Monthly Archives: September 2015

27 September 2015: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Num 11:25-29 Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14 Jas 5:1-6 Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Discipleship: inclusive, generous, responsible, accountable

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. Joshua wants to limit the experience of God to the Tent of Meeting, the official “holy place.” Moses laments that God’s presence is not experienced by all the people all the time. In today’s gospel, the disciples’ view of the unknown exorcist is similar to Joshua’s response.

In the second reading, the author of James outlines the problem of earthly riches: they rot and rust and are of no use in the kingdom (“the last days”). If someone collects riches at the expense of others (“withholding wages from the harvester”), those earthly riches are a witness against that one. The cries of unfairly-gotten wealth and defrauded workers “reach the ears of ‘the Lord of Hosts.'” The final sentence–“You have condemned and murdered the righteous one; he offers no resistance”–echoes Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, part of last week’s readings.

Mark’s gospel continues Jesus’ teachings about discipleship. The gospel contains two stories Mark has joined to create a teaching about God’s generosity and punishment:

  • In the unknown exorcist story, John complains to Jesus that someone who is not a disciple (“not walking with us”) is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus defers censuring the man, explaining: “who is not against us is for us.” Jesus emphasizes that God’s inclusiveness is generous, rewarding all acts of service done by anyone, inside or outside the believing community.
  • In the warning against scandal story, Jesus emphasizes that God will punish acts of evil, especially when these acts lead the believing community (“little ones”) astray. The Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skan-dah-LIH-zdo), here translated as “cause to sin,” literally means “trip up” or “cause to stumble;” it’s the root of the English word scandalize. The punishment for tripping up others is Gehenna. In Jesus’ time this ravine outside Jerusalem was a garbage dump for unclean things, such as animal carcasses. Fires burned constantly and maggots (“worms”) filled decaying flesh. Jesus identifies hands, feet, and eyes to illustrate how serious he is. “Hands” and “feet” represent action; “eyes” (usually paired with “heart”) represent reflection or thought. Taken together, Jesus says that a disciple’s intentions (eyes) and actions (hands, feet) must align with God’s teachings.

This week’s readings again confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the meaning of discipleship. Joshua and John both want to keep God’s experience and power for the insiders. Moses and Jesus teach them that discipleship must be inclusive. Jesus warns that discipleship has responsibilities and consequences. Do we recognize God outside our church building? Can we see God in the kindnesses of others who are outside our faith? Are our words and actions worthy of a disciple, or are they obstacles that cause others to falter in their faith?

—Terence Sherlock

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20 September 2015: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 2:12, 17-20 Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8 Jas 3:16-4:3 Mk 9:30-37

Discipleship: welcoming the nowhere man

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. An unknown Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria wrote this book between 100-28 BC. The early Christians understood the “just one” or “righteous one” as Jesus, and these themes appear throughout the passion narratives. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel prediction of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

The second reading continues James’ letter. Today’s reading is part of a larger section (Jas 3:1-5-6) in which the author addresses faults that divide a believing community. He tells his hearers that where “malice and factions exist in a believing community, disorder follows.” Passions (literally “selfish pleasures”) cause strife and fights. The author urges the practice of “wisdom,” which leads to peace in the ekklasia.

Mark’s gospel finds Jesus and the disciples journeying to Jerusalem. Mark repeats the phrase “on the way” twice in today’s reading. The phrase means not only a physical journey, but a disciple’s path to understanding. Mark uses “the way” to remind readers about the choices of discipleship. Today Jesus predicts his passion, death, and resurrection a second time. The disciples “were not understanding” and “were afraid to ask.” Instead they argue about who among them is “the first.” The disciples again show that they are not hearing Jesus’ message. Jesus tries to shift their vision: “to be first, you must be the least, and the servant of all.” To demonstrate his teaching, Jesus places a child in their midst. We might interpret Jesus’ words and actions toward the child as sentimental and passively protective. First-century disciples would hear Jesus’ teaching very differently–in the ancient world, a child was legally and socially a nobody, a non-person without rights. The gospel uses the Greek word παιδίον, which can mean “child,” “servant,” or “slave.” By “putting his arms around” the child, Jesus literally embraces the non-person. He teaches and shows the disciples “when you welcome and accept the lowest one, the helpless one, the inconsequential one, you welcome and accept me.” To further drive home his teaching, Jesus adds, “You welcome and accept not only me, but also the one who sent me.” That is, the disciple’s treatment of a non-person is the measure of that disciple’s treatment of God.

The RCIA process encourages candidates and especially catechumens to think about discipleship. Under the best conditions (“who will be first in the kingdom”), discipleship isn’t easy (“take care of the unwanted immigrant”). Under the worst conditions (“you’ll be handed over and killed”), discipleship can break our faith (“they were afraid”). Discipleship doesn’t have an autopilot setting: it’s a path filled with daily decisions–faction or fellowship, selfish pleasures or service–that only we can make. Are we listening to Jesus’ great teachings, or are we worried only about our own greatness?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 September 2015: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 50:5-9a Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 Jas 2:14-18 Mk 8:27-35

Discipleship: a way of seeing

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

The first reading is from Isaiah. Scripture scholars identify the author as an anonymous poet (called “Second Isaiah” or “Deutero-Isaiah”) who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian exile (about 550-539 BC). Second Isaiah wrote four “Servant Songs” about Israel’s suffering servant, a man called to lead the nations but who was abused and condemned; in the end he is rewarded for his sufferings. Early Christians saw the suffering servant in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In today’s third servant song the suffering servant “gives his back to those who beat me” and his face “to buffets and spitting”–we see the messiah’s passion foreshadowed.

The second reading continues the letter of James. In today’s reading, the author criticizes believing community members who distinguish between faith and works. Some in the ekklasia (possibly Gnostics) see belief in Jesus as sufficient for salvation. The author asks: What good is faith without the works that make faith real? Without works, faith is a dead thing. Others in the ekklasia see faith and works as two different gifts (“you have faith and I have works”). The author corrects them: faith and works are two sides of the same coin. He says, “you can’t show me your faith alone, but I can show you works that come from my faith.”

In Mark’s gospel we hear Jesus’ teaching about discipleship. Last week Jesus healed the deaf-mute, but his disciples still can’t see who Jesus is. This week, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say I am?” The disciples give positive, but non-committal,answers. Jesus asks them directly: “Who do you say I am?” Peter, the spokesman, responds: “You are the anointed one, the messiah.” Jesus then teaches the disciples about the messiah’s mission: rejection, suffering, death, resurrection. (See the first reading’s “suffering servant.”) Peter rebukes (literally “censures”) Jesus for Jesus’ description of messiahship. Jesus rebukes Peter right back: “Go away, Satan. You’re seeing things like a human, not the way God sees!” Jesus addresses the disciples and the crowds on discipleship: you must leave your family and friends (“deny oneself”) and walk with Jesus and his followers. Everyone has a choice: follow the world’s path to have a worldly life–and lose your life in the end; or give away your life in service to Jesus’ message–and save your life.

As the RCIA process resumes its weekly sessions this week, the readings provide catechumens and candidates–and all believing community members–with stark words about what Jesus expects of his disciples: See things from God’s point of view. Give up your comfortable, clannish ways. Walk with me on my path. Our baptismal profession of faith puts us on the disciples’ path. Our Baptism and Confirmation anointings make us other Christs and other messiahs. Whom do we say Jesus is? How do we see ourselves as disciples? Have we learned to see with God’s eyes? Can others see our faith and discipleship in our works?

—Terence Sherlock

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6 September 2015: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 35: 4-7a Ps 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10 Jas 2: 1-5 Mk 7: 31-37

How Jesus’ acts of power change people

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship in Mark.

The first reading is from Isaiah, who prophesized before the Babylonian exile (597-537 BC). Isaiah describes God’s restoration of the promised land to the faithful, and God’s mighty acts when David’s descendant returns to the throne. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it includes “the deaf one’s ears are opened,” and “the mute tongue sings for joy.” Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s gospel.

The second reading is a continuation of the letter of James from last week. In today’s reading, the author of James warns the believing community about right treatment of the poor, writing to an ekklasia whose richer members get special attention–for example, better seats at the liturgy. He reminds his hearers that “God chose the poor” to be “heirs of the kingdom.” That is, through baptism we are God’s adopted children and share equally in God’s kingdom, based on God’s love for us. Any divisions in the believing community are based on faulty human reasoning (“judges with evil designs.”)

Today’s gospel follows last week’s teaching about hand washing and purity. Jesus travels to the region of the Decapolis (“the ten cities,”) a largely gentile area east of the Jordan river. Mark’s change of geography allows him to contrast Jesus’ rejection by the Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes with the faith of those on the edges of Judaism. Mark’s gospel gives us two details that announce who Jesus is. First,Jesus cures a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment (literally “of little talking,”) matching exactly the words of the first reading. This detail reveals Jesus as an eschatological prophet-servant who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy. Second, Jesus cures the man through touch and a special Aramaic word (“ephphatha“). This detail reveals Jesus as a wonder-worker, who uses the techniques of laying on hands and commanding language. Jesus’ acts of power changes both the deaf-mute and his disciples as well. As the disciples witness Jesus’ cures, they also are being cured of their lack of faith, deafness to who Jesus is, and difficulty proclaiming the gospel. As we continue reading in Mark, we will find the disciples being changed–beginning next week with Peter’s profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi.

The RCIA process emphasizes reading from the gospels because it is through the gospels that Jesus reveals who he is and what he wants his disciples to be and to do. While Jesus’ acts of power immediately heal the sick, they also transform those who “see.” Miracles have meaning far beyond the cures themselves. Through miracles, Jesus shows and tells us–his disciples–who he is. Are we like the crowd, so “superabundantly amazed” by the healing that we are deaf what Jesus says? Or are we like the disciples, personally transformed Jesus’ acts of power? Are we moved beyond limited human vision and divisions? Are our ears opened to hear what Jesus asks of us? Are our tongues freed to tell others about our faith?

—Terence Sherlock

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