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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 17:22-24)
 
Ancient Israel was a largely agricultural society, so the great Jewish prophets and Jesus himself often used agricultural images and allegories to convey deep truths. Here, Ezekiel uses the image of a majestic cedar tree. “Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, every winged thing in the shade of its boughs. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom.”
 
Ezekiel wants his fellow Jews to know that Israel and all nations will recognize God’s power, as difficult it may be to believe in the face of powerlessness and oppression. “I the Lord, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree.” Sometimes, we may feel like the lowly tree, but God will lift us high. It is a helpful message for us to hear in our troubled world today when we seem threatened in so many ways.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16)
 
“Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.” What are you most thankful to God for today, right now? How do you give thanks to God, in word and deed?
 
A reading from the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 5:6-10)
 
“Brothers and sisters: We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith not by sight. Yet we are courageous.” It does take courage to walk in faith, doesn’t it? And sometimes our courage weakens, because our faith weakens. It all becomes too much for us, too much suffering, too many disappointments, too many of our loved ones who have died or are suffering, too much loneliness or emptiness. Then, clearly, we need to “walk by faith” and stay tuned in to the power of the Spirit within us who is our partner in life and our guide through the tough times as well as the joyful times.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 4:26-34)
 
This is one of the many seed-growing parables of Jesus. “This is how it is with the kingdom of God, it is as though a man would scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. On its own accord the land yields fruit.”
 
Then later he says, “To what shall we call the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
 
Jesus came to preach the coming of the kingdom of God and he used these agricultural images, because people would understand them. The kingdom starts off small, like a little seed, even a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet it grows silently, powerfully, and winds up being a tree that can house so many different birds or, in our language, all the peoples of the earth. The kingdom of God has that amazing power to grow from almost nothing to almost everything. You and I are part of God’s kingdom even when we do not sense the power that is right in our midst. It is a power that thrives in weakness, in conflict, in suffering and seeming defeat; yet it does grow in ways we may not have imagined and we are the seeds, we are the branches, we embody the kingdom which comes from the power of the Spirit within each of us.
 
You and I, at our seemingly least powerful moments have that power within us and all around us. The kingdom of God is within us.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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A reading from the Book of Genesis
(Chapter 3:9-15)
 
gardenAncient cultures told stories to explain the most important realities of their world. This is such a story, one that ancient Jewish people developed to explain the existence of evil, the separation of the sexes, the dominance of the male, the inferior and sinister role of the woman, and the just punishments from God. This helped the ancients to justify their patriarchal social system which placed women in subservient roles. Tragically, many people throughout the ages, including many in our Church, have treated this passage and the verse that follows it as support for grievous injustices against one half of the human race. But the positive point here is that the God of Israel is presented as a personal God who interacts with human beings. The passage is not to be taken literally but should be understood as setting the relationship between God and human beings from the beginning.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 130:1-8)
 
“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” The God of Israel is seen as a merciful God in the midst of so many violent merciless gods of the time. Our Father is the prototype of an extremely merciful and all-loving God.
 
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 4:13-5:1)
 
Saint Paul was the Great Evangelizer, the person, more than any other, who was responsible for spreading the Good News well beyond Israel to most of the then-known Mediterranean world. Yet, he knew how fragile a messenger he was. At this point in his life, he was suffering from several physical afflictions and the emotional burden of constant conflict, arrests, imprisonments, and misunderstandings from the very people he was trying to serve and to save. And yet, he can write, “Therefore, we are not discouraged, rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:16).
 
Have you ever felt burdens of that kind in your life, burdens that are physical, emotional and/or relational? In the midst of Paul’s struggles his faith renewed him “day by day.” How do you renew yourself? Do you think about your need for renewal or whether you deserve it? You do. We all need and deserve renewals of all kinds on all levels. But do you think that you do not have the time or that it would be a sign of weakness to admit your burdens? Paul knew he needed help. That is why this great apostle writes this way. We need help as well—every one of us, in so many ways, at so many times in our lives. Where can you find renewal of body, mind and spirit?
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 3:20-35)
 
Here we read that it is not only Paul who is misunderstood and threatened; it is also Jesus. “Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said ‘He is out of his mind’ ” (verses 20-21). And, his opponents, the scribes, said “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “By the prince of demons, he drives out demons” (verse 22).
 
So, even when Jesus is healing and teaching a message of love and forgiveness, he is called crazy, even by some of his relatives. That is hard to believe, but here it is in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus then takes the conversation to another level to talk about his larger family. “For whoever does the will of my Father is my brother and sister and mother” (verse 35). That is who we are. We are the family of Jesus. We accept his mercy and healing, and we believe in his promises of life everlasting.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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The Book of Exodus
(Chapter 24:3-8)
 
Animal sacrifice was common among ancient religions, including Judaism. As strange as it may seem to us today, this was a major step away from human sacrifice which some of Israel’s neighbors practiced. The sprinkling of the blood of an animal was a sign of Israel’s fidelity to the Covenant God made with the Hebrews through Moses. That is the origin of the expression “blood of the covenant.” Sprinkling blood was also seen as a cleansing ritual and an act of forgiveness from God to his people.
 
chalice
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18)
 
“I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” We certainly call upon the name of the Lord, usually in time of need, but how about calling on him in thanksgiving for all he gives us?
 
The letter to the Hebrews
(Chapter 9:11-15)
 
The author makes the point to his Hebrew Christian readers that the blood Jesus shed in his crucifixion is much more powerful and meaningful than the blood of animals. Jesus is “mediator of a new covenant” that brings with it “the promised eternal inheritance.” It was a difficult challenge for Jews, who had lived their whole lives under the original covenant with God, to believe that there was something new and deeper through the sacrifice of Jesus. Most could not believe, but some did. They were courageous, facing the wrath of the Romans and exclusion from their synagogues. This letter was written to explain the new covenant to them and to give them hope in the midst of their conversion from a lifelong religious practice to something new and largely unknown.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 14:12-16, 22-26)
 
What Mark describes here is not just any Passover meal. Jesus sees it as the beginning of the new covenant, a powerful healing, and a promise of new life. The Eucharist that we celebrate together is not a reward for being part of the community or for doing the right thing. It is a healing, forgiving, peace-giving gathering that is meant to nourish us, to give us strength on our daily journey. If you know Catholics who have stopped coming to the Eucharist, please encourage them to return. This could be an important part of your ministry, helping people you know and love to come back to the banquet of unconditional love.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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The Book of Deuteronomy
(Chapter 4:32-34,39-40)
Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah, written around the time of the Babylonian Exile (600 BC). It begins with the story of the Hebrew people wandering in the desert for 40 years, and this chapter focuses on the reality and power of God.
Trinity
It is important for us to remember that monotheism was not widely practiced at the time. People believed in numerous gods, so Moses wanted to be certain that the Hebrews knew what distinguished the one and only true God. “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god ever venture to go and take a nation for himself, from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God.” This is not just any god. This is THE GOD, and this God is your God. How great is that?
 
Up until this time, people believed in numerous gods that protected them from all sorts of evils. Now, for the first time, the Hebrews recognized ONE GOD who was their God and personally cared for them. This was one of the great breakthroughs in human history.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 33:4-5,6,9,18-19,20,22)
 
“Bless the people the Lord has chosen to be his own (verse 12b).” This Lord would “deliver them from death,” and now he does that for us as well.
 
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 8:14-17)
 
Paul wrote in an age filled with fear, especially for followers of Jesus. So Paul writes to assure them. “Those who were led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ ” Abba is an Aramaic word that is the equivalent of “daddy.” It was the word that Jesus used in talking to his Father, and it denotes a deep intimacy with God, an unheard of way of speaking to God, yet it is the very same term for us now almost 2,000 years later. We too can cry out “Abba” to our Father.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew
(Chapter 28:16-20)
 
In this reading, Jesus is approaching his last moments on earth, and he wants to make sure that his disciples will follow his teachings and bring them to “all nations.” Otherwise, his mission would not be fulfilled. “Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ ” All of the disciples, not just the apostles, were crucial for the continuance of the Gospel and the Church “until the end of the age.”
 
We are the present-day disciples. Have you ever thought of that? We are not simply a bunch of people who come to church on Sundays. We are a community of disciples, and Jesus calls us to spread the Good News of his love for all people, “all nations.” Sometimes, we think of that as the calling of missionaries, and theirs certainly is a distinct and holy calling. However, in our times we do not have to leave our country to encounter “all nations.” They are right here in our communities, and Jesus calls us to show our love to them as part of God’s people, whether or not they know or believe in the same God as we do. That is what the original disciples did. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they went way beyond their fellow Jews, eventually to the whole world that was known in their time. We need not go far to be the disciples of Jesus. We can start in our own families, our own communities, our own schools and workplaces, not with the power of our persuasive words but with the power of the love that lives in us every day. And we know that Jesus is still with us: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” That means FOREVER.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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