Now the vestments are back to green. Boring, old, no-feast-day, no-solemnities green. All the big holidays are done, until we hit Ash Wednesday, of course; but this year, that’s not until March. So we can put our faith life on cruise control because we have plenty of time to think about what we will give up in Lent. That’s probably why we call it Ordinary Time in the Church because, well, it’s just ordinary, right?
Wrong! Ordinary time is, in my opinion, the most extraordinary time in the Church’s calendar. It is a liturgical treasure chest of Gospel stories which provide the most in-depth examination of Jesus Christ while He walked the earth and how He wants us to live our lives.
Officially, Ordinary Time comes in two parts. Before Lent, the readings focus upon the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It examines His first actions as the miracle-making, demon-destroying, rule-rebelling Son of God. It’s here that we first see Him and hear Him, and can focus upon falling in love with Him. We can draw a picture of Him in our minds and hearts.
The Baptism of the Lord
After the Baptism of the Lord, we read about how Jesus first preaches in the Synagogue. At first, His long-time neighbors and friends take pride in the local boy. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’” (Luke 4:22)
What do you think Jesus looked like?
This is the first questions we ask our seventh-graders as they begin their study of the New Testament. Here was a carpenter who worked outside in the Middle East. He had to do all of the woodworking by hand. We decided that He was had to be muscular, tanned, and probably wasn’t worried about getting messy. He would have known all of the people in the area because He and his dad would have made things for them, and would have seen them passing by while they worked. He would have been an observant Jew, so His hair and beard would have been long, but we decided that His hair might have been bleached a bit from the sun.
The Wedding at Cana
Jesus performs His first miracle at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Not only do we learn that Jesus goes to weddings just like ordinary people, we see that it’s His mom, Mary, who imposes upon Jesus to provide more wine. This small story is bursting with questions.
How did Jesus get along with His mom?
How does He choose to perform His first miracle?
Again, our seventh-graders relate this to their own lives and the way that they would respond. “Really, Mom? You really want me to do this here?” She knew He had special powers already, but He must not have wanted to show His hand in public. Even so, He obeys her request and performs this miracle in a very quiet way in order to avoid embarrassment for the wedding hosts. The waiters fill the large jugs with water, and it’s done. They take the wine to the head waiter. Not only is the water now wine, but it’s also phenomenal wine! Can you imagine being the servant who understands what has just happened? Wouldn’t that servant have wanted to pass by Jesus again in shock and amazement? (We think Jesus probably would have winked at him — “Our secret!”) Finally, we hear Mary’s last recorded words. “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). This account is even more precious because John would have been right there next to Jesus when this happened.
The Feeding of the Multitudes
Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes (Matthew 14:13-21; cf. Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 6:31-44, Mark 8:1-9, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:1-14). Jesus has just learned that His friend and cousin John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod. Mourning, He withdraws to a private place — something which He does repeatedly throughout the Gospels to pray. But because He is so well known by now for His teachings and miracles, He is followed by a large crowd of thousands. Rather than ignoring them, He heals those who seek healing. They become hungry, and His disciples want to send them away. Instead, Jesus says, “Bring them here to me” (v. 18). Taking five loaves and two fishes, He gives thanks to God for them, breaks them into pieces, and distributes them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd, now seated in groups. There is enough for everyone; the disciples saved 12 baskets of leftovers.
Even when Jesus seeks solitude, what does He do?
Can you imagine what the disciples were thinking?
Why is it noteworthy that the remnants were collected?
Jesus would have had every right to want to be alone, but, once again, He put the needs of others ahead of His own desires. His mercy and care are indeed limitless. His disciples must have wondered how He was going to feed all of these people. In fact, some must have thought that Jesus was crazy! But each time they took food from His hands, passed it out to a group, and returned, there was more food. Their amazement and joy must have been palpable, and they must have looked at their fellow disciples with shock and a special sense of community. How blessed were they to be part of this unbelievable adventure!
Finally, Jesus did not leave the remnants behind. What does that tell us about Him? Much more than just being environmentally conscious, Jesus is showing us that even the remnants — the things and people that we consider “throw-away” — are precious and worth saving.
Jesus and the Children
Jesus centers His teaching on children. Several times throughout the Gospels, we see cases where the disciples tried to prevent children from taking up Jesus’ time. This was understandable. Here was the most famous man in their area — someone who performed amazing miracles — and whom many already believed was the Messiah. Certainly, such an important figure would not want to waste His precious time with useless kids. But Jesus surprises them. “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). Furthermore, He admonishes His disciples and listeners, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Why were children so comfortable around Jesus?
Why did Jesus say that heaven belongs to “such as these”?
Kids can read adults. They know if a grown-up is a phony. Everywhere He went, the kids would go up to Jesus. They wanted to be close to Him. Again, contemplating this, our seventh-graders imagined themselves as kids in that crowd. “He must have had a great smile.” “He must have acted in a way that the kids felt like they wanted to be close to Him — very welcoming.” “Little kids could see His holiness.”
But what is it about kids that heaven belongs to them? Again, our seventh-graders noted that little kids have to be taught to hate or be cynical. Normally, they aren’t put off by someone who looks different. They accept people for who they are. They don’t need much. They are awed by the simplest things. They love to be loved and to give it in return. They will easily forgive. They give hugs quickly. They have limitless faith that we will take care of them.
Anything But Ordinary
There is so much more in the first section of Ordinary Time: His parables, His Sermon on the Mount, His amazing miracles. This is the time when we get to know Jesus better, and, in turn, follow Him more closely. We learn to leave behind our nets of pre-conceived notions, rules of acceptance, and limits on love in order to follow Him totally and without reservation.
If you are not sure where to start, begin with the Book of Matthew. Read everything up to Palm Sunday. Write down your thoughts and reflections in your Bible, or begin to journal. (You can even purchase a Catholic Bible designed for journaling.) Then read Luke and Mark. Finally, end with John. He was closest to Jesus and took care of His mother after His death.
Here is the most amazing thing. You can read the same Scripture verse over and over again, and each time, you will take away something different. That’s the Holy Spirit at work through the Living Word.
And that’s anything but ordinary.