Tuesday, August 14, 2018

20th Sunday B

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6  Ephesians 5:15-20  John 6:51-58

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:9a).  This Sunday’s readings invite us to partake of the living bread and the true drink that give eternal life: paradoxically Jesus’ body to be broken in death and his blood to be poured out on the cross.  In contrast to the quarreling crowds, who question how Jesus “can give us his flesh to eat,” let us approach the Eucharistic banquet with the joy, as we sing in the words of the responsorial psalm: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,/ and your faces may not blush with shame. When the poor one called out, the Lord heard,/ and from his distress he saved him.”  (Ps 34:5-6)
The reading from Proverbs 9 describes Lady Wisdom’s banquet offering life-giving understanding to the simple in need of direction.  Her invitation is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ promise in the gospel reading: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”  Every feature of the selection highlights the care Wisdom has taken in preparing her life-giving feast.  First, she has built a perfect house with seven columns, dressed her meat, mixed her wine, and spread her table.  Then, she has sent out her maidens calling from the heights of the city to the simple to turn in to her banquet: “Come, eat of my bread/ and drink of the wine I have mixed!/ Forsake foolishness that you may live;/ advance in the way of understanding.”  Lest we forget the difficulty and utter seriousness of making the choice to follow the discipline of Lady Wisdom’s way as developed in the teachings of Proverbs 1-8, we should recall that in Proverbs 9 Lady Folly also offers a banquet to the simple, enticing them with the deceptive words: “Stolen water is sweet,/ and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov 9:17).  The one who attends her feast has found the way to death: “But he does not know that the dead are there,/ that her guests are in the depths of Sheol” (Prov 9:18).
The Ephesians reading continues the contrast between the disciplined and joyous way of wisdom and the folly of a life of debauchery.  In the context of exhorting the Ephesian Christians to turn from the darkness of their former pagan lives and calling them to walk in the light of the Christian way, Paul pleads: “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”  He goes on to contrast the “ignorance” of drunken debauchery with the “understanding” of a life “filled with the Spirit” that is marked by “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and praying to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”  We can find no better description of the joy that should characterize our Eucharistic celebrations.

The Gospel continues from last week John’s hostile dialogue between Jesus and the crowd, contrasting the manna that the ancestors ate and still died and Jesus, the one who will give his flesh for the life of the world and thereby become the living bread that gives eternal life.  The first verse of the reading repeats the last verse from last Sunday’s Gospel: “Jesus said to the crowds: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’” Although John does not have the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, these words are similar to the ones used by Jesus in the other gospels.  Just as the crowd earlier questioned Jesus’ origins because they assumed that he was the mere son of Joseph (6:42), now they quarrel among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”.  As long as they remain on a mere earthly level, they can only understand Jesus’ language as a kind of cannibalism.  Only those who believe in Jesus’ life-giving death and its Eucharistic celebration can understand his language.
Jesus now challenges the crowd to move beyond their earthly understanding. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  He then makes a series of promises, all of them pointing to the “life” that comes from partaking of his flesh and blood.  The participants will have “eternal life” in the present and will be raised by Jesus “on the last day.”  They also “remain” or “abide” in Jesus, just as the living Father sent him and he has life because of the Father, so they will have life because of Jesus.  Finally, Jesus ends by contrasting the old bread come down from heaven (the manna) and himself as the true bread: “Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

19th Sunday B

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-9  Ephesians 4:30-5:2  John 6:41-51

“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”  The angel’s command to Elijah in the first reading challenges us to come to Christ in the Eucharist for the life-giving sustenance we need, especially in times of distress.  Let us pray in the words of the responsorial psalm, “When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard,/ and from all his distress he saved him. . . . Taste and see how good the Lord is;/ happy the man who takes refuge in him” (Ps 34:6ff).
In the reading from 1 Kings, God’s sustenance transforms Elijah from a frightened man, longing for death, to a resolute prophet, strengthened to resume his God-given mission.  Elijah is fleeing from the wicked queen Jezebel who has put him under a death sentence for defeating and slaying her prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:1-19:3).  After a day’s journey into the desert, the prophet comes to a broom tree, sits down, and prays for death as he goes to sleep in hope of never awakening.  Filled with despair by his apparent failure, Elijah is ready to die in the desert, like his forefathers who came out of Egypt and wandered for forty years.  “This is enough, O Lord!  Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”  But God has a life-giving mission for him.  Like the frightened Moses before him, he is to journey to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where he will hear in a “tiny whispering sound” telling him he is not alone in his struggle and is to return to his people.  At this point Elijah needs strength for his journey.  Just as the Lord provided his ancestors water and manna in the wilderness, he now sustains his prophet with a hearth cake and jug of water.  Left alone Elijah would die, but strengthened by God’s food and drink, he can journey forty days and nights to the mountain of God.
The second reading continues the selections from Ephesians and presents a series of moral exhortations that illustrate the conduct proper for Christians who have converted from paganism and been baptized (see Eph 4:17-24).  Any action that destroys communal unity (bitterness, passion, anger, harsh words, slander, malice) saddens the Holy Spirit with which the community was sealed (see Eph 2:21-22).  In imitation of the forgiving God and Christ, who “gave himself for us as an offering to God,” Christians are exhorted to “be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving.”

The Gospel reading continues John’s Bread of Life discourse with Jesus’ challenge to the Jews, who are murmuring like their ancestors in the desert (see Exodus 16; Numbers 11), to believe in him as “the living bread” who gives his flesh for the life of the world.  Because of Jesus’ apparently ordinary human origins, the Jews cannot accept him.  They keep saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?  How can he claim to have come down from heaven?”  In response to these doubts, Jesus insists that only those who are drawn by the Father can come to him, in all his ordinariness, as the revelation of God.  As “the one who is from God and has seen the Father,” Jesus offers both knowledge of the unseen God and a share in God’s eternal life.  He is the fulfillment of the time mentioned by the prophets when “They shall all be taught by God” (see Isa 54:13; Jer 31:33-34).  In contrast to the manna which the ancestors ate in the desert and died, Jesus “is the bread that comes down from heaven, for one to eat and never die.”
Paradoxically, it will be Jesus’ death that will bring this lasting life: “the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”  As the Church journeys through Ordinary time, this Sunday’s readings offer us heavenly food to fend off death’s powers and impel us toward God’s future.  Through the most ordinary of signs--bread broken and eaten in memory of Jesus’ death--we are given the reality of God’s own life of love and are pointed beyond our feeble human powers and aspirations to life eternal.

The Assumption (August 15th)

The Assumption (August 15)

Readings: Revelation 11:19; 12:1‑6, 10  1 Corinthians 15:20‑26  Luke 1:39‑56

            The Feast of the Assumption of Mary celebrates our Roman Catholic belief that Mary, "having completed her earthly life, was in body and soul assumed into heavenly glory."  This event is not recorded in the canonical Scriptures, and, therefore, the readings for the feast concentrate on elements related to this belief: Mary's special dignity as the mother of Christ and Christ's victory over sin and death in his resurrection which is the basis for our belief that Mary too, through her son’s resurrection, triumphed over death.
            The apocalyptic vision in the Revelation reading uses symbols that are common to the myths of the Near East, Judaism and the Graeco‑Roman world.  All of these traditions have an archetypal story of the heavenly mother and her divine child who is attacked by an evil monster from the sea and then somehow rescued.  In the Book of Revelation this story is used to speak in a symbolic way of Jesus' triumph over the powers of evil through God's raising him to triumph in heaven.  It also alludes to God's protection of the mother and her offspring (faithful Christians).   The "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head" recalls Joseph's dream, where this image symbolizes the tribes of Israel (Genesis 37).   The woman's labor pains are like those of daughter Zion in giving birth to the Messiah, especially in Isaiah 66:7‑9.  It is not surprising that later Christians identified the woman with Mary.   The "huge, flaming red dragon" is a grotesque and bestial personification of the forces of evil.  Despite his terrifying powers, the dragon is not able to devour the "boy who is destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod" because he "was snatched up to God and to his throne." The woman is also protected when she flees into the desert, "where a special place had been prepared for her by God."
            In the Corinthians reading Paul is defending the Christian belief in bodily resurrection.  He insists that Christ has been raised from the dead and that he is the first fruits of a harvest which will affect the whole of humanity.  Using the Adam/Christ typology, Paul speaks of Christ as a new Adam who has brought life in place of death.  His resurrection is the first event in an apocalyptic transformation in which the dead will be raised and God's kingdom will be definitively established. “Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again, but each one in proper order: Christ the first fruits and then, at his coming, all those who belong to him.  After that will come the end, when, after having destroyed every sovereignty, authority, and power, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father.”
            The Gospel is the story of Mary's visiting Elizabeth.  It proclaims the special dignity of Mary in Luke's theology.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth greets Mary with the joyous words, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Mary's exalted status is founded on her trusting faith: “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled.”
            In her canticle, Mary, like Hannah in the Old Testament (1 Sam 2:1‑10), praises God her “savior” who has manifest his power and fulfilled his promises to Abraham by exalting the lowly.  In our celebration of this feast, let us join Mary in singing God's praises.
"My being proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
                        my spirit finds joy in God my savior,
                        For he has looked upon his handmaid in her lowliness;
                        all ages to come shall call me blessed.
                        God who is mighty has done great things for me,
                        holy is his name;
                        His mercy is from age to age on those who fear him.
                        He has shown might with his arm;
                        he has confused the proud in their conceit.
                        He has deposed the mighty from their thrones
                        and raised the lowly to high places.
                        The hungry he has given every good thing,
                        while the rich he has sent empty away.
                        He has upheld Israel his servant,
                        ever mindful of his mercy;
                        Even as he promised our father,
                        promised Abraham and his descendants forever."  

Monday, July 30, 2018

18th Sunday B

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Exodus 16:2-4,12-15  Ephesians 4:17,20-24  
John 6:24-35

The readings for this Sunday proclaim God as the giver of life-sustaining gifts: manna for Israel in its journey through the wilderness, and Jesus, the bread come down from heaven, the source of eternal life.  Christians are challenged to move beyond working simply for perishable food to union with God, the giver of the gifts that sustain God’s people on their journey through history.
The Exodus reading presents a sharp contrast between the grumbling Israelites and the Lord who provides manna and quail for their journey through the wilderness from Egypt to Mount Sinai.  Rather than trusting the God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt with spectacular signs and wonders, “the whole Israelite community” grumbles and wishes nostalgically that they had died in Egypt where “we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!”  Material security in slavery is preferred to the freedom of the wilderness which calls for trust in God.  The Israelites complain to Moses and Aaron, “But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”  In spite of these rebellious complaints, the Lord patiently promises sustaining gifts of manna and quail “so that you may know that I, the Lord, am your God.”  The purpose of these gifts is not simply physical sustenance in the wilderness.  Behind the Israelites’ complaint about lack of food is their failure to trust in God.  The daily portions of food will be given to “test them to see whether they follow my commandments or not.”  When the Israelites see the strange “fine flakes like hoarfrost” and ask, “What is this (ma-hu’)”? Moses tells them, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.”  Israel is challenged to move beyond the gift to the giver, the One who sustains the community on its journey to freedom under the covenant.  Sadly, they sin by both trying to store more manna than they need (16:19-21) and then trying to go out to gather manna on the Sabbath when they have provided with a double portion on the day before (16:27-30).
The Epistle reading from the Letter to the Ephesians also exhorts them no longer to live lives of “illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking.”  This Gentile community that has now been incorporated into the cosmic body of Christ with Jews has to set aside its empty pagan way of life and “put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.”
The Gospel is the beginning of the Bread of Life dialogue between Jesus and the crowd that follows his multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the miraculous crossing of the sea by walking on water (John 6:1-21).  As always in John, the dialogues are filled with irony and misunderstanding and challenge Jesus’ hearers to understand those signs as calling for a new spiritual insight into his identity as the One sent from God.

The crowd’s initial question, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” is simply an attempt to find out how Jesus arrived in Capernaum without coming in the boat with his disciples.  But Jesus immediately chides them for looking for him simply because he has physically fed them with loaves and not because they have seen those actions as signs pointing to his relationship with the Father.  He challenges them with wisdom sayings, like Lady Wisdom in Proverbs: “You should not be working for perishable food but for food that remains unto life eternal, food which the Son of Man will give you; it is on him that the has set his seal.”  When they in turn ask what they must do “to perform the works of God,” Jesus replies: “this is the work of God: have faith in the One he sent.”
The dialogue continues to build on the twin themes of “food” and “work.”  When the crowd asks Jesus to perform/work a sign as a basis for their putting faith in him and mentions the sign of manna given to the ancestors to eat in the desert, Jesus’ response is twofold.  First of all, he clarifies that “it was not Moses who gave you bread from the heavens; it is my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread.”  Then Jesus adds that “God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” but the crowd seems to understand him literally.  They want perpetual physical nourishment.  “Sir, give us this bread always.”  With this request, Jesus climactically announces: “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again.”  Jesus is proclaiming that belief in him as the revelation of the Father’s love is the way to union with the Father in an eternal life.  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (6:40).  Ultimately, this life-giving union with the Father through Jesus is the community’s sustenance as it awaits “the last day.” 

Monday, July 23, 2018

17th Sunday B

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44  Ephesians 4:1-6   John 6:1-15

This week’s liturgy begins a series of five weeks when the Gospels are taken from the Bread of Life discourse in John 6.  Throughout this period the church explores various aspects of the Eucharist.  Today’s readings proclaim how God wondrously feeds his people in time of need. God’s largess exceeds human expectations and calls those who have been fed beyond the state of physical sustenance to union with the God who gives the gift of eternal life. 
The reading from 2 Kings recounts how the Lord, through the prophet Elisha, was able to feed a hundred men with twenty barley loaves.  This miracle must be related to the major motif of the Elijah-Elisha stories in 1-2 Kings: the conflict between the Canaanite god Baal, thought by many in Israel to control the fertility of the earth, and Yahweh, the God of Israel, the true Lord of life.  To counter Israel’s temptation to worship Baal, in chapter 4 of 2 Kings, the Lord empowers the Elisha to perform four miracles demonstrating his power over life, death and fertility in time of need: the giving of oil to the widow of a prophet in debt (4:1-7), the resurrection of the son of the Shunammite woman (4:8-37), the healing of the poisoned stew (4:38-41) and the multiplication of the loaves (4:42-44). 
The very structure of this little narrative highlights the superabundance of God’s life-giving power.  The barley loaves are brought to Elisha, the man of God, who commands that they be given to the people to eat.  When the prophet’s servant objects that this amount is inadequate to feed a hundred men, the prophet unhesitatingly takes charge and, in the Lord’s name, announces: “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.”  The incident concludes with the fulfillment of the Lord’s word: “And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.”  The point of these miracles is not, as in Western scientific thinking, the impossibility of such actions by virtue of natural laws, but their invitation to belief in the Lord God whose word is powerful in creation and history.
The second reading continues the Ephesians selections with the beginning of the exhortation section, urging the community to a life of unity (4:1-6). The first part of Ephesians (ch 1-3) presents a prayerful meditation on God’s choice of both Jews and Gentiles to share in the community of salvation by being members of a single cosmic body through their common redemption in Christ.  Now Paul pleads with the Ephesian Christians to live a life worthy of their calling to unity.  The virtues needed are humility, meekness, patience and bearing with one another lovingly; these are gifts already given in the community’s common faith and baptism.  Members are united in one body and Spirit, sharing one hope.  In Baptism they professed belief in one Lord and one God and Father who is over all, works through all and is in all.  Now they are called to become what they already are through their common faith and baptism.

The Gospel is John’s account of Jesus’ feeding 5,000 in Galilee by multiplying loaves and fishes.  John’s narrative is unique in interpreting Jesus’ miracles as signs that invite observers to go beyond a merely physical and earthly understanding of Jesus to belief in his true identity as the one sent from God to bring life to the world by laying down his life.  The crowd is following Jesus because they have seen the signs he was performing (6:2).  In the miracle and the long dialogue that follows (6:25-59), Jesus challenges them to come to an understanding of him as the bread of life come down from heaven to give his flesh for the life of the world (6:51).  At this first stage the crowd fails to appreciate the full significance of Jesus’ sign by interpreting it on a purely political and earthly level.  They witness Jesus, like the prophet Elisha, feeding a crowd of 5,000 with only five barley loaves and a couple of dry fish, and they respond by saying, “This is undoubtedly the prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14; cf. Deut 18:15-19).  But the crowd’s understanding of the title is purely political, as they want a Messiah who will give them their fill of bread (see John 6:26).  When Jesus realizes they want to make him an earthly king, he flees back to the mountain alone.  In the subsequent dialogue he will invite them to move beyond this earthly understanding of the miracle.
John’s loaves and fishes story bears some similarities to Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, recounted in the Gospels of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13).  In both, the devil’s first temptation is to turn stones into bread, but Jesus, as an obedient son of God, refuses by insisting that providing bread alone will not fulfill his messianic mission.  He quotes Deut 8:3: “Not on bread alone does man live, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Today’s readings are an invitation to move beyond the wonderful physical gifts provided by God to a union with the Giver who has spoken the word of love in Jesus’ redeeming gift of himself.

Monday, July 16, 2018

16th Sunday B

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6      Ephesians 2:13-18       Mark 6:30-34
 In the Old Testament a favorite image for both the Lord’s love for his people and the saving work of the expected Messiah from the line of David is that of the good shepherd who tends his flock with care.  Today’s lessons present Jesus as the fulfillment of these hopes.  Let us praise the Lord’s selfless love for us in Christ in the words of the refrain of our responsorial psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23).
            The reading from Jeremiah is the culmination of a long section of oracles condemning the recent Davidic kings of Judah for their absolute failure to govern with justice and compassion (see Jeremiah 21:11-22:30). This concluding oracle contains both elements of harsh judgment but also promises of salvation.  It begins with the Lord’s “woe” against the shepherds (kings), especially Jehoiakim and Zedekiah (the last king of Judah), “who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.”  The result of their misrule will be exile in Babylon and the temporary end of the line of Davidic rulers.  “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel,/ against the shepherds who shepherd my people:/ You have scattered my sheep and driven them away./  You have not cared for them,/ but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.”  The passage ends, however, with two promises.  First of all, the Lord himself will take up the task of shepherding his people.  He will gather the remnant of his flock from the lands to which he has driven them (Babylon) “and bring them back to their meadow (Judah); there they shall increase and multiply.”  Secondly, in “the days to come,” the Lord “will raise up a righteous shoot to David” who will “govern wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”  His reign will bring salvation and security to both Judah and Israel, and he will fulfill the meaning of Zedekiah’s name, ‘The Lord our justice.’
            The reading from Ephesians continues to celebrate the unity of Gentiles and Jews in “one new person,” the body of Christ, the Church.  Using imagery associated with the Jerusalem Temple and its sacrifices and dividing walls, Paul affirms that the Gentiles “who were once far off” from salvation “have become near by the blood of Christ.”  Christ is the Christian community’s “peace” because he has “made both (Jews and Gentiles) one” by breaking down “the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.”  This dividing wall which separated Jews and Gentiles was “the law with its commandments and legal claims.” It has now been abolished as a way of salvation by Christ who reconciles both groups “with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.”  Our selection concludes with a beautiful Trinitarian formula celebrating God’s action in bringing all, both Gentiles and Jews, to salvation.  “He (Christ) came and preached peace to you who were far off (the Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (Jews), for through him (Christ) we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
            The Gospel selection presents Jesus as the shepherd Messiah who is concerned for both his disciples who have been on mission preaching repentance, driving out demons, and healing the sick, and the vast crowds who are frantically pursuing him and his disciples.  Between the sending out of the disciples (6:7-12) and their return in today’s reading (6:30-34) Mark has inserted King Herod Antipas’ reaction to Jesus—he thinks Jesus in John come back to life (6:14-16) and, in a flashback, the story of his beheading of John the Baptist (6:17-29).  This insertion keeps the question of Jesus’ identity before us and prepares for his violent death at the hands of Pilate and the persecution which his disciples will experience once he has gone (see 8:31-10:52; 13:9-13).  Our reading begins with the apostles gathering together around Jesus and reporting “all they had done and taught.” Jesus, the tender shepherd, then invites them to withdraw to a deserted place to rest because the great crowd of people does not even give them an opportunity to eat.  But when they get in a boat by themselves to go to “a deserted place,” the crowd from all the towns sees them leave and hastens to the place on foot so that they arrive before the apostles. When Jesus disembarks and sees the crowd, Mark tells us, “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”      
            The scene is filled with allusions to the Old Testament.  The withdrawal to a deserted place recalls the Israelites sojourn in the wilderness as they came out of Egypt and their journey to Sinai where they receive God’s Torah.  In fact in the next section (6:34-44) Jesus will feed the crowd of 5,000 men by multiplying loaves of bread and fishes much as the Lord fed his people with manna and quail in the wilderness (Exodus 16).  But before he feeds the crowds with physical food, the good shepherd’s pity for the lost sheep of Israel first moves him “to teach them many things,” to give them the spiritual food of God’s Wisdom/Torah (See Prov 9; Sir 15:3; 24:19).  

Saturday, July 14, 2018

15th Sunday B

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Amos 7:12-15  Ephesians 1:3-14   Mark 6:7-13

The theme for this Sunday’s readings is the call of God which inevitably brings the one summoned into conflict with worldly powers and values but will also result in the ultimate triumph of God’s kingdom.  In hope for the coming of God’s kingdom, let us pray the words of the responsorial psalm: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85).
The first reading from Amos, the earliest of Israel’s classical prophets (c. 750 B.C.), dramatizes the conflict between the authentic prophet and an official man of religion who has sold his soul to the political powers of his day.  Amos was an outsider in Israel; he came from the village of Tekoa in Judah, where he was a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees.  But he was sent by the Lord to prophesy in Bethel, the major sanctuary in the northern kingdom of Israel.  His oracles are a fearless and searing judgment against the social injustices and empty worship found there.  The priest Amaziah, ever loyal to the status quo, attempts to protect King Jeroboam II’s interests against the attacks of this Judean outsider.  He is a pathetic figure of a man of religion who, although the official representative of God at the sanctuary at Bethel, has made money and political favor his god.  His attempt to dismiss Amos betrays an understanding of religion as a matter of wealth and politics.  He assumes Amos is a professional prophet who earns his living by prophesying and attempts to protect “the king’s sanctuary” and the “royal temple” by driving the outsider from the land of Israel.  Amos, of course, refuses to capitulate to the priest’s threats.  He rejects Amaziah’s designation of him as a professional prophet and defends his credentials by reference to his call by the Lord himself.  “I was no prophet,/ nor have I belonged to a company of prophets;/ I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores./  The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me,/ Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”  In the following verses which were not included in this reading, Amos fearlessly announces the destruction of the royal dynasty, the conquest of the land and the exile of Israel.
For the next several weeks the Epistles will be taken from the Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.  Today’s reading is taken from the opening doxology  which praises God for the choice of the early Christian communities to share in God’s plan of salvation to unite all things, including the once antagonistic Jews and Gentiles, through redemption in Christ.  Ephesians is a theological tract written for Gentile Christians who are now called to share with Jewish Christians the privilege of membership in the community of the saints (cf. Eph 2:11-22).  A major theme which runs throughout Ephesians is “the mystery” of God’s plan which calls both Jews and Gentiles into a single body, the Church, destined to be the cosmic presence of Christ, its head, who will eventually integrate “all things in the heavens and on the earth.”  This opening hymn highlights the gratuity of God’s favor to both groups.  The Jews were chosen “before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his (God’s) sight,” and now they have been favored with redemption from their sins and insight into the mystery of God’s plan to unite all things in the universe in Christ.  The Gentiles have also now been chosen to hear “the glad tidings of salvation,” to believe in the good news, and be sealed by the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel is Mark’s account of Jesus’ sending of the Twelve on mission in Galilee (6:7-13) after his own rejection in Nazareth (6:1-6). Jesus stresses their need for detachment from worldly goods (“no goods, traveling bag, coin in the purse”) and the threat of rejection.  The Twelve are to share in Jesus’ work of proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God, but they can expect the rejection that Jesus received in last Sunday’s Gospel when his own people turned against him in the synagogue in Nazareth.  Rejection does not halt the progress of kingdom, however; it simply frees Jesus and his disciples to move on to other areas.  After Jesus met with lack of faith in his hometown of Nazareth, Mark says, “He made the rounds of the neighboring villages instead, and spent his time teaching” (6:6).  Likewise, he tells his disciples, “If any place will not receive you or hear you, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them as you leave” (6:11).  Significantly, Mark concludes this section by noting the success of the Twelve’s initial preaching.  They expel many demons, anoint the sick with oil and work many cures.
Each of today’s readings gives insight into various aspects of the call to serve God’s kingdom.  It is not be identified with wealth and political power and often places the one called in conflict with those powers and their representatives (Amos 7:12-15).  God’s kingdom is mysteriously destined to unite the whole universe under the headship of the suffering Christ (Eph 1:3-14).  Finally, it will invariably lead to rejection, but this should only free Christians to move on to those fields where God’s word will find fruitful soil (Mark 6:7-13; Mark 4:1-20).