Sometimes the Lectionary gives us readings that are a bit too short. Today’s Gospel is an example of this tendency. In the actual Gospel, this passage about James and John asking for privileged places in the Kingdom is immediately preceded by a passage in which Jesus predicts his passion and death for the third time. It is unfortunate that it is omitted from the Gospel set before us today.
The story of the Rich Young Man appears more or less identically in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. The question the young man poses is an interesting one. He says, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He thinks that we can get to heaven by doing things. If this were true it would only be a question of finding out what things we must do and then once these have been completed we will be let into heaven.
In today’s Gospel we are presented with Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. To many people today this teaching might seem overly strict or out of harmony with the modern reality of frequent marriage breakdown.
The Gospel text today is pretty gruesome with its talk of chopping your hand or foot off or tearing out your eye. I do not think that Jesus intends us to take these words literally. According to the scholars they are an example of what is called Biblical hyperbole. In other words, an exaggeration to make a point.
There are two parts to our Gospel reading this Sunday. The first part is another prediction by Jesus of his passion and death. The disciples do not understand what he is saying and so simply ignore him. This leads to the second half of the Gospel reading in which we find the disciples squabbling among themselves as to which of them is the greatest. Jesus stops them and gives them the example of little children for them to emulate.
There are high points and low points in everyone’s life. We are all aware of this and if we take a look at ourselves we will surely be able to recall extremely difficult times as well as those intense moments of exhilaration. In the case of Peter, we see here in this Gospel extract a high point when he declares his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and then immediately afterwards a very low point when Jesus says to him, ‘Get behind me Satan!’
In our first reading today, we are given an explicit prophesy from the Book of Isaiah about the long-expected Messiah. We are told that one of the signs by which we will be able to recognise the true Messiah is that he will be able to make the deaf hear and the dumb speak.
We should regard the readings today as an extended meditation on the role of law in our lives. We are talking of course of religious laws not secular ones.
The Gospel text for today is the last of a series taken from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. We are in the Year of Mark but these last five Sundays are devoted to the Gospel of John. The editors of the Lectionary obviously think that St Mark’s account of the life of Christ needs some supplementing.
You can imagine how difficult it was for the Jewish people at the time of Jesus to come to terms with his teaching on the Eucharist. The words he uses as recorded in the Gospel of John must have sounded incredible to them, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket