God’s children before we’re baptized. We’re God’s children from the moment God creates us.
Baptism is when the veil between heaven and earth parts and we remember who God created us to be…each and every one of us. Through Baptism, we receive freedom. We make the commitment to be who God created us to be. We return to that person God created us to be with new awareness and dedication and connection.
Our Baptism and the renewal of our baptismal vows reminds us of that loving and merciful person that God created us to be. It reminds us that because God created us and loves us, we are good enough.
Let us pray:
God of all wilderness wanderers, you sent John to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, your beloved son. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us so that, like John, we may proclaim the time to turn from sinfulness and the good news of your grace; through Christ, the water of life. Amen.
Reading I: 1 Jn 3:22–4:6
Responsorial Psalm: 2:7bc-8, 10-12a
Gospel: Mt 4:12-17, 23-25
Liturgical colour: White.
Today is the Memorial of my Dominican Order Name Saint, that being St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
This particular Saint was given as my order Name Saint because my Bishop noticed there seemed to be many similarities between the life of St Elizabeth Ann Seton and the life of myself. We both share the fact that we have both overcome many life traumas and adversities, but yet, we both always have remained strong of faith regardless of the things life has thrown at us.
Mother Seton founded the first American religious community for women, named the sisters of charity, and so she was a keystone of the American Catholic church. Mother Seton also opened the first American parish school, and the first American Catholic orphanage. All this, she had accomplished by the age of 46, whilst also raising her own five children.
Mother Seton is a true daughter of the American Revolution, she was born on Aug 28th 1774, which was only two years prior to the declaration of Independence.
By both birth and marriage, Mother Seton was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the rich fruits of high society, but this situation wasn’t to last.
Mother Seton suffered the early deaths of both her mother in 1777, and of her baby sister in 1778, but far from letting it get her down, she faced each new ‘holocaust’ as she called it, with a hopeful cheerfulness.
At only aged 19, she married a handsome wealthy businessman named William Magee Seton and they had five children together. But William’s business failed, and he died of Tuberculosis when Elizabeth was aged 30, leaving her widowed, penniless and with five young children to support. Many of her family and friends rejected her when she converted to the Catholic faith in March 1805.
As a means to support her children, mother Seton opened a school in Baltimore which always followed a religious community pathway and her religious order of the sisters of charity was officially founded in 1807.
The thousands of letters of Mother Seton reveal the development of her Spiritual life from that of a person of Ordinary goodness, to one of heroic sanctity. She suffered many great trials within her life yet with her strong faith, she overcame them all. Trials of sickness, of misunderstanding, the deaths of her loved ones (mother, baby sister, husband, and even two of her own children), and the heartache of having a wayward son.
St Elizabeth Anne Seton died on January 4th 1821, she became the first American=born citizen to be beatified in 1963, then Canonized in 1975. She is buried in Emmitsburg in Maryland.
Let us pray:
O Father, the first rule of our dear Saviour’s life was to do your will. Let His Will of the present moment be the first rule of our daily life and work, with no other desire but for it’s complete accomplishment. Help us to follow it faithfully, so that doing your Will may be pleasing in your sight.
Today we mark the end of the Christmas season – the Day of Epiphany. We celebrate this day to reflect on the visit of the Magi – the wise men – to Jesus and the giving of their gifts. We reflect on the meaning of this visit of those wise ones to see Jesus.
Epiphany is about Jesus and his message being available and relevant to people of every age and race. Jesus isn’t just a Jewish prophet with an exciting message, but God made present amongst us and available to all of us to worship and follow. God’s love reaches beyond the everyday barriers of race and class; something the Magi didn’t quite get at first.
So Who Were the Magi?
We don’t know much about the Magi from Scripture. All Saint Matthew tells us is that they were “Magi from the East”. Some translations have “Wise men from the East”. The word in Greek refers to priests of the Zoroastrian religion. They came from Persia, the countries now known as Iran and Iraq, and they saw meaning in the movement of the stars. Their visit fits an Eastern pattern of great births being accompanied by momentous events in the sky. Certainly we know of a comet in 11BCE in Gemini with its head towards Leo, seen by many as a symbol of Judah. We also know of planetary conjunctions in both 7BCE and 6 BCE which would have added to a sense that momentous happenings were on the way. The Magi would have noticed these things and taken them seriously. But who were they?
One commentator, Brian Stoffregen puts it like this;
“Originally in Persia, Magi were dream- interpreters. By Jesus’ time, the term referred to astronomers, fortune-tellers, or star-gazers. They were horoscope fanatics – a practice condemned by Jewish standards. We might compare them to people in fortune – telling booths, or people on the “psychic hotline” or other “occupations” that foretell the future by stars, tea leaves, Tarot cards etc. They were magicians, astronomers, star-gazers, pseudo-scientists, fortune tellers..”
Another writer, Nathan Nettleton, puts it like this;
“They were the speakers of the sacred words at the pagan sacrifices. At worst, the term referred to a magician or sorcerer, or even a deceiver. Magi were people whose activities were repeatedly condemned and prohibited throughout the scriptures and were completely anathema to the people of Israel.”
Whilst in English we get the words “magic” and “magician” from Magi, the Zoroastrian religion forbade sorcery. They clearly were looking for a new king and had found meaning in the movement of the planets and stars which led them to come to Israel to greet the new-born king. They journeyed from their homes in Persia to Bethlehem in search of this baby. Instead of angels and visions, we have the image of the Magi following a sign in the skies – in nature – and for a long period of time. The magi see the intentions of God in the skies. This is not new: Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens themselves declare who God is, and that his handiwork is seen in created nature. “We observed his star at its rising”. The magi know that there is something significant happening.
When did they come?
The Gospel of Saint Luke doesn’t mention the Magi and holds that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the presentation of Jesus at the Temple where he was circumcised. It’s probable that Saint Luke didn’t know of this episode in Jesus’ early life. Saint Matthew seems to place the visit of the Magi some time after Jesus’ birth. The Holy Family are in a “house” not in the
stable of the inn. Herod kills all the newborn boys under the age of two years. So it’s likely that the Holy Family had stayed for some time in Bethlehem and the Magi came some time after Jesus’ birth, perhaps as long as two years after.
WHY did they come?
Clearly, the Magi were searching. The Magi recognized much of the truth of Jesus, who he was and what he would become. The magi had a general idea of this God and this King of the Jews, but they didn’t really know who or what they were looking for. Bono and U2 were criticized some years ago by some supposedly orthodox Christians when they produced a song entitled, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” I can’t see the problem with that especially given the spiritual depths in many of their songs. You see, the example of the Magi was that they were searchers, not really knowing what or who they were looking for. They didn’t claim to have it all but they saw their lives as a journey of discovery. And in that they are an example to us. We don’t know it all. But if we like them are prepared to be diligent seekers, then like them we may be graced by God’s light, by our Epiphany. When the wise men finally found Jesus, we are told that their first response was joy – “they were overwhelmed with joy”. That is what happens when we find Jesus. This is what awaits us at the end of the journey. Next, they paid him homage – they worshiped him and acknowledged Him as King. After the joy comes the worship. That means acknowledging Jesus as King. Jesus as the center. Jesus as Lord. And then, after joy and after worship, comes offering of their gifts. In response to who Jesus is and the joy He gives, we offer ourselves and our gifts to Him.
So my message for today is to dare, like them, to take the risk of seeking, and God may well bless us with our own Epiphanies which transform us as doubtless the Magi were transformed by what must have been a surprising experience for them as they knelt before the infant Jesus.
So how do you find Jesus? Maybe you can start out like the Magi – with a general idea of God, and a general idea that He is guiding you. Like the Magi, we need to turn to the scriptures. If you don’t read them, you will never really get the specific directions that God is trying to give you. Approach them with the right spirit, the right purpose. Ask for help along the way – the church, God’s people, are meant to help you along that way. The wise men knew when they needed to ask someone else for help. And pray. Ask God. When you find Jesus, rejoice. After all, He is God. Put Him in the center of your life. Ask yourself whether what you are doing honors him a King. Offer to him what you have, who you are.
Where can this Jesus be found? He is with you now. Won’t you seek Him? Won’t you recognize Him? Won’t you let Him fill YOUR life with joy? Amen.
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
Well Jesus is 8 days old, circumcised, named, and introduced to the world in the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Mary’s work was not done. Mary had the responsibility of raising this child, with all the fun stuff that most new mothers must deal with such as diapers, 2 am feedings, all the childhood illnesses, skinned knees, and bruises. Mary had an ongoing job of raising the son of God. Not much is known about the following years, but I can only assume that Mary cherished and protected Jesus just as any other mother would today or at any time in history. It is said that the bond between mother and child is one of the strongest in the world. There is no stronger bond on earth or in heaven.
The natural bonding which holds together a mother and her baby gives an obvious basis to this unity of Mary and Jesus. But here the unity is more profound. Here the Child is also Mary’s Creator and her Savior. His humanity has been assumed from the first moment of its conception by God the Word who is himself the self-expression of the Father, the Source of all. So, he is his Mother’s Creator. And it is by his gracious anticipation of his own redeeming work as man that Mary, at his birth as before it, is full of grace. So he is her Savior too.
Just as Mary’s motherhood was a mystery to her from the beginning when an angel told her she, a virgin, would conceive, so her motherhood is again a mystery she can only ponder in faith. There is so much that Jesus has – the power to work miracles is but one – that does not come from her. When she asks him to provide wine at the wedding in Cana, he replies, ‘Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ Jesus performs the miracle at his mother’s request, but this event doesn’t fully reveal what the relationship is between Mary and Jesus, because his power to work miracles comes not from his mother but from his Father who is in heaven.
But the words ‘My hour has not yet come’ point us forward to the hour of the cross when Jesus will say to Mary, ‘Behold, your Son.’ It is here that the importance of Mary’s motherhood is fully revealed to us. Her motherhood did not give Jesus the power to work miracles, but it did give him a body in which he could suffer and save us from our sins. The full meaning of the Mother of God is that Mary gave to an invulnerable God of miraculous power, the vulnerability of a body which could suffer, die, and save. And so, we honor her today, because it was she who gave us our Savior, the Mother of the Savior, the Mother of God.
At the human, biological level Mary is our precious link to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose birth some 2000 years ago we recall at Christmas. As Jesus did not have a biological father, did not have a wife to be one flesh with, did not have children, then Mary leads us uniquely and constantly to Christ’s incarnation, his taking on of flesh and blood. Far from being a distracting alternative to Christ, devotion to Mary attaches us more firmly to her Son. He is no alien visitor from outer space, disconnected from our humanity.
Let us pray
[in the name of Jesus,
born of a virgin and Son of God]
source of light in every age,
the Virgin conceived
and bore your Son
who is called Wonderful God,
Prince of Peace.
May her prayer,
the gift of a mother’s love,
be your people’s joy through all ages.
May her response,
born of a humble heart
draw your Spirit to rest on your people.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen