Gospel: Jn 6, 1-15
A desert location with no food, and no human means of finding or even affording any is a desperate situation – though one not unknown in Israelite history. Multiplying loaves in the time of Elisha (2Kgs 4, 4244) was a sign of the divine origin of his gift of prophecy, and Jesus’ repeating and bettering Elisha’s feat would have been instantly recognized by the more devout members of his audience. “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world” (Jn 6, 14) is the cry of one who sees fulfilment of prophecy, but does he see the sign?
The irony here is that Jesus is the prophet who is to come into the world, though he is much more. A human prophet can be a human king, or lead an earth-bound rebellion against the Romans, but Jesus is not just human: he is God the Son. His kingdom is not of this world, and only those who believe through seeing the signs he works can receive the life that he gives (cf. Jn 18, 36; 20, 30-31). The people pointedly misunderstand Jesus, and he slips quietly away from them. His divinity shows also in his escape.
We have the Mass, we have the sacraments, we have the Church and the witness of the saints, but still we miss what the poet Francis Thompson calls “the many-splendour’d thing”, which is the action and life of God in our souls. We look to the furthest ends of the earth and into the most thrilling sensations, but we miss the tender knock of the Master at the doors of our own hearts, craving audience. He will go away if through our sins we tell him to, but he will never give up: “Heap me over from this tremendous Lover!” (Francis Thompson in The Hound of Heaven).
Gospel: Mk 6, 30-34
There is real poignancy in this scene. The joy of the apostles at the first fruits of their ministry is matched by the care and concern of Jesus: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mk 6, 31). Yet Jesus must have felt searing grief and heartbreak at the death of John the Baptist, just reported in the gospel (Mk 6, 17-29). The human need of the apostles to rest after their labours is matched by Jesus’ human need to grieve in quiet for his cousin. Prudence dictates a time apart.
But Our Lord and the apostles are victims of their own success. Divine goodness and healing have only highlighted in people’s hearts their aching need of Jesus. They may not understand who he is fully, or even catch every nuance of his teaching, but the poverty of their hard lives has been matched now by a raging spiritual thirst. All concerns are immediately subordinated to the need to be with Jesus, and they guess through their local knowledge where Jesus’ boat will land in the Galilean wilderness. Not just a few, but whole towns waited for him in anticipation (Mk 6, 33).
This is why Jesus takes pity on them, and puts himself out to teach them at some length (Mk 6, 34). Not because they are hungry and thirsty, poor and needy, but because they long to be with him and he longs for them to be with him. He thirsts for their faith, which will transform them into eternal companions, and he teaches them so that their hearts might thrill and be converted to the
truth that will set them free. We need to learn that no time is inconvenient to approach the Lord. Go to him, be refreshed.
First Reading: Amos 7:12-15
Second reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel: Mk 6, 7-13
Jesus’ principal battle in Mark’s gospel is with the spiritual forces of darkness. In this moment of joyful apostolic activity, only one aspect of it is emphasized: “giving them authority over unclean spirits” (Mk 6, 7). The devil and his angels are active and potent enemies of humanity. Their malice never sleeps and their hatred of humanity knows no bounds. Yet their kingdom is in ruins through the advent of the Messiah who, as a man, breaks their hold over the weakness of men. This divine power can be bequeathed to those apostles chosen for this vital ministry.
It is through apostolic succession that the power to exorcise demons finds its proper place in the Church. Bishops share the fullness of the priestly character of Christ, and it is the Divine Master who conveys this power. Thus, every bishop has the power to exorcise, and is required to appoint a diocesan exorcist to act in his name. Faint faith, sinful lives, structures of sin embedded in society, have all made this ministry more important than ever. Recent studies, especially by Fr Gabriele Amorth, have highlighted a clear, urgent pastoral need for exorcisms in our modern secular culture, as manifested in a wide range of phenomena.
We can make two mistakes about the devil. The first is to believe he does not exist, and the second is to believe he is more powerful than he is. Satan can work much more easily in those who have no strong shield in Jesus Christ. Recourse to soothsaying, tarot cards, new age therapies and the like only use our God-given free will to invite a personal force for evil more powerful than we are to take charge of our lives. But Jesus Christ is in charge of of our lives. In baptism all evil influence was exorcised from us. So if we take our baptismal promises seriously, we need not fear and we do not need any other source of spiritual security.
First Reading: Ezekiel 2:2-5
Second reading: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Gospel: Mark 6, 1-6
“He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk 6, 6). Miracles are not magic. Just as a gift given cannot be given unless it is received, so Our Lord’s healing attention cannot be effected if it is not received by faith. This is not to diminish the power of God, who holds both believers and unbelievers in being every moment of their lives, but it does underline humanity’s vital need to accept Jesus as God. Our heavenly Father respects human ways of doing things, and will not compel us to join him in paradise. He awaits our response.
How Jesus must have changed. No account of the hidden years of Christ survives, but this text tells us how utterly normal Jesus would have been. Learning a trade from Joseph (Tiberius Caesar was building the town of Sephoris next to Nazareth at the time, and would have needed carpenters), leading the life of a devout Jew in the midst of an extended family (Mk 6, 3), Jesus would have learnt to know and love his neighbours, and vice-versa. His amazement was the shock of rejection by his nearest and dearest. His honour would have been forged among them.
The Nazarenes had seen Jesus’ miracles and experienced his wisdom, yet they refused to believe the evidence of their own eyes (Mk 6, 2). Jesus is not expecting too much of them, steeped as they were in the Law and the Prophets, but his actions are thrown back in his face. We too, as Catholics called to walk in the true Faith, must not become intimates of the Lord, who then reject him out of hand through faint faith and scandalous lives. It is quite possible to come to Mass regularly and be lapsed. Where does our heart lie?
First Reading: Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24
Second reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
“And he told them to give her something to eat” (Mk 5, 43). This ‘throw away’ remark is one of those unique features of Mark’s gospel that gives his account a true note of authenticity. Only someone present could notice such a detail, and only Mark’s gospel includes Our Lord’s closing command to the parents of the restored child. Accurate reporting is always true to its sources, and Mark here becomes transparent as a writer, as he lets Jesus’ miracle speak for itself. Mark’s style is terse and brief, but in these miracles the words and works of Jesus radiate.
Touch is the most important sense in today’s gospel. Flesh on flesh, as when Jesus takes the dead girl by the hand (Mk 5, 41), or even touching the clothes of Our Lord, as when the woman with a haemorrhage presses though the crowd (Mk 5, 33) communicate divine healing and power. It is a perfect demonstration of the sacramental principle, whereby material things actually effect the grace that they signify. The woman was full of faith and courage, but she needed to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be saved and made well again.
If we accept the reality of the flesh of Christ, then we accept the reality of the Church. Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man, but we need him to communicate to us through the flesh if his salvation is to mean anything to us. No human being could see God face to face and live. Only when God stoops down to us by becoming one like us can we become fitted for heaven. If the body of Christ is a vital part of him for our sakes, then the Church cannot either be an optional extra.
First Reading: Job 38:1,8-11
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Gospel: Mk 4, 35-41
All three synoptic gospels contain this incident from the public ministry of Our Lord, but each with a slightly different emphasis. For Mark, unlike Matthew (cf. Mt 8, 23-27), the initiative is with the disciples who take Jesus into the boat, as opposed to being led by him. Their misunderstanding of Jesus and lack of faith comes to the fore in Mark because the Master rebukes the storm first before speaking to the disciples, whereas in Matthew Jesus scolds the disciples first and then performs the miracle to confirm his words. In Mark, it as if no amount of miracle working can penetrate their incredulity.
· The Stilling of the Storm thus shows evidence of editorial adaptation of an historical incident in the life of Jesus to show its relevance and application to the troubled situation of the early Church. Often it is our experience too that the waves of scandal and hatred of God oppress and harry the barque of the Church almost to sinking point. Is the Lord asleep? Does he not care at the mess and dissent that drives holes into the hull of the Church in time of storm? Jesus shows that he is in charge and will not fail us. But will we fail him?
· Power over the elements is invariably a sign of divinity in the bible, especially in the aftermath of the saving events at the Red Sea outlined in the Book of Exodus (Ex 14, 21-30). The disciples are thus filled with awe at the miracle of Jesus, but not with faith. They miss the point of Jesus’ action and teaching and ask the exasperating question, “Who can this be”? (Mk 4, 41). Only at the crucifixion, from the mouth of a pagan centurion, does the truth begin to impinge on the world: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15, 39). In his death is our life.