|Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
||Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
||1 Jn 3: 1-3
||Mt 5: 1-12
How to be a saint
This week the Feast of All Saints interrupts our Ordinary time readings. The Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings about the saints–the “holy ones,” God’s children, God’s heroines and heroes who live with God in the kingdom.
In the first reading from Revelation, John of Patmos uses images and metaphors to picture the end of time. The “uncountable multitude” is us: the believing community who “survived the great trial” and are now with God. John uses the liturgy as a metaphor for heaven: the uncountable multitude in white robes, angels, elders, and four living creatures worship God and the Lamb that was slain (Jesus). In other words, the holy ones (the believing community) have attained complete intimacy with God.
In the second reading, John the Elder gives us another image of heaven. God’s love for us is so great right now that God calls us God’s own children. We don’t know what we will be in the future, but we do know that we will be like God. In the kingdom we will see God as God is. In other words, God wants us to be saints (be with God).
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives us the blueprint for living in God’s kingdom. In his eight beatitudes, Jesus lists characteristics and dispositions that his disciples must possess:
- Poor in spirit: The Hebrew word anawim (“God’s poor”) describes the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, the non-persons who depend totally on God. Jesus’ disciples depend on God completely.
- Mourning: Jesus’ disciples may not be able to change others’ evil acts, but they can resist evil in themselves by recognizing it and mourning it.
- Humble: The meek or humble do not react in anger or with force against those who wrong them. Jesus’ disciples rely on God and not their own strength to make things right.
- Starving for righteousness: Jesus’ disciples are not content with things as they are; they constantly search for something greater.
- Merciful: The Hebrew word hesed means “loving-kindness:” God’s love for humans, and God’s covenant relationship with the Hebrew people. Jesus’ disciples treat everyone as generously as God has treated them.
- Clean of heart: The Hebrew word lebab (“heart”) indicates the center of a person’s inner life–emotions, intellect, and will. Jesus’ disciples’ inner lives align with their external acts.
- Peacemakers: The Hebrew the word shalom (“peace”) means “wholeness,” “completeness,” and “healing”–not only the absence of strife. Jesus’ disciples share the mission of reconciling the world to the Father (2 Cor 5:19).
- Being persecuted: The scriptures are full of righteous people persecuted for their faith and trust in God. Jesus’ disciples should expect no better treatment from the world.
To live the beatitudes is to imitate Jesus himself: dependent on God alone, recognizing and resisting evil, meeting anger with kindness, always seeking God’s will, being as generous as God, being aligned with God’s will, bringing wholeness and reconciliation, accepting persecution. We are already God’s children; this is how we become saints.
||Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Discipleship: Jesus’ lessons on the way
Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus gives his final teaching on discipleship.
The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah (627-585BC). This is a song about the hope-filled return of the Babylonian exiles to Judah (Jerusalem). The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it refers to the blind returning from captivity.
The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews. Today’s reading discusses the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood. The author outlines the requirements for a high priest: he is selected by God; he represents all humanity before God and offers sacrifice for sins; and he is patient with ignorant and straying humans because he is human himself. Christ did not glorify himself in acting as high-priest-the Father called him to priesthood at his resurrection. The author quotes from two psalms in support: Ps 2 (2:7) and Ps 110 (110:4).
Today’s gospel concludes Mark’s central section–“‘on the way’ to Jerusalem”–and Jesus’ final teachings about discipleship. Just as this section began with Jesus healing a blind man (Mk 8:22-26), it ends with Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. Scripture scholars think that because Mark names him, Bartimaeus was a well-known disciple in the early believing community. Mark frames Jesus’ journey with two blind healings to show Jesus also healing his disciples’ spiritual blindness. Three sayings highlight this healing:
- Son of David, have mercy on me: Bartimaeus addresses Jesus as “son of David.” First-century Jews understood “son of David” to mean the promised messiah-king who would rule Israel forever. One of the messiah’s signs would be healing the blind. “Have mercy on me” is a petition made to God in the psalms. Blind Bartimaeus already sees more than the disciples and the crowd.
- What do you want me to do for you: Jesus asks Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” Unlike James and John, Bartimaeus asks to be restored to wholeness–the fulfillment of the messianic promise.
- Your faith has saved you: The Greek word σώζω (SOH-dzo) means “to save,” “to heal,” and also “to be made whole.” Jesus tells Bartimaeus his active faith has healed him physically and has brought him into God’s kingdom. Throughout this central section, Jesus has been teaching about eternal life and salvation. Bartimaeus’ healing becomes a parable-in-action of God’s kingdom. After he is healed, Bartimaeus immediately becomes Jesus’ disciple (“followed him on the way”).
Over the last six Sundays, Mark’s gospel has challenged RCIA participants’ and the believing community’s ideas about discipleship: seeing from God’s perspective, not a self-centered one (Mk 8:35); service, not entitlement (Mk 9:37); inclusiveness, not creating obstacles (Mk 9:41); perfect love for imperfect people (Mk 10:10); completeness, not security (Mk 10:22); insight, not spiritual blindness (Mk 10:51). Discipleship begins with faith (Mk 8:29)–faith is an action, something we practice as we’re “on the way.” Discipleship is a daily, personal choice. With whom are we walking today?
||Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Discipleship: service to all
Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus gives his most important teaching on discipleship.
The first reading is from Isaiah’s fourth servant song. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel because Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s righteous one and suffering servant.
The second reading is a continuation of the letter to the Hebrews. In this section, the author compares Jesus to the Jewish high priest. Jesus “passed through the heavens” in the same way that the high priest entered the temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. God’s presence connected the Holy of Holies to heaven (Is 6). Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because his incarnation makes him fully human. As a human he was “tested in every way,” yet he remained “without sin,” living in perfect obedience to God’s will.
In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way” to Jerusalem. Jesus has just made a third prediction of his coming passion, death, and resurrection (Mk 10:32-34). As happened before with Jesus’ previous passion predictions, his disciples don’t understand. James and John outrageously request that Jesus guarantee them places on his right and left hand “in his glory.” Jesus asks if they can “drink the cup” he drinks or “be baptized” with his coming baptism. What is Jesus asking of his disciples?
- Drink the cup: In Hebrew scripture to “drink the cup” means to accept what God has planned, either a cup of blessing (Ps 16:5) or a cup of wrath (Ps 75:9). In Christian scripture, the cup stands for the Eucharist. The early ekklesia (believing community) understood the Eucharistic cup as the blood of Christ and the source of salvation to all who drink it (Mk 14:23-24).
- Be baptized: In Hebrew scripture, baptism (immersion in water) means overwhelming calamity (Ps 42:8). In Christian scripture, Jesus’ baptism prefigures his death. The early ekklesia understood baptism as uniting with Jesus in his death, dying to the self, and being reborn a new person (Rm 6:3-4).
James and John reply they are able, which tells Jesus that they are really clueless. When the other ten disciples hear what James and John are asking, they are indignant (literally “have a lot of grief”). Jesus calls them together and gives another teaching on discipleship. Unlike gentile rulers who use their authority to subjugate and to control people, Jesus’ disciples must imitate his humble and self-emptying love. In the kingdom, leaders serve, and the greatest one is the slave to all. Jesus sums up his mission: to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. Jesus fulfills the role of the righteous one and suffering servant from the first reading.
For RCIA participants and for all of us, Jesus presents another clear picture of discipleship: service. We don’t get to choose what service God calls us to perform (“drink the cup”) or how we will serve (“be baptized.”) Discipleship means giving up our personal preferences about service–dying to self–to bring God’s kingdom to others. We pledge our service at our Baptism, and we are strengthened to continue our service whenever we receive the Eucharist. Are we able to be servants and slaves to all?
||Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Discipleship: discerning costs and rewards
Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus continues to teach about the challenges of discipleship.
The first reading is from the book of Wisdom. First century Christians read the Hebrew wisdom writings and recognized Jesus as the “incarnation of the wisdom of God.” Paul, John, and the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus’ divine wisdom in several places. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel teaching on leaving all to obtain God’s wisdom and eternal life.
The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews concludes last week’s discussion about Jesus as God’s son. Earlier the author wrote about the efficacy of scripture. He now plays on the phrase “word of God,” meaning both scripture and Jesus. In the author’s community, believers have become bored and indifferent to their faith. He warns community that scripture and Jesus reveal each person’s thoughts and intent (“discern thoughts and the heart’s reflections”).
In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way;” Jesus gives further teaching about “the way” of discipleship. Today’s reading contains three interconnected stories: the rich young man, the camel and the needle, and a teaching on the rewards of discipleship.
- Story of the rich young man. “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jews of Jesus’ time, the answer was to follow the Mosaic law. This man, however, seems to be looking for something more. Jesus comment “No one is good but God” invites the man to reflect on Jesus’ goodness. Does the man recognize God’s goodness in Jesus? Jesus challenges the would-be disciple: “You lack one thing–sell what you have and follow me.” In Jesus’ society, family, home, and land were a person’s most precious possessions. Jesus invitation to discipleship asks the man to become as dependent on God as a child (see last week’s reading). The man can’t give up his earthly security; he passes on Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
- Story of the camel and needle. Jesus’ point is that earthly wealth breeds spiritual complacency. To “be saved,” to “enter the kingdom,” and to gain “eternal life” all mean the same thing. “Impossible for humans,” Jesus says, but with God “all things are possible.” The kingdom is beyond human achievement, it is neither a right nor a reward; it is God’s gift.
- Teaching on the rewards of discipleship. Jesus promises anyone who gives up family, home, and land (and accepts persecution) for his sake and the sake of the good news will receive those things and more a hundred times over. For disciples, persecution is not a maybe but how–state-sponsored pogroms, social ostracism, public mockery, familial rejection–discipleship includes these.
With RCIA catechumens and candidates, each of us asks: Is discipleship worth it? Like the rich man, we long for a completeness the world cannot give but we are still attracted to human riches and the seeming security they promise. We can’t earn “the kingdom,” “eternal life,” or “God’s wisdom”–these are God’s gifts, freely given to those who choose to follow Jesus on the way. Only when we become as dependent on God as children (“to such as these the kingdom belongs”) will we understand discipleship. Can we let go of our illusion of earthly security long enough to see reality of God’s wisdom?
||Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Daily discipleship: love in a fallen world
Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we hear Jesus teach about the daily challenges of discipleship.
The first reading from Genesis is a story about origins. It explains where men and women come from, why they are attracted to each other, and how and why society is structured as it is. The Lectionary editors chose this story because Jesus quotes this passage in today’s gospel.
The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews, a complex work that assumes its hearers are well-versed in Hebrew scripture. Today’s reading introduces Jesus as redeemer. Jesus became human (“made lower than the angels”) to redeem humankind (“taste death for everyone”). Jesus is now exalted, having been “perfected through suffering.” Jesus (“he who consecrates”) and we the redeemed (“those who are being consecrated”) have “one origin.” Because Jesus shared our humanity, we are siblings to Jesus, who is “not afraid to call [us] ‘brothers.'”
Mark’s gospel begins a new chapter (Mk 10). In this chapter Jesus’ teachings shift to practical discipleship issues: marriage, raising children, running a business. Jesus now directs his teachings to the crowds, not just his disciples. Today we hear two stories: a teaching on marriage and teaching on the kingdom. Both teachings are about practical discipleship:
- Marriage teaching: Jesus presents an image of marriage before Adam and Eve turn against God. We can understand this to mean that God’s original intent (“one flesh”) is the standard for all relationships. Because Jesus has destroyed sin, we no longer need the Mosaic divorce exception. Jesus establishes the kingdom of God, in which all humanity is restored to its God-created state. Jesus holds disciples–those “on the way” to the kingdom of God–to a higher standard: “What God has joined (literally “glued”) no human can unjoin.” God joins a husband and wife into one flesh; in this equality and oneness, both the husband and wife have a mutual responsibility to lifelong fidelity.
- Kingdom teaching: Jesus shows that discipleship–and access to the kingdom–is not based on abilities, social achievement, public behavior, or status. Jesus tells the disciples that “the kingdom of God belongs to the least ones:” slaves, non-persons, children. Jesus’ embrace of children is a parable-in-action: this is God welcoming all simple, trusting, and humble sons and daughters into a relationship, which is the beginning of God’s kingdom.
RCIA participants–and the entire believing community–continuously seek to understand what Jesus asks of us as disciples. All Jesus’ discipleship teachings revolve around love: love of God and love for the Other. The daily challenge of human relationships–family, spouses, friends, coworkers, teachers, students, caregivers–presents opportunities to live out God’s design for human love. In a fallen world filled with imperfect people we learn the meaning of “taking up the cross.” How we live our day-to-day discipleship prepares us for God’s kingdom. How does our love for imperfect others reflect our love for God?