Monthly Archives: July 2016

31 July 2016: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time


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24 July 2016: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 18:20-32 Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8 Col 2:12-14 Lk 11:1-13


Loving God: how a disciple prays

Green_banner_smDuring 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 continue to examine the command to love God and how prayer fulfills that command.

The first reading from Genesis continues the Abraham story. Abraham and his guests travel to Sodom. God (one of Abraham’s guests) discusses his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s conversation with God is a form of petitioning prayer. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to parallel Jesus’ teaching about prayer in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to the ekklesia at Colossus. The author contrasts the OT rite of entering the community (circumcision) with the new order’s rite of entry (baptism). To emphasize God’s forgiveness, the author reverses the usual image of humans nailing Christ to the cross. Instead, God nails the charges against us (“the bond”)–which God has forgiven–to the cross.

Luke’s gospel concludes Jesus’ teachings about the law of love (which began with Lk 10:25) with a lesson on love of God through prayer. In Jesus’ time, prayer was often formal (such as the recitation of Psalms) and in Hebrew (the language of God in Torah). In contrast, Jesus’ prayers are conversational (expressing personal concerns) and in Aramaic (the language spoken around the dinner table). Jesus gives his disciples a simple model for prayer, and supports it with a parable and two sayings.

  • Prayer: Why would the disciples ask “Teach us to pray”? They see that God answers Jesus’ prayers and they want that same effectiveness with God. Jesus teaches them that prayer is:
    1. Conversation with someone we know: “Father.”
    2. Worship: “Let your name be glorified. Let your kingdom draw near.”
    3. Asking: “Give us what we need. Forgive us as we forgive each other. Save us from the final trial.”
  • Parable: The Greek word ἀναίδεια (an-AH-ee-die-ah), translated here as “persistence,” actually means “not-shame.” Middle Eastern culture seeks to avoid shame and to gain honor. The man in the house answers his needy friend because the man is honorable (he will not-shame himself, his family, or his community). The parable is not about our persistence in asking, but rather about God’s goodness and honor in answering our requests.
  • Sayings: Jesus concludes his teaching about prayer with two sayings that support the parable. In the first saying (Lk 11:9-10), Jesus’ instructions to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” confirm that God wants to hear and to answer our requests. In the second saying (Lk 11:11-13), the human father’s own good intentions (despite his “wickedness”) cause him to give “good things” to his son. God the Father, who is completely good, wants to give the Spirit to the ones who ask.

As the first reading suggests and the gospel shows, God wants to be in relationship with us and wants to give us what we request. Sometimes we may think persistence in asking is most important in prayer. Really, it’s our persistence in prayer–to create the relationship with God–that Jesus teaches. How often do we pray? What do we want?

–Terence Sherlock

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17 July 2016: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 18:1-10a Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 5 Col 1:24-28 Lk 10:38-42

The one important thing

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 continue to examine the commands of loving God and loving the neighbor.

In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham provides hospitality to three guests, following the customs and culture of his time. What is culturally unusual is that Abraham personally attends to his guests–Abraham, rather than his servants, “hastens,” “runs,” “takes,” “sets before,” and “waits on” them. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel Martha’s similar hospitality to Jesus in today’s gospel.

In the second reading from the letter to the Colossians, the author describes his role in bringing forth the “mystery hidden from ages and generations.” Christ is God’s mystery; in Christ are hidden all the treasures and knowledge of God, which God has now revealed to all nations.

In the gospel, Luke continues Jesus’ teachings about the law of love. Despite everyone’s best intentions, serving God can sometimes seem to conflict with the need to serve the neighbor. Luke outlines the conflict and Jesus’ answer:

  • Martha provides hospitality to Jesus the neighbor: Luke tells us that “Martha received him,” that is, offered Jesus and his disciples hospitality. (See the gospel reading from two weeks ago, Lk 10:1-12, 17-20, for Jesus’ instructions about how disciples should accept hospitality.) Martha, like Abraham in the first reading, is all action, preparing and serving her guests.
  • Mary listens to Jesus the Word of God: Luke says that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to his word: What is culturally unusual is that Mary, a woman, would remain with the men to hear Jesus teach–Luke says “she was listening to the word of him.” In the ancient world, “to sit at the feet” of someone means “to become a follower or disciple.”
  • The conflict: Luke describes Martha as “burdened with much serving.” The Greek word περισπάω (peh-ree-SPAH-oh), here translated as “burdened,” really means “distracted.” That is, Martha’s serving distracts her from Jesus’ teachings. Martha’s distraction is cultural, not service-related–she worries that Mary’s discipleship would complicate their family relationships and social standing. Jesus discerns in Martha’s appeal–“Tell Mary to help me”–her real worry. He responds not to Martha’s request for help, but to her distraction.
  • The choice: Jesus tells Martha to worry about one thing: heeding the word of Jesus. This teaching harmonizes with Jesus’ earlier answer about love of God and love of neighbor as the basic observance needed for eternal life. (See last week’s gospel, Lk 10:25-37, for Jesus’ instructions about love of neighbor.) Martha’s action (love of neighbor) is important, but Mary’s action (love of God) is even more important.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community if we have our priorities straight. The law of love requires a careful balance between service and listening. Culture and social convention sometimes bias us to act without considering God’s encouraging words. Which “one thing” do we worry about?

–Terence Sherlock

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10 July 2016: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 30:10-14 Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
or Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Col 1:15-20 Lk 10:25-37

Love: go and do the same

Green_banner_smDuring 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 focus on God’s law of love.

The first reading, from Deuteronomy, is from Moses’ “farewell address” section. Moses tells the Israelites that God’s law is not unknowable or undoable, but real and nearby–“in your mouth” (already memorized) and “in your heart” (already internalized). The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match Jesus’ teaching about the law of love in the gospel.

The second reading begins the letter to the Colossians. Scripture scholars believe that today’s passage is part of an early Christian liturgical hymn, known to the Colossians. The hymn presents Christ as the mediator of creation and of redemption. We will hear the author develop these themes in the coming weeks’ readings.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus and a Law expert tangle about legalism versus love. To understand the parable, we must first understand how the Law expert is testing Jesus:

Part 1: Legal definition of “what I must do.” The expert in Hebrew scripture (the Law or Torah) baits Jesus with a theological question about what he needs to “do to inherit eternal life.” The Law expert’s question has two hidden assumptions:

  1. Do:  The Law expert uses a Greek verb tense (aorist tense, which has no English counterpart) that indicates an action that is done once and completed. That is, the Law expert is looking for a “one-and-done” action.
  2. Inherit eternal life:  Anyone casually familiar with Hebrew scripture (especially a Law expert!) knows that eternal life is a gift from God, not something inherited or earned. That is, the Law expert is looking for a future reward for his pious acts.

Jesus’ response turns the Law expert’s question back on the questioner. The Law expert correctly answers “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” Jesus’ comment about the law of love–“Do this and you will live“–corrects the Law expert’s errors:

  1. Do:  Jesus uses a Greek verb tense and mood (present tense, imperative mood) to indicate an action that must be continued and repeated. The Law is a way of life, not a “one-and-done” action.
  2. You-will-live:  Jesus redirects the Law expert’s view from eternal life to this life. The Law is about how to live this life, not about earning points for the next life.

Part 2: Legal definition of “whom I need to love.” The Law expert foolishly persists with legal questions. Jesus replies with a parable that overturns the definition of neighbor. The Jewish passers-by fail as neighbors because they don’t offer help (even though the Law requires that they must). The Samaritan–a Jewish enemy (like a Hamas member)–helps the half-dead Jewish man. He acts, “moved by compassion” (literally “his guts ached”). For Jesus, the law of love is not a theological question but a very human reaction to suffering. A neighbor is not a theoretical definition, but the person next to you who needs help, no matter who he is.

Jesus turns the parable back on the Law expert: Who became a neighbor? The Law expert admits that love must be more than feeling, it must be action: “mercy.”) Jesus orders the Law expert to “Go and do the same.”

Sometimes we of the believing community let love get stuck in committee. We argue about “who” and “what,” when we should just do. What are we waiting for?

–Terence Sherlock

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3 July 2016: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 66:10-14c Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 Gal 6:14-18 Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

The mission of a disciple

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 offer reflections on discipleship and its authority.

The first reading from Isaiah draws parallels between Judah’s restoration after the Babylonian exile and the coming of the kingdom proclaimed in Luke’s gospel. Isaiah tells the returning Jews that “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” In today’s gospel, Jesus gives the power or authority of God’s kingdom to his disciples to heal sickness and to expel demons, fulfilling Isaiah’s promise that “the Lord is making known his power.”

The second reading concludes Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Summarizing his letter, Paul tells the Galatians to glory in the cross (which is a “new creation”), not in the mark of circumcision (“which means nothing”). Only the “marks of Jesus”–that is, signs of discipleship–have meaning. Paul’s signs of discipleship–his scars from floggings (Acts 16:22; 2 Cor 11:25) and stonings (Acts 14:19)–mark him as belonging to Christ, who also suffered.

Luke’s gospel continues from last week, presenting us with more ideas about discipleship and its requirements. Jesus prepares seventy-two disciples for an apostolic mission–to do advance work for Jesus in the surrounding towns. Jesus outlines how disciples should conduct themselves:

  • Proclaim God’s kingdom: The disciples mission is to bring God’s kingdom near. Disciples show the kingdom’s signs by bringing peace, by preaching metanoia (a change of heart), and by healing.
  • Travel simply: The mission is so urgent that the disciples carry only the message of the kingdom. While on the mission, disciples don’t need money or extra baggage.
  • Accept hospitality: The disciples depend on hospitality from people they don’t know and who don’t know them. Disciples accept what strangers offer with grace and thanks.
  • Expect rejection: Just as Jesus has been rejected, the disciples should also expect to be rejected. Disciples warn those who reject God’s kingdom, then continue their mission elsewhere. God alone judges those who reject the kingdom.

Their mission completed, the disciples return, flush with their success. Jesus cautions the disciples that it’s not their success–it’s God’s power working through them. Instead, they should rejoice that God selected them and God empowered them to reveal the kingdom (“their names are written in heaven”).

Jesus’ four-point plan about a disciple’s mission is equally valid today–for us, his current disciples. When we miss only one point, our mission falls apart and we fail to bring the kingdom near. When we think that our work alone makes us great disciples, we recall who selected us in the first place. Are we bringing God’s kingdom near? Do our marks confirm that we belong to Christ? Where are our names being written?

—Terence Sherlock

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