In today’s first reading, Wisdom invites everyone to her house. Even the ignorant and foolish are promised that they can become wise, if they sit down and eat with her. Paul, too, urges the Christians living in Ephesus to live sober, sensible lives, like intelligent people. But in the Gospel, Jesus confronts his disciples with a teaching that seems to fly in the face of common sense. They must eat his flesh and drink his blood, in order to have eternal life. Many of his disciples rejected this idea, and gave up following him. It’s a teaching that is incomprehensible, if we think in worldly terms. Only our faith tells us that the Body and Blood of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist is God’s promise of everlasting life.
Jesus and his disciples are faced with a crisis – a crowd of hungry people, and no food to offer them. The disciples look at the situation in practical terms: Philip speaks of how much money would be needed to buy enough bread, Andrew about the small amount of food that is actually available. They are overwhelmed by the situation. But Jesus knows what he is going to do. Through the power of God, the food that they do have – five loaves and two fishes, shared by a young boy – is enough to feed the great crowd.
We sometimes feel overwhelmed, like Jesus’ disciples, when we’re faced with great needs and seemingly inadequate resources. The Lord calls us to follow the example of the nameless and silent young boy in today’s Gospel. He handed over generously the little that he had, and left the rest to Jesus. If we respond as generously as we can, with trust in Christ’s power, we can leave the rest to him.
Jesus sends the twelve apostles out to preach in the towns and villages. What do they have to say to the people? At this stage of Jesus’ ministry, his death and resurrection, and many of his great miracles, are still in the future. But the apostles can speak of their own encounter with Jesus. They can recount how he has changed their lives. The Twelve preach repentance – a change of heart that leads to the forgiveness of sins. They bring healing to the sick. Their preaching presents the people with a choice: those who reject the Good News are challenged by the prophetic gesture of the apostles shaking off the dust of the place from their feet.
Jesus tells his missionaries to travel light, without money, food or spare clothing, relying on the hospitality of strangers. If we can speak with conviction about how Jesus has touched our lives, then we don’t need to carry a lot of baggage. Our witness is enough.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter two desperate people. Jairus, the synagogue official, is a man who holds a position of respect in the community. But when he comes to Jesus, he is simply a worried father, seeking help for his sick daughter. The unnamed woman is desperate because she has been suffering for twelve years from a painful complaint that makes her ritually unclean, and so isolates her from family and society. They both approach Jesus in faith, believing that he has the power to help them. And Jesus responds to their faith. The woman is told that her faith has healed her. Jairus’ daughter is restored to him.
These two miracles show us that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who has come so that we may all have life to the full. We may not experience a miraculous physical cure, but we will know the healing that the Lord desires for us, if we turn to him in faith.
John the Baptist was chosen by God to play a unique part in the plan of salvation. John would become the prophet who would proclaim to the people of Israel the message of repentance and forgiveness. He would announce the coming of the Saviour, and would witness by the sacrifice of his life.
John’s special mission is foreshadowed in the events around his birth. He was born miraculously, to elderly, childless parents. His coming was foretold by the angel Gabriel, and God gave him the name ‘John,’ meaning ‘God is gracious.’ The words of the prophet Isaiah were fulfilled in him: ‘The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.’ No wonder that people asked, ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ But that question could be asked of any newborn child. Each one of us has been called by God before we were born. Each of us is chosen and named for a special part in God’s plan. Every disciple, in their own way, can be a prophet of the coming of Christ, as John was.
The kingdom of God is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Speaking to people living under the harsh and oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, Jesus teaches them in parables how different the world will be when God rules in the hearts of believers. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice, mercy and reconciliation. The two parables that we hear in today’s Gospel show us that the kingdom of God cannot be suppressed. The kingdom sprouts and grows, night and day. It grows like a mushroom bush, sprawling and spreading, impossible to root out. The seeds of the kingdom of God are our small acts of care and kindness – small expressions of faith. From such tiny seeds, God brings growth and fruitfulness beyond our imagination. This is what the kingdom of God is like.
Jesus’ public ministry has only just begun, and already great crowds of people are following him, to hear his teaching and to seek healing from illness, disability or possession by demons. But others are not so sure. Jesus’ relatives, motivated by love and concern for him, are afraid that he must be out of his mind. Why else would he leave behind home and family for the life of a wandering rabbi? The scribes, meanwhile, are blinded by jealousy when they declare that Jesus’ power over devils can only come from Beelzebul, the prince of devils himself.
Jesus’ response to the scribes is to point to the fruits of his ministry. How can Satan cast out Satan? Jesus’ healing power comes from the Holy Spirit. And even for his own family, Jesus has a challenging reply. Anyone who hears his words and does his Father’s will is his mother, sister or brother. His disciples are his family. Jesus models for us a love that is inclusive and uncompromising – and he asks us to follow his example. What might be obstructing us from responding to Christ’s call?
In the Gospels, Jesus is often shown sitting at table with his disciples, sharing food and conversation and teaching them about the kingdom of God. At the Last Supper, Jesus does something radically new. As he shares the bread and wine with the Twelve Apostles, he tells them: this is my body; this is my blood. By the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the Cross, the new covenant is established between God and humanity, bringing the promise of eternal life. Every time the Church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ is present among us, as he was present to the Apostles at the Last Supper. The celebration of the Eucharist is the very heart of our life as a church. Our celebration unites us with Christ and with one another, and impels us to go out to the world and share Christ’s love with our neighbours. Today, as we celebrate God’s gift of the Eucharist, we also acknowledge the generous commitment of those who serve our communities as Ministers of Holy Communion.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. Jesus reveals to us that God is three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and yet one God. It’s a mystery that is beyond human understanding. But what is revealed in the mystery is that at the heart of God is loving relationship. Together, the three Persons of the Trinity represent the fullness of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father. The Holy Spirit is their love for each other. We are made in the image of a triune God; the Father, who created us, his Son who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us.
We are baptised as Christians in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and so our lives as disciples, and the life of the Church, should reflect the life of the Trinity. God empowers us to be creative like the Father, compassionate like his Son, and give our talents freely in the service of others like the Holy Spirit. In this way, we can reveal God’s love to the world.
We can’t see the Holy Spirit. In today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke uses images to express what can’t be described literally: the reality of the coming of the Spirit. The Spirit’s coming ‘sounds like’ a powerful wind, and ‘seems like’ tongues of flame descending on the heads of the apostles. The Holy Spirit is not seen directly, but the Spirit’s actions are plain to see. The apostles are given power to witness to the Good News in all the languages of the world. The division of the human race into different languages and nations is overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit, as people from all parts of the world can hear and understand the apostles’ preaching. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. Paul, in the Second Reading, describes what the Spirit brings to the Christian community: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will bear these fruits in our own communities, and we will be credible witnesses to Christ.
Today is World Communications Day. In his message for today, Pope Francis speaks of the danger of ‘fake news,’ which appeals to prejudice and promotes anger, resentment and division. This is the Pope’s prayer for World Communications Day:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
Where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
Where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
Where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
Where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Jesus uses images to help his disciples to understand his teaching. In last Sunday’s Gospel, he spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd, who knows each of the sheep of his flock by name, and cares for them with such love that he lays down his life. Today, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and his disciples as the branches. This conveys the idea that we can only flourish and be fruitful if we are connected to Christ. “Cut off from me, you can do nothing” – but if we remain part of the vine, making our home in him, we can grow in love. To remain part of the vine means sharing in the life of the Church – prayer, sacraments and community. We can achieve very little by ourselves, but as part of the vine – as members of God’s Church – we can bear fruits of love and charity, and so glorify God our Father.
Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. The role of a shepherd is to care for his sheep and keep them safe. A good shepherd is one who looks after the sheep, not simply as a job or a duty, but with love and care. We are Jesus’ flock; he knows each one of us by name, and he loves us so much that he lays down his life for us. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when the Church around the world prays for vocations to the ordained ministry of priesthood and diaconate, and to male and female religious life. The Church needs shepherds who will care for God’s people with compassion and dedication, following the example of Christ. In his message for today, Pope Francis says: “In the diversity and the uniqueness of each and every vocation, personal and ecclesial, there is a need to listen, discern and live this Word that calls to us from on high and, while enabling us to develop our talents, makes us instruments of salvation in the world and guides us to full happiness.” Let us pray today that men and women will listen to God’s call, discern their response and live out their vocation with a generous heart.
The season of Easter lasts for fifty days. After the joyful celebration of Easter Sunday, we have a whole season to reflect on Christ’s Resurrection, and on what it means for us. And the Gospels show us that Jesus’ disciples, too, needed some time to begin to grasp the meaning of the Resurrection. Today, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus appearing unexpectedly among them. He lets them see that he is truly risen, and not a ghost. He opens their minds to understand the scriptures, showing them that everything has happened to fulfil God’s plan. He brings the disciples peace and forgiveness of sins. And he sends them out to witness to all the nations. The mission of the Church began with the Lord’s commandment to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and that mission continues today. By our baptism as Christians, we are witnesses.
Mark’s account of Christ’s Passion is stark and straightforward. Jesus is abandoned by everyone. Judas betrays his friend to the chief priests. Peter, James and John can’t stay awake to watch with him in Gethsemane, and Peter denies three times that he even knows Jesus. The chief priests and the soldiers mock and jeer at him, and the crowd joins in – the same crowd that, a few days earlier, was shouting ‘Hosanna’ as Jesus entered Jerusalem. The only help that Jesus receives comes from Simon of Cyrene, compelled to carry his cross, and the only recognition is from an unnamed Roman centurion, who acknowledges him as a ‘Son of God.’ Jesus dies utterly alone, feeling himself deserted even by his Father. He has emptied himself completely in atonement for our sins. But the Father will raise him up. When we feel most alone and abandoned, or when we are tempted to despair at our sins, the Passion of Christ reminds us that God’s love and mercy reaches into the darkest places of our lives. God our Father will raise us up.
Today’s Gospel begins with some “Greeks” – Greek-speaking Gentiles – asking to see Jesus. It seems that his mission is succeeding. The Good News is being heard, even beyond his own people. But Jesus sees very clearly that the time of his death is approaching. The chief priests and Pharisees are already plotting to kill him. His words to his disciples are both a warning of what is to come, and a prophecy. Of course, Jesus is troubled by the thought of suffering a violent death, but he chooses it freely, in obedience to his Father’s will. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God will be glorified, and humanity will be saved from sin. His death will yield a rich harvest, opening up the way to eternal life for us all. Our celebration of Easter reminds us of the price that was paid to set us free from sin. The way to our salvation is through the suffering of Christ.
The season of Lent is also the season of spring. The snow is gone – we hope! – and the world is coming back to life. The first flowers are peeping through, and the days are getting longer – less darkness and more light. Today’s Gospel links the ideas of light and life, when Jesus, speaking to the Jewish teacher Nicodemus, describes himself as the light that has come into the world, and as the one who brings eternal life for those who believe in him.
The light can make us uncomfortable. There are some parts of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden. But we shouldn’t be afraid of the light. Jesus comes to bring mercy, not condemnation – life and not death. Israel’s dark time of exile ended when God showed mercy to his people. Now is the time for us to step out of the darkness of sin and sadness, into the light of God’s mercy.
It may startle us to see an angry Jesus in today’s Gospel. We are more used to seeing him gently blessing children, or reaching out to the sick with a healing touch. Today, Jesus makes a whip and drives out the money-changers and the animal sellers. But John doesn’t tell us that Jesus hurt anyone – though he certainly caused a commotion.
What drove Jesus to such anger? The Temple was God’s house – a place of prayer and worship for the whole Jewish nation (and for foreigners too.) The money-changers converted pagan, Roman money into shekels that were acceptable for offerings to the Temple. The animals sold in the Temple were guaranteed to be without blemish and suitable for sacrifice. Money was being made out of the people’s faith. Jesus, with a dramatic gesture, demanded a purification of the whole system. He was filled with zeal for his Father’s house.
Today’s first reading warns us against the worship of false gods. Money, especially, can easily become a false god that gets in the way of our worship of the one true God. The Gospel reminds us to purify our hearts during the season of Lent. We are called to live by the wisdom of God, not of the world.
God puts Abraham to the test, by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. God’s demand seems shocking to us. It would be shocking to Abraham, too. It was common for pagan nations to offer up their children to appease their gods; but the God of Israel forbade the horror of human sacrifice. For the people of Abraham’s time, the very life of a father himself was bound up with the life of his child and heir. There was nothing more important to Abraham than Isaac, the son whom God had given to him and Sarah when they were well past the normal age of raising a child. If Abraham gives up Isaac, he will have nothing left but his trust in God. But he doesn’t hesitate to offer to God what is most precious to him: and God, seeing Abraham’s faith, rewards him with blessings beyond his imagination.
If we are shocked that God could ask the faithful disciple Abraham to sacrifice his son – even as a test – we should be even more shocked that God would sacrifice his own Son for our sins. There is no limit to God’s love for us.
Before Jesus begins his public ministry, the Spirit drives him into the wilderness for forty days. He is tempted by Satan, and in physical danger from wild beasts, but the angels look after him. He knows that his Father is close to him. As we begin the forty days of Lent, the Spirit invites us to spend some time in the wilderness ourselves; to reflect on our lives and on our need of God. Traditionally, the Church encourages us to make Lent a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer means making time to be alone with God, to listen to God’s Word and to ask God for what we really need. Fasting sets us free: from ‘creature comforts’ that help us to get through the day and cope with its demands, but which can come to control us; and from habits of sin that can tie us down. Almsgiving is a real and concrete response to Christ’s commandment to ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ But in order to find space for reflection and contemplation, we need to step back from some of the things that usually keep us busy, and that always seem so important. At the start of Lent, we are invited to go into the wilderness with Christ, so that we can be ready to rejoice at his Resurrection.