You can tell Lent us around the corner by the tone of the Gospel readings Mk 9:30-37. They are increasing the talk of the Passion of Christ. “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” To the disciples this is new, today it the foundation of our faith. In Jesus’s discussion He emphasizes the duty of service over authority. Jesus also mentions here the importance of children. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” With this emphasis on children, I can’t help but notice the prominence of children in the two great celebrations of Christianity; Christmas and Easter. Christmas with the presents under the tree, and Easter with its baskets and bunnies and candy. They are the infant’s first introduction into the faith. That also should be the focus of both childhood feast days, and they are feast days in the truest sense for children. Both days are joyfully anticipated even if not for the right reasons. Easter does have a learning curve. Today it starts with an Easter basket or an Easter egg hunt, and that should correctly lead into the discussions and education on the good news of Jesus Christ. To the Apostles and disciples the order was reversed, Jesus told them of His coming death and resurrection. It was later that they learned to celebrate it. They did not anticipate Easter day, they struggled to reach it and were uncertain what awaited them. Theirs was a hard fought learning curve, and a struggle to come to terms with their newborn faith. That struggle brings us to the season that will soon begin, not the celebration of Easter but the struggle through Lent. In many parts of the world the season abruptly begins on Ash Wednesday, but in many localities there has been a building up to that Ash Wednesday. In many Catholic countries Carnival is in full swing. Some think of the carnivals of Europe, others of Louisiana, some South America and also the festive celebration going on in places like Haiti and the Caribbean. I know that some do not condone these celebrations because of their carnal nature, but they do bring so much emphasis to the Lenten season. They reach their peak at Fat Thursday, and properly abruptly stop Ash Wednesday. Properly celebrated they are also more festive and colorful than carnal, the sin becomes overly evident when celebrants only indulge in the excess and never plan to participate in the penitential season that follows. Greed and economics also tend to push what sells, and it is hard to peddle a fast. Still though, I am glad to see places that still celebrate Carnival correctly as one season that emphasizes the importance of the season to come. Finally, let me put a quick plug in for the carnival that is currently going on in Haiti !
Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
The last day of carnival ends today with Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the last hurrah before Ash Wednesday and the Lent season. The celebrations oddly have become more popular, extravagant ribald and riotous even though the Lenten fasts and abstinences have become far less demanding.What once was a nearly 40-day devotion of fasting and abstinence,lent has become less strict than most moderate diets. What purpose then do traditions of the celebration of Mardi Gras serve? Though they have become commercialized parties, Fat Tuesday is not an isolated celebration. It both is the culmination of the Carnival season that began at the feast of the Epiphany and also the day before the start of Lent. Put in that context Fat Tuesday becomes important; it allows us to celebrate Christ and also to focus on that passion of Christ. Both the celebration and the penance have meaning; the celebration perhaps to rejoice in Gods creation, and the penance as a reminder that sometimes we get overly occupied with the earthly, and forget the heavenly. To celebrate just the carnival and Fat Tuesday simply leaves us fat and in a stupor. Fasting and abstinence without meaning just leads to hunger and discomfort.The two in the proper relationship to each other though lead towards a perspective that at least gives a glimpse of the glorious. In the cycle of the rosary there were three cycles of prayer: the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious. The joyful meditate on the events clustered around carnival. The sorrowful cluster around the events of Lent. It takes both these to reach that glorious events of Easter.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is curious that Luke tells of Jesus preaching at the sea of Galilee by using the name Lake of Gennesaret. That name translates to ” a garden of riches.” How fitting that name is as this is where Jesus tells Simon to cast his net over the side for a catch that is so abundant it tears the nets.It is a subtle way of telling the readers about the abundant catch to be made at that lake shore. When Jesus went to preach there, I wonder why he chose first to enlist the help of fishermen and why he went through the steps of first having that fisherman set off a short distance from the shore, and then venturing farther out. Fishermen play such an important part within Jesus ministry, their enlistment can not be simple chance. What qualities did they have that Jesus thought invaluable? The crowds at this shoreline were large, why choose a fisherman that was off to the side listening at a distance? Fisherman would have tended to be somewhat solitary, or at least comfortable with a small community of fellow fisherman. Their work would lead them away from the crowds, and away from much of the commotion of the day. Their lives focused on the sky and the sea. The sky that is the heavens, the dwelling place of the God(s), and the sea that was the dark forbidden place of uncertainty In a way they were suspended between heaven and hell. On a blue sky day being on the water was heavenly, and a sudden storm placed them in a living hell.What a different perspective they had from the city dweller.Perhaps when Jesus had them push a short way off into the water, this placed them into a comfortable place where they could observe the crowds yet still be separated from it. That is how they spent much of their lives as both part of a community, but also a little isolated. That is the perspective they had when listening to Jesus while repairing their nets. Listening yet detached.
Jesus then has that fisherman push off further from the shore into deeper waters. Here is an environment the fisherman is comfortable with, though this time their eyes are not focused on the waters surface but on the crowds. Skills fishermen needed in this environment were the ability to judge both the water and the sky. They needed to maneuver to find their catch and to peer into the water. They needed the skills of Judgement and of observation. They needed to use their boat to shade the suns reflection on that waters surface to see what was beneath so they might know where to lower their nets. When Jesus told Simon Peter to lower his nets, Simon Peter tells him that they fished all night and caught nothing but at Jesus command he would lower his nets. How much different it must have looked fishing on that sea in the sunlight, especially with the reflection of that large crowd dancing on the waters surface. From that distance and perspective they must have looked like the largest of schools of fish surrounding that boat. They dropped their nets and they were full.
It was no accident that Jesus chose fishermen as his disciples. The had the ability to detach themselves from society and view the world from a unique perspective. They were observant from years of reading the waters and peering into those waters to find their catch. These are skills Jesus needed to train his fishers of men.
“He brought in the head on a platter
and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”
-from Mk 6:14-29
“Let brotherly love continue.
Do not neglect hospitality,
for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”
– from Heb 13:1-8
The two daily readings strongly emphasize the difference between the Old and New Testaments in terms of ideals. Marks Gospel recounts the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. Paul’s is from a letter to the Hebrews. Herod is obsessed with maintaining authority and the showing of strength and might. The crowds that were gathering around Jesus thought he might be John raised from the dead. With that Herod becomes concerned and recounts his authority in the beheading of John. Herod’s ideal world places him as sole authority and his authority is over life and death. His view was not unique in that ancient world. Conquering nations and supreme rule were the objectives of the emperors and it was that mindset Jesus’s people contended with daily. Their rulers ruled with a brutal power over life and death.
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews he sets out the agenda of Christianity and that is “let brotherly love continue.” To them that is the ideal of the day. In their testament there is no justification for beheading, or stoning, or crucifixion, or rule of one human being over another. To them it is not their rule that counts, but only Gods. John the baptist is that pivotal person between the Old and New Testament.. His world’s testament ends with his body being laid in a tomb. Paul’s testament begins with Jesus rising out of a tomb. Jesus conquers the death bestowed upon him, and also that death inflicted on John. That conquering of death defeats the brutality of those ancient kings and emperors just as it defeats the dictators of this day. It conquers not through the brutality of the Old Testament, but through the message of love proclaimed in the New.
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.”
When Jesus sends out his disciples he lists all that they can not take and then the items they should take. The can-not’s are food, sack, and money. The things to take are a walking stick and sandals. The items they do take point to the fact that they are on a journey.The walking stick and sandals that aid them on their journey. Then though the instruction is “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.” This almost seems a contradiction. On one hand the dialogue implies that those Apostles are not to make a place their final destination, and then they are told to “stay there until you leave from there.” Why? If these travelers were to stay at a house only until they were rested from their journey, that house would simply serve a purpose. They would gain the benefit of the house, yet the house would gain nothing: it is simply there to serve the guest. On the other hand if they stay until they leave from there, the house would need to be just as as where they started, and they started their journey with Christ. In leaving from there, they would have served their purpose of delivering Christ to that house. Their Journey is both from Christ and towards Christ. Their journey is not to be served but to serve.