Tenth Sunday – B

Jesus was courageous. Right from the start, He met opposition. Many people were attracted to His teaching, so much so that He and His disciples couldn’t eat. Those who knew Jesus as a village carpenter saw crowds rushing to hear Him speak. They thought this sudden popularity was affecting His mind. He was “beside Himself.”

Centuries before the printing press, in Palestine, scribes handled anything that needed to be recorded, especially making copies of the Scriptures by hand. They knew every word. Who dared to explain the Scriptures, without consulting them? They concluded that the devil was behind this. Jesus was possessed not only by the devil, but by Beelzebul, the prince of the devils.

His family heard about the opposition. They came, even bringing Mary with them (Mk 3:32-35). The family had every reason to be afraid for Him. At the start of this same chapter 3, Mark informs us that the Pharisees, the strict interpreters of the Mosaic Law and opponents of the foreign occupation, had come together with the Herodians, the supporters of Herod and the Roman occupation, to take counsel about Him “to destroy Him” (Mk 3:6).

Jesus was certain of His vocation. When He was baptized by John the Baptist, the voice of God confirmed that He was the “beloved Son in whom I [God] am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). After a time in the desert, He began His mission: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mk 1:14).

Jesus would not stop because of the criticism and opposition that wanted to silence Him. Nor would He allow His family to protect Him by taking Him home.

Even His followers didn’t imagine that Jesus’ vocation went far beyond preaching the “good news.” He was the offspring of Eve promised in today’s first reading (Gen 3:9-15), who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); He would vanquish the power of evil.

For Jesus, doing the will of God was not only His vocation but His family’s vocation, which included even His mother, “Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to Me” (Mk 3:35).

Mary had already done the will of God in a heroic way. She gave birth to Jesus and raised Him. Would she want to take Him home? Because of His miraculous conception and other supernatural indications, she knew He was destined for something extraordinary.

Yet she was also a mother. If there were signs of danger, she might want to take Him to the safest place, her kitchen table. She had to come to a new stage of doing the will of God, letting go of Jesus’ physical presence, surrendering Him to God’s plan.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that after Jesus had died, risen and ascended, Mary and Jesus’ relatives were in the upper room with the disciples. At some point, we don’t know when, Jesus’ family accepted God’s vocation for Jesus. At the Cross, Mary’s instinct to be a protective mother was enlarged to being the mother of His followers

(Jn 19:26-27).

Today’s second reading (2 Cor 4:13-5:1) gives us the example of one of Jesus’ first followers, who also surrendered himself to God’s plan for him. St. Paul tells us that with all his journeys, his beatings and rough treatments, his body was getting weak. He writes that each day: “our body is being destroyed.”

He is convinced that he must proclaim the Gospel. He remembers the words of Psalm 116:10, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” and so he asserts “We too believe and therefore we speak” (2 Cor 4:13).

Thomas Aquinas recalls Paul’s words to the Romans: “For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom. 10:10).

Thomas interprets Paul’s confidence: “We do this because, since we believe, we speak and confess the faith and preach: ‘We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’ (Ac. 4:20)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 141).

Thomas attributes this assurance to the Spirit, “The Holy Spirit is the cause of this certitude.”

Paul knows very well that he may be killed but Jesus’ Resurrection assures him of life with Christ after death: “… knowing that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in His presence.” (2 Cor 4:14).

Thomas Aquinas elaborates on Paul’s conviction: “God the Father or the entire Trinity, will raise us also with Jesus, namely, to put us on the same glory as Jesus, because since we are His members, we should be with the head: ‘Where I am, there shall My servant be also’ (Jn. 12:26); ‘He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit which dwells in you’ (Rom. 8:11). And I am certain not only of our salvation but of yours also, because He will bring us with you, i.e., we will be together. For just as we are members of Christ, so you are also through us: ‘And so we shall always be with the Lord’ (1 Th. 4:17)” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 142).

Paul explains to the Corinthians that his sufferings are for their sake: “All things are for your benefit” (2 Cor 4:15). Thomas understands Jesus’ meaning: “For all things, the sufferings we endure, the graces we receive from God, are for your sake, namely, that you be instructed by our example. And this, therefore, so that as grace extends from us, in you to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God, i.e., that many may thank God for so great a favor: ‘Always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father’ (Eph. 5:20)” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 143).

Paul believes that although he seems to be breaking down, he is being renewed: “We are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16).  Thomas reflects: “The patience of the saints is unconquerable” because they know that the Father raised Jesus from the dead.

Thomas considers that those who surrender themselves to God may appear to be breaking down but are renewed: “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.  Our outer nature, i.e., the body with its sentient nature, is wasting away, in tribulations, fasts, abstinences and watchings: ‘Our old self was crucified with him’ (Rom. 6:6); … yes this man, who is inner, namely, whose mind or reason is strengthened with the shield of faith, is being renewed” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 147).

According to Thomas, “human nature was established in wholeness” and would have always remained new. However, because of sin, corruption entered in and with it, “ignorance, difficulty in doing good, inclination to evil.”

Thomas asserts: “When such a human nature gets rid of the results of sin, it is said to be renewed. … The intellect removes errors and assumes the newness of truth. It is according to this that the inner man, namely, the soul, is renewed: ‘Be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph. 4:23) … In heaven, there will be a complete renewal there: ‘Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ (Ps. 103:5). The saints advance daily in purity of conscience and knowledge of divine things. Consequently, patience is unconquerable, because it is renewed from day to day” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 147).

Paul considers that the present difficulties are minimal in comparison to what God will give us: “For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).

Thomas reflects: “The cause of this patience, is recognition of a reward… For this [present], slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. As if to say: the tribulations we suffer here are nothing, if we look to the glory we obtain from them” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 148). Thomas recalls Augustine’s words: “All that is heavy and huge, love makes easy and almost nothing.”

Paul looks to what is unseen and eternal: “We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:18). Thomas reflects: “Although the things we hope for are still to come, and in the meantime our body is corrupted, nevertheless, we are renewed, because we do not pay attention to those temporal things, but to eternal. And this is what he says: it works in us a weight of glory. In us, I say, not looking, i.e., not paying attention, to the things that are seen, i.e., earthly things, but to the things that are unseen, namely, heavenly things: ‘Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead’ (Phil. 3:13); ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor. 2:9). And why do we look on heavenly things? Because the things that are seen, i.e., earthly things, are transient and temporal, but the things that are unseen, namely, heavenly things, are eternal: ‘My salvation will be forever’ (Is. 51:6)” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 151).

Paul states: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1).

Thomas explains that our salvation will not be only be our souls but our bodies as well: “We have a building from God, i.e., prepared by God; a building, I say, a house not made with hands, i.e., not a work of man or of nature, but an incorruptible body, which we shall assume. It is not made with hands, because incorruptibility in our bodies is the result of a divine action alone: ‘He will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Phil. 3:21)” (Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 153).

Everyone who seeks to follow Jesus in doing the will of God will experience challenges as did Mary and Paul. By faith, they believe that, although they may seem to be breaking down, they are being renewed. The ultimate breaking down and renewal is the death and Resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul affirms: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:10).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P. References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentaries on First and Second Corinthians are taken from the translations of Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation, found in Volume 38 of the Biblical Commentaries, was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012

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