Living the readings: A perfect slice of life

We receive wisdom when we’re in unity with God

By Father Joseph Brando

October turns green leaves into orange and red and playfully blows them to the ground so that we can hardly tell up from down.

That’s the joy of fall. Earth and sky fuse together.

October is the month the World Series begins. The October liturgical readings separate winners from also-rans theologically. Life and death compete. God and man form a team that brings victory and salvation for mankind and exaltation for our savior.

As a work of art, October blends biblical themes to produce a picture that excites our faith to glory in what Christ has done for us. We can better appreciate what is happening each Sunday of October if we cut and paste the readings in a different order.

We’ll start with the Old Testament readings first. Then we’ll study the letter to the Hebrews, which provides us with the second reading for all four Sundays this month. We’ll conclude with an analysis of the 10th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, which neatly fits into the four Sundays of October.

It all begins with God looking over his act of creation and his observation that “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God sees there is a dynamic in human beings that stems from our yearning to fill the void of “being alone.”

Alone, Adam was incomplete. So God removes a body part from Adam and creates out of the one person two, Adam and Eve. Then we have an editorial comment by the compiler of the book of Genesis, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one flesh.” That is the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. What was originally one can be reunited through the decision of created men and women.

We can experience the cosmic joy of completing the birthing process of creation. When a man and woman unite in marriage, the two become one life-giving unity that continues God’s creative activity.

Implied in the first Sunday’s Old Testament reading and blissfully defined in that of the next Sunday is that Adam needs more than Eve. He will still experience loneliness if he is not united with God.

The reading from the book of Wisdom introduces us to another necessity of life that renders our life complete.

It comes to us as a splendor that surpasses the attraction of gold, or beauty or light or power. It is the wisdom we receive when we are in unity with God. So only when we realize this oneness with God do we possess true wisdom and enjoy life.

On the third Sunday of October, the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the book of the prophet Isaiah raises the major problem that plagues God’s creation to this very day, namely sin. And it presents an answer to the problem. In the second part of the book, a spiritual descendant of the prophet Isaiah has written four poems intended for those deported from Judah to Babylon who were bearing the harsh results of their own sinfulness. The poems feature a “suffering servant.”

Written six centuries before Jesus’ birth, they remarkably prefigure our Lord and his passion. In effect, Jesus’ suffering is redemptive. Astoundingly, our sinfulness brought about our compassionate God’s response of sending his own Son to achieve our salvation. Think of it.

Our sin is a cause of God becoming one with us! Or we can become one again with God by acknowledging our sinfulness and asking for forgiveness. Sharing in the pain of Jesus, we become one with him in suffering and in his exaltation at the right hand of the Father.

The joy that this engenders is borne out in the last Old Testament passage from the prophet Jeremiah. Also writing to the exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah answers their question about how they should live. Should they be remorseful or rebellious at their new masters or make the best out of a sorry situation? They were in a position much like the basic problem of life today. The answer was (and is still) “shout with joy for Jacob.” Why?

“Because the Lord has delivered his people.” That is to say, we are not alone. God is with us. Our family and friends are with us. From God’s point of view He tells us “I am a father to Israel. Ephraim is my first-born.” God has even forgiven the civil war that had divided Israel into two factions. God makes good out of evil. So, rejoice! We rejoice because the problems that carry back to the creation of the world have been solved. God has saved us.

Now, we go back to the beginning of October to look at a parallel train of thought, namely that of the letter to the Hebrews. These four readings take us from the Old Testament framework we just visited to our present relationship with Jesus, the Christ.

It begins with an amazing realization that the Second Person of the Trinity willed to become a human being, lower than the angels.

That was God’s plan to lead us, humans, to salvation. It was a neat plan. God took flesh and joined us. He suffered and died. When we suffer and die in Christ, we become one in Christ. Now, from the very moment of his human conception Jesus always remained God. So, when we share in the human life of Jesus we also share in his divine life. When Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father, we, who shared in his suffering, experience the joy of salvation with him who shared our pain.

How can this be, you may ask? This question and more are answered in the second installment of Hebrews on the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The answer comes out as we meditate on the nature of the “Word of God.”

It is living and effective, penetrating soul and spirit.

The Word of God is also a living person, the Son of God. By means of the holy words of sacred Scripture, God, the Son, can penetrate through our senses into our soul. As Hebrews says, “every creature is naked and exposed to him who will judge us.”

Since that judge also loves us to the extent he suffered and died for us, we are freed from sin and should enter eternal life rejoicing.

So the writer of Hebrews doubles down on his argument in the next installment on the third Sunday of October. Jesus is not only our judge, he serves also as a High Priest in heaven offering to the Father his own human life on our behalf. He sympathizes with us. That should affect our present attitude. Knowing that Christ, right now, is pleading for us and offering himself to the Father for us as well as judging us, then our constant attitude is one of asking for God’s help in the form of mercy and grace.

The last point the letter to the Hebrews makes in the last Sunday of October is about the nature of a high priest on earth. Here he is very much a human being who is beset by weakness and serves as a representative of people by offering sacrifices to God.

However, (no doubt referring to Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan) God was heard saying, “You are my Son.” The author also quotes God saying, “You are a priest forever.” Presumably “forever” means from creation to the end of time. That includes now. So, now is a good time to ask Christ to be our priest.

The third and last string to follow is the incredibly deep 10th chapter of Mark. Each of the four Sundays contain one-fourth of the chapter. One can look at the chapter as depicting the final days of Jesus before Holy Week. It can also be seen as Jesus’ search for the perfect disciple both to follow him and to serve as a model for us. As such, it can very well present all the attributes a disciple of Jesus needs to possess.

Mark begins with a reminder from the Garden of Eden. There, we are told that the two (Adam, Eve, and all married couples) become one flesh.

That allows no breaking up. So that tells any potential disciple that his or her decision to follow Christ is forever. It told the scribes and Pharisees that writing a divorce document was not God’s plan. Moses allowing such a document was based on the people’s hardness of heart. In God’s kingdom the only hearts allowed were kind, soft, and warm. So no such hardness would be expected in a disciple.

Then Jesus upbraids his own disciples for chasing children away from him. Jesus is truly disconcerted by that action. Accordingly, Jesus is telling us the qualities one finds in youngsters are exactly what he expects in disciples. They are trusting, innocent, humble, eager to follow, unafraid.

This reminds us that as a child himself (12 years old was a year away from becoming an adult), Jesus, no doubt filled with childish enthusiasm, intended to become a disciple in the temple.

In the second installment, Mark 10 takes us to Jesus’ dialogue with the rich, young man who wanted to enter eternal life. First off, Jesus seems to be bothered by being called “good.”

Maybe the man was trying too hard to “butter up” Jesus. That was like the expression Mary Magdalene used on Easter when she recognized Jesus.

Nonetheless, Jesus answers that the man should live the commandments.

He answered that he did so. Jesus, then, changes his attitude and invites the man to follow him, but only if he would give everything he had to the poor.

He couldn’t do that and went away sad. This event lead to Jesus’ saying that it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. So neither insight nor desire are tickets to the kingdom; but love of poverty and disdain for worldly riches are.

And Jesus kept searching.

In the third segment, you might think Jesus had come upon sure candidates, his own disciples James and

John. Perhaps trying to console Jesus at a particularly difficult time (it could have been the time Jesus heard that

John the Baptist had been executed), they ask Jesus that they may be at Jesus’ right and left when he enters his glory. Jesus tells them in reply that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Then, He asks them if they can drink the cup and be baptized in His baptism.

So acceptance of suffering and a cruel death are needed to enter glory.

Then Jesus addressed the real problem at hand and that was leadership.

To lead in the kingdom is to be the servant of all. To be willing to give your life as a ransom is necessary.

The next section of Chapter 10 is the last. Who is the best example of the perfect disciple? In all of Mark’s Gospel until the Passion narrative the only people named are John the Baptist, Herod, the Twelve, and Jairus, the synagogue leader whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead, and this man, Bartimaeus. He was yelled at like a child. He immediately got rid of all his possessions, namely his outer garments. He ran to follow Jesus when he started the last stage of his journey to Jerusalem and certain death. He had complete joy in the Lord. He wanted to see and recognize who can give him true sight. Here, in Judah, he called Jesus the title he seemed to like the most, Son of David.

It contained deep insight. There is the true disciple. He followed Jesus with joy.

At the end of October storekeepers will be taking in the remaining Halloween merchandise and replacing it with more Christmas items. May the readings we just studied make your religious preparation for Christmas the best ever.

 

Father Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.

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