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Archive for October, 2012

St. Peter Chrysologus

The Golden-Worded

c. 406 – c.450

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Gospel, Mark 10:46-52  Jews traveling between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south skirted the intervening territory of Samaria by following the Jordan valley to the east.  The Jordan valley is called a “rift valley”, an area where two tectonic plates have been moving away from one another for thousands of years creating a great depression from the Sea of Galilee (640 feet below sea level) in the north to the Dead Sea (1290 feet below sea level) in the south.  Six miles north of the Dead Sea and about five miles west of the river lies the city of Jericho, an oasis with a significant outpouring of water, making it a lush green gem in the midst of the parched desert terrain.  Jericho was the only city of any size along the entire route north to Galilee and west to Jerusalem.  Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) was the chief tax collector at Jericho, becoming prosperous from taxes paid by the many wealthy people who maintained residences there.  Bartimaeus, in today’s gospel, made a living from the many visitors and travelers passing through Jericho.  As any blind street beggar would do, Bartimaeus had a regular spot along the main road leaving Jericho for Jerusalem.  The 17-mile journey wound through a desolate territory of craggy rock outcroppings where robbers often waited to attack a solitary traveler (see the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37).  People rarely traveled the route alone but, instead, gathered near the entrance of Jericho in the early morning to make the trip with the security of a large group.  This scene takes place near that gathering point in that early morning hour. 

It is notable that Bartimaeus is mentioned by name rather than merely “a blind beggar”.  This may indicate that he was known to the early Christian communities for having become an outstanding disciple of Jesus.  There may also be significance in the meaning of his name.  On this point, however, there is a difference of opinion as to exactly what “Bartimaeus” means.  The word “bar” is Hebrew for “son”.  The second part has been interpreted as “unclean”, thus “son of uncleanness” referring to Jesus making him clean.  The more likely interpretation is that the name derives from the Greek word “timao” meaning a “prize” or “something of value”.  People commonly considered blindness, as well as other physical sufferings, to be punishment for God for their sins.  As such, they would not have seen much value in the blind beggar.  Jesus would have seen value in Bartimaeus that other people overlooked…truly a “son of value”…and Jesus gave him value as he followed him as a disciple. 

Bartimaeus had undoubtedly heard about Jesus from snippets of conversations as people passed by.  He may have fantasized about Jesus passing his way and what he would do.  Hearing that Jesus was actually passing by that very moment, Bartimaeus was not going to lose his opportunity.

Bartimaeus cast his cloak aside.  Certain groups in society were identifiable by the clothes they wore.  It may simply have been that beggars, for lack of resources, wore shabby cast-away clothing.  Casting the cloak aside is a symbol of putting aside one’s old way of life for a new one.

What Bartimaeus wants is obvious.  Why does Jesus ask him rather than just go ahead with the healing?  Jesus honors Bartimaeus by inviting him to state what he wants, something Jesus did for nearly everyone who sought his healing power.

Jesus tells Bartimaeus to “go your way”.  He give Bartimaeus freedom to choose his own way, and Bartimaeus chose the way of Jesus.  Before being called “Christians” followers of Jesus were known as people of the Way.  May we, like Bartimaeus, make Jesus’ way our way.

Reading 1, Jeremiah 31:7-9  Jeremiah was born in a village near Jerusalem around 650 BC.  He received his prophetic call as a young man during the reforms of King Josiah whom he supported.  Josiah’s successors, however, lacked zeal for the faith and got caught up the old idolatries and political intrigues which placed their small nation on a collision course with Babylon, one of the world powers of the day.  Babylonia eventually overran Judah and destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in 587 BC, forcing all people of influence into captivity in Babylon.  Because he had encouraged the king to be true to his commitment to Babylon and was at the time of the conquest imprisoned in Jerusalem, Jeremiah was not taken into exile but set free.  Tradition indicates, however, that, on his way to find a place with Jewish settlements in Egypt, Jeremiah was killed by fellow Jews who blamed Jeremiah’s preaching for their downfall.  The latter part of the book of Jeremiah transitions from the need for reform to post-exilic promise of a new covenant and return to their land.  This reading is taken from those words of consolation and promise.

Not all Jewish people were taken to Babylonia.  A great number escaped to resettle in lands throughout the Mediterranean region.  This spreading out to many lands is referred to as the “diaspora”.  In 539 BC, 48 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Babylonia was defeated by Persia whose king Cyrus issued an edict permitting the Jewish people to return to their own land.  When Jerusalem and its temple were eventually rebuilt, it became a destination for pilgrimage for the majority of Jewish people who remained in the lands where they had settled.  By the time of Jesus it was common for 100,000 visitors to come “home” to Jerusalem for Passover and other major celebrations. 

Reading II, Hebrews 5:1-6  The High Priest offered gifts and sacrifices for all the people, particularly on the Day of Atonement.  The word translated as “deal patiently” is used in classical Greek writings to designate finding the golden mean between excess and lack of passion, thus the perfection of compassion.  This is the only place the word appears in the Bible.

Melchizedek was both king and priest of Salem (later Jerusalem) during the time of Abraham.  The text quoted in this reading is taken from Psalm 110:4 and referred to David who was a leader of both prayer and government I the same city.  Jesus becomes the perfection of this “order” of Melchizedek as both priest and king of the Kingdom of God.

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Pope St. Leo the Great

Doctor of the Unity of the Church

c.400 – 461

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St. Cyril of Alexandria

Doctor of the Incarnation

Seal of the Fathers

c. 376 – 444

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Gospel, Mark 10:35-45 Jesus had recently caught the apostles arguing over which of them was most important (Mark 9:33-37).  They were jockeying for positions of authority in the kingdom they expected him to establish here on earth.  Jesus’ teaching at that time did little to advance their understanding of the real nature of the kingdom or dampen their ambitions.  In Matthew 20:20-21 it is the mother of James and John who takes her boys in tow and puts the question to Jesus.  Here James and John bring their request to Jesus by themselves.  It is a brazen move, and we can imagine that the brothers had talked about it a great deal as they strategized how to get the key positions of authority which the other ten apostles also coveted.  Their boldness may have come from considering themselves Jesus’ favorites, two of the three (along with Peter) on the inside track selected to accompany Jesus on those occasions when the others were told to stay behind.  Their opening statement, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask”, betrays their confidence…or overconfidence…in their relationship with Jesus, like children making a request from a doting parent.  How odd it seems to us to ask that God promise to do our will unconditionally when it should be the other way around…we should be seeking to do God’s will unconditionally. 

Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they are asking for.  They don’t really understand Jesus’ true identity, the nature of his mission, or the reality that will be his kingdom.  They quickly declare “Yes!” to being able to share Jesus’ cup (“sharing one’s cup” is an Old Testament way of stating a sharing in the destiny assigned a person by God) and baptism (which will be one of suffering and death). 

We shouldn’t get down on the two for their attempt.  The other ten were after the same thing, just less blatant about making their wishes known, thus explaining their reaction of indignation at James and John.  Jesus tries to prepare them for his kingdom by indicating that they must have a different mindset than worldly rulers who lord it over people rather than serving them.

A fun note for left-handers like myself:  The Greek word for left hand used here as James and John request places of honor at Jesus’ right and left hand is “euonomos” which translates literally as “well-named”.  Greeks considered the left hand as the lucky side, a rare positive attitude regarding left-handedness in comparison to the words used for left-handers in most other languages: sinister (Latin), bad (Korean), weak (Swahili), clumsy (Portuguese), etc.

Reading 1, Isaiah 53:10-11  This text is part of the fourth passage in Isaiah (42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50;4-9a, 52:13-52:12) depicting the figure of the Suffering Servant of God.  Did Jesus think of himself as the embodiment of the Servant?  He didn’t say so directly, but he did speak of his mission of suffering: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected…and be killed” (Mark 8:31).  Note also the similarity of the words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11), and the first verse of the first Servant passage, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased” (Isaiah 42:1).  Note also the similarity between the first verse of this reading (53:10b) and the last verse of our gospel (Mark 10:45).  Christians, from early on, identified Jesus as the Suffering Servant. The traditional Jewish interpretation of this passage referring to the nation of Israel rather than to any single person developed in the 2nd century AD and was possibly a polemic against the Christian interpretation of it referring to Jesus. 

What could it mean that “the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity”?  To “please” does not here infer “enjoyment” but rather the Lord’s willful decision for the fulfillment of his plan which would somehow prosper specifically because of the total self-abnegation of the servant.  I think it is a bit clearer in the Jewish translation of this text: “It pleased the LORD to crush him by disease, to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the Lord might prosper by his hand.” It is clearly a statement of atonement.   

Yom Kippur is also called the “Day of Atonement”.   Jewish Talmudic scholars were divided over the nature of atonement, whether or not a person can atone for the sins of another or only his or her own sins.  The Isaiah text would seem to back the first interpretation.  The servant’s self-sacrificing readiness to bear misery relieved and delivered those guilty of sin from retribution.  By allowing his own life to be consumed as a guilt offering, he might lead the guilty to forsake sin, inspiring heartfelt repentance by recognizing the grave consequences of their sins either as they affect themselves or their affect on the lives of others.

Reading II, Hebrews 4:14-16  Jewish law set up cities of refuge to which a person guilty of committing unintentional homicide could flee and find asylum.  According to Numbers 35:28, “there he must stay until the death of the high priest”.  As the High Priest brought atonement for all of Israel through the rituals of Yom Kippur, the death of the High Priest brought atonement for the inadvertent manslayer.  This passage gives extra meaning to this text in which Jesus is referred to as a “great high priest”.  It also gives us insight into how the prestige and authority of being high priest had become self-serving resulting in use of the office for one’s own benefit rather than serving the people.

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St. Augustine

Doctor of Grace,  Doctor of Doctors

c. 354 – 430

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St. John Chrysostom

The Golden-Mouthed Doctor of the Eucharist

c. 347 – 407

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