Getting into new skin – Monday, 2nd week in ordinary time – Mk 2:18-22

Chapter one of Mark’s Gospel had every one go la la about Jesus. From 2:1-3:6 it’s a constant shift of gears with the foot on the hate accelerator. Everyone seems to turn against Jesus. It begins with the scribes, then the scribes of the Pharisees, then the people which may also include John the Baptists’ disciples, then the Pharisees and finally the Pharisees and the Herodians

There are five ‘controversy stories’ in this section (2:1-3:6) and we are at the third one. If you look carefully at how St Mark has structured all five you will notice that the first and the last deal with the healing of a person, the second and fourth have to do with the issue of food and eating and the story in the centre (today’s Gospel) has to do with fasting but most importantly with a concept familiar to the Jews, namely the bridegroom.

The only fast stipulated in the Old Testament was the Day of Atonement. However the Pharisees fasted on several other days which began to be practiced by others in imitation of these ‘pious ones’. Hence there was nothing in the law that required Jesus or his disciples to fast. These were nothing more than man made traditions which did not add value to faith as the hearts of Jesus accusers were far from God.

The Pharisees had searched the scriptures but not their hearts. It is for this reason that when Jesus the law maker and Messiah walked among them they were neither able to recognize him nor understand what the scriptures said about the Messiah to come.

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CHEERS! : ‘The Wedding at Canna’ by Paulo Veronese (1562 – 1563)

 ‘He is the treasurer of art and of colours. This is not painting, it is magic that casts a spell on people who see it.’ – Marco Boschini

Paulo Caliari, popularly called Paulo Veronese, is one of the most celebrated Italian Renaissance artist of all times. He was born in 1528 to a stone-cutter in Verona, then the largest possession of Venice on the mainland. The wonderful lights and the boisterous sounds of the Mediterranean lagoon city collides with the chromatic splendour of his palette, the brilliance of his brushwork and the fanciful aura of his figures. The magnificence of his spectacle is no better represented then in today’s painting titled ‘The Wedding at Canna.’

The scene is set within a two-tiered Greco-Roman courtyard flanked by aristocratic architecture. Elegant fluted columns topped by Corinthian capitals frame the upper plaza while pink pillars with Doric capitals fringe the lower dining scene. The soft Venetian air pervades the majestic marble casting a smooth shadow upon its silken surface. The bell tower and the classical sculptures arise and attest to the adventures of time. Veronese clearly blends the biblical with the contemporary.

The banquet is indeed a feast to the eye. As a bulging band of balustrades divides the scene into two parts, we are invited to join the no less than 130 figures sporting charming coiffures and agile adornments. It is an astonishing array of royalty, noblemen, clerks, princes, orients in turbans and the populace. Among the who’s who are included Emperor Charles V, Eleanor of Austria, Francis I of France, Mary I of England, Suleiman the Magnificent and Cardinal Pole. In service, they are accompanied by servants, jesters, dwarfs and frolicking pets such as cats, dogs and even a parakeet.

The sumptuous display enhances the affluent aura. Notice the luxurious tableware, the elegantly carved furniture, silver vessels, crystal goblets, gold jars, porcelain vases etc. Before each guest is arranged a set of napkin, fork, knife and a dish. Veronese’ eye escapes no detail.

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When love bypasses the heart – Saturday, 1st week in ordinary time – Mk 2:13-17

This is a rapidly unfolding situation and the hostility against Jesus is evident. Yesterday we read the first controversy narrative where the scribes questioned Jesus actions ‘in their heart’. Today what is in their heart is expressed on their lips but not to the master himself but his disciples. Soon we will hear of their boldness in addressing Jesus himself with their hate filled accusations.

For now we are at the Lake of Galilee on the banks of the village of Capernaum. Jesus’ popularity is evident as the crowds have not diminished and it is not merely his miracles they seek for we are told they admired the way he spoke with authority (1:27). 

The Gospel tells us that Jesus is teaching the crowds and perhaps this detail is often lost on us. While the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is often portrayed as a healing ministry, it is primarily one of teaching and preaching.

For now the narrative tells us that Jesus, while walking along, calls the fifth apostle, Levi. (also known as Matthew) Levi is a tax collector and just like his four previous companions he is called personally by the Master. There is an urgency in the call which is met with an equally matched response. We are told that Levi “got up and followed him.”

It is here that that the controversy begins for tax collectors were considered among the most notorious sinners and were particularly despised in Israel. They were viewed as collaborators with the Roman occupiers, who placed a heavy tax burden on the people. Because they dealt with Gentiles and Gentile money, they were considered unclean. They were also known to be greedy. They were assigned a region and a fixed sum to collect, and were allowed to collect as much additional money as they could for profit. No self-respecting Rabbi would every associate himself with such a person.

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Matters of the heart – Friday, 1st week in ordinary time – Mk 2:1-12

The Gospel of today is the first of five controversial stories in the Gospel of Mark (2:1-3:6). There is a growing opposition to Jesus from different religious groups and ironically, the opposition begins as early as chapter two of the Gospel.

So was it merely jealousy that led the opposition against Jesus? There was no doubt that this new itinerant rabbi on the block was making waves. We are told in chapter one that, “the whole city had gathered around him in Capernaum,” and that by the time He had healed the leper, it was impossible for Him to even walk through town.

So to answer the question- yes, it is highly probable that jealousy had set in. But there is more to it than meets the eye. In the miracle story narrated today, Jesus confronts His opponents with the words, “why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” There were no words of anger or opposition spoken against Jesus, but He senses (as He does with us) what happens in our heart.

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. This becomes all too evident as chapter two unfolds. These unspoken words become angry questions (verse 16) and by the time we reach chapter three verse six, words have now culminated into a deathly plot, for we are told that, “the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

In all of this I seem to have left out the story of love at hand, the miracle of “some people,” four of whom lowered a paralyzed man and placed him before Jesus. Actually, I have not! There is a purpose in structuring this reflection in the way I have, and that is simply to make a point. When hate gets in the way, love is obscured.

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Making it difficult for Jesus to walk into our town!

Thursday, 1st Week in ordinary time – Mk 1:40-45

The Gospel does not tell us precisely where this miracle took place. We know that Jesus is touring the neighbouring towns of Capernaum after that eventful Sabbath day. The Gospel tells us that He came to preach ‘the’ message (Verse 38). This message of Jesus is also accompanied by miracles, especially the exorcism of demons. In Mark’s Gospel the adversary is made clear right from the start; it is satan.

While Matthew’s Gospel is called the ‘teaching’ Gospel and Luke’s, the ‘feeling’ Gospel, Mark’s Gospel is known as the ‘doing’ Gospel, for Jesus is constantly working miracles. But make no mistake, while the Gospel is punctuated with several miracles, the teaching and preaching mission of Jesus is no way diminished.

Today’s Gospel has a leper at the heart of the miracle. The term leper and leprosy as we understand today could refer to several skin conditions which were all lumped together as leprosy. In all probability, this man had some skin ailment, or else he would not be allowed within the walls of the village or town.

Whatever be the case, the man felt a sense of alienation, and desires to be healed. There is deep humility in this man, for he kneels and begs for a healing. While we empathize with those who are sick (sometimes with annoying questions or even worse, annoying medical advice), we can never totally identify with their pain and suffering. 

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