Jun 10, 2018: 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

1st Reading – Genesis 3:9-15

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree,
the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me–
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”

The early chapters of Genesis have much to teach us about why things are the way they are today. Today’s first reading tells us what happened immediately after Eve, then Adam, ate of the forbidden tree. Is this an accurate historical account, exact in every detail? We don’t know, as there were no witnesses there taking notes. What we do know is that all mankind is descended from Adam and Eve and that we all hear the stain of their first (the original) sin. We also know that the Holy Spirit guided the human author of this account thousands of years later to set down the theological truths which God wanted to be revealed.

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree,

The tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). It was probably a fig tree, especially in light of the reference in 3:7 to fashioning loincloths from fig leaves.

Medieval art often depicted the fruit as an apple, playing on the similarity between the Latin words mālum “an apple,” and mălum “an evil, a misfortune.”

The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”

God knows where Adam is, of course.  He is announcing that he knows that something is wrong and inviting Adam to tell him about it.

What God is really asking is, “Where are you in your relationship to me?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.”

Two different terms are used in Genesis to refer to the nakedness of the couple.  Immediately after their creation, the term is ârôm, which simply means “uncovered”; however, êrōm, the term used here, means “exposed.”

In verse 7 (which precedes this passage), Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves, indicating that a lack of clothing is not the issue.

The word êrōm only appears in the Bible ten times, and it always connotes some kind of spiritual deprivation.  Adam is fully aware of their inability to hide their sin from God — they are exposed.

Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”

Adam thought that by eating of the tree he would be able to decide for himself what was good and what was evil — that he would become like God.  Instead, he gained the knowledge to discern between the two.  Sin is absolute; it is not relative to the situation and/or the participant.

The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

The man and woman are not only spiritually naked, or “exposed,” they are also unwilling to take responsibility for their fault.  Each of them blames someone else.

The command not to eat of the tree was given to the man before the woman was created (Genesis 2:16); therefore, God questions him first.

For her part, the woman chose to listen to the serpent instead of the man. She admits that she was tricked, but the serpent had not really lied to her.  As is usually the case with temptation, she allowed herself to be misled.

Then the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life.

The serpent is banned and brought low, forced to eat dust, the very symbol of death and decay.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

The limits of the serpent’s power are sketched in the final condition of its punishment. There will be constant hostility between the serpent and the woman, between the various manifestations of temptations and the children she will bear.

The masculine form in the Hebrew is not necessarily a direct reference to Christ, but rather refers to all the descendants of this first couple, all of humanity.  Throughout their lives, human beings will have to constantly battle temptation.

Many commentators do, however, see this as God’s first promise of a savior, noting that a descendant of the woman will strike at the head of evil, conveying a mortal wound; whereas evil will only strike his heel.  Within this perspective, Christ, the “new Adam,” entered a garden (Gesthemane) and took upon himself the curse and sin of the first Adam; his suffering and death on the wood of a tree transformed that tree into the new Tree of Life.  Jesus rejected the lies of evil and walked the path that Adam was intended to walk.

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke,
we too believe and therefore we speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.
Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.
Therefore, we are not discouraged;
rather, although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent,
should be destroyed,
we have a building from God,
a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.

During Ordinary Time in Cycle B, the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians is proclaimed immediately after Easter. We will hear from 2 Corinthians for five weeks.

In today’s reading, Paul contrasts the present age with the age to come, the time when all believers will be raised with Jesus and will stand in God’s presence.

Brothers and sisters: Since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we too believe and therefore we speak,

Paul begins his discourse with a reference to a claim made by a psalmist who kept faith in God even in the midst of affliction, quoting the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Psalm 116:10.

Like the ancient poet, Paul is struggling with issues of life and death.  In his instruction he uses several different metaphors to illustrate the contrast the exists between them.

knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.

Paul’s confidence is in God, who raised Jesus from the dead and who will also raise all those who believe in Jesus.

“He who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us also if we do His will and walk in His commandments and love the things which He loved, abstaining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking and false witness” [Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. A.D. 135), (Second) Letter To The Philippians, 2].

Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.

The more people hear of God’s goodness to his followers, the more they will join their ranks in glorifying God.

Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul contrasts the outer self with the inner self, the unseen with the seen, the transitory with the eternal.

Not even the sufferings that are part of the Christian life can discourage Paul. Measure for measure, there really is no comparison, although suffering can be seen and the subsequent glory is imperceptible.  In fact, glory is the product of the affliction they willingly endure.

“Consider, dearly beloved, that life’s troubles, even if distressing, are still of short duration, whereas the good things that will come to us in the next life are eternal and everlasting. ‘What is seen is transitory,’ Scripture says, but ‘what is not seen is eternal.’ Accordingly, let us endure what is passing without complaint and not desist from virtue’s struggle so that we may enjoy the good things that are eternal and last forever” [Saint John Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 392), Homilies On The Second Epistle To the Corinthians, 9.3].

For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.

Using more concrete imagery, Paul continues with the theme of contrasts, contraposing what is earthly and temporary with what is heavenly and ephemeral.

While his concern is for the people who will hear the gospel message he preaches, the primary focus of his preaching is the resurrection of Jesus and its impact on the lives of those who believe.  In each comparison, death holds sway over the first member of the pair; in each of the second members, resurrection triumphs.

Gospel – Mark 3:20-35

Jesus came home with his disciples.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said,
“He is possessed by Beelzebul,”
and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables,
“How can Satan drive out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself,
that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.
And if Satan has risen up against himself
and is divided, he cannot stand;
that is the end of him.
But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can plunder the house.
Amen, I say to you,
all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be
forgiven them.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”
For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

His mother and his brothers arrived.
Standing outside they sent word to him and called him.
A crowd seated around him told him,
“Your mother and your brothers and your sisters
are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”

Today’s gospel reading contains an example of intercalation, a distinctive characteristic of Mark’s gospel, where one narrative (the report of a hostile encounter with scribes) is sandwiched within another (a story of concern from Jesus’ family).  Though very distinct stories, when placed together as they are here, they interpret one another.

Jesus came home with his disciples.

Probably not to Nazareth, the place he originally called home, but to Capernaum, his later home.

Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

This is equivalently an accusation of demonic possession.

His family (later identified as his mother and his brothers) has come to take charge of him, with strength if necessary.  Why they believe that he is out of his mind isn’t stated, but from their perspective, Jesus should be home making tables and chairs instead of attracting throngs of sick and demon possessed people, not to mention arousing the hostility of the religious leaders.

Their action was probably motivated in part by fear for his safety.  If so, their concern betrays their lack of faith in the authenticity of his claims.  The whole town of Nazareth will have a similar response in 6:1-3.

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

A new set of opponents arrive on the scene.  They too misunderstand Jesus, but it is not out of concern for him.  They acknowledge that he has extraordinary power to cast out demons, but they ascribe this power to the prince of demons.

This challenge of the scribes is another attempt to shame Jesus (see Mark 2:23-28), calling for a response that will demonstrate that he has retained his honor.

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan?

The scribes speak of “Beelzebul” (Baal-zebul, or “lord of the temple”), while Jesus speaks of Satan.  Both are references to the same spirit of evil.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. 

Jesus counters their accusation with two parables.

First, he points out the absurdity of their allegation, maintaining that neither a house nor a kingdom would be able to endure if it were divided against itself: both would collapse from within.

But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.

With a second image, Jesus alludes to the ruin of a house when one stronger than the householder attacks and plunders the property.  Before this pillage can be accomplished, the attacker has to incapacitate the householder, thereby preventing any kind of resistance.

This parable suggests that Jesus is indeed incapacitating the evil one and bringing the house of evil to ruin.  Jesus has entered Satan’s domain, restrained him, and is now plundering his household by performing exorcisms.

They have accused him of working for Satan; he has demonstrated that in fact, he is Satan’s enemy.

“Mention has been made of the unclean spirit whom the Lord shows to be divided against himself. The Holy Spirit, however, is not divided against himself. Rather He makes those whom He gathers together undivided against themselves, by dwelling within those who have been cleansed, that they may be like those of whom it is written in the Acts of the Apostles (4:32), ‘The community of believers was of one heart and mind’” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (between A.D. 392 and 418), Sermons On Selected Lessons Of The New Testament, 21,35].

Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus ends his response with a dire pronouncement: to impute the power of the Holy Spirit that is at work in Jesus to the spirit of evil is an unforgivable blasphemy.

Saint John Paul II: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit “does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the cross.  It is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a ‘right’ to persist in evil — in any sin at all — and who thus rejects redemption.”

His mother and his brothers arrived.

Attention returns to the family of Jesus.  (Recall that in Hebrew parlance, a cousin or other close relative is referred to as a brother or sister.)

Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In a society where familial bonds and obligations supersede all other responsibilities, Jesus makes a daring statement.  He claims that real kinship is determine by acceptance of the will of God, not by blood or marriage.

Catena in Marcum (5th century): “Jesus shows that he prefers those who are of the household of faith in comparison with any family connection.  And he says these things not rejecting his mother and brothers at all, but he shows that he prefers the relationship of the soul in comparison with any relationship of nature.  This is why these things get expressed, even though he cares about his family.”

Acceptance of God’s will and God’s marvelous deeds is the fundamental challenge of both of these stories.

“It is He who said that no one belongs to His family except those who do the will of His Father. To be sure, He graciously included Mary herself in this number, for she was doing the will of His Father. Thus He spurned the earthly name of His mother in comparison to heavenly kinship. … Do not be ungrateful, pay your duty of gratitude to your mother, repay earthly favors by spiritual ones, temporal by eternal ones” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (ca. A.D. 400), Letter 243].

Connections and Themes

  • The power of God versus the forces of evil.  We do not have to live long before we realize that we are participants in a constant struggle between good and evil.  We see it in the world at large.  Good people war with one another, unjust economic systems that were set up to help people now exploit the vulnerable.  Groups committed to various goals demean those who disagree with them.  In our families we may encounter infidelity, abuse, and alienation.  We find in ourselves strains of addiction, resentment, despair.  We who are the offspring of the woman in the garden are in constant enmity with the offspring of the serpent.  However, the exorcisms performed by Jesus and his disciples show that God’s power is supreme.
  • God’s power misconstrued.  Those who do not want to accept goodness that doesn’t conform to their standards frequently dismiss it by claiming that it’s actually evil.  People who refuse to obey corrupt or outdated laws are often prosecuted; some people who work in solidarity with the oppressed to change unjust social structures are labeled anarchists.  They follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who was accused of operating with the power of the prince of demons.  Such attitudes may spring from ignorance or misunderstanding, but when they are the product of hardness of heart, they are nothing less than blasphemy, the sin against the Holy Spirit.

There is a very stern warning here.  Even those who were closest to Jesus, the members of his own family, misunderstood the origin of his power.  We who claim kinship with him but who rely on our own power and insight are no more preserved from error than were they.  It is only in the power of God that we can stand secure.  We are told to take heart in this matter and to fix our gaze on the things of God.

  • New kinship bonds.  It is the power of God that re-creates us.  Acceptance of Jesus as the one who wields the power of God makes us brothers and sisters of Jesus and, like Mary who bore him to the world, mothers of him as well.  In this same power we can be victorious in our struggle with the offspring of the serpent; we too can cast out the demons that have taken possession of us and of others.  We too can gather with those who sit around Jesus, listening to his words and being transformed by them.  By the power of God we are made a new people with a new identity and a new destiny.  By the power of God we will enjoy the fullness of redemption.

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