Background: Once again we must avoid sentimentalizing this story. As the carol “We Three Kings” says, the astrologers/Magi are travelling over “field and fountain, moor and mountain” as they follow the star. We must also realize how radical this passage was for Matthew’s original, predominantly Jewish audience. It is Gentile sages who recognize the coming of the Liberator and not the Jewish civil or religious leaders. That fact is supported in today’s epistle selection.
- When have you recognized God’s presence in your life in unexpected places or through unexpected people?
- When has Jesus been your star, leading you through doubt, confusion, or anxiety to a deeper love?
- Which of your treasures have you already given to Jesus?
- Which one are you still keeping back instead of sharing it with others?
Practice: Part of the meaning of this feast is that God can be revealed in very ordinary ways. Yet so many of us interact with others out of stereotypes or prejudices. This week resolve not just to be polite but friendly to service providers: cashiers, servers, baristas, etc. You might be surprised.
The Baptism of the Lord (using the Cycle B alternate readings)
Background: At last, we return to Mark. His original audience was composed of Christians who were adult “converts,” adults who had experienced repentance and the call to faith and baptism, an experience which is shared today only by catechumens. For them it was a momentous event, not performed with a trickle of water over a forehead but with a full plunge, an event which altered their relationship with God, each other, and the world. Their sins were forgiven; they had died and risen, and been reborn in the Spirit as God’s sons and daughters. They would have immediately understood Mark’s simple description of Jesus’s own baptism. For him as well it was a transformative moment of experiencing God’s love and favor, a moment as well that called him to his mission in life.
- When have you experienced that you too are God’s beloved, the daughter or son of his favor?
- What gets in the way of your living in the freedom of God’s love?
- Is it a message from society that gets in the way? Or from the church? Or have they helped you grow in living God’s love?
- Our faith in Jesus can bring us victory over our sinful selves. What brokenness or compulsion within you is the love of Jesus already healing?
Practice: We take for granted not only those who serve us but even those who are close to us. Although love is shown more in deeds than in words, Jesus’s life changed when the Father told him that he was beloved. For which person this week should you speak words that confirm how you love and care for them? Who needs to hear those words?
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Background: The gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time is always about some additional epiphany of Jesus. Today we get the Johannine version of the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples leave him and start to follow Jesus—and then call others to him as well. The Baptist proclaimed the forgiveness of sins; because of his baptism Jesus is literally a “charismatic” figure, endowed with power by the Holy Spirit.
- Where and when do you think that you do a good job of bearing witness to Jesus?
- What is keeping his light from shining more brightly through you to others?
- How do you bring glad tidings to the lowly? Healing to the brokenhearted? Or do you run from challenging situations?
- How can we as church do a better job of bringing glad tidings to the lowly?
Practice: The title that the Baptist uses to describe Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” a title that will return during the story of the Passion and in Revelations. We still use that title at Mass during the breaking of the bread and preparation for sharing communion. Ponder and reflect upon that title, and pray the Lamb of God each day.
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Background: Back to Mark, and now we get the call of the first disciples from his perspective. Here Jesus is a charismatic teacher to whom people abruptly turn over their lives at his call because he somehow embodies the reign/kingdom of God in his own person. Yet he demands change!
- What have you had to abandon in order to follow Jesus?
- Because of that surrender, how have you found fulfillment in Jesus?
- All believers are called in some way to be “fishers of people.” Whom have you helped bring to faith? Or helped strengthen their faith?
- Which people have been your best role models for faithful Christian living?
Practice: Find a copy of St. Ignatius Loyola’s prayer Suscipe/Take, Lord, Receive; make it part of your own prayer this week.
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Background: Today we see Jesus teaching for the first time, and his hearers are amazed/spellbound. For, unlike the scribes who merely expound the Law, Jesus shows power both in his words and in his actions. Not only are his words full of grace, but the Spirit abiding in him makes him the “Holy One,” the One set apart by God to drive evil from the minds, hearts and even the bodies of humankind.
- What words of Jesus have had spell-binding power for you? Power to change and heal your own life?
- What evil within you do you want Jesus to drive out?
- What evil around you can you help drive out right now by the power of the Spirit?
- What good, liberating news have you shared lately?
Practice: What are you using to distract yourself? Relaxation is needed and a good thing, but we can hide from God’s call to live the kingdom/reign every moment of our lives. Each day this week look again at your life, and find one more way in which you are distracting yourself. Then pray Psalm 23.