22nd to 30th Sundays in Ordinary Time
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time,
September 2 
Dt 4:1–2, 6–8
Ps 15:2–3, 3–4, 4–5
Jas 1:17–18, 21b–22, 27
Mk 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23
Moses, shortly before his death, exhorts the people to obey God's commandments, "that you may live" (Dt 4:1). This Deuteronomic Principle is a key theme in much of the Old Testament: good is rewarded and evil is punished. God's commandments are not a burden but a way to life. It is by following God's precepts that Israel will become a light to the nations, a nation whose "statutes and decrees" are just (v 8). As other nations see the righteousness of Israel, they will be drawn to follow God's ways as well, and so Israel serves as a light to the nations.
James speaks of how we are called to be the "firstfruits" of God's creatures (v 18). This means that we are the first to share in God's life, but there will be others later. In light of this, like biblical Israel, we are called to be an example to others. James tells us to "put away all filth and evil excess" (v 21a) and, as hearers sharing in God's life, "be doers of the word" (v 22).
"Purity" is not a common word in today's world, but it was a very important concept in Jesus's day. To be "unclean" was to be cut off from others, temporarily or permanently. Over the years Jewish scholars developed a set of regulations, based on the laws in the Torah, spelling out what made an individual unclean. Mark explains some of this to his audience in today's text (vv 3–4). Where Jesus and his opponents, and later the apostolic community and the Jewish authorities, differed was in the interpretation of some of these traditions. For Jesus, what is in the heart determines whether one is unclean or not. His opponents focused on "human tradition" rather than "God's commandment" (v 8). Our relationship with God is based more on who we are than on what we do.
For Reflection: How has following God's way made me a better person? Have I been inspired by the goodness in others to follow God more closely? Am I concerned with developing a heart that is in tune with God?
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time,
September 9 
Ps 146:7, 8–9, 9–10
In the text of Isaiah, the prophet announces good news "to those whose hearts are frightened: / Be strong, fear not!" (v 4). To a people who have experienced God's judgment, the prophet announces words of renewal and redemption. God comes to save his people. When he comes, he will heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute. And once again the wilderness will be restored, no longer a "thirsty ground" (v 7). For the church, Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise, as we see in today's Gospel. God calls us to allow him to heal our brokenness.
James cautions against showing partiality to the rich. He reminds us that God chose "those who are poor … to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom" (v 5). In the Gospels, Jesus frequently associates with those who were rejected by the world because he knows they need to hear God's word. God judges what is in the heart, not what is worn on our backs.
The Decapolis was a region of 10 gentile cities east of the Sea of Galilee. In Mark's text a number of Jesus's miracles are worked in this region, emphasizing that Jesus came not just for the "chosen people" but for all. Mark tells us that a group of people bring a deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus, begging him to cure the man. Their faith in Jesus's power to heal is obvious. In an unusual detail we hear that Jesus takes the man "away from the crowd" (v 33) before healing him. Using his own saliva, another unusual element, Jesus touches the man's ears and tongue and commands, "Be opened!" and it happens (v 34). A rare feature in today's text is that the Gospel remembers Jesus's actual word of command in Aramaic, "Ephphatha." Normally we are given his words only in translation.
For Reflection: Are my ears open to hear God's word? My lips loosed to sing God's praises? Do I judge a book by its cover, or do I try to see as God sees?
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time,
September 16 
Ps 116:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9
In Isaiah today we hear from one of the Servant Songs, four texts frequently applied to Christ as the one sent by God with a special mission. The servant is called "to speak to the weary / a word that will rouse them" (v 4). The servant, like many Old Testament prophets, suffers rejection because of his word but is not dismayed. He knows that his help is the Lord God, and he will not "be put to shame" (v 7). The servant teaches us that sometimes we too will suffer because of our faith, but we must stand firm, for God is with us.
James tells us that faith, "if it does not have works, is dead" (v 17). Faith is more than giving intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. To truly believe is to live a life inspired by faith. There must not be a disconnect between what we profess and how we live. If we say we love our neighbor, we must live out that love on a daily basis by assisting those in need. We cannot just wish them well; we must do good for them. Faith cannot be merely professed; it must be lived.
In the Gospel, Simon Peter's declaration of Jesus's identity as "the Christ" (v 29) is an improvement over the disciples' previous lack of understanding, but they still have more to learn. While the people think Jesus is a prophet, Simon Peter declares Jesus to be God's anointed one, messiah. But readers of the Gospel know that Jesus is more than this; he is also God's Son. When Jesus begins to explain that his role as Messiah entails suffering and death, Peter rebukes him; this is not Peter's view of what it means to be the Messiah. But it is precisely in Jesus's suffering and death that we come to understand his Messiahship: it is one of service and self-sacrifice.
For Reflection: Do I live my faith or merely profess it? Does my life indicate that I believe that Jesus is God's anointed one? How do I understand Jesus's suffering as part of his messiahship?
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time,
September 23 
Ps 54:3–4, 5, 6–8
In the Book of Wisdom, the wicked persecute "the just one" because he "reproaches us for transgressions" (v 12). They plot to persecute him "with revilement and torture" (v 19), condemning him to "a shameful death" (v 20). As it was in the day of our writer, so it was also in the day of Jesus, in the day of Mark, and in our day: the wicked persecute the righteous. But the righteous can draw strength knowing that God is with them.
James challenges the Christian community to consider whether their internal strife might have its origins in their search for personal satisfaction. Selfishness brings division. In contrast to "selfish ambition" (v 16), God's wisdom leads to unity and peace among people. "Jealousy and selfish ambition," mentioned twice in three verses (vv 14–16), are contrary to the way of God, and we should resist them.
In the Gospel story, coming shortly after the transfiguration — in which Jesus is declared God's "beloved Son" and the disciples are commanded to "listen to him" (9:7) — Jesus once again predicts his impending Passion. Mark tells us that the disciples still "did not understand" (v 32). What they discuss on the way back to Capernaum is "who was the greatest" (v 34). Jesus is talking about suffering and death, and they are worried about status in the apostolic community. It is time for another lesson, so Jesus places a child in their midst and tells them that they must be concerned with outsiders, like the child. In Jesus's day, children were not accorded much status, but Jesus tells them they must receive "one child such as this in my name" (v 37). They want to be great in the eyes of the world, but Jesus shows them that true greatness is viewed in light of what matters to God. To be great in the eyes of God, one must be "the last of all and the servant of all" (v 35), welcoming the least among us as Jesus did.
For Reflection: Is my ambition about self-fulfillment or self-offering? Do I allow my own agenda to blind me to God's will for my life?
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time,
September 30 
Ps 19:8, 10, 12–13, 14
Mk 9:38–43, 45, 47–48
The Book of Numbers, narrating Israel's time in the wilderness after receiving the Commandments, tells us that God took some of the "spirit that was on Moses" and "bestowed it on the seventy elders" (v 25). Two of those selected to receive the spirit are not at the Tent of Meeting, yet they too receive the spirit and also prophesy. Joshua becomes upset at this, but Moses corrects him. The fact that they too are prophesying (singing God's praises) is something Moses wishes would happen to all the people. The elders are selected to support Moses in his work, and the spirit will enable them to do it effectively. This story shows us that God is not constrained by human limitations.
In an echo of one of Luke's "woes" (6:24–26, paired with his Beatitudes), James calls the rich to "weep and wail over your impending miseries" (v 1). The things of this world are transitory. These rich persons, who have made their wealth on the backs of others, will face God's judgment. Like Jesus, our author does not condemn all the rich, only those who are greedy and exploit others. Like the rich fool (Lk 12:16–21), they depend on their own wealth, rather than on the gracious mercy of God, to save them. Withholding wages from their workers, they have grown rich in the things of the world, but their wealth "will devour [their] flesh like a fire" (v 3) on the day of judgment.
Like Joshua in the story from Numbers, the apostle John in the Gospel story is upset because someone who is not among their number is "driving out demons in [Jesus's] name" (v 38). Jesus chastises John for not realizing that "whoever is not against us is for us" (v 40). His saying about cutting off one's hand reminds us that admittance to the reign of God is worth whatever sacrifice we are called to make.
For Reflection: We all have different gifts; am I grateful for my own or jealous of the gifts of others? Do I depend more on God's riches or on the things of this world?
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7 
Ps 128:1–2, 3, 4–5, 6
Mk 10:2–16 or 10:2–12
In the Book of Genesis, everything God makes is good. The first thing that is "not good" is the fact that the man is alone (v 18). In light of this, God looks to make "a suitable partner for him." After making all the wild animals and birds, there is still no suitable helper. We then read that God put the man into a deep sleep and, removing a rib from his side, formed a woman, whom the man declared to be "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (v 23). Created from the side of the man, she is his equal partner. For our author, this union of man and woman as husband and wife is rooted in the very first pages of the story of creation; it is part of God's plan.
The writer of Hebrews writes that Jesus acquired a crown of glory through his suffering. Christ lowered himself in order to suffer and die that he might give us a share in God's glory. Our humanity, broken by sin, is restored by Christ's obedience. Sharing in our death, Christ gives us a share in his life. Uniting himself to us in the incarnation, he consecrated us for God and now calls us his brothers and sisters (v 11).
Jesus is apparently unique in forbidding divorce. In his day, some rabbis permitted a man to divorce his wife if she burned dinner, others for something more serious, as adultery. In Mark's story, the Pharisees try to get Jesus involved in the debate about acceptable grounds for divorce, but he challenges them to consider that Genesis tells us, "What God has joined together, no human being must separate" (v 9).
For Reflection: Do I view men and women as equals? How can I work to make my own marriage stronger as a sign of God's plan? Do I support the marriages of others, that they will be strengthened?
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 14 
Ps 90:12–13, 14–15, 16–17
Mk 10:17–30 or 10:17–27
The Book of Wisdom is dated to the century before Christ. Its author, speaking as Solomon, tells us that the spirit of Wisdom is more valuable than any other gift. "All gold, in view of her, is a little sand" (v 9). To have wisdom is to share in the mind-set of God. In the Bible the wise, who walk in the way of God, are often contrasted with the foolish, who reject God's ways. Wisdom is that priceless gift that enables us to know God's will and to do it.
In Hebrews we are told that "the word of God is living and effective" (v 12). God's word is given to us for our benefit. But the word must bear fruit, for one day "we must render an account" (v 13) to God for our lives. Israel, under Moses, heard God's word and disobeyed. But "we have received the good news just as they did" (v 2), and we should strive to follow God's word in our lives. It is only with the help of Christ that we are able to "approach the throne of grace to receive mercy" (v 16).
Mark's story of the rich man who comes to Jesus reminds us once again that there is a cost to discipleship. He approaches Jesus looking for a deeper dimension to his relationship with God. He knows the commandments and keeps them. Jesus responds to him with a deep, penetrating look. Mark tells us that Jesus "loved him" (v 21) using the Greek word for love, agapan, which refers to the love God has for us. Mark never again tells us that Jesus "loved" anyone; there is something special in this man that elicits Jesus's love for him. The Lord issues him a challenge: sell everything, give your money to the poor, and become a disciple. But this is too much for the man, and he "went away sad" (v 22). Jesus's teaching on wealth concludes by reminding us that only by God's grace can we "inherit eternal life" (v 17).
For Reflection: What do I consider truly valuable in life? Do my possessions get in the way of my discipleship? Do I own them, or do they own me?
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 21 
Ps 33:4–5, 18–19, 20, 22
Mk 10:35–45 or 10:42–45
Isaiah continues speaking about the Suffering Servant in today's reading, saying, "The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity" (v 10). Isaiah's mysterious servant "gives his life as an offering for sin" for the sake of others, a notion brought to fulfillment by Jesus in Christian theology. Bearing our iniquities through his suffering and death, "my servant shall justify many" (v 11). His death brings us life.
The author of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as our "great high priest" (v 14). As high priest, not of the house of Levi but "according to the order of Melchizedek" (6:20), Jesus's office surpasses that of other priests. As the word incarnate, Jesus is united with us and so can offer sacrifice on our behalf. In becoming flesh Christ embraced our humanity and clothed us with divine life. His sacrifice is for the forgiveness of our sins, fulfilling and surpassing all other sacrifices. Christ, as victim and priest, mediates between God and humanity. Because he, as high priest, has access to the sanctuary, he invites us to approach "the throne of grace to receive mercy" (4:16).
James and John's request in light of Jesus's teaching about true greatness and the cost of discipleship shows they are still spiritually blind. It is significant that in Mark this passage comes immediately after Jesus's third Passion prediction. Jesus has been talking about his impending death, and the sons of Zebedee approach him asking to "sit one at your right and the other at your left" (v 37) when he comes into his glory. By this request they show that they only understand half of what Jesus has been teaching them. While they believe Jesus will enter into glory as the Messiah, they fail to address the fact that it is only through suffering that this glory will be achieved. Jesus's suffering is not to eliminate our suffering but to unite him with us in our suffering. There is no escaping the cross for a disciple.
For Reflection: When have I truly experienced suffering in my life? Was I aware that in suffering I was united with Jesus? Is my discipleship about service or honor?
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 28 
Ps 126:1–2, 2–3, 4–5, 6
Writing to the exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah offers God's words of comfort and promise. "Shout with joy for Jacob … The Lord has delivered his people" (v 7). God promises to bring them home from their exile; their punishment is complete. Those who will be regathered are not just the strong; they include "the blind and the lame … the mothers and those with child" (v 8). Their time of trial is over, and now God "will console them and guide them … for I am a father to Israel" (v 9).
The author of Hebrews speaks of the office of high priest. "Taken from among men and made their representative before God" (v 1), the high priest is entrusted with offering sacrifice for himself and the people. This honor is given to one by God, as it was given to Aaron. Jesus, we are told, was given this office by the Father and so became our high priest.
The healing of Bartimaeus is the second healing of a blind man in Mark. Several things distinguish it from the first healing (in 8:22–26). The two most important differences are that Jesus heals him in one step, and Bartimaeus "followed him on the way" (10:52). This story, coming at the end of a collection of passages about Jesus's identity and the disciples' "blindness," serves once again to confirm Jesus's identity as a worker of miracles and to contribute to the revelation of who Jesus is. Calling Jesus "Son of David," Bartimaeus identifies him as the expected royal Messiah who was anticipated by the Jews. Without narrating the miracle (as in the earlier blind man healing), Mark simply tells us that Jesus restored his sight "immediately" (v 52). Bartimaeus's response is to follow Jesus "on the way." For our evangelist, at this point in the Gospel, the way of Jesus leads swiftly to Jerusalem and suffering and death. Like the disciples, we are called to follow the way of Christ, and for us too it will mean carrying our own crosses.
For Reflection: When have I come to the Lord in faith, seeking a miracle? What has been my response to God's goodness to me? Do I take God's goodness for granted, or do I strive to live a life of gratitude? ML
Bruce Janiga, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., teaches Scripture studies at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J. He is the Sunday assistant at St. Cassian Church in Upper Montclair, N.J.