Friday of Week 18

Gospel mt 16:24-28

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay each according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

Commentary on Matthew 16:24-28

Jesus has already shocked his disciples by telling them in advance what is going to happen to him as Messiah. Now he goes further and tells them that they, too, will have to have a part in his experience.

They are to follow in his footsteps. Like him, they are to be ready to take up their cross, whatever it may be, and carry it behind him. For some, it will mean dying for Christ and the Kingdom. For others, it will mean living totally for Christ and the Kingdom. Notice, Jesus tells them to take up their own cross, not his. That cross will be different for each person; it takes the form of some difficult thing which it is clear we must accept and not run away from. It is not to be sought for; that would not be a healthy thing to do. It will come, unmarked and unchosen but clear.

The other way, to avoid all pain and seek only what brings pleasure and enjoyment, is to go down a cul-de-sac, a blind alley that leads nowhere. That is what we mean by trying ‘to save our life’. It is a sure way to lose it.

What is the use of “gaining the whole world”, becoming a multi-millionaire and being profoundly unhappy? Living for oneself only is to end up finding one’s self dying. Letting go of one’s life to live for others, to live for truth, love and justice is to live a full life, even if shortened by physical death. Many of the saints died long before their time but achieved in a few years what most of us cannot do in a long life. “Consummatus in breve, explevit tempora multa” is a scriptural phrase applied to some of the saints who died relatively young. It says that, although their life came to an early end, they had filled it with many good things.

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Gospel mt 17:14-20

A man came up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said, “Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Commentary on Matthew 17:14-20

Today we have the story of a father distraught over the erratic behaviour of his son. As usually is the case, Mark’s telling of this story is much more dramatic. Nevertheless, Matthew keeps the main points.

There is the desperation of the father who feels helpless at the apparent uncontrollable behaviour of his son. The symptoms appear very similar to epilepsy, a condition which is quite well understood today and whose causes – at least in general – are known. But it must have been easy for people in those days to believe that some evil power had suddenly taken hold of an otherwise normal person to make them behave in such bizarre ways.

The man had at first approached the disciples who were of no help. Jesus expresses dismay and disappointment at the people’s lack of faith, presumably including that of his own disciples, in his criticism.

Jesus then drives out the demon plaguing the boy and he was made whole. The disciples, who had done their share of healing on their missionary excursions, wondered why they were not able to heal the boy. “Because you have so little trust/faith,” he told them. Even a tiny amount of real trust in God can move mountains, he said. “Nothing would be impossible for you.”

How strong is my faith and trust in God’s care of me? Jesus’ words, of course, are not a carte blanche just to ask for anything that comes into our heads. It is not an invitation to manipulate God; on the contrary, it is a call to put all our trust in God knowing that, whatever happens to us, he has our best interests at heart. Such a faith, accompanied by a deep love, is what brings happiness and peace into our lives.

From dailyscripture.net. author Don Schwager © 2015 Servants of the Word

Monday of week 18

Gospel mt 14:22-36

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the men of that place recognized him, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed.

Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21

The announcement of John the Baptist’s death is followed immediately in Matthew by the feeding of the 5,000 in the desert.

Matthew says that Jesus, on hearing of his cousin’s tragic death, withdrew by boat to a desert place by himself. He clearly wanted time to reflect. He knew that, if things continued as they were, he too could be facing trouble.

However, the crowds knew where he had gone and followed along the shore on foot. “When he disembarked and saw the vast throng, his heart was moved with compassion, and he cured their sick.” His own troubles were set aside as he saw the greater need of the people. We have here, of course, an image of our God, filled with compassion for all of us and anxious to bring us healing and wholeness.

As evening comes down, the disciples suggest that the people be sent to neighbouring villages for food. It is the first mention of the disciples’ presence. In Mark’s version of this story, the disciples had accompanied Jesus in the boat at his invitation, so that they could all have a period of quiet away from the crowds. Jesus’ response is simple and to the point: “You give them food to eat.” They reply: “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish. What good is that?”

This, of course, is a sign of the future. It will be the responsibility of Jesus’ followers to give the people the nourishment they need for their lives. At times, their resources will seem very inadequate but time will show that wonders can be done with very little. Just look at what Mother Teresa achieved with nothing of her own.

The people are then ordered to sit down on the grass. Jesus takes the loaves and fish, looks up to heaven in the direction of his Father, blesses the food, breaks it, gives it to the disciples who in turn distribute it among the people. The whole action clearly prefigures the Eucharist and leads up to it.

It is not explained how it all happened but five thousand men not counting women and children had their fill. Matthew alone notes the presence of women and children. As Jews did not permit women and children to eat together with men in public, they would have been in a place by themselves.

And what was left over filled 12 baskets – a perfect number symbolising abundance and also the number of the apostles.

There are two clear lessons. God takes care of his people. We can read the feeding in two ways. On the one hand, we can simply take it as a miraculous event, pointing to the divine origins of Jesus. On the other hand, there is another possibility with its own meaning. Once the disciples began to share the little food they had with those around, it triggered a similar movement among the crowd, many of whom had actually brought some food with them. When everyone shared, everyone had enough. A picture of the kind of society the Church should stand for.

Some people might say that this is explaining away the miracle but it also makes an important point. The second lesson is that it was the disciples and not Jesus who distributed the bread and fish. And so it must be in our own time. If the followers of Jesus do not share with others what they have received from him, the work of Jesus and the spreading of the Gospel will not happen.

Lastly, there are clear Eucharistic elements in the story. Especially the ritualistic way in which Jesus prayed, blessed, broke and distributed the bread. The breaking of the bread (a name for the Mass) is very important because it indicates sharing and not just eating. The Eucharist is the celebration of a sharing community. If sharing of what we have in real life is not taking place, then the Eucharist becomes a ritualistic sham, a whited sepulchre full of dead people’s bones.

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Gospel mt 14:22-36

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the men of that place recognized him, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed.

Commentary on Matthew 14:22-36

As soon as the people had been filled with the food that Jesus gave them, Jesus packs his disciples off in the boat to the other side of the lake. He sends the crowds away and then retreats to the mountain to pray all by himself.

We know from John’s account that the people wanted to make him a king. If Jesus wanted to take control of the crowd this was the moment; they were ready to follow enthusiastically. Jesus was indeed their king but not the kind they were expecting. He would draw the crowds to him in a very different way, hanging in shame on a cross.

It looks too as if he did not want his disciples to get any wrong ideas either. They must have been elated at their role in the extraordinary event of feeding more than 5,000 people. So, perhaps with a lot of grumbling, they are sent off even before the excited crowds have dispersed.

As they make their way across the lake in this dark mood, things get even worse. They run into a big storm and their boat is being tossed about like a cork. Then, out of the darkness, between 3 and 6 in the morning hours, they see Jesus approaching them across the water. Far from being delighted, they are terrified out of their wits. Superstitious men that they are, they think it is a ghost. Ghosts were very much a part of their world.

Words of encouragement come across the water: “Courage! It is I [Greek, ego eimi, 'ego 'eimi] = I AM]. Do not be afraid.” Jesus gives himself the very name of Yahweh; this is all the reassurance they need. Their God is with them.

Only in Matthew’s account of this story do we have Peter’s reaction. “Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come to you across the water.”

“Come!”

Peter gets out of the boat and goes towards Jesus. It is an act of love and faith/trust. But not quite enough. The power of the wind and waves gets stronger than his desire to be with Jesus. He begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” Jesus lifts him up, “How little faith/trust you have!”

As soon as Jesus and Peter get into the boat, there is a complete calm.

The rest of the disciples are overwhelmed: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

We have here behind this story an image of the early Church, of which the boat and the disciples are a symbol. The surrounding water is the world and the wind and waves, the forces which threaten the tiny community. Jesus seems to be far away but he is not and he appears in the midst of the storm. Once he steps inside the boat, there is calm, not only because the surrounding storm has stopped but also because of the peace which the awareness of Jesus’ presence gives.

There is an added element in this story in that Peter, the leader of the community, comes hand in hand into the boat with Jesus. In time, the authority of Jesus will be passed over to him.

There is also, of course, in the calming of the storm an indication of Jesus’ real identity, expressed in the awe-filled words of the disciples, “Truly, you are the Son of God”, echoing Jesus’ own statement of “I AM”.

There is a brief epilogue at the end of our passage. The boat reaches the area of Gennesaret. The name refers either to the narrow plain, about four miles long and less than two miles wide on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, north of Magdala, or to a town in the plain. Significantly for the work that Jesus was about to do, the plain was considered a garden land, fertile and well watered.

As soon as Jesus reaches the shore the crowds again gather in huge numbers especially to have their sick cured. So great was their faith that they asked only to touch the fringe of his garment. All those who did so (in faith) were healed.

Jesus had sent away the crowds earlier probably because of the late hour but also perhaps because of the mood of the crowd which was taking on political overtones not wanted by Jesus.

But now they are back to seek from him what he came to give them: healing and wholeness.

Wednesday of the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gospel Mt 15: 21-28

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children

and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Commentary. Jesus is seen on one of his few visits outside Jewish territory. The cities of Tyre and Sidon are on the Mediterranean coast in what is today Lebanon.

While he is there he is approached by a Canaanite (that is, a non-Jewish) woman whose child is “troubled by a demon”. Whether it was an actual possession or some natural physical or mental ailment does not really matter. Already the woman’s faith and trust in Jesus is indicated by the way she addresses him, “Lord, Son of David!” coupled with her plea for his compassion.

At first, Jesus ignores her completely. The disciples intervene and ask Jesus to give her what she wants because she is making such a nuisance of herself. Jesus replies that his mission is only to the “house of Israel”, to which this woman clearly does not belong.

In the meantime the woman continues her pleading, “Help me, Lord!” She is following, in fact, advice that the Gospel gives – keep on asking. Jesus replies in words that sound very harsh, if not racist: “It is not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”

‘Dogs’, together with ‘swine’, was a common colloquial expression among Jews for Gentiles (cf. Matt 7:6: “Do not give what is holy to dogs or cast your pearls before swine.”) The dog was regarded as an unclean and promiscuous animal. Because it was such a common expression, it is probably not as harsh as it sounds to us and, if spoken with a measure of humour (implied by Jesus’ use of the diminutive, ‘doggies’), would not have given offence at all. As they say, everything is in the tone of voice. (Not unlike when my Chinese friends call me a gwai-lo [‘devil fellow’] – a common term for non-Chinese.) Jesus was not a racist; that is clear from other situations where he dealt with non-Jews and with other commonly despised groups.

For her part, the woman certainly is not in the least fazed. She comes right back: “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.” That was enough for Jesus. She had proved her genuineness. “Woman, you have great faith. Your wish will come to pass.” Her daughter was cured on the spot.

It is a hint of what is to come. Membership of God’s people will be measured not by birth or circumcision but by a living faith in Jesus as Lord.

A story like this is an occasion for us to look at our own attitudes to people of other races, ethnic groups and nationalities not to mention the socially disadvantaged or physically or mentally disabled – in other words, any people who are ‘different’. How inclusive are we in word and action? And does our parish community go out of its way to provide a welcome for the ‘outsider’? These are very real questions in societies which are becoming more and more inter-cultural.

 

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Gospel mt 16:13-23

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Commentary on Matthew 16:13-23

We now reach a high point in Matthew’s narrative. More than any of the other gospels, his is a Gospel of the Church. (Mark emphasises discipleship; Luke the communication of God’s love and compassion; John unity with God through Jesus.)

We find Jesus and his disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi. This is not the fine city of Caesarea built by Herod the Great on the shore of the Mediterranean. It was a town, rebuilt by Herod’s son Philip, who called it after the emperor Tiberius Caesar and himself. It lay just to the north of the Sea of Galilee and near the slopes of Mount Hermon. It had originally been called Paneas, after the Greek god Pan and is known today as Banias.

The area was predominantly pagan, dominated by Rome. In a sense, therefore, it was both an unexpected yet fitting place for Jesus’ identity to be proclaimed. He was, after all, not just for his own people but for the whole world.

Jesus begins by asking his disciples who people think he really is. They respond with some of the speculations that were going round: he was John the Baptist resurrected from the dead (Herod’s view, for instance) or Elijah (whose return was expected to herald the imminent coming of the Messiah) or Jeremiah or some other of the great prophets.

The Jews at this time expected a revival of the prophetic spirit which had been extinct since Malachi. John was regarded by many of the people as a prophet, although he denied that he was the expected prophet, often thought to be Elijah returned. The early Christians saw Jesus as a prophet but with the appearance of prophecy as a charism in their communities the term was dropped in his case.

Interestingly, the people did not seem to think that Jesus himself was on a par with these ‘greats’ of their history. We do tend to undervalue the leaders of our own time when compared with those of the past.

“And you,” Jesus goes on, “who do you say I am?” It was a moment of truth, a very special moment in his disciples’ relationship with their Master. Simon speaks up: “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is a huge step forward for Peter and his companions. As we shall see, it is not yet a total recognition of his identity or mission. But Jesus is no mere rabbi, no mere prophet, but the long-awaited Messiah and Saviour King who would deliver Israel. It is an exciting moment in their relationship with him. And it is only in Matthew that Peter calls him “Son of God”.

The focus now shifts immediately to Simon. He is praised for his insight but Jesus makes clear that it comes from divine inspiration and is not a mere deduction. A ‘mystery’, in the Scripture sense, is being uncovered.

And now comes the great promise. Simon from now on is to be called ‘Peter’, a play on the word for ‘rock’ (kepha in Aramaic, petra/petros in Greek), for he will become the rock on which the “church” will be built, a rock which will stand firm against all attacks on it. A promise which must have sounded very daring at the time it was written but which 2,000 years have again and again vindicated. ‘Peter’ in either its Aramaic or Hebrew was not a previously known personal name.

The term ‘church’ only appears twice in Matthew and not at all in the other three gospels. The Hebrew word qahal which in Greek is rendered as ekklesia (‘ekklhsia), means ‘an assembly called together’. It was used often in the Old Testament to indicate the community of the Chosen People.

“By using this term ekklesia side by side with ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, Jesus shows that this eschatological community (community of the ‘end-times’) is to have its beginnings here on earth in the form of an organised society whose leader he now appoints.” (Jerusalem Bible, loc. cit.)

And Simon is given power and authority, the “keys of the Kingdom”, all that he will need to make the Kingdom a reality. His authority and that of the ‘church’ is the authority of Jesus himself. Whatever Peter and the church formally decide is immediately ratified by God; they are his appointed agents.

Lastly, they are strictly ordered not to tell anyone else that Jesus is the Messiah. The people are not ready to hear it; they have their own expectations which are very different from the Messiah that Jesus is going to be. The disciples themselves have a totally wrong idea as becomes immediately clear in what follows.

From the moment that they recognise Jesus as Messiah, he begins to prepare them for what is going to happen. “[The Son of Man] must go to Jerusalem to suffer greatly at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and to be put to death, and raised up on the third day.” This is the first of three ominous predictions.

After the euphoria of knowing their Master was the Messiah, all their dreams and hopes are shattered by these terrible revelations. It is hard for us to imagine the impact these words must have had. Peter, who had just covered himself in glory and been appointed leader, almost patronisingly takes Jesus aside, “God forbid that any such thing ever happen to you!”

For him and the others this was an unthinkable scenario for the Messiah they were all waiting for. How much more shocked Peter must have been at Jesus’ reaction. “Get out of my sight, you Satan! You are trying to make me trip and fall. You are not judging by God’s standards but by man’s.” The man who was just now called a Rock is accused of being Satan’s advocate! Instead of being a rock of stability, he is seen as a stumbling block in the way of Jesus.

Peter is seen as doing the very work of the devil in trying to divert Jesus from the way he was called to go, the way in which God’s love would be revealed to us, the way in which we would be liberated for the life of the Kingdom.

It will take time before Peter and the others both understand and accept the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah. It will not happen until after the resurrection. Before that the Rock will be guilty of a shameful betrayal of the Man who put such trust in him.

We too can ask ourselves to w hat extent we accept Jesus the rejected, suffering, dying and rising Messiah.