Today is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. We continue in the very early portions of St. Mark’s Gospel, and today we learn in Mark 1:14-20 that John the Baptist has already been imprisoned before Jesus called the Twelve. The chronology suggests that Jesus did not begin his own public ministry until the Baptist had been removed from the scene. Today’s Gospel focuses on the call of the Twelve. Mark’s Gospel has a strong note of urgency; the expectation that the Coming of the Kingdom is imminent. The second reading from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, has this same note of “drop what you are doing and prepare for the Kingdom, for it will soon be at hand.”
I suspect that there is some misunderstanding about the terms “The Twelve” and “the Apostles.” In the New Testament the terms do not mean precisely the same thing. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is working with the focus of preparing Israel for its final deliverance at the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Part of this restoration is the reconstitution of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a number of which had died out by the time of Jesus. Establishing a unique group of Twelve as the leaders of the New Israel, as Jesus did, is a concrete gesture of preparation for the final coming of the Kingdom. The term Apostle is generally applied to those who both walked with the Lord and, in particular, experienced him alive after the Resurrection. St. Paul is nowhere mentioned in the four Gospels; yet later he will claim the title of Apostle on the grounds that the resurrected Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and turned him from Saul to Paul.
In my own parish this weekend my pastor presented us with his annual overview of our church’s life and spirit. Few times in my life have I heard such a unified and cohesive presentation. Beginning with our basic identity as a congregation in the Roman Catholic Communion, he proceeded to our parish’s mission statement and then, new this year, he cited what he called core values. He listed six, evidently the fruits of consultation with his four advisory boards, and while I don’t have them written down in front of me, (we are to receive a mailed booklet this week) I do recall several, including the priority of the celebrations of sacraments, faith formation, and social outreach. He integrated the issues of stewardship and finances into our parish’s life in such a way that writing the weekly envelope check seemed more like a prayer than a spiritual insurance policy.
This move to concrete commitments of pastoral focus and excellence is very good administrative leadership. The perennial adage that “the church is all things to all men” looks good on banners and letterheads, but even divine institutions are limited by space and time, as we see time and time again in the ministry of Jesus. Institutions need focus; living from crisis to crisis or inspiration to inspiration burns out pastors, staff and parishioners faster than anything else and prevent church ministers from enjoying the time they need for prayer, family life, and professional development. The practice of annual evaluation of goals, and staying the course with the same vision is itself an indispensible component of faith formation. Thus, it was highly encouraging to me to see my parish make public its marching plan presented in such pastoral precision.
This Sunday marks the beginning of Catholic Schools Week across the country. In my parish the younger school children, dressed in uniforms, assisted in various ways at our Saturday Vigil Mass and gave us our church bulletin as we left. They will do so today as well. There is an open house at the school today from 9 AM-2 PM, very well publicized at our Mass last night. I was almost tempted to go back this AM for the free food.
Our parish school of 600+ students (preschool-eighth grade) is now 19 years old. My wife was the founding principal and served in that capacity for seventeen years until her retirement in 2013. There is nothing harder than succeeding a founder (ask President John Adams) but the transition had that “seamless garment” quality, and her successor continues the academic and religious excellence alongside a palpably good morale without transitional hiccup. Again, good administration is an invaluable charism or gift from God.
How are things in your parish this weekend?
Several days ago I wrote that the Sunday Gospels of this liturgical year, B, follow the Gospel of St. Mark in sequence. So, if you went to church today expecting to hear the Gospel of Mark, you may have been surprised that today’s Gospel is drawn from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. There is a reason for this that I neglected to explain earlier, and I should have tipped you off.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of all the Gospels at 16 chapters. Compare this to Luke’s 24, John’s 21 and Matthew’s whopping 28. Stretching the Markan Gospel over a full liturgical year would have been a challenge. But there is another pastoral consideration here as well. Mark’s Gospel is a collection of the saving works and deeds of Jesus, his teachings on the cost of discipleship, and the Passion. There are thirteen miracles in the first half of the Gospel alone (compared to John’s seven in his entire Gospel.) Again, as I wrote earlier, there are few parables or lengthy discourses or extended teachings of Jesus recorded by St. Mark, possibly because of limitations of his resource material, but more likely because Mark remained focused upon his theme of the suffering servant of God awaiting the coming Kingdom.
St. John’s Gospel, by contrast, is the logical complement to Mark and the editors of the 1969 lectionary chose to incorporate readings from John side by side with Mark. John wrote his Gospel at least several decades after Mark; by this time the challenge facing John was establishing once and for all the full nature of Christ as God and man, “…and the Word became Flesh.” John’s few miracles are dramatic and well-known. They are proclaimed with great solemnity at the liturgies of the Catechumenate during Lent (the Man Born Blind, the Raising of Lazarus, etc.). But Jesus’ miracles in John’s Gospel are the introduction to what we might call his doctrinal teachings. Chapter 6, which we will hear for several weeks this summer, begins with the miracle of the loaves and fishes but expands into the timeless teaching of Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Today’s Gospel is a synopsis of what probably happened at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when disciples of John began to drift toward Jesus. Interestingly, the phrase describing Jesus’ “walking by” or “passing by” John and his two disciples has multiple meanings in its original Greek, ranging from “passing away” (from the Baptist?} to “passing through,” with overtones of the passage through the Red Sea. The context of the Gospel suggests the latter with the initiative of Jesus in connecting with these men to reveal himself to them as a Savior in the Mosaic sense at the Reed Sea. Not to be overlooked is the clock: the English translation of 4 PM indicates that the sun was still shining brightly. John the Evangelist uses the position of the sun skillfully throughout his Gospel. The sun shines brightest when the truth and glory of God are fully revealed. Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at high noon with powerful results. On the other hand, Nicodemus timidly approaches “at night” and when Judas left the Last Supper, “it was dark.”
Something I discovered today: when using the USCCB site to look up the daily readings, look for the “Bible” heading on the menu at the top and drop it down. The USCCB Daily readings resource can be obtained daily by email if you wish. I would recommend as a general point that you mark the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in your “favorites” tab under religious resources.
Regarding this weekend today marks the beginning of the annual Church Unity Octave, a week of prayer for the end of divisions of the Christian Family. Monday is the national civil observance of Dr. Martin Luther King; Thursday is a day of prayerful observance in the U.S. on behalf of legal rights for the unborn as well as the annual D.C. March for Life. I am curious if your parish promoted or marked these events this weekend and how it was done.
On My Mind