Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Sunday Gospels from September to November 2015: An Overall Theme for Catechism

by Lê Xuân Hy

St. Mark tells a marvelous story in these three months, with a consistent theme and great images. The story is Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he will die. There are several interrelated components to this story:
  • Jesus predicted three times that he is going to his passion and death in Jerusalem (8:31. 9:31, 10:33). He, our model, reigns by giving up everything, including life, in the service of the Father in all his brothers and sisters. 
  • Thus, the way into the kingdom of God is to depend on God alone. Not on riches or power. That is spiritual poverty. 
  • Three images for this spiritual poverty are children, poor women, and a blind beggar. 
  • To make the message clear, St. Mark uses the disciples as the unenlightened contrast, going for worldly power.
That message is repeatedly emphasized, in different ways, for 10 weeks, from the 24th week of ordinary time on September 13 to the 33rd week on November 15. Let’s review them briefly.
  • 24th week, Sep 13, Mk 8:27-35. First passion prediction. 8:35, “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” We get to give up everything. 
  • 25th week, Sep 20: Mk 9:30-27. Second passion prediction. Immediately afterwards, the clueless disciples debated who among them were the greatest. Jesus pointed to a helpless child, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…”
  • 26th week, Sep 27, Mk 9:38-48. The power-hungry disciples tried to grab exclusive power. Jesus told them that he is defending “these little ones who believe in me.”
  • 27th week, Oct 4, Mk 10:2-16. This long reading has both images: poor women and children. In a culture that men could divorce their wives at will, Jesus defended the wives, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her.” He makes it every stronger: it is necessary to be like a helpless child, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 
  • 28th week, Oct 11, Mk 10:17-30. About a man too rich to follow Jesus. Most people are distracted by Jesus’ advise to give all to the poor. The point is that once he gives all to the poor, he cannot rely on anyone to help him, except God in heaven. Had he given to rich friends, they may help him out later, but the poor won’t be able to. Only God can help him then, and that’s the point: relying on God alone, just like children relying on their parents. 
  • 29th week, Oct 18, Mk 10:35-45. St. Mark again uses the disciples’ stupidity to make the point. James and John asked for top positions of power, and the other disciples wanted the same. That contrast helps to bring out Jesus’ point: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [On the other hand, James and John are good model of prayers: come to God with our desires and let Him guide us.]
  • 30th week, Oct 25, Mk 46-52. Here comes the ideal disciple: the blind beggar Bartimaeus. He threw away the only thing he had, his cloak. He used that to collect donations during the day, and to protect himself during cold nights. He called out to Jesus against social disapproval. People, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, wanted to listen to Jesus, so Bartimaeus’ screaming for Jesus disturbed them. Then when he was given the gift a sight and the power to go wherever he wants, he made the right choice: he followed Jesus, unlike the rich man in 10:17-30. 
  • 31st week, Nov 1, Matthew Beatitudes. Because of the feast of All Saints, the Gospel today switches to Matthew, but it still fits with the whole theme. Who are blessed? The helpless ones: the poor, mourners, and the meek. They don’t have power. They are “blessed”: God blesses them. They rely on God alone. 
  • 32nd week, Nov 8. Mk 12:38-44. Here is another ideal disciple: a poor widow who gives away both coins she had. She could have saved one of the two, but she gave both, “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood,” so she was just a poor widow relying on not even one coin worth a few cents. She relied on God alone. I am afraid some preacher may twist this story and say you need to give money to one cause or another. 
  • 33rd week, Nov 15. Mk 13:24-32. This is the last week of ordinary time. Chapter 13 of Mark is about the end time. We believe in God’s final triumph, “Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
In short, through numerous readings, one theme is consistent: Jesus invited us to rely on nothing else but God alone. An image he uses often is the child. Thus, reading with children through these Sunday Gospel readings is both appropriate for them and good for us.
The overall message in the Gospel of Mark is: Jesus is the Son of God, who saves us (Mk 1:1). We can't try to save ourselves, even by building our virtues. Only Jesus can save us. So, what are we to do, nothing? What role do our community service projects have? Mark's answer is clear: "repent, and believe" (Mk 1:15). But these two words need explanation:
  • Repent, metanoia, means understanding things differently: we seek and follow God's plan, instead of asking God to help out with our plans. 
  • Believe is really about relationships. We follow Jesus: following him, we serve others and creation (see the encyclical Laudato Si); following him, we bear the cross; and following him, we will have joy now and in heaven.
For teens who claim knowledge, independence and power, they can learn from the experience of the foolish disciples, and instead become more like the model disciples Bartimaeus and the poor widow with two coins.