3 July 2012
The visit of biblical scholar Sr Veronica Lawson gave leaders in the archdiocese a chance to focus on the Sunday gospel readings of Ordinary Time and learn something of the importance of seeing the stories in the context of the time.
Some 35 people, priests and lay pastoral leaders as well as other parish leaders gathered at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Waiwhetu on June 5 for a day of interactive learning.
Sr Veronica taught biblical studies at the Australian Catholic University for 20 years before taking over leadership of her Mercy congregation in Ballarat, Victoria, from which position she has recently retired. She had studied extensively in the Holy Land and periodically leads study tours there.
Ordinary Time is important, she told the group, because it’s a time to reflect on what has gone before and to recharge. In Mark 6:31 after the apostles had told Jesus all they had done, he invites them to ‘come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’.
‘I would suggest that the more time we take to reflect, the more likely we are to respond with compassion and to achieve a lasting justice in our world.’
She introduced the gospel of Mark, the source of most of the Sunday readings in Year B, as a rich text, ‘probably the most influential work in the whole of Western literature’.
The opening of the gospel has Jesus saying ‘repent’, metanoiete in the Greek language of the Roman Empire in which all the gospels were written. This is an imperative command meaning think again – think beyond; expand your horizons; get out of this blinkered way of seeing the world.
‘It can mean turn around – turn back in the direction of the gospel. It can mean open up your world.’
At the end of Mark’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples to ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation’ (Mark 16:15). Sr Veronica suggests an ecological reading of this text especially when it is contrasted with the ending in Matthew, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). The earlier gospel of Mark takes in all creation whereas the writer of Matthew’s gospel who would have known Mark’s gospel, speaks of ‘nations’.
Mark’s gospel opens in the desert, the wilderness, which is familiar territory for the Jews living under the domination of the Roman Empire.
The baptism scene evokes Isaiah, ‘The servant of God will faithfully bring forth justice’, (Isa 42) we hear that this man Jesus is special, ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’.
So Isaiah sets the challenge, the mission to bring forth justice to the people in a gentle way. ‘A bruised reed he will not break’ (Isa 42:3).
The spirit impels Jesus into the desert where he is tested, ‘which is a better translation than “tempted” with wild beasts and angels – a way of talking about the presence of God – ministered to him, again evoking the Isaian image of peace.’
‘Don’t forget Jesus was a Jew. He would have seen himself as living faithfully a Jewish life. ‘You need to focus on that because when you get to the five-week cycle from John you get to the expression “the Jews” which is code for opposition within Judaism and sadly this was the grounds for anti-Jewish persecution in the early Church.’
Sr Veronica then looked at the two feeding readings in Mark to show how Jesus’ thinking developed. She stressed the need to check the translation and compare interpretations of the Greek and Hebrew texts.
When Jesus saw the crowds, (6:30ff) he was moved with compassion. In the Greek the word evokes a more physical response. So Jesus was actually moved in his bowels when he saw the crowds who had been following him.
Making the point that women do not appear often in the gospel, she drew attention to the end of this feeding story, ‘Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.’
This can be contrasted with 8:5 when the word used is ‘people’. What has caused this shift? In the previous chapter is the story of the Syrophoenician woman who challenged Jesus with ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs’ (7:28).
Reading between the lines or against the grain could suggest that this Gentile woman’s response has made Jesus reconsider his belief that his mission was to work within Judaism.
Reading the gospels in this way, seeing the people in the context of the society of their day, brings greater understanding of Jesus, she said.
Images, from top: Sr Veronica Lawson RSM.
Priests, lay pastoral leaders and other parish leaders at a Ministry Formation Day on June 5 to hear biblical scholar Sr Veronica Lawson from Ballarat.