Monthly Archives: June 2016

26 June 2016: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21 Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11 Gal 5:1, 13-18 Lk 9:51-62

 

Road trip: discipleship’s constant choice

Green_banner_sm 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 us to reflect on the continuing choice of discipleship.

The first reading, from the book of Kings, is the story of the prophet Elijah’s call of Elisha. When Elijah throws his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders, Elijah signals that Elisha has become his servant. Elisha’s acceptance and response–sacrificing his oxen–signifies a radical change from his former life. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for its parallels to Jesus’ call of disciples in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues Paul’s letter to the ekklasiais (believing communities) in Galatia. Paul elaborates on what believers are called to do and to be: believers fulfill the law by love of neighbor (Gal 5:14-15), and by walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16-26), as illustrated by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. For Paul, faith–an individual’s recognition of Jesus’ saving act–results in a believer’s choice to love God and the neighbor.

Luke’s gospel opens with Jesus “setting his face resolutely to Jerusalem.” He ends his Galilean ministry and begins his “journey to Jerusalem,” the place where prophets die. Luke uses the word ὁδός (hoh-DOS), translated as “the journey,” “the road,” or “the way” as a metaphor or byword for discipleship. Jesus gives many teachings about discipleship while he is “on the way” to Jerusalem. In today’s reading, Jesus addresses discipleship’s severity and unconditional nature. Proclaiming the kingdom takes precedence over everything else, including family duties and obligations. Jesus invites many to journey with him, but they are full of excuses:

  • I will follow wherever you go: This would-be disciple casually commits to Jesus’ mission without understanding the personal cost (“wherever you go”). Jesus tells him discipleship means giving up the security of home and family (“nowhere to rest his head”).
  • Let me bury my father: This would-be disciple wants to delay joining Jesus’ mission (“after my parents are dead”). Jesus tells him that the kingdom is now, and that those called to the kingdom (“Follow me!”) cannot be distracted by others who are not part of the kingdom (“let the spiritually dead worry about worldly things”).
  • Let me say goodbye to my family: Like Elisha in the first reading, this world-be disciple wavers in his discipleship (“let me say goodbye”). Jesus tells him he must commit to the kingdom (“set his hand to the plow”). Elisha accepts Elijah’s invitation; Jesus’ would-be disciple chooses the familiar over the kingdom.

Each of us in the believing community has heard Jesus’ say: “Follow me!” Each of us must choose every day to follow Jesus. The journey is difficult but joyful. Do I really understand what Jesus asks? Have I become distracted? Am I looking back? Am I walking the road to Jerusalem today?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 June 2016: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Zec 12:10-11; 13:1 Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 Gal 3:26-29 Lk 9:18-24

 

The who and the how

Green_banner_sm 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 us to reflect on identity and mission.

The first reading is from Zechariah, a composite work by two prophets: Zechariah, written between 520 and 518BC, and Second Zechariah, written about a century later. The Lectionary editors chose the Second Zechariah passage because of its messianic themes. Christian scripture writers read “they shall look on him whom they have pierced” as reference to Jesus’ death (Jn 19:37).

The second reading continues Paul’s letter to the Galatia ekklasia. Today’s passage comes immediately after last week’s discussion about justification. Paul presents baptism as the “sacrament of justification”–the visible sign that we have been made “right with God.” The phrase “to put on Christ” was likely part of a baptismal formula. When Paul says that we are “clothed with Christ,” he uses the word ἐνδύω (en-DOO-oh), which means “to sink into a garment.” The early church practiced baptism by total immersion: a bishop sank each catechumen under water; on rising, a sponsor wrapped the catechumen with a white garment signifying new life in Christ. The act of “putting on Christ” in the white baptismal garment expresses racial, social, and sexual equality (Col 3:11).

In the gospel we hear Luke’s version of Peter’s confession of faith and discipleship. Peter’s personal encounter with Jesus–not dogma or theology–leads him to faith and to discipleship. Peter, the rest of the Twelve, and all of us face two questions:

  • Who is Jesus? The crowds offers three possibilities about Jesus’ identity–John the Baptizer, Elijah, or an ancient prophet. Jesus asks his disciples “Whom do you declare me to be?” Peter answers, “the Christ (messiah) of God.” The crowds are looking for a political or military messiah-leader; Jesus’ words and signs reveal he is a servant-messiah.
  • How do we follow? Jesus sums up how to follow him: deny yourself so you can serve others. Luke’s reference to taking up one’s cross echoes and compliments Jesus’ passion prediction, and reminds those who wish to follow Jesus that their mission, like his, includes suffering and death. Luke adds the phrase “every day” to emphasize that discipleship requires a daily choice to follow Jesus.

These two questions confront RCIA participants and the entire believing community every day. If we believe that Jesus is “the Christ of God,” we must also accept that he came to serve, to suffer, and to give his life. If we choose to follow Jesus, we “put on Christ”–take on Jesus’ identity and person–not simply through the sign of baptism but also through a life-mission of service to others, whatever the personal cost. Is this our discipleship? Every day?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 June 2016: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Sm 12:7-10, 13 Ps 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11 Gal 2:16, 19-21 Lk 7:36-8:3

 

Forgiveness: our unmerited gift from God

Green_banner_sm 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 us to reflect on God’s unmerited forgiveness and our response.

In the first reading from the book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his adultery with Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba). David immediately recognizes his failing against God and against the community. Nathan tells David “the Lord has forgiven you:” God’s forgiveness comes before David’s personal acknowledgement of his moral lapse. (See the second reading and gospel.)

The second reading continues Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This reading outlines Paul’s view of God’s forgiveness. Religion’s goal is to make us “right” with God. Paul, an observant Jew, had tried to be right with God by following Mosaic law. However, after encountering the risen Jesus, he understood that being right with God was a gift from God, not something he could earn through his own “works of the law.” God alone justifies us (makes us righteous), we cannot justify ourselves. If the law were able to justify and save, then there would have been no need for God to take human form and suffer death.

Luke’s gospel is also about God’s forgiveness. Jesus’ radical forgiveness, including welcoming sinners and eating with them, scandalized the religious leaders. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to a meal in his house to entrap or to embarrass Jesus. He offers Jesus none of the required hospitality gestures: greeting his guest with a kiss, providing water to wash his feet and hands, offering oil to anoint (moisturize) his hands and face. Instead, the uninvited woman, who recently received Jesus forgiveness, provides Jesus hospitality. Her actions result in:

  • A parable. Jesus tells Simon a parable about a creditor and two debtors. The parable’s context suggests that Jesus is the creditor, the larger debtor is the woman, and the smaller debtor is Simon. Jesus has already forgiven both their debts. Who loves more? The woman’s love causes her to act; Simon’s lack of love results in his lack of action.
  • Discipleship. Luke gives his model for discipleship:
    1. Discipleship begins with a personal encounter: Who is Jesus? We either hear the good news and have faith or reject his message.
    2. The good news is God’s unmerited forgiveness (Paul calls this grace). Faith allows us to recognize that God’s unmerited forgiveness has made us right with God (Paul calls this justification). This is why Jesus tells the woman, “Your faith has saved you.”
    3. God’s forgiveness moves us to love.
    4. Both faith and love require us to act: to change our hearts and minds (metanoia) and to follow Jesus (become disciples).

Today’s readings remind us that God’s kingdom is not a meritocracy: we don’t earn or deserve admittance. God’s grace comes before we even ask for it. Faith helps us see God’s gift. Now we must act. Like the sinful woman, we can choose love, metanoia, and discipleship; or, like Simon, we can stand with our hands in our pockets and do nothing. We are already forgiven. What is our response?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 June 2016: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
1 Kgs 17:17-24 Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13 Gal 1:11-14a, 15ac, 16a, 17, 19 Lk 7:11-17

The compassionate God present among his people

Green_bannerDuring 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 us to reflect on God’s personal compassion and continuing presence with us.

(In Ordinary time, the first reading and the gospel provide Sunday’s theme. The second reading is part of a multi-week, sequential reading from one of Paul’s letters.)

The first reading from the book of Kings is part of the Elijah Cycle, which traces the lives and actions of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Their stories influenced later Jewish expectations of a messiah, and the Christian scripture writers’ accounts of Jesus’ miracles–including today’s gospel story. Elijah’s raising of a widow’s son parallels Luke’s gospel in characters, actions, and words.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul evangelized the Galatians between 50 and 54 AD. He writes this letter in 54 or 55 to refute the “false teachers,” to assert his own validity as an apostle, and to restate the key ideas of the gospel message. Paul stresses that his gospel is “not of human origin,” rather through a direct revelation of Jesus (see Acts 9: 3-8). Paul also notes his life as an observant Jew, his Jewish education as a Pharisee, and his initial opposition to Jesus’ way.

Luke’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ mighty act of raising the widow’s dead son to life, recalling the Elijah story and connecting Jesus’ ministry and actions with the Hebrew prophets. This story shows us three aspects of Jesus:

  • Compassion: The Lectionary translator tells us that, on seeing the widow, Jesus was “moved to pity.” Luke’s Greek word–σπλαγχνίζομαι (splangk-NIHD-zoh-mah-ee)–is more physical and immediate: Jesus’ “guts yearned.” Today we would say “his heart broke” for the woman. Luke’s Jesus is not a casually observing bystander; he is fully engaged, empathizing with another’s catastrophic loss. In a single word Luke reveals a side of God we don’t often see.
  • Prophetic role: In the first reading, the widow calls Elijah a “man of God” who speaks the truth. The biblical meaning of truth is “fidelity demonstrated by an act.” In the gospel, the crowd calls Jesus a “great prophet.” Prophets speak what is true: through the action of raising dead sons, both Jesus and Elijah point to God’s compassion for his people.
  • God’s Word-in-action: In the first reading, the widow says “the word of the Lord” comes from Elijah’s mouth. In the gospel, the crowd says “God has visited his people.” Elijah speaks “the word of the Lord” to raise the widow’s son. Jesus is God’s incarnate Word who raises the widow’s son. Jesus is God fully present and engaged with his people.

Today’s readings present two miraculous stories of life restored, not just to the dead sons, but to the grief-stricken widows as well. When we are stricken–injured, sorrowful, hopeless, faithless–we can easily forget God’s compassion and abiding presence with us. God’s truth–fidelity to us shown through actions–is God’s Word-made-flesh. Jesus, present with us in Word, sacrament, and believing community, knows us, his guts yearn for us. Do we let him restore us to life?

—Terence Sherlock

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