6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Brevity often does not belie importance, and in some ways, the few verses in Mk. 1: 40 -45 summarises the whole of the ministry and person of Jesus.

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling, he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

Immediately, the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

After sternly warning him, he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. ( Mk. 1: 40 -45)

Rembrandt van Rijn, usually simply known as Rembrandt, was a Dutch Golden Age painter.

Among his artwork gallery, Rembrandt has a total of 300 etchings, including one which dramatizes today’s Gospel.

Rembrandt’s composition is informative and reflective for us.

Rembrandt dramatises the separation between the leper and the community, represented by the figures to Jesus’ right, who are disturbed by this encounter.

The leper left space between Jesus and himself because of the law which forbade any physical contact between lepers and anyone else, forcing them to associate only with each other on the fringes of society. To have the disease, which was in many cases not true leprosy, was a sentence of familial and social if not also physical, death.

Rembrandt shows Jesus, moved ‘by compassion,” bending towards the man and abolishing the distance by stretching out and touching him, a gesture which was against the law. It is a revolutionary action, signalling disobedience to a holy public health rule.

The image of Jesus entering a forbidden area in order for others to enter an area of freedom is fundamental to Mark’s Gospel. (Do you notice Jesus looks like he has his left arm and hand in a sling!) The Rijksmuseum, Holland, holds the etching.

Mark recounts the miracle, but Rembrandt shows it as the most natural inclination of the body and mind of the healer: society creates the gap and turns away; Jesus turns towards the sick person and bridges the gap.

[This gap being closed is most easily identified in our health industry, with the immediate attention of medical and nursing personnel. However, it is equally recognizable in the family home where the parent(s) care for the ill child. Whether mumps or measles, a runny nose or a runny derriere, Mum and/or Dad are there.!]

Rembrandt makes that most natural and gentle gesture into a symbol of Jesus’ ministry.

The gap is also that between rich and poor, righteous and sinner, Jew, and Gentile, clean and unclean.

The person who is on the wrong side of any of these separations can imagine the hand of Jesus crossing the gap to touch them.

This carelessness with important societal taboos, aroused powerful opposition to Jesus, and was one of the reasons why this gentle hand was eventually nailed to an execution stake.


5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Job is one of those persons in the Old Testament who always presents us with a challenge. (Jb. 7: 1- 4, 6 – 7)

He confounds all that we believe about God and about life. Job asks the big questions about the meaning of life.

He faces the malaise of many today, boredom.

Life seems like an endless cycle of nothingness.

Job’s main response is ‘why bother?’

All he has to look forward to is grief.
The thing that makes matters worse is that Job is a just man; he was a model of a good human life.

Later on in the book he suffers terrible tragedy, and everyone asks what he has done wrong. Tragedy was linked to punishment.

The question about the meaning of life is also a question about God.

Ironically, the more Job enters into his suffering the more he comes to know the living God.

In the Book of Job, we are dealing with the wisdom literature of the Bible. Here is a story of growth in wisdom. To grow in wisdom is not necessarily to acquire all the answers, however it may be to learn that the old answers no longer satisfy.

The Book of Job is about the purification of the image of God and hence coming to know God more deeply.

It means daring to hold the possibility that God is more than anything I might imagine; it is holding the possibility that God is only a name given to a truth I will never understand.

It exposes the horrible truth that “I have made God” in a way that I can understand and be comfortable with, rather than living with the awful, radical truth of mystery.

Mystery frightens our modern generation – we need to know!

However, Job teaches us another truth: to learn to trust the unknown. Learn to trust the other.

Like Job, it is coming to know that God is bigger than anything we can grasp. We might not have all the answers, however we can live peacefully in the mystery that God is with us.

The name, William Blake (1757 –1827) is recognised most readily as an English poet, however, he was also a painter, and printmaker.

Among Blake’s finest works are 21 watercolours interpreting the Book of Job and its theme of unmerited suffering.

A line engraving entitled: ‘The Messengers tell Job of his misfortunes.


4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

On the north-eastern edge of Hyde Park, a stone’s throw from Marble Arch, is Speakers’ Corner.

One of the best-known locations for public speaking and debate in the world, the premise is simple: anybody can turn up and talk on any subject they like, as long as it is lawful.

The place known today as Speakers’ Corner began life as a place for public execution. Speakers’ Corner was home of the notorious Tyburn hanging tree.

He condemned were taken to Tyburn on a cart and had to ride with the hangman and the prison Chaplin.

When finally at the gallows, felons might speak to the crowd and these speeches often would be directed right at the heart of the state.

Speakers’ Corner evolved from these speeches, which attempted to explain, justify and or give meaning to life or lives. And so Tyburn developed into a political arena for public debate and discussion. That remains, the defining principles of Speakers’ Corner rooted within the culture that was the Tyburn Hanging Tree.

Frequently, as in this morning’s Gospel, the Gospel writer records Jesus, “When the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.” (Mk. 1:21)

To this day, no one has any idea what Jesus taught!

Many occasions throughout the Gospels are mentioned of Jesus going to the synagogue and teaching, and yet there is no record of what he said.

Speakers Corner at Hyde Park has hosted many famous individuals, such as Friedrich Engels, Marcus Garvey, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell and Christabel Pankhurst. The Catholic apologist Frank Sheed spoke regularly, as did Vincent MacNabb OP, and members of the Catholic Evidence Guild.

What was said may well be long forgotten, however who said and how it was said left a lasting memory.

Our Gospel recalls, “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.” (Mk. 1:22)

I know that some of the best homilies I have preached have been my shortest – why, because the listener is left with the message rather than the messenger.



Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

My Liturgical Calendar tells me/us that we are now in what is known as Ordinary Time. When one looks up the definition of the word ‘ordinary’ in the Oxford Dictionary we find stated “not interesting or exceptional; what is commonplace or standard.”

Nothing really anything to write home about.

The liturgical colour chosen for this “ordinary time” is, however, green, and maybe here the ‘ordinary’ becomes ‘extraordinary’; what is standard becomes special.

(My experience of this market garden goes back some ten years; whether the garden is still present, I do not know)

Across the road from the parish complex of St. Mary’s Otaki there is a market garden. I found it intriguing to watch what were ploughed however empty, barren paddocks, after attention and watering begin to be carpeted in green! Row upon row of lush cabbages, and lettuce, and broccoli.


Maybe this time in our liturgical year is the invitation to go down, deep, and to find my/our water source?

What, who gives me life? what, who refreshes me? Where lies my/our water source? What and/or who colours me green?

Maybe these weeks called “Ordinary Time” are an invitation to find my water source – those persons, places and objects that refresh me, nourish me, make me wet again and so promote my growing.

The 12thC Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote, “There is a power that has been since all eternity, and that force and potentiality is green!” Hildegard names this greening force viriditas, the Latin for her original “das Gruen,” the greening.

With viriditas Hildegard captures the greening power, the living light, that breathes in all beings, flows through all that is alive: “Be it greenness or seed, blossom or beauty – it could not be creation without it.”

Hildegard spoke often of viriditas, the greening of things from within, analogous to what we now call photosynthesis. There is a readiness in plants to receive the sun and to transform its light and warmth into energy and life.
Maybe that is what this “Ordinary Time” is truly about, a readiness to receive the sun/Son and to be transformed into energy and life.

Maybe, we dare rename our Ordinary Time as Greening Time.