Monthly Archives: August 2015

30 August 2015: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 4:1-2, 6-8 Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5 Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 

Acting on our beliefs, or simply acting?

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the gospel returns to Mark and we will continue reading about discipleship in Mark for the rest of this liturgical year.

The first reading is from Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” Deuteronomy contains Moses’ instructions to the Hebrew people before they enter the Promised Land. Today he warns the people “not add to what God commands you, or subtract from it.” This warning connects to today’s gospel. Moses presents the Hebrew people with a stark choice: “love the Lord and keep his commandments” or “serve other gods.”

The second reading is from the letter of James. Scholars determined that James, a relative of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem ekklesia, isn’t the author; the letter describes conditions in the late first century, long after James’ martyrdom by stoning in 62 AD. In today’s reading the author tells us that God brings forth Christians by “the word of truth,” implanted at baptism. In Jewish liturgy, firstfruits are harvest offerings set aside and offered to God in thanksgiving for a good harvest; Christians are firstfruits of God’s kingdom. Christians are not “made” simply by hearing “the word,” but by acting on it–“be doers, not just hearers.” Finally, he says that religion comes down to this: take care of those who are powerless and afflicted (“widows and orphans”) and remain “unspotted by the world.”

The gospel reading follows Mark’s version of Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water. In today’s gospel the Pharisees and scribes ignore Jesus’ acts of power and instead complain to Jesus that his disciples don’t wash before eating. Jesus answers his critics with a scripture quote and concludes by contrasting “God’s commandment” with “human traditions”–the very thing Moses warns the Hebrews about in the first reading. Jesus calls the Pharisees and scribes ὑποκριτής (hoo-poh-kree-TAYS)–“actors.” Today Jesus might call them”poseurs”–wannabes who give lip service to God but “whose hearts are far away.” Jesus turns from the poseurs and addresses the crowd, teaching them that things that go into a person don’t defile that person–it’s the things that begin inside a person and come out as actions that defile. Jesus teaches that purity doesn’t come from clean hands, but from a clean heart.

RCIA participants sometimes worry about getting all the Mass responses and postures–standing, kneeling, and sitting–right. Believing community membership doesn’t depend on knowing the right moment to stand or kneel, but, as the author of James says, active and engaged care of the powerless and afflicted. Moses reminds us that worship is important because it expresses our “love of the Lord.” What does our religion comedown to? Are our actions “pure,” acting on the gospel message and the word planted at our baptisms? Or are we poseurs, our hearts far away from God, acting out a show for others while serving other gods?

—Terence Sherlock

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23 August 2015: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21 Eph 5:21-32 Jn 6:60-69

 

The bread of life: test of discipleship

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we conclude our five-week meditation on the Bread of Life teaching, the Eucharist and discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from the last book of Joshua, Moses’ successor. In this passage, Joshua addresses the Hebrew people before he dies, summarizing God’s mighty acts in bringing the Hebrews to the promised land, and God’s now-fulfilled promise to Abraham and his descendants about providing a homeland. Joshua then asks the Hebrews to renew their covenant with God: do they wish to serve the God who has delivered them or return to the service of other gods? The people reaffirm the covenant with God: “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” The Lectionary editors chose this story because, like today’s gospel, it presents God’s people with a choice.

The second reading is from Ephesians, a letter written between 80-100AD. It is written by Paul, but may be by a Pauline disciple. This section is part of the parenesis (ethical exhortation) of the letter, specifically the “household code.”  In the ancient world, household codes described ideal relationships between household members (husband/wife, parent/child, master/slave) to maintain an orderly life. The Greek Stoic philosophers first proposed household codes, emphasizing the first party’s requirement for obedience and the second party’s obligations. Hellenistic Judaism expanded on the Stoics’ ideas, using the Hebrew scripture as a basis for moral behavior. In today’s reading the Ephesians’ author provides a set of Christian household codes. He reverses the Stoic ethical model, saying that the Christian first party’s obligation is for love and self-sacrifice. In all Christian household relationships, each person is subject to all others out of reverence for Christ. The author constructs a parable comparing the Christian husband-and-wife relationship to the Christ-and-ekklesia relationship. He builds the Christ/ekklesia parable from the mystical union of Christ and ekklesia: Christ as head of the ekklesia’s body; Christ as husband to the ekklesia. Just as Christ’s love is the starting point for his relationship with the ekklesia, so also love should be the starting point for the husband and wife relationship in a Christian marriage. In other household codes, power determines relationships. In a Christian household, love replaces power in all relationships.

This week’s gospel concludes John’s Bread of Life discourse. Over the last few weeks, the Jesus of John’s gospel revealed two new teachings:

  • Jesus as the Bread of Life offered to anyone who believes in him (Jn 6:34-47). Jesus addresses this first teaching to the crowds and to the Jewish people in the Capernaum synagogue. Just as the Torah spiritually feeds the Hebrew people, so Jesus, God’s Word incarnate, offers everyone the Father’s words of love and eternal life. The Jewish hearers understand that Jesus is saying he is the new Torah. They murmur against Jesus and reject him because they “know” him–he is not “the one coming down from God.”
  • Jesus as sacramentally present to the post-resurrection disciples through the Eucharist (Jn 6:37-58). John has Jesus direct this second teaching to the post-resurrection disciples and to John’s own ekklesia. The disciples could understand this Eucharistic teaching only after Jesus had completed his mission, offered his body and blood to the Father on Calvary, and been raised. Just as God-given manna fed and sustained the Hebrews’ physical lives in the wilderness, so Jesus, God-in-flesh, gives his glorified flesh and blood to feed and ensure his disciples’ eternal life in the kingdom. Many disciples–in Jesus’ time and in John’s time–rejected Jesus sacramental teaching as “too hard.” In Jesus’ time they murmur against Jesus because they do not want to believe that Jesus will die; in John’s time they cannot believe his continuing presence with them in the Eucharist. Their faith is too weak to trust in God’s superabundant love.

At today’s decision point, the crowds, the Jews, and many disciples reject Jesus and “go back to their old lives.” Jesus asks the Twelve–his inner circle–if they, also, will go. Peter professes his faith: “We believe you are the holy one of God.”

Like Joshua in the first reading, Jesus presents his mighty acts and promises to the crowd, RCIA participants, and the believing community, and asks each one of us to choose. What Jesus says is hard. We think we know Jesus, the Word of God; but when we hear him in the Liturgy of the Word, sometimes we don’t want to believe him. When Jesus re-presents himself and gives himself to us in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it’s hard for us to believe his is intimately and physically with us. Discipleship is difficult: Jesus presents us with seeming impossible requests and unreachable challenges. Do we have faith in God’s superabundant love? Or will we also go away, back to comfortable, easy lives?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 August 2015: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Prv 9:1-6 Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 Eph 5:15-20 Jn 6:51-58

 

The bread of life: Eucharistic mystery

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from Proverbs, a collection of “wisdom sayings” that personifies Wisdom as a woman. Wisdom invites seekers to forsake foolishness and to dine on her bread and wine; these choices lead to long life and understanding. Some rabbis taught that the messiah would feed people choice food and good wine without work or cost. “Eating bread” and “drinking wine” foreshadow the Eucharistic images in today’s gospel.

Today’s gospel continues the Bread of Life discourse. The reading (Jn 51-58) begins with last week’s final verse and concludes the discourse. It includes the following elements:

  • More than manna: Jesus connects himself (“I AM the living bread”) to the wilderness manna (“coming down from heaven.”) Jesus goes beyond being simply the manna, because whoever “eats this bread” (believes in him) “will live forever.”
  • The bread is Jesus’ flesh: John introduces a post-resurrection understanding of Jesus as the living bread: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John presents two meanings here. First, Jesus’ ministry will end (“I will give my flesh”) in his sacrificial, salvific, and transformational death (“for the life of the world.”) Second, Jesus will establish a continuing presence through the Eucharist (“I will give my flesh“) to continue his mission though the believing community (“for the life of the world.”) The crowd argues (literally “fights”) about this saying. How could Jesus turn bread turn into flesh? Even if Jesus could do this, food laws forbid Jewish people from eating human flesh and drinking any type of blood.
  • The Eucharist leads to eternal life: Jesus further shocks the crowd by teaching: “the one feeding on (literally ‘chewing’) my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life.” Only when you “consume my flesh and blood” do you “remain-in-relationship with me.” This is no longer a metaphor about Jesus as the new Torah and divine Wisdom that doesn’t perish–the Eucharistic reference is clear and complete: “consume my body,” “drink my blood.” The divine Word became flesh to bring life to the world (Jn 1:3-4); Jesus, through his physical death and resurrection, gives his glorified flesh and blood to believers in the Eucharist so we may have eternal life and share in Jesus resurrection (Jn 6:54). Jesus has and can give life because the living Father sent him. By consuming Jesus, the believing community shares the Father’s life–they “remain” in relationship with the Father and Jesus.
  • Jesus concludes his teaching: Jesus sums up the difference between the manna (“your ancestors ate and died”) and the true bread (“whoever eats will live forever.”) Next week, we’ll hear the crowds’ and the disciples’ reactions.

Today’s readings confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the mystery of the Eucharist. The first reading tells us that dining on Wisdom’s bread and wine will lead to long life and understanding. The gospel calls us to look beyond the sign of manna and see the reality of the true bread from heaven. The Eucharist is not simply a sign or a metaphor, but the reality of Jesus himself. We have eternal life and remain-in-relationship with Jesus and the Father only when we consume his resurrected body and blood. Do we believe? Do we live this belief?

—Terence Sherlock

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9 August 2015: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
1 Kgs 19:4-8 Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Eph 4:30—5:2 Jn 6:41-51

The bread of life: real food for our wilderness trip

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and faith.

The first reading from 1 Kings is a story about Elijah, a prophet in the northern kingdom (Israel). In a contest between God and Ba’al (the chief Canaanite god), God and Elijah defeat Ba’al and Ba’al’s priests. Queen Jezebel forces Elijah into exile. In the wilderness, Elijah prays for death because he has been unable to turn the Israelites back to God. God gently touches and tenderly feeds Elijah with miraculous food to sustain Elijah for his long trip to Mount Horeb/Sinai.

The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard the beginning of Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the meaning of unperishable food: faith in Jesus as the continuing revelation of God, the new manna, the bread of life. Today’s gospel includes the following elements:

  • The crowd murmurs and objects: The crowd “murmurs about” Jesus because he says he is “the bread coming down from heaven.” The word translated here as murmur is the Greek word γογγύζω (“gog-GOO-zoh”), Exodus (Ex 16:2) uses γογγύζω to describe the Hebrews grumbling or complaining to Moses about starving in the wilderness. John uses γογγύζω to connect the crowds’ complaint with the Hebrews’ complaint. In both cases, God provides the people with manna or bread from heaven. The crowd also complains because “they know” who Jesus is–Joseph’s son–and “they know” his father and mother. A contemporary translation would be: “Who does this guy think he is?” The crowd rejects Jesus as a qualified messenger and they complain about his message.
  • Jesus corrects the crowd’s misconceptions: “Stop grumbling!” says Jesus. You may think you know who I am because you know my father and mother, but my heavenly Father is the one speaking here. The Father’s work is to bring everyone to faith in Jesus (Jn 6:29); the result of faith is eternal life–“raised on the last day.” Like a good rabbi, Jesus supports his assertion with scripture: “They shall all be taught by God.” (Is 54:13). Jesus, who is from God and who has “come down” teaches the people–but they must listen to learn. Only when they stop murmuring and listen can they hear Jesus, the new living manna coming down from heaven, tell them about the gift of eternal life. Jesus is the bread of life–the new Torah, God’s teaching that gives eternal life.
  • Jesus raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the living bread. The bread I will give is my flesh.” Jesus goes further: not only is he the new manna–the new Torah–coming down, but he will also give the world his flesh to eat (literally “consume” or “devour”). In this Eucharistic teaching, Jesus promises to give his crucified and glorified body (and blood)–himself–to those who believe.

Today’s readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her faith and idea of God. Elijah was worn out from his work and mission and wanted to give up. We might have expected God to thunder against Elijah and punish him for his lack of faith. Instead God treats him tenderly, feeding Elijah for his forty-day journey. Jesus offers us–often tired and discouraged–eternal food, himself as food for our journey. Can we stop grumbling about God long enough to hear what God is telling us? Can we stop seeing the Jesus we want long enough to see Jesus as he is?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 August 2015: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15 Ps 78: 3-4, 23-24, 25, 54 Eph 4: 17, 20-24 Jn 6: 24-35

The bread of life: the sign explained

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue our five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

The first reading from Exodus recounts God’s mighty act of feeding the Hebrews in the wilderness. We find the chosen people in the desert about a month after leaving Egypt. They grumble to Moses that they have nothing to eat. God promises to give the people “bread from heaven”–manna. God feeds the chosen people with manna daily for forty years, until they reach the promised land.

The gospel continues John’s “Bread of Life” chapter (Jn 6). Last week we heard Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves; today we hear Jesus’ teaching (or discourse) on the sign’s meaning. Last week’s gospel ended in the wilderness; today’s reading picks up the next day in Capernaum. The gospel includes the following elements:

  • Perishable vs eternal food: The crowd follows Jesus because he gave them bread yesterday. Jesus tells them “stop looking for food that perishes” and rather “work for food that eternally endures.” The crowd would recognize Jesus’ reference to “eternal food” as God’s word and wisdom found in the Torah.
  • This is the work of God: Because he says they must “work for eternal food,” the crowd asks Jesus how to “accomplish the work of God.” The crowd expects Jesus to outline pious works described in the Torah. Instead, Jesus says they must “believe in the one whom God has sent.” That is, God’s work is the act that God accomplishes in a believer’s heart: faith in Jesus.
  • A sign like the wilderness manna: The crowd asks for a sign: “If you are the one who is sent, what do you do?” The crowd suspects that Jesus thinks himself greater than Moses, so they bring up the story of Moses giving the people manna in the wilderness: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (Ex 16:4, today’s first reading).
  • The Bread of Life discourse begins: Jesus corrects the crowd–God, not Moses, gave your ancestors manna. Manna was a manifestation of God’s care for the chosen people’s physical needs in the past. Jesus brings the crowd into the present by telling them that my Father now gives you the true bread from heaven–that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. In God’s ongoing care for the people, the “true bread” feeds more than their physical needs. The true bread is not simply manna, but the Son. The crowd demands “this bread always,” still thinking it is physical food. Jesus’ answer raises the discussion to a higher level: “I AM the bread of life.” Jesus is the continuing revelation of God–the new Torah. Jesus is also nourishment; through the Eucharist his presence continues in the ekklesia, the believing community.

The readings ask each RCIA participant and every believing community member to examine his or her discipleship. The Hebrew people experienced God’s ongoing care through daily manna. Although the manna stopped, God’s care continued through the Torah’s words. We of the believing community–who believe in Jesus, the one whom God sent–also experience God’s ongoing care through daily bread. Is our discipleship based on the past-perishable bread now stale and tasteless? Or do we choose our discipleship daily-eternal bread based on faith that finds Jesus revealed daily in word and sacrament?

—Terence Sherlock

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26 July 2015: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Kgs 4: 42-44 Ps 145: 10-11, 15-16, 17-18 Eph 4: 1-6 Jn 6: 1-15

The sign of bread in the wilderness

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we begin a five-week meditation on the Eucharist and discipleship.

The first reading, from 2 Kings, tells the story of Elisha the prophet and his multiplication of barley loaves. The Lectionary editors chose this story because it parallels today’s gospel. In both readings a hungry crowd is present; only a small amount of food (barley loaves) is available; someone says that it isn’t enough to feed the crowd; the prophet ignores the objection and orders the food to be distributed; the crowd has enough to eat; and there is some left over.

This week the gospel author changes from Mark to John. Beginning this week (and for the next four weeks) we hear from Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6). This discourse has many themes, including Eucharist, messiahship, faith, and discipleship. Today’s gospel describes the sign that sets up the rest of the discourse; it has four elements:

  • The timing. John tells us “the feast of Passover was near.” John wants us to connect Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves with the Passover events: the Passover meal, freedom from slavery in Egypt, the Sinai covenant, and the manna in the wilderness.
  • The question. Jesus’ question to Philip (“Where can we buy food?”) stretches Philip’s understanding and faith. Philip gives a limited physical solution (“Two hundred days’ wages”). Andrew also gives a physical solution (“five barley loaves and two fish”). Philip and Andrew know their solutions are insufficient (“not enough,” “what good are these for so many”). Jesus’ solution is a spiritual sign that results in a superabundance (“more than they could eat.”)
  • The sign. Jesus’ sign of the multiplied barley loaves prefigures the Eucharist. John uses the same formula (“took, gave thanks, distributed”) that we find in the Last Supper accounts–“he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it.” When Jesus “gives thanks,” John uses the word εὐχαριστέω (“yoo-kah-ris-TEH-oh”), the same word we use for the Eucharist. John presents this event as both an actual sign by Jesus and a liturgical sign for the believing community.
  • The response. After experiencing Jesus’ sign, the crowd realizes that Jesus could be the “Prophet-like-Moses” foretold in Deut 18:15. In Jesus’ time, some rabbis taught that the messiah would give the people manna just as Moses gave the people manna in the dessert. Jesus knows that the crowds follow him because of his signs, not because they understand who he is. He rejects the crowds’ definition of messiahship and departs alone to the mountain.

Today’s readings present a complex sign. We can understand the multiplied barley loaves simply as an act of power–Jesus uses his power to feed the stranded crowd. But immediately we are presented with other ideas: God’s concern for our material needs (“Jesus distributed the loaves”), our role as disciples in feeding others (“where can we get enough food?”), our understanding of who Jesus is (“make him king”). RCIA participants and the whole believing community recognize this sign as an invitation to relationship with Jesus through the Eucharist. We find ourselves hungry on a mountain in the wilderness. Are we following Jesus because he gives us bread, or because he gives us himself? Do we make Jesus into a temporal ruler, or let him be the messiah? Do we anticipate Jesus’ response, or let his unexpected abundance come to us?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 July 2015: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 23: 1-6 Ps 23: 1-3, 3-4, 5, 6 Eph 2: 13-18 Mk 6: 30-3

Shepherds and rulers, bad and good

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the readings invite us to think about good and bad shepherds.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah criticizes the Jewish leaders for their poor shepherding of the people. The Hebrew word ra`ah means both “to shepherd” and “to rule”; this is why scripture often equates rulers and shepherds. Jeremiah’s message is direct: God will punish the bad shepherds who don’t care for God’s sheep and scatter them. The leaders’ behavior (worshiping foreign gods) and bad decisions (provoking the Babylonian empire) resulted in the Babylonians taking the Jewish people into exile. However, Jeremiah also tells the people that God, the true shepherd, will “gather the remnant” and restore them under a good shepherd from David’s line–a messiah (“anointed one”). This promised messianic shepherd will “reign and govern wisely” and “do what is just and right.”

Mark’s gospel picks up the shepherd theme. The Twelve return to Jesus in Nazareth and report on their first mission. Jesus and the Twelve travel by boat to an empty (literally “lonesome”) place or wilderness to rest. The locals figure out where they are going and show up before Jesus and the Twelve even get there. (Middle eastern culture is suspicious of groups who separate themselves from community life.) When Jesus sees the crowd, he pities (literally “to feel in his gut for”) them because they are lost, “like sheep without a shepherd,” and begins to teach them. Mark shows Jesus fulfilling God’s promise hear in Jeremiah to “raise up a branch from David’s line” who will “do what is just and right in the land.” Today’s gospel sets up next week’s gospel about Jesus’ mighty act of feeding 5,000 in the wilderness.

In today’s continuation of the letter to the Ephesians, the author explains how Christ unifies Jewish Christians and gentile Christians through his transformative death (“his blood,” “the cross”). Christ creates a single body (his mystical body or the ekklesia) without “dividing walls” that incorporates Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. For the author, the believing community unites in worship when it meets through Christ (his mystical body), and prays in the one Spirit to the Father.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and all of us to reflect on our shepherding roles. Through baptism God literally in-corporates us–makes us part of the body of Christ. Baptism also makes us part of God’s reign, anointed with the responsibility to bring forth God’s kingdom here and now. This means we share in God’s shepherding duties to those within and outside the fold. Do we rule wisely? Do we care for those entrusted to us? Do we break down the dividing walls? Do we do what is right and just?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 July 2015: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Am 7:12-15 Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14 Eph 1:3-14 Mk 6:7-13

Baptism: being called, being sent

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the readings invite us to think about our Christian calling.

In the first reading, God puts Amos the prophet in a tough spot. God sends Amos, a southerner from Judah, to the northern kingdom (Israel) to deliver an unpopular message: Change your ways! Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, rejects Amos’ message because it conflicts with the happy news that Amaziah prefers to give the northern king. Amos tells Amaziah that it was God who called Amos, and it’s God’s message–that’s what it means to be a prophet.

Mark’s gospel describes Jesus summoning and sending the Twelve to spread his message through Galilee (what was left of the northern kingdom Israel in the first reading). Jesus delegates his own authority over unclean spirits to the Twelve. Jesus also sends them in twos so that they are not alone. Jesus orders the Twelve to take nothing with them except their mission: preaching metanoia (“change of heart”), expelling unclean spirits, and healing the sick. Mark uses the same words to describe the start of Jesus’ mission (Mk 1:15ff). Mark is reminding his ekklesia that is it a community (“two by two”), its authority is from Jesus, and its mission is to preach metanoia and to heal.

Today’s letter to the Ephesians is an early liturgical hymn used during baptism. The hymn’s themes include: the catechumen’s election and predestination before the world’s creation (“chose us before the world’s foundation,” “destined us for adoption”); Christ’s death and resurrection (“redemption by his blood; forgiveness of sins”); knowledge from Christian experience (“In wisdom he made known to us the mystery of his will”); the cosmic scope of salvation history (“God’s plan to sum up all things in Christ”); and the sealing of gentile Christians in the Spirit at initiation (“in him you were sealed with the Spirit’s promise”).

This week’s readings revolve around being called and being sent. Ephesians reminds RCIA catechumens and all of us that in baptism God adopts us as daughters and sons, and, through Jesus’ saving death, we receive unmerited salvation. In baptism we are also called–like the Twelve–to spread the good news that we are redeemed. Redemption requires metanoia (“change of heart”). Like Amos, we might find we’re sent with an unpopular message. But we are not sent alone. We are sent with the rest of the believing community, and we are sent with Jesus’ own authority. Do we preach metanoia? Do we heal? Do we hear what we preach?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 July 2015: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ez 2: 2-5 Ps 123: 1-2, 2, 3-4 2 Cor 12: 7-10 Mk 6: 1-6

Prophecy, relationships, change, and acts of power

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the readings invite us to think about our role as prophets.

The first reading describes Ezekiel’s call by God to be a prophet. In the Hebrew scriptures, Ezekiel is one of the three major prophets (along with Isaiah and Jeremiah). Ezekiel prophesied to the Jewish people during the Babylonian captivity (597-539BC). God’s spirit enters Ezekiel and God tells him that he will speak in God’s name. Whether the Jewish people accept or reject Ezekiel’s message, the people will know that a prophet has been among them.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus has just completed a series of teachings and “acts of power,” concluding with raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Now he returns to Nazareth, his home town (literally, his “father’s place.”) Although Jesus preaches powerfully in the synagogue (“many were astonished”), but they can’t get past his history with them–they know him as a craftsman, they know his mother and family. Their familiarity breeds contempt (“offense”). Feeling their disdain and dishonor, Jesus reminds them that a prophet is always rejected by the ones who know the prophet best–friends and family. Jesus is amazed by their unbelief. Without their cooperating faith, Jesus’ ministry of preaching and healing is ineffective. Acts of power require a relationship. When no relationship exists, there can be no metanoia (“change of heart”) or healing.

In the second reading Paul writes “to the ekklesia being in Corinth.” Scripture scholars believe that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of two to five letters that Paul wrote sometime in the mid to late 50s. In today’s reading Paul opens his letter with a few lines about being an apostle. To balance Paul’s special gifts (“the excess of revelations”) God has given him, Paul says that God has also given him a physical problem (“a thorn in the flesh”) to keep him from becoming proud. Paul transforms his physical aliment into a teaching moment (“I will boast of my weakness”) so that the Corinthians can see Christ’s power in Paul. He accepts his limitations for Christ (“when I am weak, I am most powerful”).

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our role as prophets. Ezekiel and Jesus speak and preach God’s word; Paul lets his actions-how he deals with his unnamed physical infirmity–witness to God’s message. God calls us as members of the believing community to witness our faith to each other and to the world. We prophecy in words sometimes, but mostly in deeds–how we live our daily lives–to bring ourselves and others into relationship with God. We know that prophetic witnesses risk rejection by strangers and by loved ones. As the gospel shows, unless we are in relationship with God, no metanoia or healing is possible. Do we think we know God so well that we can’t hear God’s offer of relationship? Do we find in our relationship with God the courage to live a life of prophecy and witness? Are we willing to boast of our weaknesses so God’s mighty acts of power can happen?

—Terence Sherlock

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28 June 2015: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis: 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24 Ps 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13 2 Cor 8: 7, 9, 13-15 Mk 5: 21-43

Power over sin, power over death

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The first reading and gospel reading carry the theme for the week; the second reading is a continuing reading from Paul’s letters. This week Jesus shows us through his “acts of power” that he has power over sin and death.

The first reading is from the book of Wisdom, written between 100-28 BC. The Wisdom author affirms that the Creator did not “make death.” Humans, who share in God’s image, are “imperishable.” A human’s physical body may end with physical death, but a human’s spirit continues after his or her physical existence ends. However, the “imperishable” part can suffer a spiritual death–not from God, but from forces opposed to God. The devil, envious of God’s goodness, brought envy and sin to humans. Sin (literally “harmartia” or “missing the mark”) separates humans from God. Separation from God is spiritual death.

Today’s gospel uses a Markian “sandwich” form. Mark starts the Jairus’ daughter story, interrupts it with the story of the hemorrhaging woman, then completes the first story.

  • The woman with a flow of blood. The hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ garments in hope of being healed. Under Jewish law, this woman was considered ritually unclean, would have been viewed as sinful, and would not be allowed to participate in the community or the Temple. In the crowd’s crush Jesus feels power (Greek: δύναμις [DYE-na-mis]) “go out from him.” “Who touched me?” he asks. Terrified, the woman prostrates herself before (literally “worships”) Jesus and “admits the truth.” Jesus recognizes her faith (“your faith has saved you.”) By healing her, Jesus removes her sin and restores her to community life. This healing ties back to spiritual death–sin or hamartia–described in today’s first reading.
  • Jairus’ daughter. Jairus, a synagogue leader, asks Jesus to “put a hand on” his sick daughter “that she may be healed (literally ‘saved’) and live.” In route to Jairus’ house, Jesus and Jairus hear his daughter has died. On arrival, Jesus takes the child’s hand Jesus says (in Aramaic), “Little girl, arise.” The girl rises up and begins “walking around.” The girl’s rising from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Because this hasn’t happened yet, Jesus urges the parents and disciples to maintain his messianic secret. This healing shows that God’s power extends over physical death: “he does not rejoice in destruction of living things” in today’s first reading.

These two stories tell us that Jesus, as God, has power over not only spiritual death (sin) but physical death as well.

This week RCIA participants and the entire believing community rejoice in Jesus’ saving power over our two greatest fears: sin and death. God is the author of life, not death. Like the hemorrhaging woman, Jesus tells us our faith heals and saves us from sin. Like Jairus, in the face of physical death, Jesus tells us don’t be afraid–have faith. Easy to say, but hard to do. We live our faith one moment at a time; sometimes we miss the mark of keeping faith. Jesus, however, is constant: don’t be afraid. Can we hear him over the pressing crowd and wailing mourners?

—Terence Sherlock

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