This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

5/2/21 – Easter 5
5/9/21 – Easter 6
5/16/21 – Ascension
5/16/21 – Easter 7
5/23/21 – Pentecost
5/30/21 – Holy Trinity

6/6/21 – The Body and Blood of the Lord [B]
6/6/21 – Pentecost 2 [B]  (Common lectionary)
6/13/21 – Sunday 11 / Pentecost 3 [B]
6/20/21 – Sunday 12 / Pentecost 4 [B]
6/27/21 – Sunday 13 / Pentecost 5 [B]


May 2 – Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower . . . I am the vine, you are the branches.”
“Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
John 15: 1-8

THE WORD:

From the music of the psalms to the engravings on the temple pediments, vines were a symbol of Yahweh’s many blessings to Israel.  In his Last Supper discourse (from which today’s Gospel is taken), Jesus appropriates the image of the vine to explain his eternal connectedness to his disciples, their connectedness through him to God, and their connectedness to one another.

HOMILY POINTS:

In Christ, we are “grafted” to God and to one another.  The Risen One calls us to community, to be branches on the same vine, to realize our life in Christ is also life in one another.

We cannot live our faith in a vacuum:  Unless Jesus becomes the center of our lives, the faith we profess is doomed to wither and die in emptiness. 

The Easter season speaks to us of the eternal presence of Christ in our midst, present to us in the Word we have heard and has taken root in our hearts.  Our faithfulness to the call to discipleship demands that we work to enable that Word within us to produce a “yield” of compassion, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation.  In the “fruit” we bear as "branches" of Christ do we glorify God the “vine grower.”

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May 9 – Sixth Sunday of Easter [B]

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
“I do not call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.”
John 15: 9-17

THE WORD:

Chapters 13 through 17 of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ Last Supper discourse, might be described as Jesus’ last will and testament to his fledgling church.

Continuing last Sunday’s theme of the vine and branches, Jesus speaks of the love of God as the bonding agent of the new Israel.  The model of love for the faithful disciple – “to love one another as I have loved you” – is extreme, limitless and unconditional.  The love manifested in the Gospel and the resurrection of Christ creates an entirely new relationship between God and humanity.  Again Christ, the obedient Servant Redeemer, is the great “connector” between God and us.

In Christ, we are not “slaves” of a distant divine Creator but “friends” of God who hears the prayers and cries made to him in Jesus’ name.  As “friends of God,” we are called to reflect that love to the rest of the world.

HOMILY POINTS:

This is the commandment that Jesus to us who would be his Church: to love one another as Jesus, God made human, has loved us:  As Christ gave himself for others, we are to imitate his example of service to others; as Christ brought healing and peace into the lives of those he encountered, we are to bring that same healing and peace into the many lives we touch; as Christ revealed to the world a God who loves humanity as a parent loves his children, we are to love one another as brothers and sisters.

Christ transforms creation’s relationship with its Creator.  God is not the distant, aloof, removed architect of the universe; God is not the cruel taskmaster; God is not the unfeeling judge who seeks the destruction of the wicked.  God is creative, reconciling, energizing love -- and Jesus is the perfect expression of that love. 

All that God has done in the first creation of Genesis and the re-creation of Easter has been done out of the limitless, unfathomable love of God.  Such love invites us not to fear God but to accept his “friendship” with God, not to self-loathing at our unworthiness but to grateful joy at what God has done in us.

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May 16 – Ascension of the Lord [B]

[In some U.S. dioceses and Canada: Thursday, May 13]

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1: 1-11
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature . . .”
Mark 16: 15-20

THE WORD:

Today’s readings include two accounts of Jesus’ return to the Father:

Reading 1 is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke's “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus’ ascension begins volume 2 of Luke’s work.  The words and images here evoke the First Testament accounts of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2) and the forty years of the Exodus:  Luke considers the time that the Risen Lord spent with his disciples a sacred time, a “desert experience” for the apostles to prepare them for their new ministry of preaching the Gospel of the resurrection.  (Acts alone places the ascension forty days after Easter; the synoptic Gospels – including, strangely, Luke’s – specifically place the ascension on the day of Easter; John writes of the “ascension” not as an event but as a new existence with the Father.)

Responding to their question about the restoration of Israel, Jesus discourages his disciples from guessing what cannot be known.  Greater things await them as his “witnesses.”  In the missionary work before them, Christ will be with them in the presence of the Spirit to come.

Scholars call today’s Gospel the “longer ending” of Mark’s text.  In style and substance, these six verses are very unlike Mark; the best guess is that these verses were added sometime in the first century to “complete” Mark’s account to include the tradition of the ascension of Jesus.  Before returning to the Father, Jesus commissions his new church to continue Christ’s presence on earth through their proclamation of the “good news.”

HOMILY POINTS:

The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start.  Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants.  And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family. 

Jesus’ Ascension is both an ending and a beginning.  The physical appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the “good news” is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled.  Now begins the work of the disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed.

The Church Jesus leaves to the disciples on the mount of the Ascension is rooted not in buildings or wealth or formulas of prayer or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in joy and understanding that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives us the strength and freedom to be authentic and effective witnesses of the Risen One, who is present among us always.

Christ entrusts to his disciples of every time and place the sacred responsibility of teaching others everything he has taught and revealed about the Father: God's limitless love, his unconditional forgiveness and acceptance of every person as his own beloved child and our identity as God's sons and daughters and brothers and sisters to one another.  Christ also calls us to be witnesses of God's presence in our lives: to bring into the lives of others his healing forgiveness and reconciliation with God and one another, to hand on to others the story that has been handed on to us about Jesus and his Gospel of love and compassion.

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May 16 – Seventh Sunday of Easter [B]

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one . . .
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
John 17: 11-19

THE WORD:

In John’s account of the Last Supper, after his final teachings to his disciples before his passion, Jesus addresses his Father in heaven.  Today’s Gospel is from Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus in which he prays for his disciples, that they may be united in love, persevere despite the world’s “hatred” of them for the Word that they will proclaim, and be “consecrated” in the “truth.”

HOMILY POINTS:

The Gospel challenges us to recognize the prejudices, biases and ambitions that exist within each one of us and to realize how they affect our perception of the “truth” and the decisions we make based on that perception.  We are called to uphold, regardless of the cost, the holiness of “truth” – truth that is rooted in the reality of God’s love and in the sacredness of every person as created in the image and life of God.

Jesus call to discipleship demands the courage and integrity to be willing to embrace the “light” of truth – to recognize the hand of God in all things, to embrace the life of God “breathing” in every human interaction, to realize the sacredness of every human being as created in the image and life of God.

The empty tomb of Easter speaks to the simple yet profound truth of God's great love for us.  Christ calls us, his Church, to speak the joy of that truth to a world hungry to hear it.

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May 23 – Pentecost [ABC]

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Acts 2: 1-11
Jesus breathed on them and said:  “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ”
John 20: 19-23

THE WORD:

Pentecost was the Jewish festival of the harvest (also called the Feast of Weeks), celebrated 50 days after Passover, when the first fruits of the corn harvest were offered to the Lord.  A feast of pilgrimage (hence the presence in Jerusalem of so many “devout Jews of every nation”), Pentecost also commemorated Moses’ receiving the Law on Mount Sinai.  For the new Israel, Pentecost becomes the celebration of the Spirit of God’s compassion, peace and forgiveness – the Spirit that transcends the Law and becomes the point of departure for the young Church’s universal mission (the planting of a new harvest?).

In his Acts of the Apostles (Reading 1), Luke invokes the First Testament images of wind and fire in his account of the new Church’s Pentecost:  God frequently revealed his presence in fire (the pillar of fire in the Sinai) and in wind (the wind that sweeps over the earth to make the waters of the Great Flood subside).  The Hebrew word for spirit, ruah, and the Greek word pneuma also refer to the movement of air, not only as wind, but also of life-giving breath (as in God’s creation of man in Genesis 2 and the revivification of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37).  Through his life-giving “breath,” the Lord begins the era of the new Israel on Pentecost.

Today’s Gospel of the first appearance of the Risen Jesus before his ten disciples (remember Thomas is not present) on Easter night is John’s version of the Pentecost event.  In “breathing” the Holy Spirit upon them, Jesus imitates God's act of creation in Genesis.  Just as Adam’s life came from God, so the disciples’ new life of the Spirit comes from Jesus.  In the Resurrection, the Spirit replaces their sense of self-centered fear and confusion with the “peace” of understanding, enthusiasm and joy and shatters all barriers among them to make of them a community of hope and forgiveness.  By Christ’s sending them forth, the disciples become apostles – “those sent.”

HOMILY POINTS:

The feast of Pentecost celebrates the unseen, immeasurable presence of God in our lives and in our Church – the ruah that animates us to do the work of the Gospel of the Risen One, the ruah that makes God’s will our will, the ruah of God living in us and transforming us so that we might bring his life and love to our broken world.  God “breathes” his Spirit into our souls that we may live in his life and love; God ignites the “fire” of his Spirit within our hearts and minds that we may seek God in all things in order to realize the coming of his reign.

In Jesus' “breathing” upon them the new life of the Spirit, the community of the Resurrection – the Church – takes flight.  That same Spirit continues to “blow” through today’s Church to give life and direction to our mission and ministry to preach the Gospel to every nation, to proclaim the forgiveness and reconciliation in God's name, to baptize all humanity into the life of Jesus' Resurrection.

The Spirit of God enables the Eleven – and us – to do things they could not do their own: to understand the “truth” of God’s great love for his people that is embodied in the Risen Christ, and then to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ.  The Spirit empowers us with the grace to do the difficult work of Gospel justice, forgiveness and compassion.

The miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2) is the Spirit’s overcoming the barriers of language and perception to open not only the minds of the Apostles’ hearers but their hearts as well to understanding and embracing the Word of God.

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May 30 – The Holy Trinity [B]

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Matthew 28: 16-20

THE WORD:

Ordinary Time resumes with the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.  Originating in France in the eighth century and was adopted by the universal Church in 1334. today’s celebration focuses on the essence of our faith: the revelation of God as Creator, the climax of his creation in Jesus the Redeemer, the fullness of the love of God poured out on us in the Sustainer Spirit.

Today’s Solemnity of the Holy Trinity celebrates the many ways God makes his presence known in our lives, in the manifestations of his love in our lives and our world.  This Sunday of the Trinity invites us to look with a new awareness to behold God in our midst: God is the Father and Creator of all life, including our very selves, who fashions every molecule and atom that nurtures and sustains our lives; God is the Son and the Brother, the Redeemer who teaches us the unfathomable love of the God we seek; God is the Spirit of that love that creates and enables us to break out of the isolation that entraps us and become family and community.

Before returning to God, the Risen Jesus commissions his fledgling church to teach and baptize in the name of the Holy One who reveals himself as Father, Son and Spirit.  In faith centered in our covenant with the Triune God we find our identity as the people of God.

HOMILY POINTS:

In the Trinity, we praise God as God has revealed himself to us: the loving providence of the Creator who continually invites us back to him; the selfless servanthood of the Redeemer who “emptied” himself to become like us in order that we might become like him; the joyful love of the Spirit that is the unique unity of the Father and Son.

Christ has revealed to us the depth of the Creator’s love and has called us to share with one another the unique Spirit of love that binds Father and Son and now binds Father and Son to us, God’s holy people and Christ’s Church. 

Love is the heart of our Trinitarian faith: the Love who created our world and fashioned it with care; the Love who passionately desired to become one of us and for a little while pitched his tent among us; the Love who could never leave us but remains with us to inhabit every moment of our existence.  

The core of all of Jesus’ teaching is the revelation of God as Father to humanity:  Our God seeks a relationship with humankind based not on the all-powerful Creator demanding homage from the lowly slaves he created but as a loving Parent who welcomes his own children back home.

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June 6 – The Body and Blood of the Lord [B]

Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them and said, “Take it; this is my body.”
Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

THE WORD:

Today’s celebration of the Body and Blood of the Lord originated in the Diocese of Liege in 1246 as the feast of Corpus Christi.  In the reforms of Vatican II, the feast was joined with the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) to become the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord.  Today we celebrate the Christ’s gift of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our life together as the Church.

Today’s Gospel is Mark’s account of the Last Supper.  At the Passover meal marking the First Covenant, Jesus, the Lamb of the New Covenant, institutes the New Passover of the Eucharist.

HOMILY POINTS:

“If you have received worthily,” St. Augustine preached, “you become what you have received.”  In sharing the body of Christ, we become the body of Christ.  If we partake of the one bread and cup, then we must be willing to become Eucharist for others – to make the love of Christ real for all.

At our own parish table, we come to the Eucharist to celebrate our identity as his disciples and to seek the sustaining grace to live the hard demands of such discipleship.  We make our parish family's table the Lord’s own table, a place of reconciliation and compassion.

The sacrament of the Eucharist is more than just reliving the memory of Christ’s great sacrifice for our redemption – in sharing his “body” in the bread of the Eucharist we re-enter the inexplicable love of God who gives us eternal life in his Son, the Risen Christ; in drinking his “blood” in the wine of the Eucharist we take his life into the very core of our beings. 

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June 6 – Second Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 5B]

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 . . . ”
“How can Satan cast 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.”
. . . looking at those who sat around him, [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3: 20-35

THE WORD:

A central theme of Mark’s Gospel is how Jesus’ hearers (especially the Twelve) fail to comprehend the deeper meaning of his words and actions.  The wild charges made by the scribes and the apologies offered by his family in today’s Gospel indicate just how misunderstood Jesus was by those closest to him:

The Jesus who calls his disciples to be a united “house” and community is dismissed by his own “house” as “out of his mind.”  Apologizing for his exorbitant claims about himself and his challenging their most cherished traditions and revered institutions, his family attempts to bring Jesus home.

The Jesus who cast out demons and cured the sick is charged with being possessed himself.  The scribes cannot grasp the single-minded dedication of Jesus to the will of God without the “filters” of their interpretations and direction; hence, he must be an agent of Satan, the prince of demons.  (Remember that whatever the people of Gospel Palestine could not understand or explain was considered the work of “demons.”)

The Jesus who comes to be a vehicle of unity among God’s people calls on his hearers to be united in faith and spirit in him in seeking God’s will in all things.  The Gospel Jesus destroys the barriers created by race, culture, wealth and social status.  He speaks of a new, united human family: the family of God.  To fail or refuse to build God’s kingdom of grace is to “blaspheme” against the Spirit of God: to be so mired in cynicism and skepticism that we refuse to embrace the possibilities for realizing the hope of God’s grace.  For Jesus, the crushing pessimism that God’s grace is inaccessible to us condemns us to lives of sadness and isolation, not the lives of meaning and joy God envisions for us.  

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus the “lunatic” comes to heal us of what is, in fact, our own “lunacy” – the lunacy of allowing pettiness, pride, anger, prejudice, and self-centeredness to alienate us from one another, the lunacy” of exalting “me” at the expense of others’ basic necessities, the lunacy of constantly grabbing as much as we can as fast as we can while many on this planet have nothing.

Sometimes we act out of a self-centeredness that is of “Satan” and not out of the compassionate spirit of the Gospel Jesus — and, without fail, the “house” we have built on a foundation of self-centeredness collapses in anger and hurt.  If a house that is a real home is to stand, it must be constructed out of forgiveness, humility, and generosity; to build it of “cheaper” materials, to compromise the integrity of the structure by placing one’s own interest over that of the family is to invite disaster.

Jesus’ life is testimony to the reality that the “power” of “Beelzebub” cannot heal or restore or re-create — only the Spirit of God can bring about such transformation.

Jesus comes as the means of unity among God’s people, to reconcile humanity to God and to one another, to instill a deeper understanding and appreciation of our sacred dignity as being made in God’s image.  We are called, as the Church of the new covenant, to seek in every person the humanity we all share that comes from God, the Father of all and the Giver of everything that is good.  

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June 13 – 11th Sunday of the Year B / Third Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 6B]

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground . . . It is like a mustard seed . . .”
Mark 4: 26-24

THE WORD:

Farming is a matter of hard work and patient faith:  All the farmer can do is plant the seed and nurture it along with water and care; God's unseen hand in creation transforms the tiny seed into a great harvest.  Today’s Gospel parables of the sower and the mustard seed, then, are calls to patience, hope and readiness.

The mustard seed – that tiny speck containing the chemical energy to create the great tree – is a natural parable for the greatness that God raises up from small beginnings.

Jesus may have been directing his words to the Zealots, a Jewish sect that sought the political restoration of Israel.  Many Zealots were terrorists, employing murder and insurrection to destabilize the Roman government.  The Zealots dreamed of a Messiah who would restore the Jewish nation.  Jesus, however, calls them to see their identity as God's people not in terms of political might but of interior faith and spiritual openness to the love of God.

HOMILY POINTS:                         

We are called to seek the wisdom of God with the patience and dedication of the sower; we are entrusted with the work of making the reign of God a reality in our own lives with the gentle but determined faith of the mustard seed.

Christ asks us to embrace the faith of the sower: to “plant” seeds of peace, reconciliation and justice wherever and whenever we can in the certain knowledge that, in God’s good time, our plantings will result in the harvest of the kingdom of God.

With the patience and hope of mustard seed faith, our smallest acts of compassion and generosity, in our unnoticed and unheralded offerings of affirmation and support, we can transform the most barren of places into great gardens of hope.

Though we “know not how” God makes the grain grow and the sun rise and the rain fall, we do know why: the perfect and complete love that is and of God, love that compels God to set all of creation into motion and to breathe that love into our souls and set us this life of ours.  Realizing the “why” should inspire us to mirror God’s love in our care for creation and our work to provide its gifts for all our sisters and brothers.  

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June 20 – 12th Sunday of the Year B / Fourth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 7B]

Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet!  Be still!”
Mark 4:35-41

THE WORD:                                                       

The Sea of Galilee is really a land-locked lake 600 feet below sea level.  Ravines in the hills and mountains surrounding the Galilee act as natural wind tunnels.  In the evening, as the warm air of the day rises above the water, cool air rushes in through the ravines.  The effect is amazing: the tranquil lake is whipped into a fury of white-capped six-foot waves.  In the midst of this terrorizing experience, Jesus calms both the sea and his disciples' fear.

The evangelist is recounting this story to a terrified and persecuted community.  Today's Gospel is intended to reassure them of the Risen Christ's constant presence in the storms they struggle through for the sake of their faith in his reign to come.

HOMILY NOTES:

The wisdom and grace of the “awakened” Jesus is present to us throughout the journeys of our lives to “calm” the adversities and tragedies that can either help us grow in understanding life or consume us in despair and hopelessness. 

In our stormy whirlwind lives, we need to make time for peace, for stillness, for quiet in order to hear the voice of God within us.

The grace of the Risen Christ enables us to discern the presence of God amid the roar of anger and mistrust and to see the light of God in the darkness of selflessness and prejudice.

The voice of Jesus in our own “boats” speaks to us in the encouragement and support of others calling us beyond the fears, misgivings and doubts that stop us from embracing life to the full.   

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June 27 – 13th Sunday of the Year B / Fifth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 8B]

Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.  She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.  She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Mark 5: 21-43

THE WORD:

Mark holds up both Jairus and the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel as models of faith.  The message of the two healings is clear:  “Do not be afraid; have faith.”

The chronically ill woman is so convinced that Jesus not only can help her but will help her that she fights her way through the pushing and shoving crowds just to touch the cloak of Jesus.  She realizes not only the power of Jesus to heal her but the depth of his love and compassion to want to heal her.  Her faith is rewarded.

Jairus was a man of considerable authority and stature in the Jewish community.  Yet, for the sake of his daughter, he puts aside his pride and his instinctive distrust of an “anti-establishment” rabbi like Jesus and becomes a “beggar” for her before Jesus.  Despite the ridicule of the mourners and the depth of his despair, Jesus is Jairus’ hope.

HOMILY POINTS:

Like the wailing mourners at the little girl’s bedside, we sometimes resign ourselves to defeat as the regular order of things, to death as the logical conclusion.  In the healings of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman, Jesus shows us the life and hope we can bring into our world through the providence of God and the goodness everyone possesses.

For many moms and dads, their joys and dreams are inextricably linked to their children’s.  Jairus, in today’s Gospel, is just such a dad: to save his beloved daughter, Jairus does not hesitate to risk his standing in the community and career to approach the controversial rabbi reputed to work wonders.  A parent’s complete and unconditional love is the very reflection of the love of God in our midst. 

The “touch of Jesus’ cloak” can be experienced in a simple act of generosity or a kind word offering forgiveness. 

Jairus’ love for his daughter enables him to risk his considerable standing in the community to approach the controversial rabbi Jesus.  Through such complete and unconditional love – like the love of God our Father for us, his children – we can lift up the fallen, heal the sick and suffering and restore life to the dead.

The sick woman realizes not only the power Jesus possesses but also the depth of his compassion and love for her.  To possess her depth of faith compels us to seek God and realize God's presence – especially when God seems most absence.

The hemorrhaging woman counts for little in the social structure of her time; her problems and illness elicit neither concern nor care from those around her.  Her hemorrhages, in fact, mark her as unclean, someone to be avoided.  But the “power” of Jesus transcends the woman’s isolation.  Our embracing of that same compassion and peace enables us to seek out the needy, the lost and despairing in our midst.  

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