In certain faith traditions, it’s a custom to follow a liturgical cycle, where the readings from the Scriptures are organized in such a way that helps the reader identify key points and connections between both Testaments. As a student myself, I’ve always appreciated the Daily Roman Missal for just that reason. It makes it easy to understand God’s Word without having to be a scholar that connects the dots. Here, the dots are already connected and all you need to do is pray for eyes that see.
A good lectionary will include readings from both the Old or New, the Psalms, and the Gospels of Jesus Christ. Often times we will see how the New has fulfilled or at least reflected the Old. And the Psalms put into context how to put our prayers to praise or petition. Finally, the Gospel of Jesus Christ shines a light on the greater glory of all those things by helping us to focus on Jesus in such a way that we can become little Christs. And because the Scriptures are vast, these lectionary readings are often organized into three cycles that help us to reflect on the entirety of Scripture in just three years! Some people with amazing capacity for learning can reflect on them in just one year and often follow a one-year cycle of biblical readings, like the current #1 podcast in America the “Bible in a Year” offered by Fr. Mike Schmitz and American Evangelist Jeff Cavins. I am not such a person. Like the disciples, I usually need at least three years of learning before I figure out what Jesus’ is doing! But I do enjoy the podcast in addition to my daily reading with coffee, sausage and eggs. All of which I find essential, now more than ever.
Today’s readings come from the book of Hebrews (12:4-7,11-15), Psalms (103:1-2, 13-14, 17-18), and the Gospel according to Mark (6:1-6). Sometimes I find incorporating the reading from the previous cycle’s year into my reflection can be useful in order to broaden understanding. Today, I’m including the readings from 2 Samuel 24:2,9-17 a new Psalm 32: 1-2,5-7 to help us make more sense of everything.
Following the order of old to new, it becomes natural for me to compare and contrast. In this case, (beginning with last cycle’s reading from Samuel) David is lamenting that he has ignored the wisdom of God by choosing to do something that God told him he ought not to do (he took a census). When he repents, God offers him three disciplinary measures he may choose from to correct his error (famine, war, or pestilence). David chooses pestilence (disease). It’s interesting to reflect on this now while we are in the midst of a pandemic. Why on earth would someone choose to be disciplined by plague? David’s reasoning is clear, “Let us fall by the hand of God, for he is merciful; but let me not fall by the hand of man.” Wisdom is often bewildering to fools. So the Lord sends a plague for three days rather than allowing famine to overcome his people for three years or war to burden them for three months. We are told that 70,000 people die from the Lord’s discipline and it moves David to cry out for mercy, “It is I who have sinned; it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these are sheep; what have they done? Punish me and my kindred.”
Now, if we leave these words as they are, and do not do our diligence in reading further, it may be easy to develop an image of God as one who punishes those who mess up, by not following his advice, with plagues, war and famine it would be easy to dismiss such a God as loving if even good. Thankfully, we can be wiser than this because we know there is more to the story.
When Jesus enters his hometown, according to Mark, he is permitted to teach in the synagogue. Obviously, he has permission to speak or they wouldn’t have allowed him. Many listen to him reveal the wisdom of the Torah with much astonishment, as we might do today listening to teachers like Fr. Mike and Jeff Cavins. “Where did they get all this?” many have even asked. What kind of wisdom they have! Here is where we can look to David’s story for the answer. Jesus is a son of David, one of his kin. So it is natural that Jesus would display the same wisdom as David had done in choosing his discipline from the Lord. Likewise, when the people begin to scoff at his wisdom we hear Jesus say, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, and among his own kin…” The reality of what Jesus is conveying in these words becomes all the more clear in the context of David’s words in the book of Samuel. “It is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these are sheep; what have they done? Punish me and my kindred.”
Jesus as the kin of David becomes a shepherd also. And though he himself has not sinned, Jesus is reaping God’s fulfillment of David’s words – He will be punished for David’s sins, and all of the sins of his kin, indeed the whole of mankind. And because we are sheep, how can we know that we are lacking in faith? Jesus, affirms this same sentiment at the cross, when he utters up words of forgiveness and like his ancestor David, calls upon God to punish the Shepherd and not the sheep saying, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
With these stories side-by-side, it becomes clearer to see that Jesus is seeing as David once saw, like a king. And as a king, a shepherd, he too will call upon Heaven to absolve the sheep, which he does from the cross. You and I will be absolved of every sin because the Lord honored David’s request in time of discipline to punish his kindred, Jesus, on the cross for the sins of the world. To a Jewish person, this revelation between the Old and the New would be clear evidence of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel. But Mark, we are told, was writing his account to help Gentile (non-Jewish) believers understand Jesus. So what is here for us to see as Gentiles? For this, we need to include the Wisdom of the Psalms.
But first, let’s recall that 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us Jesus became for us Wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption. Keeping this in mind, in Psalm 32 from the previous cycle, we read these words:
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man whom the Lord imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
For this shall every faithful man pray to you in times of stress.
Though deep waters overflow, they shall not reach him.
You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me; with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
Brothers and sisters, I submit to you the reason for Jesus’ not being able to perform any mighty deeds there in his home town is not a justification for avoiding laying on of hands with our family and friends who know us. For he did cure the sick by laying his hands on them, as the Scriptures say. Nor is it to be accepted as a job hazard for being a prophet. But rather, the greater deed, the mighty deeds for which the people were astounded saying, “What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” are the very deeds that are revealed to us by the Psalmist. Who knows, maybe Jesus was actually reading this very Psalm to them and through his teaching that day in the synagogue they were astounded by the Truth that the mightiest deeds one can perform are deeds of repentance and forgiveness.
For this shall every faithful man pray to you in times of stress…
I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
Jesus could not perform the mighty deeds that day, not because he was a prophet at home, but because the people refused to believe He was the Living Word about which he so wisely spoke! Instead, they settled for healing in their bodies and mere astonishment at the Wisdom he possessed because they just could not accept that a “son of Mary” could be mighty enough to heal their souls and impart himself as Wisdom for them to possess for themselves, he who became Wisdom itself, our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption. He became a stumbling block and a sign of contradiction for many.
A prophet is without honor wherever the people refuse to see only a man and not the Divine-Man within.
Pray, dear friends, Let us not settle for lesser deeds that only heal our bodies when the son of David has come to heal our souls. May we, who are not from his native home, receive not only his healing hands but also his teachings, his Wisdom, and His whole Body, as Shepherd of our body, mind and souls!
Don’t be in fear of those who can kill only the body but not your soul. Fear only God, who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.Matthew 10:28
Perhaps now in light of all this, it is easier for us to see the Wisdom revealed by the Truth taught by the Great Apostle to the Gentiles in his Letter to the Hebrews that we read as part of today’s Liturgical Cycle:
“Brothers and sisters:
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as his sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.
Strive for peace with everyone,
and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God,
that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble,
through which many may become defiled.”
One of the advantages we have when reading the Scriptures side-by-side in context like this is seeing where the glory of Jesus as Christ is trying to point all those who have chosen to become little Christs. Now we can turn to Psalm 108 and see how to form our prayer into petitions and praise.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him,
For he knows how we are formed;
he remembers that we are dust.
But the kindness of the LORD is from eternity
to eternity toward those who fear him,
And his justice toward children’s children
among those who keep his covenant.”
Just like we can see in Scripture that Jesus is being compared to the son of David, we ought to considered how our own story is a reflection of being a son or daughter of Christ. Do we even look like him? Can others tell? Would they be astonished at the mighty deeds you do in His name? Do you example repentance and being forgiven? Do you forgive others? Are you displaying his healing hands? How are you doing at displaying his teachings, wisdom and the fullness of his body alive in you?
The answers to these questions should compel us to reflect more deeply on the Words of God all the more, because it’s in the Scriptures that we are reminded in Christ there are no contradictions. When we are finding conflict with our daily life and the Word of God that is when we need Christ’s teachings most.
At Encounter, we learn that it is from the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that all mighty deeds flow, and healing comes. Without Christ’s teaching in the synagogue the people could not be astonished. Without revelation of the Truth, true healing of the person cannot come by repentance and forgiveness and only the body is healed not the soul. This is why Jesus taught that faith is what heals and faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Every person of great faith noted in the Scriptures had an encounter with the Living Word. They either heard about Jesus and believed long before they ever saw his deeds or if they experienced a miracle without hearing about who he was first, they soon heard his teachings after, which gave them faith to believe what happened to them is because the Lord remembers his children.
We cannot forget the power of hearing the Scriptures taught in Truth. Let us pray for our Shepherds that they might have courage to step into the synagogues and churches and teach. Let us pray for all those who will hear the Word of God that they may repent and believe in Christ’s mighty deeds. And let us pray for ourselves that we have courage to study and to speak Truth as we strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.