Christ is not ‘right’ or ‘left’ but is deep in his radicalism
The Liturgy of the Word for the month of October pictures Jesus as a radical. That is not in the common political usage of the word. Jesus is not radical “right” or “left.” He is radical “deep.” The Lord this month takes us down to the roots of our relationship with God. If we want to be a disciple of Christ, we need to follow him heart, mind and soul to the depths of his relationship with the Father. This month’s liturgies challenge us to do just that.
The second readings for all four Sundays of October come from the Letter to the Hebrews. They basically tell us how radical Jesus is in his dual relationship to the Father and to us. Then, the Gospel readings, which come from the same 10th chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, show the “radical” Jesus in action.
We’ll start by meditating on Jesus as he is presented by the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. On the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct. 7), he describes Jesus as coming from God and becoming perfect in his relationship to us humans through his suffering. Jesus is divine and he is human. That concept of the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity is absolutely radical both in the two natures of Jesus Christ and in his call for us to join him.
The following week, the Epistle tells us the word of God is a two-edged sword cutting bone from marrow. It’s sharp, indicating that our thoughts and actions are an open book to God. Jesus, the Word of God, enters into our lives as a razor-sharp scalpel cutting through us without our feeling it. Jesus is that radically within us who desire to share our lives with him. On the next Sunday, we hear the softer side of our relationship with our Savior. Just as when Jesus walked the streets and roads of the Holy Land, so also he enters our lives as one who can sympathize with us. He can share our life; and, once there, he can free us from sin.
The last Sunday of the month we encounter a startling fact about the radicalism of Jesus. Like a high priest, the Lord deals patiently with us for “he, himself, [the high priest] is beset by weakness.” Just think of Jesus being tempted in the desert, and by the crowd that wanted to make him king, and by Peter who counseled him against sacrificing himself on the cross. Then, consider Jesus’ anguish as he strove to live out his radical decision to accomplish the will of his Father. And so, the passages from Hebrews provide us the background to appreciate October’s Gospels.
Preceding his 10th chapter, Mark had narrated the events of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus revealed that he was the Messiah and was going to Jerusalem to die and rise again. The first two events of that journey already took place. The first was Jesus’ Transfiguration; and the second was the healing of a possessed boy. That brings us to chapter 10. In the first verse (which is not in our liturgical reading), Mark writes that Jesus crossed the border into Judea.
This was dangerous territory for him. The authorities would be after him. Accordingly, you could begin to feel the tension in Mark’s narrative. The end of the chapter has Jesus going up the road from Jericho (which, at 1,000 feet below sea level has the lowest elevation of any city on Earth) to Jerusalem where the next event would be Palm Sunday.
On the first Sunday of October, Mark has the scribes questioning Jesus. They seem to have been waiting for him at the border. They wanted to know Jesus’ teaching on the grounds for divorce. He gave them a much more radical answer than they had ever heard before. He told them there are no grounds for divorce. He admitted Moses did permit divorce; but that was because of the people’s hardness of heart.
Jesus’ rationale comes from the Genesis passage quoted in the day’s first reading that God joined Adam and Eve and made them one. Therefore, “what God has joined, man must not separate.” (In Matthew’s presentation of the same event, he adds an exemption for ‘immorality,’ which refers to marriages that should not have been entered into at all as in the case of incest).
Mark’s rendition emphasizes the radical nature of Jesus’ position. Marriage was a sign of God’s plan from the beginning. Divorce negates that sign because it is a symptom of human “hardheartedness” to which Moses acquiesced in the desert. No follower of Jesus should be hardhearted. Rather, matrimony, as a sign of the Kingdom, needs everlasting mutual love to make it real. Since a hard heart cannot truly love, it should not exist within a marriage. With no hard hearts there would be no divorce. Radical love would prevail. That’s what Jesus came to establish in his Kingdom.
The second Sunday’s gospel reading continues Jesus’ journey to where a rich young man asks the Lord what he can do to attain eternal life. The question already is radical. Jesus’ response is more so. After questioning the man further, Jesus determines the man would indeed make a good disciple. So, he gives him the ultimate answer. First, you have to sell everything you have, then give it all to the poor and come follow me. The answer was radical, but it came from Jesus’ loving heart. He desired a positive answer. He didn’t get it. The cost of discipleship is “everything we’ve got.”
Jesus then makes the radical statement that still strikes to the core of affluent Christians. “It is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Over the years some have offered explanations that water down the basic meaning of those words. None of them pass the biblical experts’ credibility tests. Mark meant for Jesus to be that radical. Elsewhere, Jesus says we can’t serve both God and money. He’s consistent. So, we should try to give ourselves totally to the Kingdom. If we have the courage to pay the price of discipleship, then we become free to love unconditionally.
On the third Sunday of October, the Gospel tells us of James and John asking Jesus for a favor. They want to be on Jesus’ right and left when he enters his glory. A few days earlier they were privileged to see Moses and Elijah on either side of the Lord. Jesus does not treat them as if they were arrogant or out of place. Rather, he asks if they can drink the cup. Drinking of the cup means more than foregoing wealth. Ultimately, it means death. For the present, it meant getting rid of pride and becoming the slave of all. Jesus is calling James and John and us to be as radical as he is.
The final Sunday of the month presents one of the most overlooked personalities in the Gospels. On Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, Mark has described several people who spoke to him. Each could be judged as to how good a disciple he would make. None of them would merit more than an ‘incomplete’ on their report card. That is until the last stop before Jerusalem. There, Jesus finds Bartimaeus. The only gift he seeks of Jesus is pity. He has no money and no ego. His heart is earnestly focused on the Lord. He refused the rebukes of Jesus’ followers to be quiet. And he called Jesus “Son of David.” Jesus appreciated that name and realized the great insight of that blind man. When he called him over, Bartimaeus “threw away his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus.” This was a blind man. Doing this was akin to walking on water and not falling down out of fear. His only words directly to Jesus were, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus’ reply was “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” That was not the end. Mark reports that “immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” Jesus’ next and last stop was Jerusalem, and Bartimaeus was there with him.
Bartimaeus is the ideal disciple. He would have no problem with divorce or giving up riches or drinking of the cup of suffering, or losing self-esteem. For him, following Jesus was an upgrade. He proves to us that becoming a true disciple of Christ is possible. We can attain to such a status. Let’s allow this month’s scriptures to motivate us to wholeheartedly giving our lives to Christ and entering the Kingdom of God.
Sunday, Oct. 7: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
Monday, Oct. 8: Galatians 1:6-12; Psalm 111:1-2, 7-10; Luke 10:25-37
Tuesday, Oct. 9: Galatians 1:13-24; Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15; Luke 10:38-42
Wednesday, Oct. 10: Galatians 2:1-2, 7-14; Psalm 117:1-2; Luke 11:1-4
Thursday, Oct. 11: Galatians 3:1-5; Luke 1:69-75; Luke 11:5-13
Friday, Oct. 12: Galatians 3:7-14; Psalm 111:1-6; Luke 11:15-26
Saturday, Oct. 13: Galatians 3:22-29; Psalm 105:2-7; Luke 11:27-28
Sunday, Oct. 14: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
Monday, Oct. 15: Memorial, St. Teresa of Jesus, virgin, doctor of the Church, Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, and 4:31–5:1; Psalm 113:1-7; Luke 11:29-32
Tuesday, Oct. 16: Galatians 5:1-6; Psalm 119:41, 43-45, 47-48; Luke 11:37-41
Wednesday, Oct. 17: Memorial, St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop, martyr, Galatians 5:18-25; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Luke 11:42-46
Thursday, Oct. 18: Feast, St. Luke, evangelist, 2 Timothy 4:10-17; Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18; Luke 10:1-9
Friday, Oct. 19: Memorial, Sts. John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, priests, martyrs, and their companions, martyrs, Ephesians 1:11-14; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 12-13; Luke 12:1-7
Saturday, Oct. 20: Ephesians 1:15-23; Psalm 8:2-7; Luke 12:8-12
Sunday, Oct. 21: Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
Monday, Oct. 22: Ephesians 2:1-10; Psalm 100:1-5; Luke 12:13-21
Tuesday, Oct. 23: Ephesians 2:12-22; Psalm 85:9-14; Luke 12:35-38
Wednesday, Oct. 24: Ephesians 3:2-12; Isaiah 12:2-6; Luke 12:39-48
Thursday, Oct. 25: Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19; Luke 12:49-53
Friday, Oct. 26: Ephesians 4:1-6; Psalm 24:1-6; Luke 12:54-59
Saturday, Oct. 27: Ephesians 4:7-16; Psalm 122:1-5; Luke 13:1-9
Sunday, Oct. 28: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
Monday, Oct. 29: Ephesians 4:32–5:8; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Luke 13:10-17
Tuesday, Oct. 30: Ephesians 5:21-33; Psalm 128:1-5; Luke 13:18-21
Wednesday, Oct. 31: Ephesians 6:1-9; Psalm 145:10-14; Luke 13:22-30
Thursday, Nov. 1: Solemnity of All Saints, Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Friday, Nov. 2: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls), Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23:1-6; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40
Saturday, Nov. 3: Philippians 1:18-26; Psalm 42:2-3, 5; Luke 14:1, 7-11
Father Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.