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Reflections for the X Sunday of the year

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the tenth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that it is when we sin -- violate His Commandments -- we distance ourselves from Him; when we refuse, or fear, to admit our sins, we deny ourselves God’s freely offered pardon and forgiveness.

Gen 3. 9:15; II Cor 4:13--5:1; Mk 3:20-35 

Homily starter anecdote: What’s in a name? Among William Shakespeare’s prolific contributions to English literature, there are literally thousands of memorable lines that continue to be quoted because of their eloquence and timeless significance. One of these is the famous line, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet, act 2, sc.2, l.43). I would paraphrase it, what’s in a name? That which we call sin, by any other name would still be sin! There appears to be a tendency in contemporary society to disregard or minimize sin or to call it by another name. Similarly, there is a tendency to ignore evil. The sense of shame regarding sin was renamed and the so-called “guilt complex” have become public enemy number one. In today’s readings, Yahweh God in Genesis, St. Paul, and Jesus call sin a sin.(Patricia Sanchez)

Introduction: The readings for today, the Tenth Sunday [B] in Ordinary Time, give the name “sin” to our offenses against God. When we sin -- violate His Commandments -- we distance ourselves from Him; when we refuse, or fear, to admit our sins, we deny ourselves God’s freely offered pardon and forgiveness.

Scripture lessons: In describing Adam and Eve’s first sin, disobedience, our first reading, taken from Genesis, explains the beginning of evil in the world with its destructive results. The loving relationship joining man to God is destroyed, and the relationship of mutual love between Adam and Eve is weakened. Their default to a “blame game” allowed each to avoid taking personal responsibility for their joint choice. In the second reading, Paul declares to the Corinthians that the many adversities of his missionary work were God’s plan for his spiritual growth; his sufferings, offered with Jesus for the Salvation of the world, would result a glorious reward for him and for all believers who did the same. Today’s Gospel passage reveals how Jesus himself was misunderstood by his own relatives and was criticized, slandered and rejected by the Sanhedrin-led scribes and Pharisees. His sufferings for us give us courage and his offer of healing, strength and forgiveness, so that we can do as he did when we face unfair treatment and criticism in our lives.

The first reading: Gen 3:9-15, explained: The Genesis account explains the causes of human shame and sin, asserts the sovereignty of the one God over all creation, and expresses the superiority of the worship of that God over rival religions.  “Each of the three punishments given to the snake, the woman, the man, has a double aspect, one affecting the individual and the other affecting a basic relationship. The snake previously stood upright, enjoyed a reputation for being shrewder than other creatures, and could converse with human beings as in vv. 15. It must now move on its belly, is more cursed than any creature, and inspires revulsion in human beings (v. 15). I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at His heel. In Christian tradition, the snake was identified with the devil (Wis 2:24; Jn 8:44; Rev 12:9; 20:2), whose eventual defeat seemed implied in the verse. Because “the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8), the passage was understood as the first promise of a redeemer for fallen humankind, the Protoevagelium. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. A.D. 130–200), in his Against Heresies 5.21.1, followed by several other Fathers of the Church, interpreted the verse as referring to Christ, and cited Gal 3:19 and 4:4 to support the reference. Another interpretive translation is ipsa, “she,” and is reflected in Jerome’s Vulgate. “She” was thought to refer to Mary, the mother of the messiah.  In Christian art, Mary is sometimes depicted with her foot on the head of the serpent.” (USCCB commentary). Historically, this has elements of an early explanation of the very common human fear of snakes. Theologically, it reminds us of the early rivalry between worshipers of Yahweh and worshipers of Baal. The cult of Baal included sacred prostitution as a fertility rite, of which the serpent was an apt symbol. So, the shame that the couple feels over having been deceived by the representative of Baal is a caution to Yahweh's faithful: “Don't mess with the religion of Baal or you will be shamed.”

The second reading (II Cor 4. 13-5) explained: In spite of the unfair criticism leveled against him and his gospel ministry by some Corinthian Christians, Paul is optimistic about his future and that of his critics, waiting for “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” When Paul left for other mission venues, the Corinthian community was so flourishing that it got rather wild, and Paul wrote his first letter to them to correct some abuses. He promised another visit but changed his plans. This earned him serious criticism and ridicule from some Corinthians, so his second letter to them is somewhat defensive. He asserts his authority as an apostle (always in issue, given his late conversion), and seizes their criticism of his inconsistency to write a magnificent salute to the fidelity of God.  Like the Psalmist, Paul clearly proclaims his Faith, affirming Life within himself despite death (2 Cor 4:10–11) and the Life-giving effect of his experience upon the Church (2 Cor 4:12, 14–15).  Paul imagines God presenting him and them to Jesus at the Parousia and the judgment. In a series of contrasts Paul explains the extent of his Faith in Life. Life is not only already present and revealing itself (2 Cor 4:8–11, 16) but will outlast his experience of affliction and dying: this Life is eternal (2 Cor 4:17–18). Paul is still speaking of himself personally, but he assumes his Faith and attitude will be shared by all Christians.  The renewal already taking place, even in Paul’s dying, is a share in the Life of Jesus, but this is recognized only by Faith (2 Cor 4:13, 18; 2 Cor 5:7). (USCCB commentary).

Gospel exegesis: The context: The well-loved carpenter turned crazy preacher? Putting evil in its place and naming sin for what it is, Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, that sin and evil must be confronted whether it is in ourselves, our relatives, our friends or our enemies.   The first part of today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus’ relatives and fellow-villagers wrongly judged him as out of his mind and consequently tried to take him by force back to Nazareth to do his safe and secure job as a good carpenter. That is why Jesus remarked, “A man's enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36). There were four reasons why Jesus’ people thought he was mad and attempted to dissuade him from his preaching and healing mission. First, Jesus had abandoned his safe and secure job as a much-needed village carpenter with steady income to become a wandering preacher with no residence or steady income. Second, Jesus had chosen a band of fishermen with no political or social influence, a hated tax-collector and a fanatic zealot as his disciples. Third, Jesus had begun to criticize the power lobby - the scribes and Pharisees, labeling them hypocrites. Jesus’ relatives might really have been afraid that Jesus would be arrested, and they would be persecuted with him for criticizing those in power.  Fourth, Jesus had silently claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah and had worked miracles to support his claim.

The Sanhedrin slander refuted: The second part of today’s Gospel passage gives Jesus’ crushing reply to the slander propagated by the observers sent from the Sanhedrin, that Jesus expelled devils using the assistance of the leader of devils. Jesus refutes the false allegation raised against him by the Sanhedrin scribes with three counter-arguments and a warning: 1) A house divided against itself will perish, and a country engaged in civil war will be ruined. Hence, Satan will not fight against Satan by helping Jesus to expel his coworkers. 2) If Jesus is collaborating with Satan to exorcise minor demons, then the exorcists of the time are doing the same. 3) Jesus claims that he is using the power of his Heavenly Father to evict devils just as a strong man guards a house and its possessions from the thief. 4) Finally, Jesus gives a crushing blow to his accusers, warning them that by telling blatant lies they are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and, hence, their sins are unforgivable.

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" The context: As Jesus became a strong critic of the religious authorities of the time, his mother and cousins came to take him to Nazareth by force, perhaps because they feared that Jesus would be arrested and put to death.   Today’s Gospel episode seems to suggest that Jesus ignored the request of his mother and close relatives who had traveled a long distance to talk to him. But everyone in the audience knew that Jesus loved his mother and had taken care of her for thirty years. Besides, Jesus’ plain answer, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” was actually a compliment to his mother who had always listened to the word of God and obeyed it. Jesus was declaring, “Blessed are those who hear and keep the word of God as she is faithfully doing" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 58).   Jesus was also using the occasion to teach the congregation a new lesson about their relationship with God. Being a disciple of Jesus, or a Christian, is first and foremost a relationship – a relationship of love and unity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with all who belong to God as His children.  Jesus has changed the order of relationships and shows us here that true kinship is not just a matter of flesh and blood.  God’s gracious gift to us is His adoption of us as His sons and daughters.  This gift enables us to recognize all those who belong to Christ as our brothers and sisters.  Our adoption as sons and daughters of God transforms all our relationships and requires a new order of loyalty to God and His kingdom.  “Everyone who does the will of the Father, that is to say, who obeys Him, is a brother or sister of Christ, because he is like Him who fulfilled the will of His Father.  But he who not only obeys but converts others, begets Christ in them, and thus becomes like the Mother of Christ" ("Commentary on St. Matthew", 12:49-50.)

Did Jesus have brothers and sisters? Catholic Church teaches that Jesus did not have blood brothers and sisters. The problem arises because we read in Mark about the crowd asking, "Isn't this the carpenter, the son of Mary, a brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters our neighbors here?" (Mk 6:3). A similar reference occurs earlier in Mk 3:31 — "His mother and brothers arrived...." At first hearing, the words seem to state that Jesus did indeed have blood brothers and sisters. But the Greek word adelphos, was used to describe brothers not born of the same parents, like a half-brother or step-brother. The word also described other relationships like cousins, nephews, etc. For example, in Genesis 13:8 and 14:14-16, the word adelphos was used to describe the relationship between Abraham and his nephew Lot and the relation between Laban and his nephew Jacob. In the Gospel, Mary of Clopas is called "the sister" of Mary, the Mother of Jesus where sister means only a cousin.  In Hebrew and Aramaic languages, no special word existed for cousin, nephew, half-brother, or step-brother.  So, they used the word brother in all these cases. The Greek translation of the Hebrew texts used the word adelphos. In addition, other Gospel passages clarify these relationships between James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.  James the Less and Joses were the sons of Mary the wife of Clopas (Mk 15:40, Jn 19:25), and James the Less was also identified as "the son of Alphaeus" (Lk 6:15), a synonym of “Clopas." James the Greater and John were the sons of Zebedee with a mother other than our Blessed Mother Mary (Mt 20:20ff). After the birth of our Lord, although the Gospels do not give us many details of Jesus’ childhood, no mention is made of Mary and Joseph ever having other children. Never does it refer to the "sons of Mary" or "a son of Mary," but only the son of Mary. By this time, St. Joseph has died. Since Jesus, the first-born, had no "blood brother," when He was hanging on the cross, He entrusted Mary to the care of St. John, the Beloved Disciple. Interestingly, the Orthodox Churches solve this problem over brothers and sisters by speculating that St. Joseph was an elderly widower who had other children before he married Mary. The earliest explanation of who the brothers and sisters were, found in the second-century document known as The Protoevagelium of James, is that they were stepbrothers through Joseph. According to this document, Joseph was an elderly widower who agreed to become the guardian of Mary, a consecrated virgin. Being elderly and already having children, he was not seeking to raise a new family and so was an appropriate guardian for a virgin. This theory is consistent with Joseph’s apparent death before the ministry of Jesus. It is the standard explanation in Eastern Christendom of who the brethren of Christ are. Shortly before the year 400, St. Jerome began to popularize the view that the brethren of Christ were cousins, and this view became common in the West. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has faithfully taught that Mary gave birth only   to Jesus, whom she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Life messages: 1) Today’s Scriptures challenge us to face rejection with prophetic courage and optimism. Very often our friends, families, or childhood companions fail to listen to us and refuse to accept the words of grace, love and encouragement that we offer to them because they are too familiar with us.  Hence, they are unable to see us as God's appointed instruments, the agents of God's healing and saving grace. But we have to face such rejection with prophetic courage because by our Baptism we are called to be prophets like Jesus, sharing his prophetic mission. As prophets, our task is to speak the truth and oppose the evils in our society without condoning or encouraging sinful behavior even in our dear ones. Let us also acknowledge, appreciate and encourage the prophets of our time who stand for truth and justice in our society with the wisdom of God in their heads, the power of the Holy Spirit in their words and the courage of God in their actions.

2) We need to have the courage of our convictions: Modern “liberal-minded” people may find genuine Christians’ belief in and practice of Christ’s ideas and ideals crazy too. Hence, what is needed in a Christian is the courage of his or her convictions based on the authority of Jesus as God and the truth of his doctrines. Many saints, following Christ's example, have been taken for madmen--but they were mad with love, mad with love for Jesus Christ.

2) We need to fill our minds with the Holy Spirit:  Jesus teaches that we can be influenced by the evil spirit if we listen to him and follow him. Hence, we have to keep our souls daily cleansed and filled with the Spirit of God, leaving no space for the evil spirit to enter our souls.

3) We need to live as members of God’s family:  Let us remember that by Baptism we become the children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus and members of the Heavenly family of the Triune God. Hence, let us observe our obligations of treating others with love and respect and of sharing our love with them in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We are also His disciples, and so are obliged to be hearers as well as doers of the word of God. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

07 June 2018, 13:31