The Ark of the Covenant

In today’s first reading, the Ark of the Covenant is prominently featured and a locus of the story. While the Ark is an icon of the people of the Exodus up to the Babylonian exile, I fear most folks know little about the Ark apart from “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” the 1981 blockbuster movie – now 40 years old. Of course the very title of the movie begs the question: when did it get “lost.” The Ark is perhaps the most sacred relic of the Israelites. It consisted of a pure gold-covered wooden chest with an elaborate lid called the Mercy seat. The Ark is described in the Book of Exodus as containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, it also contained Aaron’s rod and a pot of manna. Continue reading

Restored

Today’s gospel is one that always needs 1st century context. Jesus has just been at synagogue where he cast out an unclean spirit from a man. Then we read, “Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He [Jesus] approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” (Mark 1:30-31)

Over the years, in more than one Bible Study, a participant has commented, “Really, healing the woman so that she can get up and serve a bunch of men.” Pheme Perkins (Mark, New Interpreters Bible) writes:

Peter’s mother-in-law lies wracked with fever. She cannot fulfill the role of preparing and serving a meal to the guests, which would have fallen to her as the senior woman in the household. Jesus’ healing restores her to her social position within the household. Many women today react negatively to the picture of a woman getting up after a severe illness to serve male guests. That sentiment hardly seems appropriate to the complex gender and social roles involved in the household. Certainly, Peter’s wife or a female servant may have prepared food. The privilege of showing hospitality to important guests falls to Peter’s mother-in-law as a matter of honor, not servitude. We even exhibit similar behavior. When special guests are expected for dinner, no one gets near the kitchen without clearance from the person who has the privilege of preparing the food. (p. 546)

Think about how often the healings of Jesus return people to society from their place “outside the camp.” It is clear and obvious in the healing of lepers, the man born blind, and so many other stories. They are returned to “inside the camp” where there are places of honor, duty and commitment. Mark is also writing about a larger “inside the camp.” In the healing that is described just before our gospel, consider the contrast:

  • man – woman
  • synagogue (holy place) – house (common place)
  • (supernatural) unclean spirit – (natural) fever

Jesus works to bring all creation “inside the camp” – and asks us to do the same – to reach out and heal a relation, to restore honor and place, to extend hospitality.

Astounded and Amazed

In today’s gospel, the Evangelist concentrates upon a single Sabbath when Jesus’ synagogue teaching provoked a reaction from the people present. The two words that describe the people’s reactions are: ekplessomai (v. 22) and thambeo (v. 27) – “astounded” and “amazed.” The first term, more literally means “be beside oneself” – or in the slang, “to be blown away”  It comes from something that is so incomprehensible that one’s mind can’t fathom what has been experienced. Continue reading

The Time of Fulfillment

Although only 14 verses into the gospel narrative, Mark has already introduced us to John the Baptist, Jesus has been baptized and tempted in the desert. Then, in a typically abbreviated style, Mark merely refers in passing to the whole story of John’s denunciation of Herod for immorality, and John’s consequent imprisonment and death.

But now, from this moment begins the preaching of the good news by Jesus. Mark’s “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” began at v.1; now the “good news of God” begins, as Jesus’ first words are heard: “This is the time of fulfillment” (v. 15). Continue reading

The Beloved

One of my seminary classmates told me of a nice tradition his religious community maintained. Each priest had his own copy of The Rite of Baptism of Children. Written on the front inside cover was the name of the priest and the first child that he baptized. The simple notation in the Rite book was the start of two stories: a priestly vocation and a story of Christian beginning.  Stories that unfold as the weeks become months become years. Continue reading

The Significance of Baptism

One of the habits I hope we all have (or will incorporate into our lives) is to continue to read so as to enhance our spiritual lives. These days there are all kinds of sources: books, podcasts, video, blogs, and more. We do not lack for differing source materials and perspectives. Of course, there is no much, it is hard to know what might be the best mix for you. A good place to start is to try the recommendations of friends, spiritual advisors, folks at church, or links within links within links on what you are currently perusing online. A great way to develop the habit is to sign up for daily/weekly emails or text messages from sources.  Continue reading

What reason for Hope?

The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas Season. But I have to say, once we get past Christmas it is the life of Jesus on fast forward: Nativity, presentation in the Temple, magi, fleeing to Egypt, return to Nazareth, lost in the Temple and now we’re standing in a long line of people by the banks of the Jordan River.  Ahead of us, waist-deep in the water, John the Baptist makes a no-nonsense, unrelenting call to repentance.  Behind us, at the very end of the long line, stands that once-upon-a-time baby — all grown up.  Thirty years have gone by, and the promised child is about to come into his promise. Continue reading

Church History

I had been musing about a regular (at least quasi-regular) series of posts for Saturday morning. I have noticed that there has been interest and feedback on posts that deal with some element of Church history. The topic has always been of interest to me, musing about how the broad movements of history affect the Church and how the Church affects the movements of history.

Given that the internet is replete with all manner of information about the events, trends, and characters who contribute to the history of Christianity in the West, I wondered what I might contribute. Certainly on any particular topic, or as a general survey, there are real historians that have better knowledge and are gifted writers, able to make their research accessible and readable. If you have a particular interest, I would recommend looking to the experts, but if you just want to follow along on a Saturday morning, you are most welcomed.

For my part, I continue to be fascinated by the events of the 16th century referred to the the “Protestant Reformation.” You’ll notice that in the title of this post I refer to “reformations.”

I suggest the plural form because there was no single, coherent or cohesive movement that marked the end of a united Christianity in the West. Nor did it begin and take definitive shape when the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the chapel in Wittenburg Castle. The purpose, intention, and final shape of reformed denominations were as varied as the men and women within the movements, the country of origins, the milieu of political alliances and forces in play as the modern nation-states of Europe arose, as well as a myriad of other factors. The reform movement in Germany differed from those in Switzerland, France, England, and the Low Countries. I hope to at least give an introduction to help you understand the popes, people, persecutions and potpourri of the life in a Europe emerging from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. It is age when the face of western Europe changed as did the unity of Christianity.

If the Reformations did not begin with Martin Luther, then when were the seeds of the events sown? How many years/centuries before? Not even the historians agree. But tune in next Saturday for the first post and you’ll at least discover what is a good starting point.

Love and Faith

While there is continuity in all the daily Mass readings (for the most part), it is easier for us to recall the continuing narrative of the Gospel exactly because it is a narrative. Today’s first reading continues the readings from the two previous day’s Mass from the First Letter of St. John. I think it is natural and proper to give priority to the Gospels, the epistles are also the Word of God and God speaks to us through them. Continue reading

A final thought

This coming Sunday is the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. The reading is from the Gospel of Luke (3:15-16, 21-22)

It is interesting to note that Luke relates no encounter between Jesus and John. In fact, before we are told about Jesus’ baptism, we are informed that John has been put in prison! A traditional way of understanding this order of events is that Luke (the rhetorical historian) divides history into three separate and distinct eras.This is something that has been noticed since the Patristic period, in the middle ages, and was the doctoral dissertation of Pope Benedict XVI. It is called the theology of history. Continue reading