There is enough, there is always enough.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Did he, or didn’t he?

Did Jesus actually organize a meal to feed a crowd of 5,000 from just five barley loaves and two fish?

Yes.

Did Jesus use a child’s contribution as a way to encourage those in the crowd who had some food to share it with those who had none?

Yes.

Some people are offended by the latter explanation. They claim it undermines the intent of the gospel writer. They claim it weakens Jesus by dismissing the possibility that he actually created a bottomless bread basket and endless fish platter from the five loaves and two fish. Others (including me) disagree. Jesus did create a bottomless bread basket and endless fish platter. He did it by changing the hearts of those who said “I’ve got mine, go get your own” to “I have a little, but I can share it with you.” This was as much a miracle then as it is today.

Like the five barley loaves and two fish the child offered to help feed the multitudes, the humblest offering has the capacity to transform society. Jesus knew this; everyone ate, everyone had their fill, and there were leftovers. There is enough, there is always enough.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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(This gospel [John 6:1-15] begins the “Bread of Life” discourse which will be the topic for the next five weeks.)

Come away, and rest a while

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Imagine: You and a team of trainees just returned from an exhausting week in the field. Every day brought new challenges. You spent the majority of your time teaching, problem solving and helping people who desperately needed your assistance. The stakes were high, and your work was exemplary. You are exhilarated, exhausted and hungry. Back at the office your supervisor listens as you recount your adventures, and invites you and the team to a brief offsite retreat. Meanwhile, the news of your success is spreading rapidly, and during the short time you are traveling to the retreat site an urgent request for assistance arises. Upon your arrival you discover a crowd of anxious people waiting. So much for taking a break. But here’s the thing. Without breaking stride your supervisor assesses the situation and responds with patience and compassion. You never sense frustration or disappointment or bother, because it is not there. Your supervisor is showing you what solidarity looks like.

This is the gospel of Mark 6:30-34. You might notice that Mark spends a lot of time presenting the rigors of discipleship to his readers. This story began with the disciples witnessing Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth by his own people (MK 6:1-6), followed by Jesus summoning the twelve and sending them off in twos to help spread the message far and wide (MK 6:7-13), and finally the disciples return from their mission, euphoric and bursting with tales of their success. But Jesus has more in store, of course.

“He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.” [MK 6:31]

It’s important to understand the depth of poverty in Jesus’ day. The majority were non-landowning peasants, day laborers if they were lucky, and dirt poor. Even those who had jobs barely had enough to get by thanks to the burden of religious and secular taxation. The crowds following Jesus were always hungry. Everyone was.

So, coming away to a deserted place away from the crowds in order to eat makes sense. I totally get it. As a young mother I regularly ate my lunch in the bathroom. My daughter, an absolutely adorable and ravenous 2-year-old, used to follow me around the house saying “Hungry, Mama. Hungry.” I fed her. I fed her her food and then I fed her my food. Her excellent hearing included knowing when the refrigerator door was being opened. There I’d be, the upper half of my body inside the fridge, sneaking a piece of sliced turkey and she would appear behind me, her angelic face looking up at me asking, “Some?

Coming away has another meaning according to John Shea. “To come away to that place means to return to the source, to be nurtured by God.”[1]  In that place, the disciples could find refreshment. But again, there is more to Jesus’ invitation.

If work is done in order to be completed, no matter how energizing it once was, it soon becomes a chore. Furthermore, it doesn’t take very long to discover no job is ever finished. Even in our “deserted place” the work awaits our return. There is no escape. Mark doesn’t say how the disciples reacted when they saw the crowds, whether they groaned about needing a break, or if they were disappointed because they just wanted to finish their sandwich in peace. What Mark does tell us is how Jesus reacted from the deserted place. He was filled with compassion, literally. The original Greek says his gut was wrenched by the sight of the crowd. These were his people.

Jesus’ solidarity with the poor provides us with an important lesson: If our genuine concern for others emerges solely from a sense of difference, for example, those who are poorer, those who are less healthy, those who have less opportunity, those without a stocked pantry, those without clean water, and so on, we quickly tire because there is no end in sight. But if what we do for one another comes from a place of solidarity, we enter the resting place, our source and our refreshment; we recognize our commonality in the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged. These are our people.

This is why Jesus instructed the disciples not to take anything on their mission other than a walking stick and a pair of sandals; they were to move about the community as equals with those they served; they had to depend on God’s providence just like everyone else.

This is what discipleship means. When our starting place is our common humanity, our focus shifts. What we do for others, we soon realize, we do because they are just like us, and we cannot stomach having it any other way.

Today’s readings can be found here. 


[1] John Shea. 2005. The Spiritual Wisdom of Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: Eating with the Bridegroom Year B. Year B edition. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. Page 184.

How does your garden grow?

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

There is a weed in my garden commonly known as Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagrariaI). Were it not for its resemblance to Poison Ivy this invasive and vile three-leaved specimen surely would never have been allowed to flourish. I have attempted many times to destroy it including most recently pinching off the leafy part of about 2 million stems, taking care not to disturb the root lest it get the memo I am out to kill it, and hoping that by defoliating the plant and preventing the process of photosynthesis it would perish. However, this method has been a complete failure. Instead of death by starvation, this little bugger taunts me by sending up hundreds of new shoots. Every stinking morning there they are, waving their perky little annoying crowns at me. Oh, hello, Susan! Have a beautiful day! Grrrr. Why I oughta…

Then I read the Gospel for this weekend’s liturgy, the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, and it occurred to me that the foe in my garden might better be called the Disciple’s Weed. For this plant’s persistence amidst adversity is analogous to the missionary identity and activity of the first evangelists, Jesus’ disciples.

After being rejected by his people in Nazareth [MK 6:1-6], Jesus took his message to the surrounding villages. In Mark’s gospel, one now senses in Jesus an urgent need to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. He summons the twelve, authorizes them with powers so they too can participate in his mission, and sends them off in twos. Even though they frequently misunderstood him, he trusted the twelve to get it right.

The scripture does not say how long the disciples were gone nor does it say what Jesus did in the meantime. All the gospel tells us is that they could bring a walking stick and wear sandals, and they were to depend on the goodwill of others for everything else including food and shelter. In other words, the disciples were to do the work of Jesus in the exact same way he did it. And, if like Jesus’ experience in Nazareth, they entered a place where they were not welcome they were to move on, because there were many other villages and people awaiting their message of hope.

This is really good news for Christians. Jesus entrusted the delivery of his message to disciples who were slow but earnest students, just like most of us. And by virtue of our baptism we are likewise included on Jesus’ team of missioners. We don’t have all the answers, we sometimes bumble along and make a mess of things, but we persist. Jesus trusted the twelve to get it right; I believe he can trust us as well.

(I still want that Bishop’s Weed gone, though.)

Today’s readings can be found here. 

And he was amazed at their unbelief

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Gladys: Oh look who’s preaching today, Abner. It’s Jesus, back from his semester abroad, and he’s brought some of his friends again.

Abner: He’s probably going to show us all how something good can come out of Nazareth.

Gladys: Oh come on, he’s alright, and besides, what are you talking about? It’s not like he doesn’t have something to say. Haven’t you heard what he’s been doing?

Abner: No, Gladys. But I’m sure you will tell me.

Gladys: It’s impressive, and he has quite the following. Although, remember the last time when that crowd followed him here? His mother and brothers thought he had lost his mind. She worries. Who wouldn’t? Him, out and about all the time with those people. Still, he’s a good boy and a great preacher; some even say he’s a prophet. And, don’t forget all the people he has helped…those with unclean spirits, the sick and diseased, lepers, paralytics, even a man with a withered hand! Why, just last week…

Abner: Hmmm?

Gladys: Shhhh, he’s talking! I’ll tell you in a minute! Did you just hear what he just said? Seriously? How could Jesus have such wisdom?

Gladys: Okay, so apparently there was this woman, ostracized for twelve years, with the bleeding. She could barely leave her house! But when she found out Jesus was passing through her town she managed to work her way into the crowd and got close enough to touch his tunic! And she was healed! She thought he was upset with her for touching him, but he was not. He said her faith healed her, imagine that! Now she’s just going about her business like it’s, well, nobody’s business! Ha!

Abner: Oh Gladys!

Gladys: And that’s not all, Abner. On the same day Jesus raised a little twelve-year old girl from the dead.

Abner: Stop it.

Gladys: Abner, believe me. Say,…do you think the number twelve means something?

Abner : Nah, probably just a coincidence. But Gladys, something’s fishy here. Where would someone like Jesus get the powers to do such mighty acts? He’s just a kid from the neighborhood. No different from our kids.

Gladys: Yeah, now that you mention it. Why Jesus? What makes him so special? Didn’t all the boys go to the same Hebrew school? I’ll bet Mary got him a tutor. Who does he think he is? He’s just a manual laborer, a carpenter, isn’t that right? And his family, well, er…I don’t want to be unkind, but you know what they say about his birth. Let’s just say she’s ordinary, to be nice.

Abner: Yes, no different from us! Huh? Wait. What? Gladys, Stop poking me!

Gladys: Abner! Did he just call himself a prophet?

Gladys: You know what? I’m done listening to this. I know what everyone says he has done, and that he’s so special, but I’m not buying it. Who can believe this? Plus his message is over the top.

Abner: Yeah, me too, let’s go!

Gladys: See? Now he can’t do anything. Wasn’t I right? I’m going home.

“And he was amazed at their unbelief.” MK 6:6

Today’s readings can be found here.

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The rejection of Jesus progresses from members of his family, who thought he was out of his mind [MK 3:21, 31-5], to his townsfolk, whose initial amazement was quickly replaced with skepticism and culminates with being rejected by members of his Synagogue [MK 6:1-6]. (It’s worth noting that after this incident in Mark’s gospel Jesus is not found teaching in the Synagogue again.) In response to the skepticism shown by his old neighbors, Jesus comments, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

Jesus’ former neighbors thought they knew all they needed to know about him, and they didn’t like what they heard.

Maybe they felt defensive, even slightly insulted that Jesus had moved on while they remained trapped in Nazareth. Perhaps the idea of giving up a “normal” life for one of service to others was as suspect then as it is today. It’s conceivable that their offense came when Jesus’ radical practice of the greatest commandment, to love God and neighbor, exposed their own prejudices. And maybe they were offended by the evidence of Jesus’ power and wisdom, both seen as divine gifts.

Jesus’ amazement at the community’s lack of faith paralleled their taking offense at his message. Their unbelief not only closed them to receiving Jesus’ message, it prevented Jesus’ from fully expressing it. Although he was shocked, he was not deterred. He knew it was pointless to try to move people who refused to hear, so he took the message elsewhere to a more receptive audience. And this is excellent news for every one of us.