Wednesday 26th January
(Today may be celebrated as the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus; but what are given here are the readings from Ordinary Time.)
Hebrews 10:11ff. Jesus offers one sacrifice for sin that forever perfects his people, inscribing the new covenant on their hearts.
Mark 4:1ff. Parable of the sower and the mystery of Jesus’ words about the Kingdom of God.
God’s Mysterious Ways
God’s promises are present within us, mysteriously, in ways that we must struggle to comprehend. The letter to the Hebrews assures us, “Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins… and by that one sacrifice he has forever perfected those who are being sanctified.” This Jesus, who is our hope, our way, truth and life, lives in us just as vine and branches are united in one circle of life. The reality of the divine life within us is expressed in another way in Hebrews, “This is the covenant I will make with you after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds.”
This law, this sap that flows between vine and branches – different figures of speech for the same mystery, that Jesus is truly within us – yet hidden as deeply in darkness as the sap within the vine, as seed in the dark earth. We are not able to dictate in advance how it will develope. The mystery of developement is further seen in the reading from 2 Samuel, marked by divine reversals. At first David wants to build a temple for Yahweh and the prophet Nathan agrees, “Go, do what you have in mind, for the Lord is with you”, 7:3. The next day Nathan returns with the opposite instructions, saying that the Lord never asked, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Instead, it is God who will build a house for David – a dynasty among his descendants, and his throne shall stand forever.
The overt meaning of these was that the Davidic dynasty would always be the kings of God’s chosen people and their throne would stand firm at Jerusalem forever; but it was not to be so. This prophecy, like others, contains mysterious possibilities beyond the original meaning of the text. The dynasty was removed by the Babylonian conquerors in 587 B.C. and even the devout Israelite who composed Ps 89 could not understand God’s word and its fulfillment at that time: How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? Where are your favours, O Lord, pledged of old to David by your faithfulness, Ps 89:47, 50.
Strange that even God’s inspired word can be expressed in a series of questions. Even the devout psalmist was left in darkness, questioning the basis of faith, questioning God. And in this relation with God, the psalmist remained in contact with the One who inspires the message and speaks the word.
The gospel adds its own share of mystery, quoting some of the most difficult words of Old Testament prophecy, “They will look intently and not see, listen carefully and not understand, lest perhaps they repent and be forgiven, cf., Isa 6:9-10. The passage ends with hope – still couched in mystery yet nonetheless hope: for the trunk of the oak remains when its leaves have fallen, Isa 7:13b. Life remains, hidden beneath the earth, waiting for the spirit of the Lord to rest on it, so that a shoot shall sprout from the stem and a bud blossom from its roots. The gospel assures us that every prophecy will be fulfilled and every hope will blossom in its time; but it also insists on the human factor, the condition of the soil, the environment of thorns or rocks or pathways. We are not to wait passively and do nothing and simply wait for God brings all to fulfillment. While the mystery is beyond our control and eventually we will be taken by surprise, nonetheless we are expected to persevere through persecution and difficult times. Salvation is the interaction of God’s mystery and our earnest dedication. We must achieve what is humanly possible, and then in the end we can say, like Paul, “I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, God made it grow”, (1 Cor 3:6.)
First Reading, Year 1 Hebrews 10:11-18
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Gospel: Mark 4:1-20
Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, an it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”