Sin is a slippery slope – Friday, 4th Week in ordinary time – Mark 6: 14-29

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Naming a child is a matter of great sensitivity. There are names we avoid because of the association they have to everything that is considered wrong. You don’t hear of a Nero or a Judas or a Hitler and certainly not a Herod, especially if you are a devout Christian.

Just about every Herod ‘earned’ his name into infamy! It was Herod the Great who tried to kill the baby Jesus (Matthew 1-20). Herod Archelaus threatened Joseph and his little family (Matthew 2:22) and now Herod Antipas murders John the Baptist.

So, who was Herod Antipas who is mentioned in today’s Gospel? Herod Antipas is not really king, but tetrarch. That term originally meant “one of four rulers,” but came to mean a governor with limited authority. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea (Matthew 14:1; Luke 9:7). His brother, Archelaus, ruled over Judea and Samaria and a half-brother, Philip, ruled over Gentile territories on the far side of the Jordan River and northeast of Galilee. The tetrarchs were no more than puppets who ruled at Rome’s pleasure, and were subject to Rome’s guidance.

The Herod family tree is both complex and disturbing. Herod the Great married several women who bore him seven sons. Herodias is the daughter of one of these seven sons and marries two of the other seven sons—which means that both of her husbands are also her uncles. Herod the Great was quite paranoid. He murdered his wife and mother-in-law then went on to murdered three of his seven sons for fear that they might try to depose him. Of the remaining four sons, three marry either Herodias or Herodias’ daughter

Today’s text tells us that everyone in Herod’s court has an opinion on who Jesus was. Some thought he was a prophet, others Elijah and some including Herod Antipas believe that Jesus was John the Baptist who has now been raised. Herod now has a case of a bad conscience and is perhaps very fearful. While the Gospel does not explicitly elaborate on Herod’s state of mind, it brings back to his mind a memory that he would rather forget, for embedded in it are the character flaws of an immoral man with a weak and wavering conscience; a man who knew what was right but chose to succumb to what was wrong.

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Who do you think you are ? Wednesday, 4th Week in ordinary time – Mark 6:1-6

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Jesus has just worked two mighty miracles in Capernaum. He has raised Jairus daughter to life and healed a woman who was haemorrhaging for twelve years. As usual, Jesus strictly ordered the parents of the girl, not to tell anyone about the miracle but that would be most unlikely considering that she was dead when Jesus arrived and now she was sitting down to a meal. Remember, Jesus told the little girl’s parents to “give her something to eat.” (5:43)

While Jesus had made Capernaum his home, he now journeys to Nazareth, his hometown. Scholars tell us that Nazareth was a village of 500 people. It was a town small enough that everyone would know everyone else and everyone else’s business and herein lies the problem; familiarity will breed contempt.

Jesus is accompanied by his disciples. On the sabbath, Jesus “decided” to teach. Obviously, the words and deeds of Jesus have preceded him, this was the home town boy who had made waves in Galilee. The Gospel of Mark tells us that so far he has worked six miracles within a few miles of Nazareth (1:40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:1-20, 21-43). The people of Nazareth must have gone to the synagogue service with a sense of expectation, wondering what they would hear from this young man who had grown up in their midst.

Ironically, while his teachings have been met with amazement elsewhere, here, in his home town they are “astounded” and clearly not in a positive way. The people are astounded both by Jesus’ wisdom and his mighty works. There is a sense of disbelief. What caused this strange reaction we will never really know though we can make some calculated guess from the reaction that Mark records.

Their description of him as “the carpenter,” “the son of Mary,” ignored any mention of a father figure. It is possible that Joseph is dead by this time, although we would expect people to identify Jesus by his father’s name even after the father’s death. In first century culture this could only mean that they were hinting that he was conceived illegitimately This type of history, with a fatherless lineage, would be “scandalous” to them (skandalidzo is translated as “took offense” at 6:3).

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Desperation has no dignity – Tuesday, 4th week in ordinary time – Memorial of St John Bosco – Mark 5:21-43

You can also read another reflection based on the same Gospel text by clicking the link below

Jesus could be called a jet-setter of sorts except that his mode of transport was a humble fishing boat. He seemed to be a man on a mission, zipping across from Capernaum to Gerasene and then to the West shore of the Sea of Galilee. His travel by boat finds mention several times in chapters four and five of the Gospel of Mark. (4:1,4:36&37, 5:2 and 5:21). But we know that these boats also became his pulpit as great crowds gathered around him (4:1, 5:21)

We are now told of two miracle stories rolled into one incident and I have dealt with the interesting details of the same in my previous article . For today, I want to focus on what can we take home as a point of reflection from this Gospel.

We are told that Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue. The ruler of the synagogue was the man chosen to care for the physical arrangements of the synagogue, namely the building, its contents, and its arrangements for worship. While the details in the Gospel of Mark and Luke run parallel with a few minor differences the Gospel of Matthew, takes a different turn. In Matthew, the synagogue ruler is unnamed, the girl’s age is not mentioned, she has already ‘just died’ and the father’s request is that Jesus lay his hand upon her ‘and she will live [again]’ In other words, in Matthew he requests Jesus to reverse her death rather than prevent it, as in Mark and Luke.

Whatever be the case, here is a desperate man who falls at Jesus feet (5:22) and begs him repeatedly (5:23). It is not that Jesus needs to begged repeatedly that is being stressed but the desperation of a father for his daughter that drives him to repeat the same plea again and again without stopping. This was a tragic scene played out in full view of ‘a great crowd gathered’ (5:21). Desperation has no dignity; it only has determination.

While the Gospel tells us of a very desperate and vocal father it also tells us of a silent yet desperate woman. In this great drama of Jairus’ predicament, was an unnamed and insignificant woman. St Mark tell us of her desperation and he does this in great detail. Hers was a story of physical suffering one that she bore for twelve years. Her hemorrhage’s had caused her to ‘endure’ much. She had seen several physicians and she was no better but grew worse with every passing physician. Luke 8:43 adds one more detail of her suffering; she had spent all her money on physicians. She was not just broken; she was also flat out broke!

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The other side, not my side – Monday, 4th Week in ordinary time – Mark 5:1-20

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At quite an unearthly hour, Jesus decided to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee (4:35). He simply told his disciples that he needed them all to “go to the other side.” (Mark 4:35) That evening’s boat ride, as we know, ended up in a nightmare for the disciples and ironically it was the Lord who was sleeping while they were experiencing the most terrifying ordeal that the Sea of Galilee threw up.

A lesson in faith and fear now taught, the disciples and Jesus arrive on the “other side” (Mark 5:1). It seemed that this was to be a roller coaster of horrifying experience for waiting on the “other side” was a man with an unclean spirit who had made the tombs his residence. St Mark noted every detail of the storm-tossed trip and now gives us every detail of this horrifying encounter. We are told that this man could not be restrained anymore even with a chain. He had been tied up with a chain but it proved to be useless as he had wrenched apart the chain and broken the shackles into pieces. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he howled, bruising himself with stones.

Like the disciples we too wonder why the Lord exposes us to a series of terrifying ordeals and that too in quick succession. While our frustration is quite understandable the Lord has his reasons. Yes, he did get into a boat and the disciples had to experience a hellish ride before encountering hell itself with this man possessed with a legion of demons but while we moan at our challenges the Lord hears the cries of a man who has suffered so much for so long. The Lord heard his cries across the sea of Galilee on the “other side.”

While we moan and complain of a near titanic experience for a night and then have to deal with a terrifying encounter, here was a man who lived this experience for not just a night but for “nights and days” (5:5). Whose cry should the Lord hear? Our momentary pains and discomforts or an obscure soul in the mountains whose life has been taken over by a legion of devils.

While the narrative takes its course and the mercy of God works a miracle for this man, we are told that the man on being released from these demons, “begs Jesus that he might be with Him” (5:18). The man’s fear is understandable. It took the Messiah, the Son of God, to free him from the bondage of satan. How blessed we are that we have a saviour who offers this freedom from sin through the sacrament of reconciliation and at the confessional there is no fear, just love.

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A kingdom of surprises – Memorial of St Timothy and Titus – Mark 4:26-34

While the Gospel text of today is a continuation of the Gospel of Mark, the memorial is dedicated to Saints Timothy and Titus. To read about the saints, please click on this link

By profession Jesus was a carpenter but judging by the parables found in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark one would be inclined to think that Jesus was a farmer. Yes, Jesus did make some comparisons to his profession as a carpenter when he said “my yoke is easy and my burden light” but those comparisons stemming from his profession were between few and far. Compare the number of parables that he took from the world of farming.

Chapter four began with what has come to be known as the parable of the sower though it should be appropriately called the parable of the seed. For Jesus this was a fundamental parable, a key parable to understand all other parables (Mark 4: 13). He now settles on two more parables based on farming and seeds to indicate that God’s new order will take root and eventually come to fruition, whether people desire it or not.

The first of these two parables is not found in any other Gospel. In many ways it is predictable and boring and does not have a sensational ending. Here, “someone” scatters seeds on the ground. When you normally think of sowing you would think of a farmer; not so in this case. The sower could be any one with just any purpose and yet the focus is not on the sower but on what God desires for the seed.

Look around and you will realise that the kingdom of God has many sowers or “someone’s” with many personal agendas for sowing. There could be those who sow for monetary gain or there could be those who sow for fame. What every be their intention of sowing it is God who works in the seed bringing it to full grain on the head or as the Greek word would rightly translate is as “to fruition. ” The focus of the parable is not on the sower but on the power of God to work in the seed and his working is a matter of fact. With this parable, Jesus shows the way the word of God works with hidden and mysterious power, just like a seed.

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