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shepherdA reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 23:1-6)
 
Jeremiah was one of the most courageous and tortured of all the prophets. Today’s reading from his prophecy was composed in the context of the battle for power between the Babylonians and the Egyptians with Judea, and specifically Jerusalem, in the middle. The Jewish king Zedekiah was torn between the two enemies and was weak. Jeremiah has a message from God for the king and the people. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture. … You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. … I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; … Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is right and just in the land. In his days Judah will be saved.”
 
Over the centuries Israel had many kings—some good, such as David, the best, and many others weak and dishonest, such as Zedekiah, who was responsible for the horrible Babylonian Exile and the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah has God promising to send a new king in the quality of the great king David. Of course, the Gospels tell us that Jesus came from the line of David, so his disciples saw him as that righteous shepherd.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 23:1-3,3-4,5,6)
 
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” This is the most quoted and prayed line in all the Psalms, even though shepherds are not a part of our daily lives or thinking. That’s because, for us, Jesus is the shepherd. He is always with us and takes care of us. Do you believe that? How have you experienced the care of Jesus?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 2:13-18)
 
This letter has some of the deepest and most meaningful messages for our faith. Here, Paul wants to bridge the gap between Jews and Gentiles.
 

“In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace. … He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father.”

 
Paul was a devout Jew who loved his people and saw that their salvation was right there in Jesus. He also became friends with many Gentiles, and he saw that they, too, are called to follow Jesus: “Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Paul spent his life trying to bring these two peoples together. Sometimes he succeeded, but more often he did not. It was a source of great suffering for him, but it never deterred him from his mission.
 
Sometimes, we, too, succeed in what is most important to us, and sometimes we seem to fail. But there is always another day, another chance, if we remember that we, too, are called to bring peace and love to all people, starting with those closest to us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 6:30-34)
 
Here we have the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd following from the two previous readings. The apostles have been out proclaiming the good news, teaching, and doing good deeds for the people. Jesus tells them, “’Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest for a while.’ …People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.” Jesus is being the Good Shepherd to his apostles, telling them to take a break, have a meal, share stories from the road. But it doesn’t work. “People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.”
 
Now, we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd for all the people. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” This notion of Jesus being the Good Shepherd is somewhat foreign to us who have never met a shepherd, but it was a powerful image for people of his time. It meant safety, caring, nurturing, and fidelity to the task of protecting. Those are things we can relate to in our lives. Jesus is our Protector.

 
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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Gracious God, in Jesus words
we are invited to be partners in his work
of witnessing to your kingdom on earth.
In his words,
we are reminded of the mission and responsibility
that we received in our baptism.
Keep our hearts, eyes, and ears open,
so that daily we will respond to your call.
With courage and humility,

relying on your grace,
may we be agents of healing,
bearers of truth,
and messengers of hope.
We offer this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

 
From The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos
(Chapter 7:12-15)
 
“Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel.” Amaziah is protecting his own turf and accusing Amos of being a prophet for money. Amos assures him that he is not a prophet but instead is “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” But then, “The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’ ”
 
People like Amos do not wake up one day and say, “I think I want to be a prophet.” No! A prophet has to be called by God, and Amos was indeed called by God. Of course, Amaziah could not see any of that, and so he refused to honor God’s call to Amos.
 
Amos preached against the corruption of the kingdom and the neglect of the poor, so like most prophets he was not popular in his time.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 85:9-10,11-12,13-14)
 
“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” God’s kindness is always there for us even when God seems so far away and silent. Often, we can meet God in that very silence if we can shut off all the everyday noise and listen.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 1:3-14)
 
Here we have a powerful statement about our redemption: “In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.” Then later we hear. “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption.”
 
Many scripture scholars believe that Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome where he would be executed. The letter was passed around the various Christian communities for the next twenty years as a summary of just what salvation in and from Jesus Christ really meant. As we hear it today, we know that it is about our redemption that has already started with the presence of the Holy Spirit within our very being NOW, in this life which Paul calls “the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption.” Yes, our redemption has already started.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 6:7-13)
 
Jesus sends the apostles out two by two but with only the bare bones for travel: a staff and sandals but only one tunic and “no food, no sack and no money in their belts.” “Wherever you enter a house,” he tells them, “stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” These are not easy journeys. We know that all the apostles except John were murdered, martyred for the cause; but while they were alive they continued the work of their leader. “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Many people accepted the “Good News” of salvation, but many more did not. The Romans thought Christians were another dangerous cult, and many Jews also believed Christians were a danger to the established order. Yet, the disciples moved on, and their communities multiplied from villages, to towns, to cities, including Rome. Some people accepted Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, and many more accepted Jesus as God himself, sent by the Father to save all people. Because of their courage and determination, we share their faith. It is an amazing gift that the apostles have given to us, their legacy in faith. Let us remember to be thankful to them who gave their lives for us and for centuries of believers.
 
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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Lord, as Catholics we are called to believe—
in the Trinity,
in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church.
We are called to believe that we are forgiven
and that we will rise again with you.
Lord, I sometimes struggle with these beliefs.
It is hard for me to keep things simple.
Life in this time and place is complex

and its pressures intrude relentlessly.
Help me to listen for your voice,
to find you in others,
and to respond when you call me by name.
Help me on my journey
to grow ever closer to you.
Amen.

 
From The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International.

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rejectionA reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
(Chapter 2:2-5)
 
The people of Israel revered the prophets but did not always treat them well. That was still true in the time of Jesus as well and it is true today. Prophets are often not honored by their own people in their own times. It is hard to be a prophet at any time. It is a dangerous calling.
 
Here the great prophet Ezekiel has a visit from God: “As the Lord spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet. … Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: thus says the Lord God! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
 
Who are the prophets in our midst today? They are not necessarily those on the front pages or the stars of social media, but they are here, sent by God to bring peace and justice and love for all. Those especially who speak on behalf of the poor and troubled are challenging us with a call from the Spirit.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 123:1-2a,2b,3-4)
“Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy” (verse 2cd). God’s mercy is the most powerful force in the universe. We need only ask for it and accept it.
 
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 12:7-10)
 
Paul, this great traveling apostle of Jesus, had all sorts of physical as well as spiritual and emotional problems. He begs the Lord that this “thorn in the flesh” be taken away from him. But God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responds, “I will boast most gladly of my weaknesses in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Then he says, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
 
It seems at first like a contradiction, strength coming in the midst of weakness. But God’s strength can and often does come in the times of our greatest feelings of weakness, when we do not know the right thing to do or when we have seemed to fail repeatedly. Have you ever experienced a power that came to you in a difficult or challenging moment? Suddenly, you knew the right way to go, the best decision to make, the healing that you needed to share, and you did it or said it. You did not know that you had it in you, but the Spirit was there.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 6:1-6)
 
Jesus has been traveling all over Israel, but here he comes to “his native place” or, as we might say, his hometown. At first, people seem impressed. “When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” Then the tone changes. The people see him as a home boy who has gotten too big for his own good: “Is he 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 him? And they took offense at him.”
 
Jesus responds, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” Imagine that! This great preacher and healer is challenged, not because what he is saying is wrong but because of his origin and family. And, because of this harsh rejection, “he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there.” Amazing! The very presence of God in their midst and their rejection takes away his power to do “mighty deeds.” Do you think that even today people are blocking the power of God to heal, to love, to bring justice and peace to all because of our inability to believe, to accept the gifts that Jesus has for us? It happened then in the very presence of the Son of God, and it can happen now when we shun the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
 
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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Jesus_healsGod, ever near to us,
your tenderness toward us is so clear
when we hear Jesus assure Jairus,
and address the nameless woman as “daughter.”
May they inspire us to approach you
with such bold humility and faith.
Enlarge our hearts that in our ministry
we would imitate Jesus in his compassion
for people in all stations of society.

Break down the barriers of fear
that keep us from serving those
who are considered “unclean.”
And keep us focused on the work you set before us,
that by our touch, your touch will be felt.
In Jesus’ name we offer you our hands and hearts.
Amen.

From The People’s Prayerbook, © RENEW International.

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Jesus-healerA reading from the Book of Wisdom
(Chapters 1:13-15; 2:23-24)
 
This is one of the latest books of the Hebrew Bible, written about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus. It is filled with wisdom about life and death and, most important, about God.
 
“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they may have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome …. (verses 13-14)”.
 
“For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him” (verse 23).
 
This is one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament about life after death. The Jews had been trying to deal with the question of the afterlife for centuries, and in the time of Jesus the Pharisees believed but the Sadducees did not. It is all part of God’s continuing revelation that comes to fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus which is our own legacy today—life forever with Jesus.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13)
“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me” (verse 2a).
 
How many times has the Lord rescued you? Probably it has been too many times to count and many times that you are not even aware of.
 
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 8:7,9,13-15)
 
Corinth was one of the larger and more prosperous cities that Paul visited, starting a Christian community. We tend to think that everyone was poor in those days, and by our standards they certainly were. But there were economic classes even then: some had more than others, and the community could work only if people shared.
 
First Paul writes about the generosity of Jesus: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. … not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality” (verses 9,13b).
 
Imagine if we really believed that and lived it right here in our own country. Poverty would decrease, and equality would grow. Then we would not have millions of hungry children and seniors and single moms and veterans and hard-working people who do not make a living wage in our midst. Paul asked the Corinthians “that there may be equality.” We have the same calling today.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark
(Chapter 5:21-43)
 
Jesus was a remarkable healer. Here, he heals the daughter of Jairus, an official of the local synagogue, and “a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.” This woman had been treated by many doctors and had spent all that she had, but her condition grew worse. Having heard about Jesus, she made her way through the crowd following him and touched his cloak, saying to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured” (verse 28). And she was cured, immediately. “She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you’ ” (verse 34).
 
Then word came that the young girl Jairus had asked Jesus to heal had died. Jesus responds “Do not be afraid; just have faith” and went to Jairus’s home where he told the incredulous bystanders that the girl was not dead but asleep. “He took along the child’s father and mother and those with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you arise!’ The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded” (verses 40b-42).
 
This was a “faith healing.” Jesus spoke these life-giving words: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” DO NOT BE AFRAID! Those are powerful words. Too often, people live in fear, fear of this or that, fear of almost everything. Unnecessary fear can destroy our joy, destroy our lives. Let us remember the words of Jesus, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” And let us help the people we know and love to live without the needless fears that may be crippling their lives.
 
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.
 
The lovely image is by Ed De Guzman, from http://www.touchtalent.com/painting/art/Jesus-the-Healer-51843

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summerGracious God,
you provide for us always.
These early summer days explode
with the glory of greening and growing;
small seeds putting forth shoots,
and trees expanding their reach
as their canopies flourish and fill.
May they always be for
physical reminders of the presence

of your kingdom.
May my hope be as constant
as the leaves that grow back year after year.
And may that hope be a haven for those who need rest.
With praise for the glory of these days
I offer my prayer in Jesus’name.
Amen.

 
From The People’s Prayer Book, © RENEW International

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
(Chapter 49:1-6)
 
This Book of the Prophet Isaiah is not one book written by one person. It is rather a collection of writings composed over many centuries by many people and placed together under the name of Isaiah—one of the greatest prophets of Israel. One of the most important themes throughout is that of the Suffering Servant that we encounter here. “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.” “You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Though I thought I had toiled in vain and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.”
 
We can see the parallel here with John the Baptist who also was called from birth, was misunderstood in his short life, and was murdered seemingly before he could finish his mission. Yet, he did not toil in vain; he was a successful messenger for Jesus, and he was rewarded by God for his work.
 
Even when we may seem to fail in some part of our lives, it may be that there is another dimension, another truth, another level of success that we can know only in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has a mission, a calling from God to live in his love, to share his unconditional love, as insufficient and unsuccessful our mission may seem at any given time.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 139:1b-3; 13-14ab, 14c-15)
 
“I praise you for I am wonderfully made.” Do you think you are “wonderfully made”? When we are growing up, we may feel awkward and insecure. As we get much older, we may feel like a shadow of our younger selves. So, how can we feel wonderfully made through it all? Only if we see ourselves loved and gifted by our Father, even in and especially in our weaknesses and insufficiencies.
 
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 13:22-26)
 
Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a continuation of his Gospel, directed mainly at Gentiles. He wanted to help these converts as well as Jews to see the Jesus connection between David, the king of Israel hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, and John the Baptist—both as called by God. “From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’” John knew his role, his calling, his place in history. He did not try to be more than he was. He was given a calling, a gift from God, and he was faithful to it.
 
Each of us has been given a calling and gifts to fulfill that call. What is your calling in life, and what are the gifts that you have been given along the way and right now to answer your call? Do you see yourself as gifted? You are, we all are, only very often we do not believe it or focus on it. God asks us to humbly accept the gifts we have been given and use them to serve our Father and those with whom we share life.
 
The Holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 1:57-66, 80)
 
Throughout the Old Testament, we read of the miraculous birth and life of numerous prophets and great leaders starting with the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac when Abraham’s wife was supposedly too old to give birth. For hundreds of years before the birth of John the Baptist, there were no significant prophets in Israel. Then came this strange man, John the Baptist, so his birth is told as a wonder-filled story, because he is in the words of Jesus “the greatest of the prophets.” John preached a message of repentance and baptized many others before he baptized Jesus. He prepared the way for Jesus, was his cousin, and yet we do not know if they were friends while growing up or even if Jesus knew him before John baptized him. But none of that is important. What is of utmost importance is that John “prepared the way for the Lord.” He had a calling, a mission from God, and he fulfilled it in a wonder-filled way.
 
Do you feel that it is unlikely that you have been called, that you have a mission, that you are to prepare the way for Jesus to enter—or in some cases reenter—the lives of people you know and love and even perhaps someone you hardly know? As unlikely as it might seem, that is part of the mission of each of us —to prepare the way of the Lord.
 
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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“When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, ‘No. He will be called John.’ But they answered her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has this name.’ So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:57-66, 80).
 
The adults around John the Baptist had reasons to wonder what this baby would do with his life. One reason was that the birth of John was foretold to his father, Zachariah, by the archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:13). Another reason was that John’s mother, Elizabeth, was childless and well beyond the age for childbirth. Still another reason was that, as today’s Gospel reading recalls, Gabriel had taken away Zachariah’s ability to speak after Zachariah refused to believe the angel (Luke 1:20) and restored it only after Zachariah gave the unborn child the name the angel had prescribed. No wonder people asked, “What, then, will this child become?”
 
The only person who could answer that question, in the fullness of time, was John himself. Certainly, when he “grew and became strong in spirit,” John discerned God’s will. John understood that God wanted him to call on people to re-form their lives, to live with each other in a relationship of social and economic justice, and to prepare for the immanent coming of the messiah, the judge and savior of the world.
 
This was not a simple vocation. By deciding to undertake it, John was deciding to forgo any occupation that might have provided him with common food, clothing, and housing. He was deciding to forgo any chance at status and privilege. Moreover, he was deciding to confront people who were comfortable in their positions of wealth and power, people who were not accustomed to looking honestly at their lives and their relationships. He was deciding to make himself the target of what turned out to be a lethal antagonism. This was the future John accepted when he accepted the will of God.
 
How have you responded when you have felt God calling you to do something that might disrupt the usual order of your life?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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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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“He said, ‘To what shall we compare 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.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it” (Mark 4:30-33).

What a sense of hope this image of the growing seed must have given to those who followed Jesus and those who first read Mark’s Gospel. The first believers suffered tremendously for their faith. To understand that the kingdom of God starts as something no bigger than a mustard seed but grows into something large and sturdy must have been encouraging. This parable gave those early disciples strength, patience, persistence, and hope.

Today, the world is troubled by war and the threat of war, by greed, injustice, and poverty. It is just as urgent for us to hear this Gospel as it was for Mark’s contemporaries. The growth of a seed is slow and imperceptible. All we can do is work to provide the right environment for that seed and trust that if we do our part the seed will grow.

Just as the early Church could not know the effect its faith would have on the world, we cannot know how our faith will contribute to building up the reign of God on earth. Our job is to help God’s reign spread by cultivating the soil of our lives and living the word of God.

What are the ways in which you keep the soil of your life cultivated so that it fosters the word of God? Are there things that you could do differently?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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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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“Summoning them, [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables,’How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself,that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand;that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house.’
His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.’ But he said to them in reply, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother'” (Mark 3:23-27, 31-35).
 
There is no evidence that Jesus had anything but the deepest love and respect for his mother. His question “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” (Mark 3:33) is not a rejection of his earthly family, but rather a declaration that all who do the will of God are part of his family. By using the image of a family, Jesus provides an insight into the kind of relationship he expects among his followers. They are not to be like a kingdom or a house divided against itself, rather they are to carry out their mission as brothers and sisters. Jesus calls his followers to a collaborative ministry in which the unique, God-given gifts and talents of each person are respected and unselfishly put to the service of the whole.
 
The face of ministry in our Church continues to evolve. Pastors may not oversee numerous associate pastors as in the past, but especially in large parishes they do lead increasingly large and diverse staffs made up of deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay people. In addition to pastoral ministers trained in religious education, liturgy, music, and youth ministry, parish staffs often include business administrators,parish nurses, and a variety of support personnel. Staff members, in turn, work with a variety of volunteer ministers. The growth of these various ministries has often been called a sign of the Spirit’s work in the contemporary Church. When the ministers of a parish work collaboratively, the parish is usually full of life. When they don’t, the parish may be like the kingdom or the house divided against itself, which, Jesus says, “will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). May our parishes be among those that stand and thrive!
 
Are there people doing the will of God whom I am unwilling to accept as brothers and sisters of Jesus?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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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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