Friday, September 18, 2015

Hard Truths

Truths that are hard to hear

We can all struggle at times to listen to someone if what they say arouses painful emotions in us. They might be trying to tell us something about ourselves that we find difficult to hear. That very human tendency is reflected in the disciples in this morning’s gospel. Jesus had something very important to say about what was about to happen to him. In the words of the gospel, he was telling them that he would find himself in the hands of others, who would put him to death. This was something that the disciples found very hard to hear and were not able to take on board. As the gospel says, ‘they did not understand what he said and they were afraid to ask him.’ Already in Mark’s gospel Jesus told them what was likely to happen to him. They were no more open to hearing it the second time than they were the first. They did not understand it and they were reluctant to question him because they were afraid they might not be able to live with the answers he would give them. In some ways that is a very human reaction. We often find ourselves not willing to ask questions because we suspect that we would struggle to live with the answers to our questions.

Yet, in our heart of hearts, we often recognize that there are certain realities we have to face, even if they are painful to face. There are certain illusions we may have to let go of, even if we have come to cherish them. In the second part of this morning’s gospel Jesus worked to disillusion his disciples, in that good sense. He needed to prise them away from the illusions of greatest that they harboured. They seemed to have thought that being part of Jesus’ circle would bring them privilege and status. No sooner had Jesus spoken of himself as someone who would end up as one of the least than the disciples began to argue among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. They wanted power and, it seems, that they wanted power for its own sake. This is the kind of self-centred ambition that James talks about in the second reading when he says, ‘you have an ambition that you cannot satisfy, so you fight to get your way by force.’ In place of that very worldly ambition, Jesus places before his disciples a very different kind of ambition, an ambition that has the quality of what James in that reading refers to as ‘the wisdom that comes down from above.’ This is God’s ambition for their lives and for all our lives. It is the ambition to serve, as Jesus says in the gospel, ‘those who want to be first must make themselves last of all and servant of all.’ This ambition to serve, again in the words of James in that second reading, is something that ‘makes for peace and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good.’

Jesus implies that this is to be our primary ambition as his followers. All our other ambitions have to be subservient to that God-inspired ambition. In his teaching of his disciples and of us all, Jesus elaborates on his teaching by performing a very significant action. He takes a little child and sets the child in front of his disciples, puts his arms around the child and declares that whoever welcomes one such child, welcomes him and not only him but God the Father who sent him. Jesus was saying by that action that the ambition to serve must give priority to the most vulnerable members of society, symbolized by the child who is completely dependent on adults for his or her well being. Our ambition is to serve those who, for one reason or another, are not in a position to serve themselves. Jesus goes, assuring his disciples and us that in serving the most vulnerable we are in fact serving him. In the presence of the disciples who seemed consumed with an ambition for power for its own sake Jesus identifies himself with the powerless, those who are most dependent on our care. Over against the ambition of the disciples to serve themselves, Jesus puts the ambition to serve him as he comes to us in and through the weakest members of society. In our gospel Jesus is putting before us what his family of disciples, what the church, is really about. [Martin Hogan]


God Bless

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Faith Without Works

So what good is it if one has faith but has no works?  Now, we can all agree that faith is an indispensable ingredient to attain salvation, to be saved, but is faith alone for salvation the teaching of Scripture and the Church?

Today’s second reading gives us a strong clue of the answer to that question.  James says that “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Seems pretty clear but then you’ll have those who tell you that one can have a dead faith or a living faith and because they have at least one type of faith then they are ‘saved’.

Can a dead faith save you?  Some say yes because they have believe that one is saved through faith alone.  And yet we find Scripture teaching very different things.  In the same chapter of James, just a few lines following todays passage we see that James also emphatically states that “ the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.  We see here that James has made the ‘body’ analogous to ‘faith’ and ‘the spirit’ analogous to ‘works’.  Now how useful or life inducing is it if the body is without the spirit?  In the same way, faith, if it has no works is useless, that is, lifeless.

Lifeless…  Kinda points to not saved right?  But let’s see what Jesus has to say on ones works and how it relates to salvation.  Jesus teaches throughout the Gospels that one is judged by ones works.  In the story about Judgement Day in Matthew 25, we see Jesus separates the sheep from the goats on the simple criteria of whether one has ‘clothed the naked’, ‘fed the hungry’ and gave drank ‘the to the thirsty’, and so forth.  Something that one DOES.  If one does NOT do those things that the Father Wills us to do then we are sent to eternal punishment (Mat 25:46).

The Catholic website ( puts it succinctly when it states that:

The Church teaches that it's God's grace from beginning to end which justifies, sanctifies, and saves us. As Paul explains in Philippians 2:13, "God is the one, who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work."

Notice that Paul's words presuppose that the faithful Christian is not just desiring to be righteous, but is actively working toward it. This is the second half of the justification equation, and Protestants either miss or ignore it. (


And finally, if one tries to convince you that one is saved by faith alone just point out James 2:24 which states directly that “…a man is justified [ie saved] by works and not by faith alone.

God Bless

Friday, September 4, 2015

Reflections on Sept 9, 2015 readings

The Gospel Reading for this Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time in Cycle B comes from Mark 7:31-37, and concerns the event that took place in the district of Decapolis. The text tells us that the people brought a man who was deaf and also had a speech impediment to Jesus, and begged Him to lay his hand on him. We then read that [Jesus] “took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”– that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

There’s nothing I hated worse as a kid than wet kisses from my aunts, or when my mother would use her own spit as a cleaning agent or cosmetic for my face. UGH! I still get grossed out thinking about it today. I’m not bothered by my own excess saliva, but other people’s spit on me is downright disgusting! In fact, the Hebrew Bible not only informs us that spit from a person afflicted with genital excretions is unclean (Cf. Lev. 15:8), but that spitting on someone is considered to be an insult (Cf. Num. 12:14; Dt. 25:9):

Leviticus 15:8 – If the man with the discharge spits on a clean person, the latter shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.

Numbers 12:14 – But the LORD answered Moses: Suppose her father had spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be confined outside the camp for seven days; afterwards she may be brought back.

Deuteronomy 25:9 – Thereupon the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her, his sister-in-law, in the presence of the elders, shall go up to him and strip his sandal from his foot and spit in his face, declaring, “This is how one should be treated who will not build up his brother’s family!”

Spitting, as an intentional insult, still has a place in Judaism today. We find it in Chapter 33 of the Shulchan Aruch, known in English as the Code of Jewish Law, is a written manual of halacha (Jewish law), authored and published by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 16th century:

No. 4: A person should always remember that, to smell food, you should spit ascended saliva, rather than swallow it, because if he had swallowed, may expose themselves to danger, Gd forbid.”

We also find spitting included as part of the Aleinu Prayer, which concludes every service for Chabad Jews. They spit immediately after the first stanza that ends “For they worship vanity and emptiness” (Hebrew: שֶׁהֵם מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהֶבֶל וָרִיק). There is also the Jewish custom to spit three times in reaction to something especially good or evil, by either literally spitting or figuratively by saying “pooh, pooh, pooh.”

So how do we understand Jesus using His own spit as a healing agent in the light that spitting on someone is an insult? The first thing point out is that there are three spitting-miracles narratives in the Gospels (two in Mark 7:31-37 and 8:22-26 and one in John 9:1-41), and the fact that the Gospel of John accounts for one of those events is very important. Theologians like to pay close attention to the Gospel of John because it was written a generation after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That being the case, we find that the stories contained in John informs us about what particular events in Jesus’ life that the more mature Christian communities found to be most meaningful. It’s comparable to the memories I would share about my father to my daughters, versus the stories that my daughters would tell about my father a few decades after my death. The stories they tell about him would be the ones that they heard from me that had the most impact on their life, or the stories they found had the most significant meaning. Therefore, because John includes a spittle-miracle, we know that this is a narrative that has rich theological meaning.

I believe that the more Scripturally consistent way to understand the spittle-miracles would be in same way that we understand Jesus doing things on the Sabbath that were considered to be against the law, or how we understand His teachings to correct the Mosaic Law (e.g. on divorce). Jesus did these things to not only to establish His authority, but to also demonstrate His authority, which often came by the way of giving teachable paradoxes. Jesus’ teaching method can be summed up in this way: What you think is real, is NOT actually real, and what you think is true, is actually NOT true. And the spittle-miracles fit right into that didactic construct. Essentially Jesus was saying, ‘So, you think spit is an insult – you think spit is unclean? Well, let me show you what spit was capable of from the beginning – before sin came into the world.

I think the best way to take this teaching and apply it to our daily lives is not going out and spitting on people with cancer and impaired vision, but, rather, by the way of another paradoxical saying; that, who you are is not who God is drawing you into being, and who you are is exactly who you will be. Meaning that we ought not understand this teaching through the one who spat, but, rather, by the one who was spat upon. In the way we will see that what Jesus is saying here is that all that I AM and all that I HAVE is what you are and will be, and do have and will have, if you would just faithfully live with your eyes fixated on my Father through Me.



God Bless