Speak Lord: Call us to truth

Christ the lawgiverThe Gospel reading on Sunday, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, sees us return to the reading of Mark’s Gospel, which is characteristic of the Sunday Lectionary in this Year B of the Cycle.

And the reading returns us to scenes of controversy and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes…

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:

This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

The first reading on Sunday affirms in a strong and beautiful way the power and goodness of the Law. The controversy is not about Law, but how human beings can so easily subvert its purpose. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes by mistake.

Human frailty is God’s speciality. When we fail, and however we fail, deliberately or by mistake, his mercy, his help, his love are ours, always.

  • Where do you need that love, now.
  • Take a moment to ask for it, admitting your need, and confessing God’s love.

Carving of Christ as Law-giver. Christian sarcophagus, Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. © 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Challenge and stretch us

Eucharist Grasse

Every third Cycle of the Lectionary for Mass (Year B) is dedicated to the Gospel of Mark.

However the Gospel of Mark is shorter than the others, and much of its text reproduced in the other synoptics (Matthew and Luke); and there is an important section of John’s Gospel – the Bread of Life discourse – that otherwise would not be otherwise be heard.

So each Year B, beginning on the 17th Sunday, this coming Sunday, (and up to and including the 21st Sunday) we pause Mark, and listen to John.

This year the readings from John are themselves interrupted by the feast of the Assumption, kept on a Sunday in England and Wales this year. So those responsible for the preparation of the Liturgy might like to think of combining the gospel readings of the 19th and 20th Sundays for the sake of the congregation’s hearing the Gospel pericope in its fullness. (However, please note that although such an adaptation is commended for weekdays in the General Introduction to the Lectionary it is not directly proposed for Sundays. Introduction, 84)

This Sunday’s Gospel sets the scene for all that follows.

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’

Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.

When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

John 6:1-15

The scene is set.

  • The story of the miraculous feeding, known in Mark’s Gospel, is here placed in the context of Passover (the time of the Last Supper, and the Paschal Mystery which that Supper anticipated).
  • The inability of the disciples alone to respond to the needs of the people
  • The way in which the many are fed by God’s grace
  • The attentiveness to the precious food remaining
  • The way that the ministry of Jesus cannot be understood in normal political, worldly terms.

There is something new here, not only miraculous. The Gospel readings from John over the coming weeks make that point, again and again. There is no escaping the point. So will people stay and learn? Will people reject and leave? And if we have left, will we return?

  • How does the Lord help and encourage you?
  • How are you able to help and encourage others?
  • How can you share Jesus with others?

Photograph is of detail of door of the Cathedral of Grasse. (c) 2008, Allen Morris.