Monthly Archives: November 2015

29 November 2015: First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 33:14-16 Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14 1 Thes 3:12-4:2 Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

 

Advent: a sense of urgent watching

This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year: the liturgical color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple, and the Sunday gospel readings change this year from Mark to Luke. As we experience the unfolding liturgical narrative and rituals, we journey with Jesus on the path from promise and incarnation to passion, death, and Easter. On this first Advent Sunday, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to be alert to the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.

The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah (627-585 BC), who called the Hebrews in Judah to interior conversion. In today’s passage, Jeremiah tells the people of Judah, who are being oppressed by the Babylonians, that God will send a descendant of David (“a just shoot”) to rule righteously (“do what is right and just”). Christians understand Jeremiah’s prophecy as fulfilled in Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonica ekklesia–the oldest preserved Christian document, written in AD 50 or 51. Paul writes to the Thessalonians after hearing they need advice. This letter introduces one of his important themes: love (“abound in love for one another and all”). Paul also urges the Thessalonians to remain “blameless … before God” in anticipation of Jesus’ return, and to “conduct yourselves to please God.” That is, they should follow Jesus’ way of life in which Paul instructed them (“for you know what instructions we gave you.”)

The gospel continues the theme of fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. The reading is part of Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry, specifically Luke’s eschatological discourse (Lk 21:5-38). The discourse includes two ideas:

  • The signs: Similar to Mark’s “little apocalypse” a few weeks ago, Luke’s Jesus prophecies about the end of this age (“signs in the sun, moon, and stars”) and the full realization of God’s kingdom (“your redemption is at hand”).
  • The warning: Jesus warns his disciples to be “vigilant” and to “pray.” That is, the disciples should always be looking for the signs–not in fear, but in hope that God’s kingdom is about to be instituted fully. At this time the Son of Man will judge the whole world, deciding who is worthy to enter the kingdom. Those distracted by the “anxieties of life”–who haven’t persisted in discipleship–are not fit for the kingdom. Those who “have the strength”–who have lived as true disciples–will be invited into the kingdom.

As the new liturgical year begins, prophecies fill the Advent readings. They urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to watch for Jesus’ comings: in the past, as Israel’s promised messiah; in the future, as the Son of Man who judges all people; and in the present moment, as God hidden and revealed in daily liturgy. Are we paying attention? Are we ready to stand before the Son of Man?

–Terence Sherlock

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22 November 2015: Solemnity of Christ the King

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dn 7:13-14 Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5 Rv 1:5-8 Jn 18:33b-37

Kingdoms and kings

On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to think about God’s kingship and God’s kingdom. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Luke’s gospel.)

The first reading from the book of Daniel uses apocalyptic imagery to comfort the persecuted Jews of the second century BC. The author promises that the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph. The phrase “dominion, glory, and kingship” (literally “power, esteem, and land”)sums up the ancient world’s idea of earthly kingship. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the second reading and gospel themes of kingship.

The second reading is from Revelation, written by John of Patmos in the mid-90s AD. Today’s passage focuses on kingship: Jesus’ kingship,the faithful’s kingship, and God’s kingship. Jesus is the “faithful witness,” a reference to his passion and death; he is “firstborn of the dead,” a reference to his resurrection, and “ruler of earthly kings,” a reference to his exaltation by God. The faithful are called a “kingdom of priests;” this baptismal language reminds us who we are–“loved by God”–and our inherent dignity–“redeemed through Jesus’ blood.” God’s kingship spans eternity and the cosmos: God is “alpha and omega,” the beginning and end of all things; God is the one who “is, was, and is-to-come” a reference to God’s name (I am who am) in Ex 3:14, and “the almighty,” from Hebrew and Greek titles meaning ruler of all, all-powerful, or all-mighty.

John’s gospel addresses Jesus’ kingship:

  • Are you a king? Pilate assumes a Roman understanding of earthly kingship (“power, esteem, and land” from the first reading). Anyone who declared himself a king challenged the Roman imperium and was a threat and traitor to the Roman order.
  • My kingdom is not from this world: Jesus rejects Pilate’s definition of kingship. Jesus is not an earthly king with earthly origins. God’s kingdom is the communion of disciples with the Father through Jesus.
  • My kingdom is not from here: Jesus reiterates he is not of this world (Jn 8:23). God’s kingdom is present in Jesus and is imperfectly shared by his disciples. Jesus’ kingdom exists in the world, but it is not from the world (Jn 17:14-18).

Jesus’ definition of kingship is to be a witness to God’s truth (“to testify to the truth”). He acts as an obedient Son who reveals the Father and accomplishes God’s work. Jesus’ death witnesses the Father’s love and completes God’s redemptive reconciliation.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on kingdoms and our places in them. We live in earthly kingdoms (towns, schools, offices, clubs, and so on), where might often makes right and whose currency is prestige. In such kingdoms, it’s good to be king–but sometimes not so good for everyone else. Jesus invites us to live in God’s kingdom, where we are loved and redeemed. Who is our king? Where is our kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 November 2015: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dn 12:1-3 Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11 Heb 10:11-14, 18 Mk 13:24-32

Shining like stars in the firmament

On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with apocalyptic visions and teachings. These readings are an appropriate close to the liturgical year, encouraging us to find our places in the final age of salvation history.

The first reading is from the book of Daniel. An unknown author composed this work about 150 years before Jesus’ time, when the Syrian Greeks were persecuting the Jews. The author’s message is optimistic and comforting: the just who “lead many to justice” will be spared from the end-time distress and live forever. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the “little apocalypse” of today’s gospel.

The second reading is our final reading from Hebrews. In this summary section, the author compares priests and their offerings. Human high priests offer the same sacrifices over and over, but their sacrifices never take away sin; Christ offered one sacrifice that removed all sin forever. Christ’s one, perfect offering freed everyone; as a result the human priests’ sin-offerings are no longer needed.

The gospel is from Jesus’ eschatological discourse, also called Mark’s little apocalypse. This “final things” discourse includes prophetic warnings (the destruction of the temple, persecution of the disciples, and the need to be watchful) and apocalyptic signs (deceivers, wars, the abomination, signs in the sky). Mark presents Jesus’ words and actions in three contexts: in the past, as fulfillment of the prophets (especially Daniel, Amos, and Zechariah); in the present (Jesus’ own teachings), and in the future (the coming Paschal event, the day of the Lord, and the Second Coming). Because Mark uses the temple as a type for Jesus–the dwelling place of God among the people–we can see many meanings in Jesus’ discourse:

  • The earthly temple in Jerusalem: The Jewish people believed the temple stood at the actural center of the universe. The temple veil contained embroidered images of stars and constellations, and the menorah’s seven branches stood for the sun, moon, and five known planets. When the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, the Jewish people believed that the world had ended and a new age began.
  • The heavenly temple and Jesus: The apocalyptic discourse also prefigures Jesus’ death. In Mark’s gospel the temple prefigures the mystery of Jesus–where God dwells among God’s people. At Jesus’ death, the sun darkens (Mk 15: 33) and the embroidered temple veil is torn in two (Mk 15: 38). Jesus’ death portends the destruction of the temple, and opens the final age of salvation history–the age in which all disciples (including us) live. The “day and hour” of this culmination of salvation history belongs to the Father alone.

This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we should live in this final age. The Lectionary readings close with the hope discipleship brings: we, the elect, will be gathered from the ends of the earth, to live forever and to shine brightly. Are our names written in the book? Are we leading many to justice?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 November 2015: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

 Reading 1  Response  Reading 2  Gospel
 1 Kgs 17:10-16  Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10  Heb 9:24-28  Mk 12:38-44

Scribes and widows: what God sees

After last week’s celebration of All Saints, we return to Ordinary time. The Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with teachings from Jesus’ ministry. This week Jesus instructs his disciples about the difference between what humans see and what God sees.

The first reading from the Book of Kings is the story of Elijah and the widow. God has sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath. There he asks for food from the widow at the city gate. The widow has only enough flour and oil to make one last meal. Still Elijah asks for her food, promising “the jar of flour will not go empty; the oil jug will not run dry.” The widow feeds Elijah, and miraculously is able to feed her son and herself for a year from the jar and jug. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of the widow’s generosity and her faith that God would provide.

The second reading continues the letter to the Hebrews. The author contrasts Jesus’ sacrificial ministry with the high priest’s ministry. The high priest enters a “sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one.” In Exodus, God instructs Moses to build a sanctuary (the Tent of Meeting). This earthly sanctuary is a copy of God’s heavenly temple. The high priest enters an earthly sanctuary, but Jesus enters the heavenly sanctuary to intercede with God for humans. The high priest enters every year (“many times”), but Jesus enters only once (“at the end of the ages”) to take away sin. Humans die, but Jesus will return to bring salvation.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and continues teaching. Responding to the scribes’ hostile questions, Jesus denounces their behavior and praises true religious action:

  • The scribes’ outward show of piety: The scribes, Torah experts, showed off their social standing by their dress (“long robes”), reserved seating in the synagogue, and head-table seating at social events. Because the Torah forbade taking payment for rabbinical teaching, some scribes developed questionable ways to make a living–charging legal fees, managing estates (“devouring the houses of widows”), or simply sponging off benefactors. Their self-aggrandizement at others’ expense will bring them “severe judgement.” Jesus condemns these scribes’ behavior.
  • The widow’s true piety: The temple had thirteen offering boxes, each topped with a brass trumpet-shaped collector. Large silver coins made a loud sound when they hit the brass funnel–this is how Jesus knew that “the rich were throwing in many coins.” The widow, who in Jewish society had no inheritance or income, gives two small, light, brass coins worth together less than one cent. Jesus notes that while others give from their abundance, the widow gives everything she has (“her whole life”). Like Elijah’s widow in the first reading, she relies on God to provide; Jesus praises her faith.

This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider why and how we express piety. Are we all about show, using good works to gain praise and respect from others? Or are we concerned only that our inconspicuous generosity benefits others? What judgement will our behavior bring?

—Terence Sherlock

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