Weekly readings January/February 2019

Tuesday 1 January
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Numbers 6.22-27
Galatians 4.4-7
Psalm 66
Luke 2.16-21

New Year’s Day has been celebrated liturgically as the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. It was Pope St. Paul VI who wished it to be dedicated to Mary, as her motherhood is central to the Christmas Season. Twice Luke mentions that Mary treasured and pondered in her heart (with its Hebrew background of lev: memory, intellect and will) what had happened and thus in this way also she is a model of Christian life. Uniquely in Luke do we have the report of the circumcising and naming of the baby which still go together in Judaism today (Gospel: Lk. 2.16-21). Only once in the Pauline corpus do we have the mention of the mother of God’s Son, but she is not named, merely referred to as ‘a woman’. In this she is proclaimed to be central to the humanity of Jesus, the source of the sonship of all (Second Reading: Gal. 4.4-7). The Blessing of Aaron includes the two crucial biblical roots: hen – graciousness and shalom – peace, fitting gifts from the Lord on the World Day of Peace (First Reading: Num. 6.22-27).

Wednesday 2 January

1 John 2.22-28
Psalm 97
John 1.19-28

Over the next days we read consecutively the text that follows the Prologue of John Chapter 1. It focuses on the witness of John the Baptist. He has already been introduced at the beginning of the Prologue, but here he denies to the priests that he is the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet. He affirms that his baptism by water points to the one coming after. He is merely the forerunner (Gospel: Jn. 1.19-28). Behind the encouragement of the First Letter of John to the early Christians of his community is clearly the danger of not acknowledging the truth about Jesus. John uses the strong word ‘antichrist’ for those who do not accept Jesus the Messiah revealed by the Father. The contrast is between life and death, truth and lies (First Reading: 1 Jn. 2.22-28).

Thursday 3 January
The Most Holy Name of Jesus

1 John 2.29-3.6
Psalm 97
John 1.29-34

Only in John’s Gospel do we have the scene of John pointing out Jesus, witnessing that he is the lamb of God and the one upon whom the Spirit descended at his baptism. There is no account of Jesus’ baptism, merely its recounting by John. The reference to the lamb of God would seem above all to declare that Jesus is the lamb of expiation and the Passover lamb who takes away not merely the sins of the people of Israel but the sin of the whole world. Already there is an indication of the whole reality of the Chosen One and the manner of his death (Gospel: Jn. 1.29-34). In his First Letter, John continues to spell out what it means to accept Jesus Christ and to break with sin. At the heart of this is the promise of transformation which gives the believer hope (First Reading: 1 Jn. 2.29-3.6). It is not surprising that part of this extract is so popular for Funeral Masses.

Friday 4 January

1 John 3.7-10
Psalm 97
John 1.35-42

John the Baptist repeats his affirmation in the presence of two disciples that Jesus is the lamb of God. The fact that John’s disciples leave John for Jesus gives an insight as to how, on a human level, John ‘decreases’. He prepares his followers for Jesus. Jesus invites the two to ‘come and see’ rather than just look from a distance, but it is already 4.00pm, so not much of the day is left. Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus who renames him to Cephas. Thus John gives a different approach from the Synoptic Gospels to the initial call by Jesus of his first disciples (Gospel: Jn. 1.35-42). John continues to contrast those who have been begotten by God from the children of the devil. Once again, in strong language, he is encouraging the community to stay together in love. It would appear that some were not doing so (First Reading: 1 Jn. 3.7-10).

Saturday 5 January

1 John 3.11-21
Psalm 99
John 1.43-51

John continues to give his alternative account of the calling of the first disciples – here Philip and through him, Nathanael, traditionally named also Bartholomew. Philip describes Jesus as the one attested by the Law and the Prophets. Thus already at the beginning of the Gospel of John we are given the insight that is proclaimed much later in the Synoptics. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Tanak and was a scruffy little town which leads to Nathaniel’s surprise. Jesus’ foreknowledge of Nathaniel (Hebrew: nathan –to give; el – God: gift of God) and their conversation leads to Jesus’ promise of revelation, linking him to Jacob (Gospel: Jn. 1.43-51). John continues in his First Letter to insist on loving one another in a real and practical way. It is this that already causes us here and now to pass from death to life (First Reading: 1 Jn. 3.11-21).

Monday 7 January

1 John 3.22-4.6
Psalm 2
Matthew 4.12-17, 23-25

The Epiphany proclaims the showing forth to the Gentiles of who Jesus really is and this theme is continued in the Liturgy over the following days. After his Baptism, Matthew opens Jesus’ ministry in Galilee with the quotation from Isaiah, found only in this Gospel. The area that is on the route of the armies of destruction, marching on the Via Maris from the East, through the territory of the smallest tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali, will become one of light, shown in the preaching and healing ministry of Jesus (Gospel: Mt. 4.12-17, 23-25). The background of the First Letter of John is revealed by his insistence that only those who acknowledge that Jesus has come in the flesh (Greek: sarks – the reality of human flesh) has the spirit that comes from God. The others come from antichrist and are the false prophets (First Reading: 1 Jn. 3.22-4.6). John is clearly proclaiming the truth against any early forms of Docetism.

Tuesday 8 January

1 John 4.7-10
Psalm 71
Mark 6.34-44

The feeding miracles of the Gospels manifest Jesus as the one who teaches and feeds his people. In Mark and Matthew there are two feeding miracles – for the 5,000 and 4,000 – the former representing the Jews and the latter the Gentiles. The five loaves and the two fish which are distributed might also indicate that all the people were thereby encouraged to share with their neighbours the food they had brought along with them. The narrative is liturgical – the people sitting down in an orderly manner and Jesus raising his eyes, blessing, breaking and distributing through his disciples. In this the Church has always seen a foretaste of the Eucharist (Gospel: Mk. 6.34-44). John repeats in a concise manner the core of his Letter. The first focus has to be on the love that God has for us rather than just concentrating on how we love God (First Reading: 1 Jn. 4.7-10).

Wednesday 9 January

1 John 4.11-18
Psalm 71
Mark 6.45-52

Jesus reveals himself not only in the feeding of the 5,000 but in the aftermath of the account. The walking on the water and the calming of the storm is a Christophany, a manifestation of Christ. Jesus displays his control over the chaos of nature. The information Mark gives about Jesus, deciding to go out to the disciples at the fourth watch (i.e. between 3.00am and 6.00am) and intending to pass them by, seems strange. But all leads towards Jesus getting into the boat and the calming of the storm. The disciples do not understand who Jesus really is and the fact that this had already been demonstrated in the miracle of the loaves (Gospel: Mk. 6.45-52). The root ‘love’ (Greek: agape meaning the highest form of selfless love) occurs nine times in today’s extract and at its centre is the affirmation ‘God is love’. This ultimately sums up the whole Gospel and Letter (First Reading: 1 Jn. 4.11-18). Would that this were written outside our churches!

Thursday 10 January

1 John 4.19-5.4
Psalm 71
Luke 4.14-22

Only in Luke do we have the full account of Jesus beginning his public ministry in the synagogue in Nazara. This is the oldest account of an outline of a Shabbat service that we have from any source. Perhaps the first man to stand up was the one who read from the scroll. It is unclear whether the text from Isaiah was the given passage for the day of the Haftorah, the reading following that of the Torah, or whether Jesus chose it. The prophet, anointed (Hebrew: mashach – the root of the noun Messiah) by the Spirit announces the definitive Jubilee, originally to the returned exiles from Babylon. Jesus proclaims that the text is being fulfilled ‘today’ (Gospel: Lk. 4.14-22). John affirms that no-one can claim to love God if he hates his brother. The community is built up by keeping God’s commandments which are above all linked to selfless love (First Reading: 1John 4.19-5.4).

Friday 11 January

1 John 5.5-13
Psalm 147
Luke 5.12-16

After the call of the first disciples, the first miracle recorded in Luke is that of the healing of the leper, to be distinguished from that of the ten lepers, a later account, unique to Luke. Here Jesus replies to the leper’s request by saying ‘Of course I want to (cure you)!’ It is a reply that can encourage us all when we are asked for help, however difficult or inconvenient the situation might be. Jesus touches the leper, an action that is against the law. Luke records that his reputation spread – in other words he is revealed and this is why the Gospel is chosen for today (Gospel: Lk. 5.12-16). John points out that the three witnesses for Jesus Christ – water, blood and Spirit – are greater than human witnesses. All signifies the gift of eternal life, a summary verse found similarly at the end of the Gospel (First Reading: 1 Jn. 5.5-13).

Saturday 12 January

1 John 5.14-21
Psalm 149
John 3.22-30

Only in John are we told that Jesus baptised, though later this seems to be contradicted (Jn. 4.2). Baptism (Greek verb: baptizo = immerse) was used by certain groups in Judaism, as for example at Qumran, to initiate followers and this was adopted by Jesus and John the Baptist. John’s disciples seem disturbed that everyone is going to Jesus but John re-assures them that this is how it must be. Jesus and John are not baptising into a sect like the Essenes, but into an open community. He is the one to go before (Gospel: Jn. 3.22-30). John reflects not on sin but on the greater authority of the Son of God through whom we have the power to know the true God and have eternal life (First Reading: 1 Jn. 5.14-21).
First week in Ordinary time

Monday 14 January

Hebrews 1.1-6
Psalm 96
Mark 1.14-20

We begin today with Ordinary time and until Ash Wednesday (6 March 2019) we read semi-continuously from the Gospel of Mark. After his baptism and temptations, the Lord goes to Galilee and speaks for the first time. The general fast pace of Mark’s Gospel is felt from the beginning with its ‘The time has come’. The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims to be close is in Mark more expansive and apocalyptic than in the other Gospels. Repent (Greek: metanoia – to think again) with its underlying notion of the Hebrew teshuva (Hebrew: shuv – to turn back to the right road) is something that is not a once-in-a-lifetime action, but an on-going movement. The first disciples are an example of this (Gospel: Mk. 1.14-20). After the Prologue that clearly states the high Christology of the text, the author of the Hebrews – which is a dogmatic treatise rather than a letter – introduces the first major theme. Christ is higher than the angels. The debate continues about the date and destination of this work (First Reading: Heb. 1.1-6).

Tuesday 15 January

Hebrews 2.5-12
Psalm 8
Mark 1.21-28

Jesus arrives at Capernaum which he was to make the centre of his Galilean ministry. The town was on the border between the territory of Herod Antipas (Galilee) and that of Philip (the Decapolis), right by the Via Maris, the highway between Damascus and the Mediterranean coast. It was thus busy, commercial and international. Four major aspects of Jesus’ Galilean ministry are introduced. First, it is the Sabbath, the source of many future controversies. Second, Jesus goes to the synagogue (Greek: sunagoge – a place of gathering), the Greek noun used by the New Testament, but known by the Jews as Bet HaKenesset (Hebrew: bet – house; kenesset – gathering). Third, he teaches with authority (Greek: ek – from; ousia –being), mentioned twice. Fourth, he heals, here a man with some form of mental illness, understood like all illnesses to be the result of demonic possession (Gospel: Mk. 1.21-28). The author of Hebrews alludes to Psalm 8 to argue the superiority of Christ over the angels and all things (First Reading: Heb. 2.5-12).

Wednesday 16 January

Hebrews 2.14-18
Psalm 104
Mark 1.29-39

Mark continues to describe the first days of Jesus’ public ministry, with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, then of the sick in general, his early morning prayer and the progress throughout Galilee. This summarizes the similar accounts that develop in the following chapters. Mark manages to capture the urgency of the task in hand. Jesus is serving the people just as Peter’s mother-in-law serves (Greek: diakonein – ‘wait at table’ but more generally ‘to serve’). The Christian community is given a clear model to follow (Gospel: Mk. 1.29-39). The author of the Hebrews includes this transitional text from the theme of Jesus being higher than the angels to that of being the supreme High Priest. He became fully human and only in this way could he share our nature and atone for our sins (First Reading: Heb. 2.14-18).

Thursday 17 January
St Anthony, Abbot

Hebrews 3.7-14
Psalm 94
Mark 1.40-45

All three Synoptic Gospels record the cure of the leper, but Mark’s account is the fullest and most dramatic. According to some manuscripts, the leper falls on his knees. Jesus ‘feeling sorry for him’ (Greek: spangnistheis – a strong verb meaning ‘knotted up inside himself’) touches him. Only Mark records the fact that the leper disobeys Jesus and talks about his cure freely. The consequence is that Jesus appears to take on the consequences of leprosy and stays outside the town (Gospel: Mk. 1.40-45). As frequently, Hebrews quotes from Scripture texts and comments on them as in Midrashim, Jewish commentaries that make the texts relevant for the generation addressed. Here Psalm 94.6-11 is quoted with an emphasis on the word ‘today’ and an encouragement to one another (First Reading: Heb. 3.7-14). As we celebrate St Anthony of Egypt (251-356), the founder of desert monasticism, we pray that we may discern how to be detached from non-essential matters to live the ‘today’ of the Gospel more fully.

Friday 18 January

Hebrews 4.1-5, 11
Psalm 77
Mark 2.1-12

As those who have been to the excavations at Capernaum know, ‘houses’ were built in ‘insulae’ (islands), blocks surrounding a central courtyard. The ‘streets’ between them were very narrow passages so it is easy to understand that the crowds prevented the bearers of the paralytic to enter by the door – hence the stripping of the palm leaves and other material on the roof. The scene of the lowering of the paralytic is one of the most imaginative of the Gospel healings and with it the meditation all can share of being lowered to the Lord by friends and being healed. As often in the gospels the subsequent discussion with the scribes is about the authority of Jesus (Gospel: Mk. 2.1-12). The author of the Hebrews, in the usual midrashic manner, expounds the texts of Numbers 14.21-23, Psalm 95 and Genesis 2.2 and argues that faith in the Lord leads obedient Christians to the real place of rest (First Reading: Heb. 4.1-5,11).

Saturday 19 January

Hebrews 4.12-16
Psalm 18
Mark 2.13-17

The well-known painting by Caravaggio in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome depicts beautifully the Gospel scene. It is one that is admired by Pope Francis and it is precisely from Bede’s commentary on the text that the Pope drew his episcopal and papal motto Miserando atque Eligendo (having pity and calling [him]). Being a border town might explain why there were so many tax collectors around, but of all of them it is Levi – Matthew – who is chosen. As Bede comments, he immediately begins his mission of bringing others to Jesus by the invitation to dinner. It is always good to remember Jesus’ comment and apply it to the Church, which is always for sinners not for saints (Gospel: Mk. 2.13-17). One of the most significant texts about the word of God describes it as a double-edged sword with its sharpness and acuteness. This leads into announcing once again the major theme of the Hebrews – that of Jesus the High Priest, like us in all things but sin (First Reading: Heb. 4.12-16).

Second week in Ordinary time

Monday 21 January
St Agnes

Hebrews 5.1-10
Psalm 110
Mark 2.18-22

In Matthew it is John’s disciples who pose the question about fasting, whereas in Luke it is the Pharisees and scribes. Mark has ‘some people’ in general. But the substance is the same in all three Gospels, both in the question and the response. Jesus equates himself with the bridegroom and uses the two images of cloth and wineskins to announce the radical newness of the kingdom (Gospel: Mk. 2.18-22). Psalm 2.7 and Psalm 110.4 are commented on in Hebrews to explain how Christ is both the Son who suffers through obedience and also the High Priest. The author is pointing to his thesis about the authentic priesthood of Christ (First Reading: Heb. 5.1-10). St Agnes, a young girl martyred for her faith, is traditionally from the end of the Third Century. Her name, derived from agnus (Latin: lamb), led to the custom of blessing lambs today in Sant’Agnese in Rome for the wool of the pallia of Archbishops.

Tuesday 22 January

Hebrews 6.10-20
Psalm 110
Mark 2.23-28

The incident today illustrates the debate amongst the Pharisees about the exact interpretation of the mitzvoth (the laws). Some argued that the picking and eating of corn on the Sabbath was allowed in cases of hunger, others not. But if it were allowed, it should not be done walking along. Jesus enters the debate on the level of hunger, illustrating it by the action of David. Abiathar was not the High Priest at that time but Ahimelech. Only fundamentalists twist arguments to try to prove that Jesus could not be wrong in quoting Scripture. More important is Jesus’ affirmation about the purpose of the Sabbath and that the Son of Man is a higher authority (Gospel: Mk. 2.23-28). Hebrews encourages his listeners to deepen their hope of inheriting the promises of God. This leads to an explanation that in Abraham we see both God’s promise and his oath. That Jesus Christ is the true High Priest is pointed out by his ‘going right through beyond the veil’, a theme to which he frequently returns (First Reading: Heb. 6.10-20).

Wednesday 23 January

Hebrews 7.1-3, 15-17
Psalm 109
Mark 3.1-6

Once again it is the miracle that is the cause of controversy. Mark heightens the tension by the concluding remark that ‘the Pharisees discuss with the Herodians’ how to destroy Jesus. Thus we see leaders from the opposite sides of the political debate – the Herodians pro-Roman and the puppet regime of Herod, the Pharisees against them – joining together. Already the clouds are on the horizon and the end of the story is brought into the narrative (Gospel: Mk. 3.1-6). Hebrews meditates on the texts about Melchizedek. The first is the account from Genesis about Abraham giving him a tenth of his wealth, thus demonstrating the superiority of the king-priest. His priesthood is from God, as mentioned in Psalm 110 and not through the tribe of Levi or physical descent. Hebrews refers then to the second Melchizedek (First Reading: Heb. 7.1-3,15-17).

Thursday 24 January
St Francis de Sales

Hebrews 7.25-8.6
Psalm 39
Mark 3.7-12

Mark now describes the growing popularity of Jesus by listing all the regions from which the crowds came. He does not mention Samaria or Galilee as he presumably presupposes them, but he deliberately includes Gentile areas. The theory of the ‘Messianic secret’ – that there is the determined thread by Jesus according to Mark to keep his nature secret – would be evidenced here by his warning to the unclean spirits (Gospel: Mk. 3.7-12). At the centre of the argument of the Hebrews about the nature of the High Priesthood of Christ is the fact that unlike the levitical High Priests, he enters the sanctuary once and for all (Greek: hapax). High Priests were tainted by sin which is not true of Jesus who is in the true sanctuary, that of heaven (First Reading: Heb. 7.25-8.6). All priests of the Church share in the one priesthood and one sacrifice of Christ. St. Francis de Sales demonstrated this in an admirable manner and in many ways foreshadowed the teaching of Vatican II about the priesthood of all the faithful.

Friday 25 January
The Conversion of St Paul, Apostle

Acts 22.3-16
Psalm 116
Mark 16.15-18

Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is one of the most dramatic and far reaching in Christian history. It is described three times in the Acts of the Apostles, once in the third person and twice in the first, with Paul recounting his own experience. Even though such accounts are redacted and stylized, traditionally by Luke, to give them unity, they all contain core elements of the conversion. Saul is completely transformed (First Reading: Acts 22.3-16). From this moment, firstly among the Jews in Damascus, he joins in the great commission to the disciples given in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel. His mission is universal – not just to the world (Greek: kosmos) but to creation (Greek: ktisis) (Gospel: Mk. 16.15-18). Paul fulfills this by his three great missionary journeys and his writing so many letters to the Churches he founded. Thirteen of the New Testament Letters are ascribed to him. His influence and faith lives on in Christian communities and it is providential that he is the patron of Christian unity. All of us are called to on-going conversion.

Saturday 26 January

Hebrews 9.2-3,11-14
Psalm 46
Mark 3.20-21

Mark once again emphasises the size of the crowd around Jesus that prevents him from ordinary human activities – here from eating. Such an observation brings his ministry really down to earth. But so also does the fact, unique to Mark, that his family (Greek: hoi par’autou: the ones by him) – presumably Mary, Joseph and the wider group of relatives – come to take him. The next sentence is badly translated. It literally means ‘For they said that he was out of himself’. Clearly the family feel they need to take charge of him. We do not hear more details and the account of the ministry then continues uninterrupted. The shortness of the Gospel extract highlights the tension (Gospel: Mk. 3.20-21). Hebrews continues to describe the Tent in the desert and its form in the Jerusalem Temple. It is unfortunate that the verses omitted in the Lectionary talk of the powerful tradition that kept in the inner tent were a portion of the manna, Aaron’s rod and the stone tablets. The ceremony of Yom Kippur was celebrated once a year but the blood of Christ achieves perfect atonement (Hebrews 9.2-3,11-14).

Third week in Ordinary time

Monday 28 January
St Thomas Aquinas

Hebrews 9.15, 24-28
Psalm 97
Mark 3.22-30

This is the first time in Mark that we hear of the Jerusalem scribes. Clearly Jesus’ ministry is attracting attention in the highest places. The accusation is that Jesus is Beelzebul (from zabul – prince – being a name ascribed to the god baal). The parable emphasises that evil cannot eject evil. More difficult is the interpretation of the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But the context here gives the answer. The unforgivable sin is declaring that Jesus is possessed by evil, thus denying that the kingdom has come. Jesus uses rabbinical contrasts – sins in this life that can be forgiven and sins that are eternal that cannot. But even with ‘eternal sins’ repentance is possible (Gospel: Mk. 3.22-30). Hebrews uses the word antitupos (Greek: antitype meaning the reality) for heaven, as opposed to the man-made sanctuary, the Temple, the tupos (Greek: figure or shadow). The comparison is again made with the High Priests on Yom Kippur. The consequence is that Jesus offers himself once and for all (Greek: hapax) to do away with sin (First Reading: Heb. 9.15, 24-28). Christ’s sacrifice is central to the vast teaching of St Thomas Aquinas whom we celebrate today.

Tuesday 29 January

Hebrews 10.1-10
Psalm 39
Mark 3.31-35

Presumably the family are still concerned about Jesus so they come seeking him. The ‘brothers and sisters’ mean the wider family of relatives. Following the consistent and non-contested tradition of the Church from the Scriptures and sub-apostolic times, Mary ever-Virgin, does not have other children, nor does Joseph. They would surely have been identified clearly by the early Christian communities. Jesus declares that all who do the will of God are his close family members. This seems to denigrate his relatives but it is a reminder that doing God’s will is stronger than blood ties (Gospel: Mk. 3.31-35). Hebrews sums up the previous arguments about Christ’s sacrifice abolishing all the previous sacrifices of the Temple. Commenting on Psalm 41 the author points to the obedience of Christ as central (First Reading: Heb. 10.1-10).

Wednesday 30 January

Hebrews 10.11-18
Psalm 109
Mark 4.1-20

We now come to the first great block of teaching in Mark in what is usually called the parable chapter. It begins with the parable of the sower and its explanation. To a certain degree the parable is comprehensible in itself and so the explanation reinforces the lack of understanding of the disciples at this stage. It also makes the parable more relevant to the early Church community. The word sown is not magical – it does not produce a result without the response of the individual and of the community and this response is likely to be mixed. It will never be one hundred per cent as in the four types of soil. It is a reminder for us today that programmes of renewal and so on in the Church, however clever, will not automatically work (Gospel: Mk. 4.1-20). Hebrews again emphasizes that all the sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood are nothing compared with the one sacrifice of Christ. The author unites two Scripture texts to enhance his argument (First Reading: Heb. 10.1-10).

Thursday 31 January
St John Bosco

Hebrews 10.19-25
Psalm 23
Mark 4.21-25

Following the parable of the sower, the saying of Jesus about the lamp on the lamp stand refers not merely to receiving the word but producing its fruit and demonstrating it. The emphasis is then upon hearing. The same word in Greek (akouo) can be translated as ‘to listen’ or ‘to hear’. Behind it is the Hebrew word shema which also means ‘to obey’, a reminder that the Latin word for obey (obaudire) has at its root ‘to listen’. Jesus reminds his hearers that generosity breeds generosity and the opposite is true (Gospel: Mk. 4.21-25). Hebrews equates the Temple curtain, drawn aside on Yom Kippur for the High Priest, to Jesus’ body, which leads us all through. The author then encourages practical consequences of this – hope, love, good works and the importance of the gathering together (Greek: episunagoge). This begins the exhortatory part of the treatise (First Reading: Heb. 10.19-25). St. John Bosco fully understood this need of encouragement.

Friday 1 February

Hebrews 10.32-39
Psalm 36
Mark 4.26-34

There are two parables in Mark 4 which appear to contradict each other. The first, often called that of ‘the seed growing secretly’, is unique to Mark. The seed growing imperceptibly in the ground is a metaphor for the word growing in each of us and also in the whole community. This was an encouragement to the early Church to note that even during persecution the faith is still growing. We so often do not understand how this is happening because it seems, looks and feels almost the opposite. The second parable, using tree imagery from Daniel, describes the external growth of the Kingdom. These parables are not contradictory but form different approaches to the nature of the Kingdom (Gospel: Mk. 4.26-34). Hebrews reminds all that the persecution they received can help them with their perseverance (First Reading: Heb. 10.32-39).

Saturday 2 February
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3.1-14
Psalm 23
Luke 2.22-40

The scene of the Presentation is unique to Luke and threading through it are some of the major themes of the Gospel. Three times the text mentions the fulfilling of the Law of the Lord. Birds, not animals, are offered in sacrifice, demonstrating the poverty of the Holy Family. It is the Holy Spirit who guides Simeon who utters the Nunc Dimittis with its centrality of salvation and also predicts the suffering of Mary. Anna speaks of the deliverance of Jerusalem. An ordinary event becomes one of revelation and light and thrusts towards the end of the story (Gospel: Lk. 2.22-40). The oracle of Malachi (Hebrew: my messenger) is apocalyptic as it looks forward to the total renewal of the priesthood (First Reading: Mal. 3.1-4). Hebrews insists that Jesus is higher than the angels precisely because he is descended from Abraham, thus sharing human nature but also able to atone for sin (Second Reading: Heb. 2.14-18).
Fourth week in Ordinary time

Monday 4 February

Hebrews 11.32-40
Psalm 30
Mark 5.1-20

One of the most memorable, but at first sight strangest miracles of Jesus, is the one of today’s Lectionary. Mark has the fullest narrative. Significantly this is the first miracle in Gentile territory – the Decapolis – which accounts for the presence of the pigs which would not be kept in Jewish areas. The story is the battle, not just of one evil spirit, but of many, against the authority of Jesus. But evil is totally confused and overturned. The pigs, unclean as they are and now doubly unclean through the miracle, charge into the sea, traditionally thought of as a place of evil. The cured man, now in peace, wishes to become a disciple but Jesus has something more important for him to do – to become the first missionary to the Gentiles (Gospel: Mk. 5.1-20). Hebrews 11 is a magnificent overview of some of the people of faith from the Scriptures. This faith (Greek: pistis) is above all that of trust (Hebrew: emunah) in God. Even so they did not receive the fullness of the promise which comes only through Jesus (First Reading: Heb. 11.32-40).

Tuesday 5 February

Hebrews 12.1-4
Psalm 21
Mark 5.21-43

The narrative of the raising of Jairus’ daughter sandwiches the account of the woman with the haemorrhage. This is almost a stylised scene of what probably occurred often – miracles overlapping with each other rather than neatly spread out. Mark has the fullest account with eye-witness details. Jesus insists that the woman in the crowd does not remain anonymous so that he can confirm her faith in front of the crowd. The drama of Jairus’ agony is exacerbated by the intervening miracle and by the time it is over his daughter is dead. This is the opportunity for Mark to recount the first miracle of Jesus raising someone from the dead with its drama of faith and unbelief. The Aramaic that is preserved, Talitha kum, points to the strong tradition behind the account (Gospel: Mk. 5.21-43). Jesus leads us in the faith, demonstrated by the scriptural examples of the previous chapter, and by those of the Gospel and brings it to perfection (First Reading: Heb. 12.1-4).

Wednesday 6 February

Hebrews 12.4-7, 11-15
Psalm 102
Mark 6.1-6

Jesus returns to his home town, not named, but presumably Nazareth. His teaching, wisdom and miracles would normally be expected to come only from someone who was richly educated and clearly blessed by God. The crowd cannot see this in the carpenter (Greek: tekton – skilled not only in wood but in other crafts too) whose family they know. Prophets come from elsewhere. Mark is clear in the consequence of this rejection – Jesus can perform no miracle there, whereas the other Synoptic Gospels report that he could not perform many miracles there (Gospel: Mk. 6.1-6). Although we have to fight against sin and the Lord corrects us, Hebrews encourages hope, as also to work for peace. The author is concerned that bitterness does not take hold in the community which it is in danger of doing (First Reading: Heb. 12.4-7, 11-15).

Thursday 7 February

Hebrews 12.18-19, 21-24
Psalm 47
Mark 6.7-13

Mark once again gives a summary of Jesus’ activity with an emphasis upon teaching, followed by a description of the fundamentals of the apostolic ministry. It is Jesus who summons, sends forth (Greek: apostelein, from which derives the word apostle), shares his own authority over unclean spirits and instructs (Greek: parangelein – to announce). There is no doubt who is really in charge. The disciples are to be detached and clearly focused. Thus they do not linger with those who reject the message. Their mission includes anointing, which would seem to witness to the Church taking over an existing custom (Gospel: Mk. 6.7-13). Hebrews compares the drama of Sinai with the beauty of the presence and peace of the living God, Jesus and the New Jerusalem (First Reading: Heb. 12.18-19, 21-24).

Friday 8 February

Hebrews 13.1-8
Psalm 26
Mark 6.14-29

Mark preserves the fullest account of the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. The text points to the dilemma of Herod (Herod Antipas 21 BCE – 39 CE), the son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Galilee. He was uncomfortable but curious about John. Clearly he did not wish to kill him. But the staged dance by Salome (though not named in the text) and its circumstances gave Herodias, incensed by John’s condemnation, the opportunity she wanted. The head on the dish is the subject of art work by some of the great painters who graphically portray the scene. This is the end of the mission of John the Baptist and of his disciples but for anyone who can read between the lines, it points to what will happen to Jesus (Gospel: Mk. 6.14-29). The dogmatic treatise to the Hebrews ends with practical advice, also laced with truths of the faith, here about the timelessness of Jesus Christ and therefore the encouragement not to waver in the faith (First Reading: Heb. 13.1-8).

Saturday 9 February

Hebrews 13.15-17, 20-21
Psalm 22
Mark 6.30-34

The introduction to the feeding of the five thousand shows Jesus’ concern for his own disciples and his wanting to give them space after their labours. But this is thwarted by the crowds on whom the Lord takes pity (Greek: esplanchnisthe – meaning literally ‘gutted by’). Having to change plans because of circumstances is one that we all face quite often. We might learn from the apparent calmness of Jesus (Gospel: Mk. 6.30-34). We come to the end of the weekday extracts from the Hebrews, which we have been reading since 14 January, with a further mention of sacrifices and blood. These are linked to good works and sharing. This also becomes a teaching of the rabbis once the Temple has been destroyed. Physical animal sacrifices are commuted to good works (First Reading: Heb. 13.15-17, 20-21).

Fifth week in Ordinary time

Monday 11 February
Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of Prayer for the Sick

Genesis 1.1-19
Psalm 103
Mark 6.53-56

Genesis 1.1–11.26 can be styled as the Book of Origins of the world. It is a masterly text joined together in its present form after the Exile by priests using existing oral and written material. It is helpful to remember the hermeneutical principles of the Church that these stories do not teach us scientific or historical truths but ‘truths for our salvation’. They are therefore inspired accounts that attempt to answer the questions as to why the world and human beings are as they are. The First Creation account, as it is usually called, written in the sixth century BCE, proclaims the creation, not described here as ex nihilo, as being formed by God’s word which divides (Hebrew: badal). It is this division that brings order (Greek: cosmos) out of chaos (Greek: chaos – disorder) (First Reading: Gen. 1.1-19). After the walking on the water, Mark describes Jesus as being swamped by the people who come to be cured (Gospel: Mk. 6.53-56). Today we lay our sick before the Lord in prayer and ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Tuesday 12 February

Genesis 1.20-2.4
Psalm 8
Mark 7.1-13

Adam (Hebrew: ‘adam – from ‘adamah meaning earth) is the apex of the creation of the other creatures. This is illustrated by being on another day, the sixth day, by the dignity of being made in the image (Hebrew: tselem) and likeness (Hebrew: demuth) of God and be being made ‘masters’ (Hebrew: radah – to share God’s authority) over the rest of the animals. The differentiation of the sexes – male and female – is made from the very beginning, unlike in the following Second Creation account. They are blessed and therefore called to be fruitful. ‘Image’ and ‘likeness’ are often considered to refer to different elements but they are above all synonyms. The real climax of the First Creation Account is the seventh day when God rests (Hebrew: shabbat), the origin of the Shabbat itself (First Reading: Gen. 1.20-2.4). The opposition of some of the Pharisees to Jesus deepens with the controversy about washing. Jesus uses the opposition as an opportunity to teach about the limitation of some of the traditions which can obscure the word of God (Gospel: Mk. 7.1-13).

Wednesday 13 February

Genesis 2.4-9, 15-17
Psalm 103
Mark 7.14-23

The Second Creation account, originally perhaps about four hundred years earlier than the first, from the ninth century BCE, has a different perspective. Instead of being a watery mass, the land is at first dry, mirroring a Middle-Eastern background and it is from the soil, duly watered, that the Lord makes Adam. Rather than God being majestic and transcendent, the Lord is portrayed in anthropomorphic terms, even as a gardener. Eden and special trees, some of which are not to be touched, parallel many Ancient Near Eastern accounts of creation (First Reading: Gen. 2.4-9, 15-17). Jesus continues his teaching about clean and unclean. It is not external washing or the type of food that cleanses deeply but a whole attitude to relationships (Gospel: Mk. 7.14-23).

Thursday 14 February
The Feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius

Genesis 2.18-25
Psalm 127
Mark 7.24-30

As often for the Feast days of missionaries, the Gospel text is that of the sending out of the seventy-two ‘others’, unique to Luke. It is not just the twelve who have a specific mission – the seventy-two represent the entire Lucan community and demonstrate the fundamental nature of the Church. The going out in pairs is essential as two (or three) witnesses are necessary to prove the truth. They are to be free of everything that might weigh them down and direct and clear in their task. All is a preparation for the visit of the Lord (Gospel: Luke 10.1-9). At Antioch in Pisidia Paul and Barnabas announce the massive shift in the preaching of the Gospel from Jews to Gentiles (First Reading: Acts 13.46-49). Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century lived out this missionary thrust of the Church to the full as they evangelised central Europe and used all means to do so, including at least the bases of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Friday 15 February

Genesis 3.1-8
Psalm 31
Mark 7.31-37

The story of the Garden of Eden, like the Creation accounts, is a myth (Greek: muthos – word) in the correct sense. This is not, as often misunderstood and misused, something false, but putting into words the truth. Here the truth is the manner in which human beings go beyond the boundaries set by God. The serpent, often worshipped in the Ancient world, represents evil and is deliberately styled ‘most subtle’, illustrating how evil so often takes over. Eve, tempted and seduced to eat the fruit (not specified as an apple!) by this serpent, in turn tempts Adam. They understand their humanity as they make loin-cloths (First Reading: Gen. 3.1-8). Mark’s geography is rather strange at the beginning of the text but the important issue is that Jesus remains in Gentile territory. It is there that he heals the deaf and dumb man with the text retaining the Aramaic ephphatha pointing to an eye-witness account (Gospel: Mk. 7.31-37).

Saturday 16 February

Genesis 3.9-24
Psalm 89
Mark 8.1-10

Today’s account is frequently called ‘The Fall’ but nowhere in the narrative does this word occur. It comes from St. Paul’s commentary in the Letter to the Romans. The intention of the original author(s) would seem to be to announce the consistent battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen. 3.15) and this is how it is understood within the Jewish tradition. Within the Catholic tradition, taking the Scriptures as a whole along with the tradition of the Church, there is a proclamation of the victory of the seed of the woman, ultimately pointing to Christ. In the meantime, God expels Adam and Eve from Eden. The consequences of their disobedience means they cannot live in paradise and live for ever (First Reading: Gen. 3.9-24). The feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves is in the Decapolis and a sign that Jesus feeds the Gentiles as well as the Jews, four being a symbol of universality (Gospel: Mk. 8.1-10).

Sixth week in Ordinary time

Monday 18 February

Genesis 4.1-15, 25
Psalm 49
Mark 8.11-13

After the expulsion from Eden, the narrative continues the consequences of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Behind the conflict of Cain and Abel is that of the disagreements between pastoral and agricultural factions. The acceptance of the offering of Cain might mirror the greater importance of sheep in the later sacrifices, especially the paschal lamb. But the fact of fratricide remains, encapsulating the most distressing side of family fall-outs, which remain as a curse in every generation (First Reading: Gen. 4.1-5, 25). In Matthew and Luke Jesus mentions Jonah and the Queen of the South as the only signs to be given, but in Mark not even these are referred to. There are no signs, that is, no proofs that Jesus is the Messiah. Faith is absolutely necessary (Gospel: Mk. 8.11-13).

Tuesday 19 February

Genesis 6.5-8, 7.1-5, 10
Psalm 28
Mark 8.14-21

The Lectionary cuts up the story of the Flood, sometimes not patching sections well together, as today. We would need to go back to the full Scriptural text, normally argued to be a weaving together of different oral and written sources, to understand it more deeply. The Lord is described in anthropomorphic terms. He ‘regrets’ his creation and determines to destroy it. Clearly this is not to be taken literally and parallels some Ancient Near Eastern texts where similar statements are made about the gods and goddesses. In the same way, stories are found about destructive floods which might mirror the reality of those occurring sometimes in the Mesopotamian basin. The biblical account wishes to enhance the chaos of sin, the righteousness of Noah and of the saving power of the Lord through the ark (First Reading: Gen. 6.5-8; 7.1-5, 10). The disciples completely misunderstand the miracles of the loaves and remain puzzled even after Jesus repeats the stories in his questions. He feeds both the Jews and the Gentiles. His one loaf is for all (Gospel: Mk. 8.14-21).

Wednesday 20 February

Genesis 8.6-13, 20-22
Psalm 115
Mark 8.22-26

The end of the narrative of the Flood is the story of the return to harmony after chaos. This is symbolized in the account of the dove with the olive branch in its beak, seen by the Fathers of the Church as pointing to the Messiah (Hebrew: Meshiach – the anointed one), anointed by the Spirit represented by external olive oil. The original authors of the narrative made it clear that God’s plans would never be thwarted by human sin and error. The first act of Noah when he gets to dry land is to offer sacrifice, the sign of the union between God and man (First Reading: Gen. 8.6-13, 20-22). The curing of the blind man at Bethsaida is unique to Mark. Jesus once again uses spittle and touch for the healing. It is tangible and real. He shows concern after the first touch as he kindly asks the man if he can see. The gradual healing is a sign to the disciples of what they are not doing – opening their eyes to understand Jesus (Gospel: Mk. 8.22-26).

Thursday 21 February

Genesis 9.1-13
Psalm 101
Mark 8.27-33

God’s blessing of Noah repeats that of the creation, but this time it includes not just the stipulation that human beings can eat plants but also that they can eat flesh meat. This mirrors the reality of the human dominance over animals. However, there follows the prohibition of blood with the ancient understanding that the blood contains the principle of life itself which belongs to God. This is the first mention of the word ‘covenant’ (Hebrew: berith) in the narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures, a word that becomes central to the unfolding story. Here the covenant is not just an agreement of God with human beings but with all creatures. It is this text that the early rabbis expand into the ‘Noahide’ laws which include Gentiles. There is nothing narrow in God’s plan (First Reading: Gen. 9.1-13). Mark has the shortest account of the Confession at Caesarea Philippi. But the same elements are there as in the other Gospels – the response of Peter to Jesus’ question and to his prediction of the Passion (Gospel: Mk. 8.27-33).

Friday 22 February
The Feast of the Chair of St Peter

1 Peter 5.1-4
Psalm 22
Matthew 16.13-19

As frequently on the Feast days connected with St Peter, we have Matthew’s version of the confession at Caesarea Philippi. This is the fullest of all the Gospels. The account mentions Jeremiah specifically because of all the prophets his life, with his denunciation of the Temple and the level of his being persecuted, parallels that of Jesus. Simon bar Jonah, as he is addressed by Jesus, is blessed (Greek: makarios) because of the revelation from the Father. The blessing is spelt out in typical rabbinical terms – flesh and blood, gates of the underworld, keys of the kingdom of heaven, and binding and loosing as symbols of authority (Gospel: Mt. 16.13-19). Towards the end of the Letter ascribed to Peter, he urges conformity among the shepherds of the flock to the chief shepherd, an echo of the commission to Peter by the shores of Galilee in John 21 (Gospel: 1 Pet. 5.1-4).

Saturday 23 February

Hebrews 11.1-7
Psalm 144
Mark 9.2-13
In order to draw together the extracts from the ‘Primaeval History’ proclaimed over the last few days, the Lectionary turns to Hebrews. The explanation and examples of faith (Greek: pistis, based upon the Hebrew ‘emunah, meaning above all trust) begin with the reference to the one word of God that created the world, then to Abel, Enoch and Noah. It is a fitting summary of Genesis 1.1 – 11.9 (First Reading: Heb. 11.1-7). The scene of the Transfiguration is found with variations in each of the Synoptic Gospels. It strengthens the three disciples but also is designed to reassure the early Christian communities that the final apocalypse has begun. The transfigured (Greek verb: metamorpheo as in the metamorphosis of bugs) Jesus, though proclaiming himself the one who must suffer and die, the testimony of the two greatest witnesses, Moses and Elijah, the cloud and the voice of the Father all point to this truth. The aftermath is the reassurance that Elijah, expected to usher in the Messianic days, has already come in the form of John the Baptist (Gospel: Mk. 9.2-13).

Seventh week in Ordinary time

Monday 25 February

Ecclesiasticus 1.1-10
Psalm 92
Mark 9.14-29

Sirac, or Ben Sira, is named after its author whose grandson translated it into Greek, as is written in the prologue. Its Greek name is Ecclesiasticus (from the Greek ekklesia meaning ‘gathering’), the book of the Church, because it was so popular in the early Christian communities. It is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures as it was handed down in Greek from the LXX, although a Hebrew text was found at Masada in 1964. Sirac covers a huge range of material combining traditional Wisdom themes with reflections on the traditions and history of Israel. Wisdom is created before all things and is a gift to those who love the Lord (First Reading: Ecclus. 1.1-10). In the scene after the Transfiguration, we can make our own the cry of the father of the epileptic boy to Jesus: ‘I do have faith. Help the little faith I have.’ (Gospel: Mk. 9.14-29).

Tuesday 26 February

Ecclesiasticus 2.1-11
Psalm 36
Mark 9.30-37

The Book of Sirac is the distillation of his teachings from his school in Jerusalem, almost certainly addressed to young men in order to help them get on in society. He gives them wise advice to cling to the Lord and trust in him, another expression of which is ‘fear the Lord’. This does not mean be afraid of him but revere him, because he is always merciful (First Reading: Ecclus. 2.1-11). Jesus continues his journeys and gives his disciples the second prediction of his Passion. They continue not to understand what this means and persist in thinking that Jesus’ Messiah-ship is linked with glory, as in their discussion on the road. Jesus once again insists on humble service, spelt out in the living parable of the children (Gospel: Mk. 9.30-37).

Wednesday 27 February

Ecclesiasticus 4.12-22
Psalm 118
Mark 9.38-40
In the Old Testament, as in ancient cultures in general, Wisdom is personified as a woman. Here she is also described as a mother looking after her sons and caring for those who seek her. She receives the highest accolades with the Lord himself loving those who love her. But the opposite is also emphasised. Abandoning Wisdom leads to disaster (First Reading: Ecclus. 4.12-22). The disciples have still not understood the depth and the breadth of Jesus’ ministry. He is not gathering a small number around him to begin an esoteric or closed community. Doing work in his name means that ‘outsiders’ also belong (Gospel: Mk. 9.38-40).

Thursday 28 February

Ecclesiasticus 5.1-10
Psalm 1
Mark 9.41-50

Sirac warns his students against setting their hearts on money and living a life without recognising their responsibilities. This could well be in the face of certain hedonistic life-styles around in the more Hellenised parts of the country. He counsels turning back to the Lord rather than merely presuming his mercy (First Reading: Ecclus. 5.1-10). The first teaching of the Gospel follows what has gone before as the disciples are urged to recognize that ‘outsiders’, even through little acts, will be rewarded. When Jesus talks of ‘little ones’ in this context he is talking not of children but of the humble and unassuming. Semitic hyperbole (exaggeration) is used to warn the disciples of the seriousness not so much of sin in general, but of not being open to those who do not belong to their inner circle (Gospel: Mk. 9.41-50).

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