Friday, June 29, 2012


Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time         Year B    1 July 2012 

Equality and Freedom and Love


Today’s readings speak of life, equality, freedom, love, and relationship in community.

In the Epistle today, we hear from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: he is dealing with a church community that is divided over issues of faith matters and how to live as a community within the Roman world. In his letter, he appeals to the Gentile converts to contribute to the needy and assist the poor Christians of the Church in Jerusalem, the mother church, the Jewish Christians.

Paul is asking the Corinthian Christian community to be as generous as was Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich in grace and mercy, he became poor for their sake, so that through his poverty they might become rich.  

Paul is not simply appealing for a charitable offering, but is the theologian pointing out that Christ, though RICH in his divinity, became poor in his humanity, so that we might become rich in grace. Now it is our turn at this wonderful opportunity to help make others rich in grace and also to alleviate their suffering. Jesus did not exercise his power over others in a negative way; Jesus taught that all those in authority should serve those who have no power or no voice in the world.

We cannot be simply content with saying all of our prayers correctly, having all the correct doctrines in place, and doing everything just right according to the rubrics, only to miss Christ’s presence in our midst, missing the opportunities to live our faith by assisting those on the margins of society, those who are judged as unworthy of our attention.

The needs of others should not make any of us envious, as if they are going to take something from us that is ours. All is gift. Those of us who can help others should not regard it as a burden! Paul says, “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.

Paul uses the word equality twice here, and for good reason. He is calling upon us to regard all others as we would Christ.  He then writes: “As it is written, whoever had much did not have more; and whoever had little did not have less. Or “those with much had enough; those with little did not go without.” Pretty simple. “In our surplus we can relieve others now; but who knows what will happen later when someone else’s surplus will relieve our need! Those with much had enough; those with little did not go without. Pretty simple.

This is Paul the older and wiser pastor. So when Paul’s letter refers to “this gracious act”, it is the act of contributing to the needs of the poor that Paul speaks.

Paul also appealed to the Philippians: "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at or exploited, rather he emptied himself for our sakes. (Phil. 2.1-7).

We empty ourselves for others. This is what it means to truly be wealthy, rich in God’s grace.

We really need to rethink what it means to be rich and poor in today’s world. Riches and wealth that are hoarded and not shared with those in need leads to a spiritual poverty, an inner poverty so hopeless and self-assured, that those in its grip cannot even see that they are poor. Emptying ourselves for the sake of others leads to an authentic wealth. But if we clutch at our wealth, then we are the ones who are truly impoverished.

Paul then reminds his people of God’s gift of the manna in the wilderness. “Those who gathered much had no excess, but those who had little had no need.” For the generosity of God will provide for all. But when our envy enters the picture, some begin to hoard and fear that they will not have enough and someone else is going to get what is theirs. This shows a lack of faith. And when anyone hoards, someone is going to go without.

In the gospel Jesus has just returned to Capernaum after a very busy two days of ministry.[go home and read the first six chapters of Marks gospel]. [Anyway,] Jesus is walking through the town, surrounded by a crowd under a burning sun, likely as hot as it is here today.  

But a respectable Jewish rabbi should have never allowed all those people to press in upon him in the crowd. He is being contaminated, according to the book of Leviticus!  All the ragamuffins and riff-raff and lowly ones who came to Jesus threatened the decent citizens and respectable religion. But Jesus ignores the religious laws and social norms because he is bringing hope to the hopeless and giving voice to the voiceless.

Now in the crowd a certain woman approaches him. But this isn’t any ordinary woman. She is UNCLEAN! This woman is one of the untouchables! She has had a hemorrhage of blood flow for twelve years! She is the ultimate outsider and could have no contact with others. She was as good as dead. Imagine how poor her life was. And Jesus as a rabbi under Jewish law could have nothing to do with her because of her flow of blood. And because she was a woman.

Now not only is this woman in dire straits, but she has been completely cut off from her community for years. Everything she touches becomes “unclean”. Not exactly the Midas touch. The doctors have drained her of her last denarii. And who were these doctors? Did some of them operate with only the bottom line in mind? “We’ll keep you  well enough but still keep you sick enough so you have to keep coming back to see us”?

We might wonder if some of these doctors took her money and told her she had a “pre-existing condition.” Boy, am I ever glad we’ve finally solved health care debate today.

One wonders how she prayed. The psalms reveal every emotion and need. Perhaps this woman prayed thus:I am utterly crushed…My heart is broken with anguish, my strength is spent” (39). “I am exhausted; every night I drench my pillow with tears; …My eyes wastes away with grief” (Ps 6) “My friends avoid me like a leper” (39). “O Lord…I call to you for help, so why do you hide your face? Friend and neighbor you have taken away: my one companion is darkness.” (Ps. 88). 

You and I may know someone who is praying these very words today. And if we don’t, then we should.

The prayers from the psalms may well have been on this woman’s lips and in her heart every day for twelve years. There is no doubt that this woman had prayed and prayed and had received no relief. She was desperate!

Yet today when she heard that Jesus, Yeshua, the young rabbi from Nazareth was in Capernaum, she had to go see him, and perhaps she thought she could get close enough to him to hear just one of his parables or even touch the hem of his garments! She had likely heard that he was a miracle worker and hoped to be healed. There were other persons who longed to see and hear Jesus or be touched by him, so she probably thought she would go unnoticed in the crowd.

So in this woman’s desperation, anxiety, and distress, she sneaks up behind Jesus to touch him… “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Such deep desperation often drives people to desperate acts.

This poor, vulnerable woman was afraid to approach Jesus openly because there was such an aggressively, uncaring attitude towards the marginalized and poor, and all those considered “unclean” or unacceptable. And there may have been some people trying to prevent her from reaching Jesus! Even today too many people refuse to show compassion or hospitality to others, whoever “the other” might be. Some are quite cruel – even killing homeless people.

Yet this woman was bold in approaching Jesus. And bold in her faith. And what faith she had.  When she touched the hem of his garment immediately she felt in her body that she was healed! This feeling engulfed her body and she knew she was cured!

And Jesus felt power go forth from him! He wheels about in the crowd and calls out: “Who touched me?!”

You have to laugh; He is in the middle of a teeming throng of humanity. I imagine it was Peter who said, “Are you serious? You see how the crowd is hemming you in, yet you ask, ‘who touched me?’” Jesus ignores his disciples and looks around.

The woman, realizing that she has been discovered, approaches Jesus with fear and trembling! Would Jesus turn out to be just like the rest who cast her away like the living dead? She may have feared that Jesus will take away her cure!

The woman apprehensively comes forward, risking great punishment from the religious authorities, not only for herself, but also Jesus: she is unclean and Jesus has allowed her to touch him, violating the laws of Leviticus.

But Jesus does not become unclean? No! The woman is made clean! And in his tender compassion he restores the woman to life and restores her to life in the community!

“Daughter, your faith has saved you! Go in peace and be cured of your affliction! He called her a daughter – a daughter of Abraham, a daughter of God. Edgy talk for first century Palestine. Might the Lord have said, “In your distress and I saved you”? (Ps. 81)

Jesus, by calling the woman forth, reintegrates her into society, and he acknowledges her not only as a person, but as a Daughter of God, a human person created in the image of God, and as a real person, not just something to be endured, but someone to be loved! The resurrected life began for her that day!

We don’t know much else about her after this incident, but her sorrows have turned to joy. Can we imagine her response? Again, the psalms may have been on her lips: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me! The Lord's right hand has raised me (118). I cried to you for help and you healed me…you have changed my mourning into dancing, you have clothed me with joy. My soul sings psalms to you unceasingly…(30). My heart rejoices, my soul is glad" (16). Overwhelmed with gratitude, she had to share the good news! “The Lord heals the broken-hearted, he binds up all their wounds. (147). O praise the Lord. ALLELUIA!" (150). What joy.


Jesus desires life and health for all, not just a privileged few.

His life-giving act transcends political 
boundaries and religious rules and restrictions! Jesus tears down the wall! Jesus does what is right and just!

He obliterates the people’s obsession about who and what is unclean and clean.

He takes upon himself the sins of the world, and became a magnet for all the despised, the desperate, the unwanted, the forgotten, the invisible, and the burdensome. And if we are “in Christ,” we get to do the same today and tomorrow and the next day!

It is not rules and laws that bring us life, but a relationship with Christ! God’s love and mercy and justice is undying.

And we are responsible for each other. This is the good news! Life is a relationship with Christ and one another, even the most despised and hopeless.

This is the law of Christ! This is what it means to be Church! This is true freedom! Freedom in Christ!

We are called to set free all those who are bound in fear and insecurity of others, to unbind those who are in the tombs of trepidation, strangling in nooses of negativity, wrapped up in rules and regulations, and penned and padlocked in prisons of pessimism.  For in Christ we have the power to heal others simply by reaching out and acknowledging their presence.

Our prayer should lead us to our neighbor, where we can share the grace of God, serve one another, and truly listen to one another, for we each have a story to share, like the woman with the hemorrhage.

Who are those among us who long for the warmth of companionship and to simply be recognized?! Maybe all they need is a phone call or a visit and a cup of coffee.

We all long to be heard. We all want to be healed. We all want to belong to someone.

And when we reach out to others, and allow others to touch us with the stories of their lives by walking with them in their sorrows and in their joys, and when we speak truth to power, and do the works of the kingdom, we may well incur wrath from certain people and authorities, even some of our fellow Christians, but remember that it is Jesus working through us, for “behold” he “makes all things new!”  

Let us tear down the walls that keep us from one another.

Jesus practiced mercy and compassion. And so must we.

We have the freedom to do what is right and just.

The true test of any society or church is how it treats the most vulnerable, for THERE IS NO FUTURE WITHOUT COMPASSION and MERCY.

True love casts out all fear!

So, yes we stand for freedom. The freedom to do what is right and just.

And that is true freedom.

And no law can require us to do otherwise.

 (c) copyright Deacon John McMullen 2012

Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24/Psalm 30:2, 4,5-6, 11, 12,13 / 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15 / Mark 5:21-43

Monday, June 11, 2012


1) When I was a little boy growing up in Vincennes, my father took me past his boyhood home and showed me a large Walnut tree. This tree was special to him because when he was but a small boy in the 1940s, his father helped him plant the walnut seed. My dad was amazed that the seed sprouted and the tree grew. It is still there and is very large! On this father’s day, my dad’s tree is a testament to his faith that that small walnut would grow. He is still amazed that the tree grew from the walnut and that it has withstood the test of time.

In the bible, the Cedar tree is extolled as a symbol of the majesty of God. The cedar tree grows upwards to 130 feet tall with a trunk of more than 8 ft in diameter. The Cedar trees of Israel and Lebanon were used for building ships, palaces, and temples. King Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem with cedar trees. And the Psalmist reminds us that: The just person shall flourish like a cedar of Lebanon.   

2)      Yet even though the scripture says that the great cedar tree will be lifted high, the prophet Ezekiel warns that the Lord will bring low the high tree and lift high the lowly tree.  And, again, the prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world, as an arrogant example of worldly power and self-aggrandizement.

This is very similar to the Gospel message where Mary, the mother of Jesus proclaimed in her Magnificat: “He has cast down the arrogant of mind and heart; has thrown down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

3)      Jesus listeners were likely taken aback when he proclaimed that “the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” A mustard seed? The smallest of seeds? Jesus’ followers were likely waiting for him to declare that the Kingdom of God is like a mighty cedar tree!

But no. Jesus confounds his audience and maintains that the kingdom of God is like the wild mustard plants that can grow into large shrubs and small trees. WHAT?  The Mustard plant is a weed in contrast to the impressive mighty cedar tree!  While the wild mustard takes over the field, we want order; but the weeds thrive and the mustard blooms and the birds of the air come to roost.

4)      Mustard does not need any cultivating, for it sprouts all by itself, for once a mustard seed falls in fertile soil, it germinates almost at once and begins growing. Mustard plants are not trees per se, but are bushes though they grow between 10 and 20 feet tall. And there are few plants which grow so large in one season as a mustard.

There is a definite "subversive and scandalous" element to this parable, in that the fast-growing nature of the mustard plant makes it an "undesirable, unwelcome weed" that will present a danger to the status quo or “business as usual.” Once a mustard seed is sown it is nearly impossible to get rid of.

5)      Jesus chooses the humble mustard seed over the image of a mighty cedar tree to show that even though the beginnings of the Kingdom of God are small, over time it would grow into something large and firmly rooted, in which many would find shelter and comfort, while others would find it detestable and even against tradition or respectable religion.

The growth of the kingdom is slow and rooted in a tiny beginning, but it is on the move.  Look at the growth of the early church, from a small following in the first century to the 3rd century where the mighty Roman Empire could not contain the rapid growth no matter how many Christians it put to death.

Or consider the days of slavery or the days of open discrimination and Jim Crow laws and segregation. Slowly but surely the march towards freedom took place. For instance, even though many Christians despised Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the movement refused to go away because the mustard seed of the kingdom and the gospel message had taken root in people’s hearts!

The wild mustard weed is nearly impossible to get rid of once it has infested a field, but so is the faith of those who seem to be weeds in the kingdom of God. And not only is this nasty weed unwelcome, but then so are the many different birds it attracts!

The wild mustard takes over the field, thriving like the kingdom, and the mustard blooms and the birds of the air come to nest! Just like all the "sinners" and tax collectors and the lowly ones who came to Jesus, these birds then threaten the well planted crop.

So the kingdom of God, like the mustard seed, poses a healthy challenge to the society and religion and to the hearer of the gospel: The church is not to be country club for self-righteous saints, it is an open field for the unwanted weeds and unwelcome birds.

The kingdom of God is messy. Worldly power is threatened by the Kingdom of God just as mustard seed threatens the perfect garden. We as subversive mustard seeds are called to challenge our culture, our society, and even members of our church. We, like the mustard plant, are called to invite the undesirable, unwelcome birds that seek refuge among us.

Yes, when we do this, we may well be viewed with suspicion, and be a thorn in the side of those who want to maintain the status quo, but the kingdom of God is not about “business as usual” in a perfect “weedless” garden.  

What the world considers a weed is really the greatest image of the kingdom of God.

No matter how small we consider our efforts or our faith, it is the beginning of great growth.  When we love our enemy and pray for him or her and when we walk with those who have lost faith, the mustard seed blooms! When we help a neighbor, visit the sick, or pay someone’s bills, the mustard seed blooms! When we make a meal for the lonely or those who are grieving the death of a loved one, the mustard seed blooms!

When we defend the human dignity of each and every person, regardless of nationality or language, the mustard seed blooms! When we stand up for those in poverty who have no voice, when we defend the rights of workers, the mustard seed blooms! 

When we assist the woman with an unplanned pregnancy–both before birth and after she gives birth, when we truly defend marriage by living our vows and giving witness to the sacrificial love that is marriage, when we love our children and our parents, no matter what they’ve done, the mustard seed blooms! For in the smallest acts of love the seeds of the kingdom bloom.

Let’s pray that our hearts might be like fertile soil ready to allow the seed of the kingdom to take root and germinate at once!

God’s love is constant. 

God is on the move. 

God’s kingdom moves forward.

The smallest seed of faith can grow into a great faith.

Even a giant walnut tree begins as a single walnut.

Friday, June 8, 2012



In our society today, we are so caught up in our fast paced lifestyles, and “reality shows” that true reality is either ignored or missed. Relationships have been cheapened and even the word “friend” has come to mean any or all acquaintances. Life is lived too fast, and in the process we often take others for granted. 

The former Bishop of Evansville, Indiana, Gerald Gettelfinger (bishop from 1989-2011), in his last column for THE MESSAGE, the diocesan newspaper, recalled an earlier time when people would take the time to write letters and thank you notes (and physically mail them). He noted the rapidity and ease of e-mail, FaceBook, texting, twitter, and whatever else, but he wrote of the personal, almost sacramental, nature of the act of writing letters and receiving letters in the mail. He encouraged all of us to write letters.  (My parents also always made me write thank you notes). 

My own pastor, Fr. Henry Kuykendall , as long as I have known him, has always called upon us to have an “attitude of gratitude.” St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians wrote: “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness.” (Col 3.15b) and “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”

As I have gotten older and spent time one-on-one with the sick and suffering, and watched how quickly my own sons have grown older, I see what precious little time we really do have. So many of us can turn the television on and zone out and be entertained by banal humor, or just become so busy with life, running to and fro, for whatever reasons, while the people most important in our lives slip away from us.

Over the past year a former student and now a fellow teacher recommended the book 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life by John Kralik, which is more of a personal memoir, but the author does show how gratitude changed his life.

St. Benedict, in the 73rd chapter of his Rule writes, and I paraphrase: “There is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting. This zeal, therefore, we should practice with the most fervent love. Thus we should anticipate one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10); most patiently endure one another's infirmities, whether of body or of character… [and] prefer nothing whatever to Christ that He may bring us all together to everlasting life!” 

In the gospel, Christ himself said, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited meAmen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least ones of mine, you did for me.’ 

Many people are hungering for companionship, thirsting for love, estranged from community, stripped of dignity, alone in their illness and imprisonment. A letter may well be the kindest visitor of their day.

St. Paul also writes in his letter to the Philippians,If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness...; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.  Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, in the book of Psalms, we pray, "Go within his 

gates giving thanks…” (Ps. 100.4), so having a thankful 

heart and an attitude of gratitude is a prerequisite for 

entering into God’s presence. 

I am reminded of the line from the musical Les Miserables,

based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name: “To love

another person is to see the face of God.”  

If we spend all our days on the negative, we will dull 

our sense of gratitude. If we would practice thankfulness,

I believe we as a people would be happier, healthier, and, 

ultimately, holier.

May we continue to dedicate ourselves to thankfulness, 

devote ourselves to prayer, keeping alert with an attitude 

of gratitude and thanksgiving.