Monthly Archives: February 2016

28 February 2016: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 Ps 103: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 Lk 13:1-9

 

Lent: God’s call to change

On the third Sunday in Lent, the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider who God is and how God calls us to change.

The first reading, from Exodus, tells how God called Moses. In this story, God also reveals God’s mysterious name and self. All previous biblical stories are schematic–that is, “a thing happened, and this was the result.” Moses’ encounter with God moves slowly, inviting us to deeper engagement and reflection on what the story means. Speaking from the burning bush, God asks Moses to free God’s people enslaved in Egypt. Moses asks God what name he should tell the Hebrews who ask, “Who sent you?” God responds using the Hebrew word “to be” (Heb: hwh or hyh), meaning either “he who is” or “he who causes [something] to exist.” In a subtle way, God’s answer also asks Moses, “Who are you?”

The second reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, warns us not to get too comfortable. Some in the Corinthian ekklasia thought that because they were baptized and attended eucharists, they were saved. Paul recounts the Israelites’ Exodus: even though they “passed through the sea” (like baptism) and they “were fed with spiritual food”–manna–(like the eucharist), some still displeased God and were “struck down.” Paul warns about Corinthian overconfidence in simply being an ekklasia member: salvation requires more than just a membership card, it requires true discipleship.

The gospel begins with two Jerusalem current events: Pilate’s slaughter of Galilean pilgrims and a Siloam tower collapse. Jesus uses these events as warnings to change, and provides a parable to challenge his hearers:

  • The call to metanoia: “Do you think those killed were bigger sinners than others? Not at all! But if you do not repent, you will perish.” The Greek word metanoia, translated in the gospel as “repent,” actually means to change one’s mind; be converted, turn around. Metanoia means more than simply “repent”–it implies an active turning away from evil and turning toward good. Jesus tells us, “Metanoia or perish!”
  • The fruitless fig tree parable: A parable is an open-ended story that challenges the hearer to look into the hidden aspects of the hearer’s own values and own life. This parable has four characters: a fruitless fig tree, its impatient owner, a (more patient) vine-dresser, and the hearer. The hearer is the most important character because he or she evaluates the actions of the other characters. The hearer asks: Is the owner right, honorable, good? Is the gardener right? Is the tree “behaving” correctly? What does the parable mean? At the highest level,the parable is about patience. Patience has its limits; and lack of action has consequences. Based on Jesus’ call to metanoia, we might understand this parable about God’s continuing patience with those who have not yet given evidence of their metanoia (see Lk 3:8). Jesus’ parable tells us, “The time is short!”

As RCIA participants journey toward Easter sacraments, the RCIA process asks them to scrutinize their acts and to measure their lives against Jesus’ life. This is a good practice for all of us. Scripture reveals who God is, but in this revelation, God asks us who we are. Paul warns us that sacraments are not guarantees, but only the beginnings of discipleship. Jesus tells us to pay attention to his call to change our hearts and minds and follow the path he has marked for us. Who are we? Are we disciples in name only? What will it take for us to turn around? Time is short.

—Terence Sherlock

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21 February 2016: Second Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Gn 15:5-12, 17-18  Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14  Phil 3:17-4:1  Lk 9:28b-36

 

Transfiguration: God meets us; we are changed

On the second Sunday in Lent–Transfiguration Sunday–the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God meets us and how such meetings can change us.

The first reading, from Genesis, describes God and Abram’s meeting and covenant. Throughout the previous three books, God and Abram have been building a relationship. Finally “Abram puts his faith in the Lord” and he and God make a covenant together. God appears to Abram in smoke and fire to “pass between the pieces” of the sacrificed animals–that is, to “sign on the dotted line.” After this meeting Abram becomes Abraham, the father of nations, and his descendants inherit the promised land.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, discusses citizenship and transformation. Philippi was a Roman colony (kolōnia, a settlement for retired Roman troops), and many Philippians were Roman citizens. Paul reminds the Philippian believing community that their real community and membership is with Christ, not with the Romans. It’s the Lord–not the Romans–who will “transform our lowly body,” into his glorious one. Paul uses the word μετασχηματίζω (meta-skay-mah-TIHd-zo), meaning “to transfigure, transform, or change;” this word connects the second reading to the gospel.

The gospel, Luke’s account of Jesus transfiguration, tells how Peter, James, and John understood a transformed Jesus and encountered God:

  • Overcome by sleep/now fully awake: In the first reading, Abram encounters God while “in a trance.” Luke describes the disciples first as “weighted down (with sleep)” and then suddenly “awakened thoroughly.” In the ancient world, visions and trances were common. Prophets like Isaiah (6:1-13), Jeremiah (1:11-19), and Ezekiel (1:4-28) write about meeting God in dreams, visions, ecstasy, trances, or other altered reality. Luke’s hearers understand the sleep/wake language as a prelude to an encounter with God.
  • Moses and Elijah: Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, are two important Hebrew scripture heroes who met God face-to-face. Both Moses and Elijah encountered God on a mountain (Horeb/Sinai). Luke places Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain surrounded by scripture heroes who have seen God.
  • The cloud and the voice: The phrase “cast a shadow” can also be translated “to envelop in a brilliant haze” or “to invest with supernatural influence.” In Hebrew scripture clouds, fire, and smoke often signal an encounter with God. God’s message–“This is my chosen son; listen to him”–is nearly identical to the words heard at Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:22). God’s voice identifies Jesus as God’s son and chosen one (suffering servant), foreshadowing Jesus’ coming glory and his coming suffering.

The authors of today’s readings struggle with human words and ideas that describe and explain encounters with God. Such experiences change us and change the way we see the world. As with Abram, God meets us where we are. As our relationship with God grows and we journey in faith, we, like Paul, recognize where we belong, where we are citizens. As we encounter God daily–in others, in prayer, in sacraments–we are transformed. Are we open to meet God? Are we ready to be transfigured?

—Terence Sherlock

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14 February 2016: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 26:4-10 Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15 Rom 10:8-13 Lk 4:1-13

 

Lent: whom do we worship?

During Lent the believing community walks with Jesus during the final period of his ministry. We follow Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, tells parables, forgives, and arrives in Jerusalem. For RCIA participants, the season of Lent is a time of special rites and prayers as they prepare to receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil. The Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to reject the temptations that might subvert our discipleship.

In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses describes how the Hebrews are to offer firstfruits. Firstfruits was a spring harvest celebration that included offering a small portion of the first harvested grain or fruit to God. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to comment on the gospel (Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness)–both readings use the Greek word προσκυνέω (pros-koo-NEH-oh): “worship.”

In the second reading from Romans, Paul explains that salvation (“righteousness”) can come only through faith. Paul quotes the essential Christian kerygma of Jesus’ death and resurrection: If you profess that Jesus is Lord and you believe that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Acknowledging Jesus’ lordship and believing in God’s saving acts lead us to salvation; our witness to Jesus and our faith in God lead us to keep God’s laws and do good works.

In the gospel we hear that Jesus, immediately after his baptism, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days: The wilderness (literally “the lonesome place”) is traditionally a place of testing (for example, the Hebrews’ desert trials and testing in Exodus). In the wilderness, the devil tests Jesus’ identity by offering him alternate ways to be the messiah:

  • Tell this stone to be bread: This temptation is about how Jesus would use his power–that is, to benefit himself. Instead, Jesus’ ministry is focused on feeding others.
  • The world is yours if you worship me: This temptation is about whom Jesus would serve with his power–that is, to command the world in service to the devil. Instead, Jesus recognizes God as source of his mission, and preaches God’s word to the world.
  • Throw yourself down so angels will come: This temptation is about how Jesus would reveal his messiahship–that is, through very public acts of power that had no benefit to people. Instead, Jesus reveals himself through acts of power that heal, feed or teach.

Having failed to subvert Jesus’ mission, the devil leaves Jesus “for a time.” In Luke, this “special time” is the period of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and healing. The devil returns in Lk 22.

These Lenten readings ask RCIA participants–and all of us–very simply: whom do we serve? Moses tells us to “set our offering before God, and worship before the Lord.” Paul reminds us that “everyone who calls on (worships) the Lord’s name will be saved.” Jesus dismisses the devil with “God alone is worthy of worship.” Every day and everywhere we are tempted to power, self-service, and self-importance. Whom do we serve?

—Terence Sherlock

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7 February 2016: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 6:1-2a, 3-8 Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8 1 Cor 15:1-11 Lk 5:1-11

The call to walk with God

During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and all of us to reflect on our call to discipleship.

The first reading describes Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Isaiah’s vision and call takes place in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. He sees God enthroned in glory and is suddenly aware of his own weaknesses and limitations (“a man of unclean lips.”). The angel’s purifying ember cleanses Isaiah and prepares him to accept God’s call: “Here I am, send me!”

The second reading describes Paul’s call to be an apostle to the gentiles. Paul writes to his beloved but exasperating Corinthians because some members say that Jesus’ resurrection didn’t happen. In his letter, Paul repeats his teaching about Jesus: “Christ died, he was buried, he was raised on the third day.” This ancient formula came from Paul’s Jerusalem visit in 35 AD. Paul affirms his own traditions about Jesus (“what I also received”) as well as quoting proof texts from the Hebrew scripture that foretold Jesus (“in accordance with the scriptures”). Paul then cites eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus–“Kephas (Peter), the twelve, over five hundred disciples at once, James, all the apostles,” and finally Paul himself. Paul traces his call to his encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:3-6).

Luke’s gospel describes Jesus’ call of Peter, James, and John to be his disciples. Jesus precedes their call with signs that he is the messiah:

  • Teaching: Jesus “sat down and taught” the crowds. Luke places Jesus in the traditional posture of a Greek philosopher, a signal to his gentile readers that Jesus is an important teacher. The crowds–including the fishermen–listen to Jesus teach “the word of God.” Jesus fulfills his messianic mission, announced in last week’s reading, “to preach the good news.”
  • Wondrous deed: Jesus tells Peter to “put out to the deep and lower your nets.” The fishermen catch so many fish that their nets are breaking and their boats are filled. Jesus’ mighty deed creates a superabundance that fulfills scripture. Through the prophets, God promised a new covenant in which God would exceed the people’s needs. The prophets described this new covenant as a feast that included fish. The plethora of fish indicates the messiah is present.

Peter, James, and John are now ready to hear Jesus’ request: they put everything aside and walk the path of Jesus.

Today’s readings remind us that God calls each of us to share God’s life. RCIA participants are still discerning God’s call; we in the believing community must continue to listen. God prepares each of us to hear the call–sometimes dramatically, sometimes in quiet ways; sometimes through scripture’s teachings, sometimes through mighty acts; over and over until we are ready to hear it. God calls us each by name. The call is there, even if we don’t want to hear it. Can we put everything–including ourselves–aside? Do we want to walk God’s path, or our own?

—Terence Sherlock

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