Jesus Teaching in the Synagogue, St. Elizabeth Convent Catalog.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished.  Mark 6:2.

Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Today’s gospel includes this deadly observation: “Is he [Jesus] not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” Jesus was so familiar to them that they could not believe that he, being so lowly born, could aspire to such a height as preaching in the holiest building in town. In other words, they stereotyped him; he was a common man, so he could not be a good preacher (despite the evidence of their own ears and eyes). Sound familiar? Stereotyping is, I believe, responsible for an enormous amount of suffering in the world, all of it unnecessary. Denying the humanity of a person because of incidentals (or accidentals as philosophers might call them), such as skin color, accent, type of work, education level and so on, is to deny that person’s God-given humanity. It is wrong, evil and sinful. Jesus was to be stereotyped later as the messiah as desired by the Jews, he who would rid them of the despised Roman occupiers and restore the kingdom of David. He wasn’t, and as he had failed to live up to that stereotype, he was put to death. Stereotyping is remorselessly evil.

Also, this passage, and the similar one in Matthew 13:55, is where Jesus is identified with a specific family in Nazareth, with mother, father and relatives enumerated. But the phrase “son of Mary” might also be an insult, as men were always called sons of their fathers, in this case it should have been Jesus son of Joseph, Y’shua bar-Yosef. But on this occasion he was called Y’shua bar-Miriam, almost certainly meant to be demeaning.

Then there is the very interesting statement about Jesus’ brothers and sisters, found in passages from Mark and Matthew. We have been brought up to believe that Jesus was an only child, born of a virgin who remained such forever, and was never married. The tradition that Jesus was an only child is extremely old and the Catholic Church has very old teaching surrounding that. However, the term “brother” can be very wide. For example, in Shakespeare’s play “Henry V”, before the battle of Agincourt, which was a spectacular English victory over the French, the king, rousing his reluctant troops, concludes by saying:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii.

So what has all this to say to us today? I think it is this. Too many times in my life I have been reluctant to speak of God’s presence within us and around us. I fear being condemned, just as Jesus was perhaps in today’s scene in the Synagogue, because I am just a regular fellow, nothing special, and afraid to hear words such as “Who does he think he is talking to us like that?” So I have remained many times silent. Jesus, on the other hand, did not remain silent, even though such words hurt him, resulting in He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, as it says in today’s gospel. Spiteful words can hurt deeply, and it takes courage to speak out about certain things, such as God’s mercy and love, when there is a danger of provoking a response like that. But, on reflection, and not wanting to be condemned as a holy Joe, carefully chosen words might be wholly salutary, deeply beneficent to those hearing them. Ezekiel was emboldened to speak by God’s strength in the first reading, and Paul actually states that when I am weak, then I am strong, able to speak with the power of Christ dwelling in him, not relying on his own power. That same power dwells in us. We too should be God’s mouthpiece when we are called to bear witness, for when we are weak, then we are strong, possessing the strength of God!


Jesus Christ preaching on a boat on the sea of Galilee, megapixl.com.


Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.


© SundayMassReadings.com

Happy July 4th!


PentecostPentecost, Mayno 1618, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings. 

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…   Acts of the Apostles, 2:3-4a.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that there were Jews in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost from all over the place, stating that there were “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene…” just to emphasize the point. They were not there to celebrate the Birthday of the Church which is not too surprising as at that moment the entire Christian Church was huddled in a small room somewhere in the city, fearing for their lives. Being the followers of the crucified criminal Jesus of Nazareth, they expected to have the same punishment meted out on them for claiming he was the Messiah. The gospel of St. John tells us that they were behind locked doors, and says it twice! They were definitely not pilgrims for the feast of Pentecost! Yes, it was originally a Jewish festival, and still is, except the Greek name for the feast has been changed to the Hebrew name, Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks. We Christians eventually took the name of Pentecost to ourselves! Pentecost sort of means weeks; the Greek word Pentēcostē, Πεντηκοστή, means fiftieth, or the 50th day, about seven weeks, after Passover. It was originally the Hebrew feast of the First Fruits of the Harvest, but evolved into the Feast of the Law, the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai. Tradition had it that 50 days after leaving Egypt, the Hebrew people arrived at Sinai. In a sense, the first fruits of their liberation was the acceptance of God’s Law, hence becoming the Chosen People. It became one of the three Jewish pilgrimage festivals, meaning those who could would journey to Jerusalem and worship in the Temple (the other festivals are Passover and Sukkot, the feast of shelters or tabernacles, shortly after Yom Kippur). And so Jerusalem was packed that day, as mentioned in today’s first reading. Then it happened.

What could possibly explain the total and complete transformation of a group of terrified people huddled in a locked room, into boisterous, loud, preaching and proselytizing missionaries for that same Jesus of Nazareth?

A loud bang, a strong wind (inside the locked room), something looking like flames of fire coming down on each of them huddled there, and they were all transformed. The locked door was ignored, smashed open, never to be locked again. The Christian message was unleashed on the world for the first time, and the church was born! Not only that, but these new missionaries could suddenly speak all those languages listed above, out of the blue. It was as if the curse of the Tower of Babel, the sinful pride of whose builders angered God so much that they suddenly could only speak in incomprehensible languages to each other (Genesis 11:1-9), was reversed! All who would listen could now hear the new teaching in their own language. The new teaching was universal! Whoever it was that had achieved all that, had God-like power of transformation and focus. The Church was born! 


The Cenacle, the “Upper Room” in Jerusalem. Traditionally, this is the site of the Last Supper and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Well, it was the fulfillment of the promise Jesus had made before ascending to his Father in heaven, commemorated ten days ago. As told at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, he ordered them to “stay in Jerusalem (which at least two, fleeing to Emmaus, had disregarded) and await for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And what a difference that made! It was perhaps the greatest miracle in the Church ever, without which, it must be said, there would be no church. Those cowering people, terrified that a knock on the door would mean crucifixion, could never have carried Jesus’ message anywhere. It would have died with them. Instead, there they were, out amid the Pentecost pilgrims proclaiming the New Covenant, one which overshadows the Old Law or Covenant (the very focus of the Pentecost festival), which had been revealed by none other than the man crucified only 50 days earlier, the Messiah himself. That was what they were preaching fearlessly  to anyone who would listen. 


Symbols of the Holy Spirit of God, Loyola Press.

This day inaugurated the Age of the Holy Spirit. Centuries before, beginning with the still small voice of God talking to Abram/Abraham, recorded in the 12th chapter of the Book of Genesis, we slowly became aware of God the Father, as God gradually revealed His Divine Nature, through the centuries, to the Hebrews. The Father spoke through the prophets, but then at last sent His Son to speak to us directly, the Age of God the Son. Jesus interpreted all that we knew of God in such a way that we, too, could be the children of God by obeying his teachings and following his example. After his return to the Father in heaven, our present Age began, guided by the Holy Spirit of God, whose immense powers were vividly on display on this birthday of the Church. The last 2000 years have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the church, especially through the saints who have called us back to The Way (the first name given to the Christian Church) time and again. So today the first Christians received the powers of God’s Holy Spirit in the most dramatic and successful way possible, and began to spread the Word to the world. We are their successors. It is up to us to continue spreading that same Word in whatever ways are open to us. This can be directly through what we say and the way we say it, what we do and how we do it, and indirectly through our example of decent Christian living. And ultimately in the overall impression we give to those around us, who, we hope, will be attracted to that same source of strength, hope and happiness which give us our reason for living day in and day out. 


Symbol of The Holy Trinity, Lightstock.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.


© SundayMassReadings.com


The Four Presences of Christ, National Catholic Educational Association. 

[Jesus said] “…where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:20.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s had a great deal to reflect on, and enacted a large number of reforms in the Church. Not least among them was replacing the use of Latin in the Mass with the language of whatever place the Mass was said. For someone like me, this was a breathtaking change. The Latin Mass was something which had been in place for over 1000 years, something which would never change. But it did. The consequences of this still resound in the church today. The Council stated this was not only to enable a greater understanding of the central and most sacred liturgical action in the Christian Church, but also to enable other Christians to see and understand what the Roman Church meant by it. Remember that the “Real Presence” of the Lord in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass was one of the most divisive factors in the Reformation. The Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy also stated the Church’s strong belief that the presence of the Lord is also to be found in the sacred writings, in the presence of the priest at Mass and in the gathering of the faithful, “two or three” to use Jesus’ own words today. Primarily, however, the consecrated elements of bread and wine are the ultimate foundation of this belief. In fact, the greatest privilege a priest has is to preside at Mass. Ask any bishop, ask the Pope himself, and you would get the same answer, to preside at Mass. So the Mass should be the supreme demonstration of Christian love, celebrating Jesus’ love for us, fulfilling his promise to be with us forever until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). Given that, but knowing human frailty, Jesus tried to create a model which would help achieve that goal even when there is division. It is all shaped, I believe, by possibly his strongest of all commands, that we forgive, forgive and forgive again. So if our brother sins against us, we are obliged to forgive him, but also to address him directly, a confrontation devoutly to be avoided most of us would say. But there it is, from the lips of the Savior himself. If there is no admission of guilt, then further action has to be taken, and ultimately, given no change, he is to be “treated as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, which is to say, to be excommunicated from the community. That is to be done even though you have forgiven him, unsaid by Jesus, but fully in line with his teaching on forgiveness. 

The thought occurs here that this confronts a frequent criticism hurled at Christians that we forgive anybody for anything and even let people get away with murder. But in today’s gospel we have a wrongdoer being punished for his evil act, whatever it was. In fact, if you transpose this gospel teaching to the supernatural world, it seems to say that the wrongdoer will end up in hell, an existence I have always equated not with devils, fire and pitchforks, but with a solitary existence, a solitude, a loneliness forever, forever without any hope ever. If you put yourself always first in this life, then that’s what you get after. Jesus is very clear on something else too: that the facts, as stated by two or three witnesses, have to indicate clearly the guilt of the sinner. So it is clearly the stubbornness of the guilty party that is the reason for his punishment. We often read of court cases where the accused shows no remorse over the crime committed. That always seems to have a huge effect on the ultimate punishment. One might think prisoners at the bar might make at least an attempt at remorse, but some do not, which makes Jesus’ words today even more understandable, though bear in mind that God will know the difference between remorse and show acting… So the lack of remorse displays defiance, a “me first and always” attitude, leading to self-destruction, as suggested above. As the second reading states clearly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law, and, one might add, the pathway to life and love eternal. Surely that is worth remorse, shame and admission of guilt and the hope of forgiveness? Continue reading



Flag and Coat-of-Arms of the Vatican City State (the “Holy See”).

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said to Peter] “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and ……. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”   Matthew 16:18-19.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

Have you ever stood under the spectacular dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and looked up? In clear capital letters you will see the Latin words: “Tu es Petrus and super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum” “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven” all taken from today’s gospel.


This passage from Matthew is the locus classicus for the claim that the Pope is the legitimate successor of Peter, believed to have been the first Pope, and is therefore the primary leader of the Christian Church, just as Peter was 2000 years ago. It also contains a pun in Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek and no doubt other languages, but unhappily not in English. For example, in French, the gospel reads “Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon église” In all those languages, “Peter” and “stone” or “rock” are the same word. Jesus is equating Peter with the foundation of the Christian community which will continue after him. In the original, with Jesus speaking Aramaic rather than the Greek of the gospel writings, he nicknamed Peter Cephas, meaning rock (or Rocky?). The dome of St. Peter’s also stands directly over what is believed to be the tomb of Peter, three stories down from the high altar, and so the church is literally built on him! (Note that the only connection in English between Peter and rock is the word “petrification” and “petrified”, or turned to stone; not helpful, even though the name Peter is indeed derived from the Latin word Petrus). His tomb, underneath St. Peter’s, is near what was once a narrow lane through a pagan necropolis open to the sky. Take a look:

st peter's tomb

Tomb of St. Peter. (This video takes a little bit of learning to operate, but persevere…)

Additionally, today’s gospel from Matthew is also the origin of the keys in the arms and flag of the Vatican City State, as you can see above, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Also, any church statue of a man holding two keys means it is St. Peter, as they are his symbol.

So what does today’s gospel mean for us today? Jesus seems to be doing a sort of review of progress so far. I think many of us could understand this in terms of an annual job review, with compliments on what has been done well, and goals set to improve the rest. His disciples gave him that, reporting that some say he is John the Baptist returned from the dead, or, even more spectacularly, Elijah or Jeremiah. After that, Jesus wanted to check on them: “Who do you say I am?” One can imagine a moment of silence, as they all presumably thought he was the long awaited Messiah. Peter stepped forward and stated it out loud and clear: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Remember that “Christ” means the Anointed One, or Messiah. So at that moment Jesus must have thought that they had understood everything about his mission, his vocation, and declared Peter to be the very foundation of this new community. Today’s gospel ends at that point. The very next verses prove, unhappily, that they did not understand his mission! They firmly believed he was the messiah of Jewish hope and expectation, the one who would restore the kingdom of David and expel the hated occupying pagan forces from the land of Israel. On the contrary, when Jesus stated that his mission would end in disaster and death, Peter objected strongly, to which Jesus replied “Get behind me Satan…” (Matthew 16:23), this same Peter who had just been given the keys of heaven! Jesus then said that his followers must be prepared to take up the cross and follow him; his call to all of us is just as strong today as it was then. Note the hidden lesson here. How many parents and teachers have there been who have tried to decide what their children and students should be rather than pointing out their strengths and talents, and allowing them to figure it out? Jesus strenuously rejected his disciples’ false image of him as he already knew what the prophecies concerning  the Messiah meant. Our children and students are still finding this out. All we should do is praise their strengths, their gifts and perhaps indicate all the possibilities they might consider, rather than thrust our own choice on what they should become instead of just suggesting it as a possibility.

As we are currently confronted with Covid 19, we must act as true followers with strength, dignity and conviction that ultimately truth, good health, will prevail. But we too, almost despite all that, must declare our belief in Jesus’ identity and vocation, as it is also ours. Remember we are adopted daughters and sons of God, with our vocation to be Christ to the world. So, following today’s gospel, perhaps it’s time for some personal introspection; what progress have we all made along that path? Do we seek glory and power in our own world, or the profound satisfaction that we are doing our best to be servants of all, as Jesus was, offering all to God?


Arms of Pope Francis, Vatican City gardens.


Arms of Pope Francis explained.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.


© SundayMassReadings.com



The Procession, Swanson 1982.

Click here to read the daytime readings for this Sunday’s Mass Readings.

Then there appeared to them tongues as of  fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….    Acts of the Apostles 2:3-4.

This day marks the event which changed everything. It took place originally on the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, 50 days after Passover, one of the three Jewish feasts of pilgrimage (the others being Passover, and Sukkot, the Feast of Booths later in the year). The Jews in Jesus’ days called it Pentecost, meaning in Greek “fiftieth”, 50 days after Passover. That being so, pilgrims to the temple in Jerusalem may have stayed on after Passover to celebrate Pentecost also. Hence the crowds referred to in today’s reading (“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem”). Subsequently, Christians took over the Jewish-Greek name, so that today Pentecost is considered completely Christian. Christians also call it the feast of The Descent of the Holy Spirit, and the Birthday of the Church. The Christian term Whitsun is also employed for today, coming from the old English, or even the Anglo-Saxon, word “wit” meaning understanding or wisdom, given to Christ’s followers by the Holy Spirit on this day 2000 years ago. Our Jewish brothers and sisters today call it Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks after Passover, but it is also the thanksgiving Feast of the First Fruits of the Harvest, when the first buds had appeared in the fields. Also, by tradition, it was 50 days after  escaping from Egypt under Moses that the Hebrew refugees arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God, so it is also known as the Feast of the Law.  That makes a total of seven names for this combined feast! It also marks one of the greatest events in Christian history, the sine qua non of our church.

Consider it. The entire Christian community in the world was crowded into a small upper room somewhere in Jerusalem. They were praying, we are told, behind locked doors. Jesus had basically ordered them not to leave Jerusalem until the “gift” arrived, whatever that was (Acts 1:4). They were terrified that what had overtaken Jesus would happen to them too, as his followers. So they were in what would be called a “safehouse” today, fearing the worst, but hoping for… something. The crowds outside would be going to and coming from the temple giving thanks for the beginning of the year’s agricultural yield, and thanking God for their identity as God’s Chosen People, remembering the time when God chose them out of all the peoples of the world to receive the sacred Law.

Then it happened, as described in today’s first reading.

If I might venture an opinion, I believe this to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, “proofs” of God’s existence. What else could possibly explain how this terrified bunch of individuals suddenly opened those locked doors, never to be locked again, and rushed out into the Shevuot crowds to proclaim the news that the world’s savior, their Messiah, none other than the Son of God, had been in their very midst? The exact claim that had led to Jesus’ execution they were now shouting out loud to anyone who would listen to them. It was a complete and utter reversal which, I believe, can only be explained by the direct intervention of the finger of God, this time under the guise of tongues of fire. The arrival of the Holy Spirit of God inaugurated humanity’s third and final age, following that of God the Father in the time of the Old Testament, the time of God the Son with the life of Jesus among us, and now the time of the Holy Spirit, the age in which all of us are privileged to live. And, picking up on last week’s consideration of the Holy Spirit, note that the original Greek word “wind” in today’s first reading is πνοης, pnoēs, which can also be translated as “breath”. Hence you could say their safehouse was filled with God’s very breath, from which emerged tongues of apparent fire. Jewish identity had sprung from the Law; Christian identity springs from the very breath of God, breathing life, as it were, into that terrified Christian community, just as God’s breath had breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7). Nothing could, can or will contain that, hence the doors were burst open, the locks smashed and forgotten, and Jesus’ message has been proclaimed ever since.

And here we are, 2000 years later, but again cowering inside away from the covid-19 evil without. But there is a significant difference. We know that we will emerge at some time in the near future. In the meantime, this is an opportunity to consider the state of God’s church community today and our place in it. Where does each of us fit in? Each of us is the work of God as is the church community itself, and we all have a role to play. Am I playing it? Once we return to what is being called the “new normal”, what contribution will we all be able to make in helping the church recover its mission in and to the world? At the moment our opportunity is limited, but that means we have the time to pray, reflect and consider carefully what each of us can contribute. In that way, once the “self isolation” has vanished, then we can act on what this time of reflection suggests. Then we, each of us, can be God’s Holy Spirit breathing more life and strength into the institution we love and its mission. Hence this present lock-down can be considered God’s time if we are generous enough to make it so.


Pentecost, Pixabay.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage on to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.


© SundayMassReadings.com


The Worship of Mammon

The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn de Morgan 1909, De Morgan Centre, London, UK.

Click here to read Today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”       Luke 16:13.

When I was on Wall Street, I felt empty. I tried to fill that hole inside me with money and power and prestige. But that hole doesn’t get filled by money — it gets filled by connection and empathy and love (Sam Polk: Why I walked away from Wall Street—and millions of dollars). Last Sunday I talked of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge and their relentless pursuit of money to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Marley realized his mistake in doing this on his deathbed; Scrooge relived his whole life (and its ending) with the help of his three spirits and came to the same conclusion, and knew what had to be done to make amends. Today’s readings carry the same message; in the gospel’s own words, You cannot serve both God and mammon. That word mammon comes to us directly from the Bible, and derives ultimately from the ancient Aramaic term for money or wealth. As a teacher of many years, I know that many young people are really focused on making as much money as possible, today even more so. The thinking is to make enough so that they will not retire into poverty and squalor, convinced that America’s social security funding will evaporate and knowing that many companies do not have pension schemes for their employees. So today’s perception of wealth seems to flying the face of Jesus’ words stating wealth contradicts God. So perhaps the whole question rests on Jesus’ use of the verb serve. Does one serve wealth or God? Is our priority here to make money exclusively or to be true to the gospel? 

In the same 1951 Christmas Carol movie I drew upon last week, Scrooge’s first two efforts to atone when he woke up on that Christmas Morning (following his nightmarish adventure) were to send a huge turkey as a gift, anonymously, to his clerk Bob Cratchit; the other, on the same day, was to give his housekeeper Mrs. Dilber a present into her hand of a gold sovereign (a valuable gold coin in circulation at that time) and a raise in wages.

Screen Shot 2019-09-14 at 14.33.57

A Christmas Carol, Renown Pictures Corporation 1951,  Alastair Sim & Kathleen Harrison.

Her incredulity at the change in Scrooge’s temperament and attitude can be seen clearly: is this the same man who has treated me so poorly for years? Scrooge himself cannot believe the change within himself; he even says he doesn’t deserve to feel so happy as he plans his new life! What he does, of course, is immediately to help those around him whom he has abused for so long. At long last he has recognized and accepted their dignity and given them the respect that every person deserves, including even his own family. So the question is, is that incompatible with making money, with making a living? Clearly not. It is legitimate and necessary to earn enough to keep body and soul together so long as we never forget those around us who are not so fortunate. Christians have an obligation to assist others who are in need, even if it does hurt somewhat to give of one’s own wealth. Remember the story about the widow’s mite and Jesus’ teaching that we should give of our substance, not just “contribute” where we would not really miss the amount. In other words, we have to intend to be and actually be generous, and hence be pleasing in God’s eyes, especially if no-one knows about it except God…  So this means that wealth – mammon – is not the beast in charge of our lives, but rather our servant, slave even, actually helping us to become true Christians, loving God and neighbor and also ourselves in appropriate and unselfish ways. And so it, mammon, wealth, serves us rather than the other way round. As a consequence, we should be able to achieve the peace that the second reading today talks about, when St Paul says, “It is my wish, then, that in every place we should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” 

22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

The Widow’s Mite, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo c.500, Ravenna, Italy.


Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

© SundayMassReadings.com



Jesus Teaches, 1886-1894, Jacques Tissot Watercolor Series of the Life of Christ, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, USA.


Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?     John 6:67-68.

Today’s gospel continues the theme established several weeks ago, where Jesus lays the foundations of what would become the Eucharist we all celebrate to this day. If we do not accept the gift of his flesh and blood then we have no life in us, he says. Today is a further elaboration of this basic – and on the face of it – shocking, teaching. But today’s teaching  has the key to understanding it. Jesus says today that flesh “is of no avail”, and that it is spirit “that gives life”. So he must be talking somehow of a spiritual flesh and blood that will give life. Even so, this was the final straw for many of his followers, spirit or no spirit. Such a teaching was way beyond their understanding or tolerance. Many left him, hence Jesus’ plaintiff question to his closest friends today, “Do you also want to leave?” The fact that his closest disciples did not leave him might be behind Jesus’ statement that they remain because God the Father has granted them such loyalty. They are of course free to leave, but at Peter says, where else could they get such incredible teaching which carried with it the gift of eternal life, even though they almost certainly did not understand it? They had accepted that he was the Holy One of God, the long desired Messiah, and that was why they still followed him. Almost certainly, on the other hand, his teachings must have bewildered them. No-one had ever taught such things before, but they trusted him so deeply that they knew somehow it would lead to holiness, to eternal life.

The second reading seems to attempt to give a human parallel to the relationship between God and the followers of Jesus, the church. With deepest respect on both sides, two people who love one another truly and profoundly become one in their union. In the same way God and Jesus’ followers, whom we call the church, are also united in love and become one together. Just as God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has demonstrated the qualities of power, loyalty, forgiveness, mercy, the ability to listen, the love of freedom and an openness to relationship through the Scriptures and through human history, so we must show those same qualities towards God and each other today, and so become one in mutual love and respect. Hence in that way, true Christians reflect here on earth the image of heaven, with the life of Jesus at its heart animated by the Holy Spirit This fulfills the very teaching we see in today’s gospel, because where else can we go to find  the words of eternal life?


Jesus Goes Up Alone Onto a Mountain to Pray, 1886-1894, Jacques Tissot, Watercolor Series of the Life of Christ, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, USA.

© SundayMassReadings.com



Millais_-_Christus_im_Hause_seiner_ElternJesus in the House of his Parents, 1850, John Everett Millais, Tate Britain, London, UK.


“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”           John 6:51

……But isn’t he the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? So spoke the people listening to the brand new teaching Jesus was giving them. As we saw a few Sundays ago, it was well nigh impossible for Jesus’ neighbors to accept his teaching. In fact, today’s teaching is still striking 2000 years later! Giving one’s flesh for the life of the world??? Whaaat? There were striking stories from the Hebrew Scriptures about miraculous food, as seen in today’s first reading, but Jesus’ words went way beyond anything in the Old Testament. But bread, or some basic solid food, comes up several times in Scripture. There is of course the manna (which can be considered a kind of life-sustaining bread) in the desert, feeding the grumbling and complaining Hebrews, condemned to wander around the wilderness for 40 years because of their lack of belief. Elijah in the first reading has a “hearth cake” to eat, another image for bread. But most important of all is the unleavened bread of the Passover described in detail in the Book of Exodus. It had to be prepared in haste, hence no time for yeast to rise, to enable the Hebrews to be nourished sufficiently to escape from slavery in Egypt. In other words, it was the antidote for starving in the desert. It represented life in a rather more dramatic way than the humble loaf of bread might represent today. Jewish people to this day call Passover and the six days following  the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Hence it represents freedom from oppression as well as life-sustaining food, life to the fullest. But it could not last. Death comes to everything. And that’s exactly where Jesus stepped in with his new teaching. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” he said to the dumfounded people of Nazareth. And what was this bread? My flesh, was the answer. It is easier for us to understand what must have been their reaction to what Jesus said! But Psalm 34, today’s response, seems to be strongly prophetic: “Taste and see how good the LORD is…” Please note that LORD is capitalized. That means the original Hebrew text says YAHWEH, God’s most sacred name. But how could a Hebrew possibly taste God? They had to wait until today’s teaching, heralding the beginning of a new age.

Jesus bravely launched into even greater mystery by declaring: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.” He seemed to be announcing the end of death itself. Note that at the time of Jesus there was a huge debate going on in Jewish circles. For centuries there had been no commonly accepted definition of the afterlife. There was Sheol, a place of shadows to which everyone went, whether good or bad. It was bleak, silent, with no praise of God possible, no interaction, just a basic semi-existence. But a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, other interpretations of the afterlife had emerged. By the time of Jesus this had settled into two disputing camps, the Sadducees, who denied any afterlife or resurrection, and the Pharisees, who accepted those ideas. So it is clear that Jesus stood with the Pharisees, at least in this instance. It is also clear that those who had lived a just and good life would be among the elect, those who would spend eternity with God and the angels, and with Jesus, who would be the means to securing that reward.

So it is not too surprising that those hearing Jesus’ message for the first time would have some difficulty taking it in. It was in effect a brand-new teaching, never heard before. That made it even more difficult for them to accept this, from the son of a carpenter! But do we accept it fully and unquestioningly? Have we come to terms with Jesus’ message that it all depends on him? Will he raise each one of us up on the last day? There lies today’s challenge; this is the thought, or rather challenge, for the day. Do our actions, words and thoughts invite Jesus, the bread of life, into the deepest realms of our life and spirit? If so, then we are on the right path. If not, there is still time to change things. Jesus waits for us no matter the path we are on, but he stands at the end of the path of righteousness, but it is up to us to choose to walk on that path of light. Jesus guide me and help me.


The Last Judgement, 1435, Stefan Lochner, Wallraf-Wicharts Museum, Cologne, Germany.

© SundayMassReadings.com



breadThe Last Supper, 1467, Dierik Bouts, Sint-Pieterskerk, Leuven, Belgium.


“I am the bread of life….”           John 6:35

The greatest prophet in the Old Testament was Moses. The 10 Commandments were delivered into his hands by God on Mount Sinai. God spoke to him in the burning bush and revealed the sacred name YAHWEH to him. He guided the people out of Egypt through the waters into freedom. Yet despite all that, despite leading the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses was destined never to enter the Promised Land, just see it from a distance before he died. Scholars ever afterwards have wondered why. Today’s first reading is their favorite explanation. The Israelite murmuring, complaining, grumbling about their condition and discomfort seemed to suggest a lack of trust in God. Perhaps God expected more of Moses in dealing with that; perhaps God blamed Moses for the distrust the people seemed to have in God. Scripture does not answer the question. All we know is that it seems God does not like to be distrusted. One of God’s many qualities is loyalty: if God says something will be done, it will be done. The Israelites were promised the Promised Land (clearly), but moaned about how long it was taking and how uncomfortable things were as they waited, even to suggesting that they were better off in Egyptian slavery!

Today’s gospel has a little reflection of this attitude: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?This, of course, was immediately after the miracle of the loaves and fishes (last week’s gospel), paralleling the miraculous manna in the desert sent to calm the nerves of the wandering Hebrews centuries before. The contemporaries of Jesus were, in a way, going through the same experience as their predecessors – and remaining just as skeptical. Then came the critical response to their question quoted above demanding (another) sign from Jesus so that they could believe in him. They had chosen a singular miracle from the past, the astonishing appearance of manna in the desert which had nourished their ancestors. Jesus points out that this food, like everything else, eventually perished or stopped, even this bread from heaven. But, Jesus pointed out, the bread he would give them would be eternally life-giving. Of course they wanted that bread: “Sir, give us this bread always”. And then the answer: “I am the bread of life…”  This bread will never perish, never run out, never fail in any way. It is to be trusted. And just as one of God’s qualities is loyalty, Jesus has stood by this promise ever since. It is the heart of the Christian faith, the consecrated bread of the Eucharist. Around this circles all the life of the church, the life of Christians everywhere. As stated in the famous “Lima Text” of the World Council of Church’s document, p.14, #14:

In the celebration of the eucharist, Christ gathers, teaches and nourishes the Church. It is Christ who invites to the meal and who presides at it. He is the shepherd who leads the people of God, the prophet who announces the Word of God, the priest who celebrates the mystery of God.            Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, World Council of Churches, Faith and Order Paper No. 111, Geneva, 1982.

This is Jesus’ way of fulfilling his promise to be with us to the end of time, another instance of his loyalty towards us. Just as Jesus strengthens us in this central act, we in return give thanks, the actual meaning of the word eucharist. This is the strength with which we face life’s crises and demands. With the Lord firmly planted within us, we Christians can face both impossible odds and wondrous happiness with the confidence of God’s children. No wonder those people back then wanted him to give them this bread always. We still do, thousands of years later, only now we don’t grumble; we say “thanks”.


SANTA CEIA E O PEIXE AZUL, Sagrado, http://menote.art.br/wordpress/

© SundayMassReadings.com