Monthly Archives: January 2016

31 January 2016: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 1:4-5, 17-19 Ps 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 Lk 4:21-30

 

Jesus’ way: unconditional love

During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. Over the next few Sundays, we follow Jesus as he begins his ministry and calls his disciples. This week’s readings connect Jeremiah’s prophetic call and mission with Jesus’ mission as prophet and messiah.

In the first reading God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet not only to Judah (the Hebrew people), but to “all nations.” Through Jeremiah, God offers salvation to all. God warns Jeremiah that those who hear his prophecy will oppose and reject him. God promises to be with Jeremiah always. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel. These two aspects of Jeremiah’s call–universality of salvation and opposition to his message–appear in Jesus’ words to the Nazareth synagogue.

In the second reading Paul writes to the Corinth ekklesia because its membership is divided over the Spirit’s gifts. Paul tells the Corinthians to continue to strive for spiritual gifts, but the best gift is love. Without love, the spiritual gifts are worthless. Paul uses the Greek word ἀγάπη (ah-GAH-pay), which has the idea of “a warm regard for and interest in another without thinking of one’s self.” ἀγάπη is not sentimental, passive, greeting-card “love,” but robust, active, fully-present, and unselfish concern for another. Paul warns the Corinthians, infatuated with tongues and prophecy, that the spiritual gifts have limits and will end. Only faith, hope, and ἀγάπη persist.

Today’s gospel continues from last week’s reading: Jesus is in his hometown synagogue. Jesus proclaims his mission and his friends and neighbors reject him:

  • Jesus’ mission: Jesus reads from Isaiah’s scroll that foretell him: the Spirit anoints him to preach, to heal, and to free the oppressed. By choosing this Isaiah passage and then commenting on it (“fulfilled in your ears”), Jesus states he is the messiah. Jesus then aligns himself with the prophet Elijah (“sent to the widow Zarephath”) and with the prophet Elisha (“cleansed Naaman the Syrian”). Jesus states he is a prophet, sent to save not just to the Jewish people but all people.
  • Nazareth’s rejection: The Nazareth community was insulted because Jesus refused to recognize his place (“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”) and wouldn’t perform healings (“Do what you did in Capernaum!”). The Nazareth community knew Jesus well–they watched him grow up, after all–and therefore questioned his authority or power. How could this local boy be a prophet or the messiah?

Jesus’ miraculous escape (“he passed through their midst”) fulfills God’s promise to Jeremiah in the first reading: “I am with you to deliver you.”

Today’s readings reveal an uncomfortable reality: walking in Jesus’ way often means rejection. Jesus’ mission–to preach, to heal, and to free the oppressed–is our mission, too. Jesus’ “still more excellent way” of ἀγάπη–unconditional love–is the believing community’s roadmap to the kingdom and to the cross. We ask ourselves: Am I patient and kind? Or am I jealous, pompous, self-important, rude, concerned with my own problems, quick-tempered, moody, happiest when others suffer? Which is the disciple’s way?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 January 2016: Third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15 1 Cor 12:12-30 Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

 

The scripture in our ears

During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. Over the next few Sundays, we will follow Jesus as he begins his ministry and calls his disciples. The readings challenge RCIA participants to change and to discipleship. This week’s readings connect scripture in Nehemiah with Jesus’ scripture fulfillment.

The first reading is from Nehemiah, a post-exile governor of Judah. Scripture scholars believe an unknown author composed this book in the late fifth or early fourth century BC. This reading dramatically portrays the priest Ezra standing amid Jerusalem’s ruins and interpreting the Law to the assembled Hebrew people. Ezra’s public reading urges his hearers to their mission: to rebuild Jerusalem(“rejoicing in the Lord is your strength”). The Lectionary editors chose this reading to complement Jesus’ reading in the Nazareth synagogue.

The second reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, continues from last week. Paul writes to the Corinth ekklesia because its membership is divided over the Spirit’s gifts. Paul compares the believing community to a human body: a body has many different parts that work together to make a functioning human person. Eyes aren’t better than feet; without ears we couldn’t hear. Paul then jumps from simile (“the ekklesia is like a body”) to theology (“you are Christ’s body”). We individual ekklesia members are now Christ’s body–his presence–in the world. Each member has a specific role to play or a gift to use in building up this mystical body.

Luke’s gospel has two parts:

  • The mission of the gospel: Luke tells Theophilus (Greek for “one who loves God”–that’s us) that he has written an “orderly account” so that we “might be certain of the teachings [we] have received.” Luke uses the Greek word κατηχέω (kah-tay-KEH-oh) to describe these “teachings.” κατηχέω means literally “to sound or to echo down into the ears.” From this Greek word we get the English word catechesis. Luke writes his gospel to instruct disciples in Jesus’ “fulfillment” of scripture, as told by the apostles (“eyewitnesses”) and other evangelists (“ministers of the word.”)
  • The mission of Jesus: Luke chooses Jesus’ hometown as the place where Jesus announces his mission. Fresh from his baptism (“in the power of the Spirit”), Jesus follows his habit of going to synagogue. Maybe because Jesus is becoming famous (“praised by all”), the attendant asks him to read and comment on the lesson. Jesus chooses the Isaiah scroll that foretell him: the Spirit anoints him to preach, to heal, and to free the oppressed. Jesus, like Ezra in the first reading, then interprets what he has read: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears.”

The readings remind RCIA participants and the entire believing community that we encounter God in scripture and liturgy. Ezra proclaims and interprets the Torah for the returned exiles so they can rebuild their lives. Paul shows the Corinthians that their assembled community is Christ’s body. Luke writes his gospel to instruct disciples. Jesus announces his messianic mission in the context of a synagogue service.Are we listening in the liturgy? Do we hear the mission to which God is calling us?

—Terence Sherlock

 

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17 January 2016: Second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 62:1-5 Ps 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10 1 Cor 12:4-11 Jn 2:1-11

 

Weddings, gifts, and wine

During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. Over the next three Sundays, we will follow Jesus as he begins his ministry and calls his disciples. The readings challenge RCIA participants to change and to discipleship. This week’s readings connect Isaiah’s new covenant with Jesus’ first sign at Cana.

The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah (actually, the third Isaiah, who lived during the Jerusalem restoration after the exile). Isaiah tells the Hebrews that God will create a new relationship or covenant with the chosen people, a covenant as intimate as a marriage. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel, which fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.

The second reading is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes to the Corinth ekklesia because the membership is divided. Some members believe they are better than others because they have received special gifts, especially glossolalia–the ability to “speak in tongues.” Paul tells the Corinthians that all gifts are from God and that a member does not receive a gift solely for his or her own benefit. God gives each member a gift for a specific reason or to fulfill a need within the ekklesia.

The gospel is John’s wedding feast at Cana. In this short story of Jesus’ first sign, John sums up Jesus’ identity, his fulfillment of scripture, and his mission:

  • Wedding and wedding feast: John sets Jesus first sign at a Galilean marriage. Throughout Hebrew scripture, prophets and writers use marriage metaphors to describe the covenant between God and the chosen people. John’s setting suggests that God’s saving act–God’s covenant with the Hebrews–is being extended and transformed by God incarnate (Jesus).
  • Water into wine: On a human level, we empathize with the groom and bride who run out of drinks, but John’s dialogue suggests a larger meaning. Through the prophets, God promised a definitive act of salvation to redeem the people and to renew the covenant–the messiah would be such a sign. The prophets compare the renewed covenant with a marriage between God and God’s people. Under this new covenant, God will not simply provide for God’s people–God will exceed the people’s needs so that no one will want for anything. The prophets describe this time as an age of prosperity, exemplified by a superabundance of good wine. At Cana, these prophecies come together: the messiah (Jesus) is present with new people of God (his mother and his disciples) at a marriage feast (covenant), and the messiah works a sign (transforming water to wine) of messianic superabundance (180 gallons of wine).
  • Believe in him: In John’s gospel, Jesus performs signs to bring people to faith. The disciples begin to believe in Jesus–they believe in him personally, not in some abstract assent to doctrine.

The readings remind RCIA participants and the entire believing community that God comes to us in the ordinary and the everyday to make us new. God’s kingdom is filled to overflowing with good things. The messiah–God-with-us–is already here. God has given each of us gifts to build up God’s kingdom. Do we recognize God’s presence and use God’s gifts for others, or do we think only about running out of our own wine?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 January 2016: Baptism of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 42:1-4, 6-7
or
Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
or
Ps 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Acts 10:34-38
or
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

Lectionary note: On the Baptism of the Lord, the Lectionary presents optional readings for the first and second readings. For the first reading the celebrant can choose Is 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 40:1-5,9-11. For the second reading the celebrant can choose Acts 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7. This reflection uses Is 42 for the first reading, and Acts 10 for the second reading.

 

Baptism: commitment to mission

This week RCIA catechumens and all the believing community hear the story of John’s baptism of Jesus. Catechumens are preparing for their Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), which will take place at the Easter Vigil. The already-baptized reflect on our own baptismal mystery and mission.

The first reading introduces the first of Isaiah’s four “servant songs.” The Greek version of Isaiah uses the word παῖς (“pahees”), which the Lectionary editors translate as “servant.” παῖς can also mean “son/daughter,” “child,” or “slave.” Isaiah tells us that God chooses this servant-son and puts God’s spirit into him. God charges the servant-son with a specific mission: to establish justice on the earth, to bring justice to all nations, to teach, to be a light to everyone, to heal blindness, and to free prisoners. This is a description of Jesus’ mission, and connects the first reading to the gospel.

In the second reading from Acts, Peter’s preaching provides a basic outline of Jesus’ life: Jesus is baptized by John and begins his mission of “doing good and healing.” As in Isaiah’s song of the servant-son, Peter tells his hearers that God’s spirit is upon Jesus, and Jesus’ mission is to heal and to save.

In Luke’s gospel, John baptizes Jesus. As Jesus prays, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus (just as the servant-son receives God’s spirit in the first reading). God proclaims: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” God’s words echo Isaiah’s servant song: “Here is my servant-son …, my chosen-beloved one with whom I am pleased.” Jesus’ baptism marks the start of his mission of healing and saving. Jesus is the messiah, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s servant-son prophecy-song, and God’s own son, filled with the Spirit.

For catechumens in the RCIA process, baptism is a gigantic step. Baptism is a mystery that initiates and in-corporates us into the believing community. God charges the baptized with the same mission as Jesus. Through baptism’s water we become God’s παῖς and have God’s Spirit poured into us to bring justice, to teach, to be a light, to heal, to save. Every time we make the sign of the cross, or dip our hands in holy water, or are dismissed from Mass, the gesture, water, and words remind us of our baptismal mission. We are God’s beloved. Is God well pleased with the way in which we live out our baptismal mission?

–Terence Sherlock

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3 January 2016: Epiphany of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 60:1-6 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 Mt 2:1-12

Epiphany: the Gift is made present to all

Today the believing community celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany, which means “shining upon” or “manifestation,” is also called “little Christmas” or “Three King’s day,” and, in many places, is the day to exchange gifts. Traditionally, Orthodox and Roman churches celebrate Epiphany on 6 January as the twelfth day of Christmas. Because of the feast’s importance, the United States bishops moved the Epiphany celebration to the preceding Sunday. The feast commemorates the visit of the magi (or “wise men”) to Jesus. The Lectionary editors give us a larger context and meaning for this feast.

The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah. After the Hebrews return from their Babylonian exile, Isaiah urges them to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem. He promises that God will restore the people and city to its former glory under David. Note that God’s restoration draws “all nations” to Jerusalem. These foreign (gentile) kings will bring “gold and frankincense” as tribute and gifts.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians. The author (a disciple writing in Paul’s name) summarizes the reason for Paul’s mission as apostle to the gentiles: that God’s kingdom includes all–gentiles as well as the Jewish people. Together the Jews and gentiles are “co-heirs, co-members of the Body of Christ (the ekklesia), and co-partners in the gospel promise.” All are invited into God’s kingdom.

Matthew’s gospel recounts the magi’s visit. Mathew places this story early in his gospel to show Jesus’ full identity:

  • King of the Jews: The magi are astrologers (early astronomers) who discern Jesus’ title based on naturally occurring celestial events (the star). They ask Herod, who was given the title “King of the Jews” by his Roman overlords, “where can we find the King of the Jews?” Awkward! Herod calls his Jewish priests and scribes and asks “What do you know about this?” They search the Hebrew scripture and find the prophet Micah’s prophecy that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Matthew shows that both nature and scripture reveal Jesus’ identity to all who seek him.
  • Due homage: The magi come to “do him homage.” Here and throughout this passage, Matthew uses the Greek word προσκυνέω (“pros-koo-NEH-oh”) which means “to prostrate before,” “to adore,” or “to worship.” Matthew shows that the magi–gentiles–recognize that Jesus is worthy not only of human honor, but of divine worship.
  • Gifts foretell Jesus’ destiny: The magi give Jesus not only honor and worship, they also give him symbolic gifts. Gold is an appropriate gift for a human ruler. Incense is a gift offered (burned) to honor a divinity. Myrrh is spice used as a salve and for embalming. Matthew shows that the magi–gentiles–recognize Jesus’ kingship, his divinity, and his mission to suffer and die.

Coming at the end of the Christmas season, Epiphany calls RCIA participants–and all of us–to reflect on the impact of Jesus’ incarnation. God’s gift of God-made-flesh and God-with-us is given to us without any possibility of our repayment. The Incarnation, like all sacraments, is God’s superabundant presence. Epiphany–manifestation–tells us that God is found everywhere (God’s kingdom is already here), God is worthy of our worship, and God’s giving-ness fuels our mission to give our own lives in service. What are we doing with God’s Christmas gift?

–Terence Sherlock

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