|Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
||Ps 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
||Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a
||Lk 14:1, 7-14
Discipleship: lessons in humility
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 describe how a disciple’s relationship requires humility both before God and with others.
The first reading from the book of Sirach teaches a lesson in humility. Humility may help in human relationships (“you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”), but its real purpose is to create a right relationship with God. Humility gives us a true estimate of ourselves, so that we will do what should be done, and avoid what is beyond our understanding (“too sublime”) and “strength.” The Lectionary editors chose this passage to match Jesus’ teaching about humility in today’s gospel.
In the second reading, from the closing section of the letter to the Hebrews, the author contrasts the historical events of Mt Sinai with the promises of Mt Zion. Sinai represents God’s covenant with Moses, a physical covenant written on stone. God’s pronouncements were so awesome that the Hebrews begged God never to address them directly again. Zion represents God’s new covenant, mediated through Jesus. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, given amid fire, storm, and thunder, the new covenant is given in the heavenly Jerusalem at an angelic feast. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice (‘the sprinkled blood'”) is perfect and more powerful (“speaks more eloquently”) than Abel’s offering.
Luke’s gospel is set at a meal in a Pharisee’s house. Jesus uses an earthly dinner to give two parables about conduct at the coming messianic feast:
- Choosing a seat at a feast (Lk 14:8-11). Jesus addresses his first parable to those who were invited. Jesus’ instruction is not about strategic seating, but about a person’s relationship with God. God invites everyone to the messianic feast. Those who consider themselves righteous because they keep Torah and attend Temple might expect the best seats. However, God’s seating arrangement doesn’t follow our assumptions, as we heard in last week’s parable about the house-master. Jesus concludes with a wisdom saying about “being humbled” and “being exalted.” Echoing today’s first reading, Jesus tells us that our humility before God lets us recognize our place at the feast.
- Whom to invite to a meal (Lk 14:12-14). Jesus addresses his second parable to the Pharisee who hosted the dinner. In Mediterranean societies, hosts invited only people of equal social status. Jesus instruction is not about strategic invitations, but about a person’s relationship with others. Those who give exclusive dinners expect to be invited to the best parties with the best people. However, God’s invitation to the future messianic feast depends on how inclusive, not exclusive, our guest lists are now. We’ll hear more about God’s invitations in the upcoming parable about Lazarus (25 Sunday in Ordinary time).
Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the whole believing community that humility is central to our relationship to God and to the neighbor. True humility gives a disciple self-perspective: it’s not all about me. Being invited to the feast doesn’t mean we automatically sit at the head table. Where we’re seated (or if we’re seated) will depend on the invitations we’ve extended or withheld. How will we be “repaid at the resurrection”?
||Ps 117:1, 2
||Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
Discipleship: the narrow door
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 describe the universal call to discipleship, its urgency, and the consequences for those who are slow to accept.
The first reading from Isaiah tells Isaiah’s prophecy that God calls “all nations of every language” to Jerusalem to worship with the Jewish people. This prophecy foreshadows the messianic banquet of today’s gospel.
The second reading continues our reading from the letter to the Hebrews. In last week’s reading, the Hebrews’ author recommends Jesus and his sufferings as model for readers and their persecution. In this week’s reading he calls their persecution a “discipline.” The Greek word παιδεία (pah-ee-DIH-ah) means “the correction given to children.” God’s discipline, while uncomfortable, strengthens the readers’ resolve to live according to Christ’s teachings in a polytheistic, non-Christian world.
Luke’s gospel continues Jesus’ discipleship teachings. Jesus is about half-way through his journey to Jerusalem. Although Jesus invites everyone to God’s kingdom, only those who persist in discipleship will share in the messianic banquet. Today he gives two sayings and a parable about preparing for the kingdom and the feast:
- Saying 1: strive to enter by the narrow door. The Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι (ah-go-NIHd-zoh-mah-ee), translated as “strive,” comes from a word meaning a contest or struggle. The word ἀγωνίζομαι carries an urgency that the English word “strive” does not–Jesus urges his hearers to strain every fiber of your being to get into the kingdom. Jesus also says that a “narrow door” leads to the kingdom and the banquet. In the parable that follows, he explains how the door is narrow.
- Parable: the house-master. Jesus warns that the time is short–at some point “the house-master locks the door,” locking out those who haven’t acted. Those outside bang on the door and plead, but the house-master says “I don’t know you.” The outsiders claim they shared a meal with the house-master and heard him teach, but still the house-master says, “I don’t know you. You failed to act for good. Go away!” The outsiders failed to act as true disciples–to “change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). The banquet goes on inside, with Abraham, his descendants, the prophets, and some surprise guests. The first reading reveals the identity of these guests; Jesus’ second saying explains how they got in.
- Saying 2: the last are first. Some of those invited first to the messianic feast–the Jews who heard Jesus teach–failed to act on his invitation to become disciples. As a result, the ones invited last–those from “all nations of every language” who chose discipleship–will be seated ahead of the ones invited first.
Today’s readings tell RCIA participants and the whole believing community that the door to God’s kingdom and the banquet is narrow. We have to work to get in. And the door won’t be open to us forever. Discipleship, lived every day, is the narrow door. The house-master won’t open the door for casual Christians or in-name-only disciples. Are we straining every fiber of our being to live the gospel? Are we acting for good or are we settling for the world’s good-enough?
|Jer 38:4-6, 8-10
||Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18
Discipleship: difficult choices
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 describe a disciple’s conflicts in choosing to follow Jesus.
In the first reading from the book of Jeremiah, the military leaders charge Jeremiah with sedition and ask the king to put Jeremiah to death. Jeremiah’s prophecy divides Judah’s leaders and causes Jeremiah’s rejection and suffering. Ebed-melech, a non-Jewish Cushite (Ethiopian), intervenes with the king and saves Jeremiah’s life. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to parallel today’s gospel. Like Jeremiah’s prophecies, Jesus’ teachings about discipleship and the kingdom will cause division and will result in his rejection and death.
In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the believing community that we are inspired not only by our ancestors in faith–“so great a cloud of witnesses”–but most of all by Jesus, the “founder and perfector.” Jesus’ sufferings give us courage to continue our own discipleship, even to martyrdom.
In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples in prophetic style that the kingdom he preaches is a refining and purifying fire. Luke gives us two related sayings about Jesus’ mission:
- I have come to set fire: Jesus is conscious of his prophetic mission; fire symbolizes the coming eschatological (end time) judgement. Jesus requires each disciple to accept his message and to choose to follow him. Jesus is also conscious that his mission will result in his death: “the baptism with which I must be baptized.” Earlier in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptizer introduced Jesus as one who brings a cleansing fire (Lk 3:16-17).
- I have come to create division, not peace: Up to this point, Jesus has tried to unite people who are in conflict (see my reflection for the 18 Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C). But like the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus also knows that confronting the comfortable to change (metanoia) causes conflict. Jesus’ message will divide his audience. In describing the signs of the end times, Hebrew prophets and apocalyptic writers list the destruction of family relationships (see Micah 7). Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Simeon identified Jesus as a sign of contradiction and division (Lk 2:34).
Jesus confronts RCIA participants and the believing community with difficult choices and hard-to-hear consequences. Discipleship shouldn’t feel comfortable. Through baptism we are anointed prophets. Like Jeremiah and Jesus we are called to speak and to do the difficult things that faith requires. We are supported by a “great cloud of witnesses”–the Greek word μάρτυς (MAR-tus), meaning witness, also becomes the English word martyr. The Hebrews’ author reminds us that we have “not yet shed blood” as disciples, but we might at some point. We have been baptized with water. Are we willing to accept the baptism that Jesus chose?
||Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
||Heb 11:1-2, 8-19
Discipleship: watching and waiting for the Lord’s return
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 examine a disciple’s responsibilities while awaiting Jesus’ return.
The first reading from the book of Wisdom is a retelling of the Passover story that emphasizes the patriarchs’ faith. This first reading sets up parallels between Israelites awaiting the Passover (today’s first and second readings) and the believing community awaiting the Lord’s second coming (today’s gospel).
The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews discusses God’s promises to Abraham (a great nation and land) that God fulfilled through the Mosaic law and the promised land. Faith–“the realization of things hoped for”–connects Abraham and Isaac to Christian eschatology. Like the patriarchs, the believing community remains “strangers and aliens seeking a homeland.” Our faith in God’s promises tells us that our home is in God’s kingdom at the messianic banquet.
Luke’s gospel is a collection of four parables that stresses our need for faithful watchfulness while we await Jesus’ parousia (second coming). The four parables are: (1) the lord who serves (Lk 12: 35-38), (2) the thief’s coming (Lk 12: 39-40), (3) the slaves appointed house-managers (Lk 12: 42-46), and (4) the slaves who ignore or don’t know the lord’s will (Lk 12: 47-48). Throughout these parables, Luke uses the Greek words κύριος (KOO-ree-os) meaning “lord,” and δοῦλος (DOO-los) meaning “slave.” To see Jesus’ message, we will look at the first parable:
- The lord who serves: The lord (κύριος) is at a wedding feast in his home. The slaves (δοῦλος) wait for him in the house’s private quarters. The lord slips out of the feast unexpectedly and returns to his private quarters. When the lord knocks, the waiting servants admit him. In a shocking cultural reversal, the lord ties up his wedding robe and waits on his slaves, serving them himself with food from the wedding feast.
- Luke’s meaning: By the time Luke writes his gospel (mid-80’s), the believing community has started to lose faith in the Lord’s return. Luke’s Jesus tells his disciples to be prepared for his return, which can happen at any time. Jesus (the κύριος) promises to reward faithful disciples (his δοῦλος) with a share in the wedding feast (the messianic banquet, God’s kingdom). In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells three more parables with the same message of faithful waiting. The parables are meant for all disciples, but those who lead the ekklesia have greater obligations (see the third parable about the slaves appointed house-managers).
This week’s readings highlight the tension between God’s promises and the fulfillment of those promises. We hate to wait! Why doesn’t Jesus hurry up? Our ancestors in faith thought of it this way: Just as the Jewish people expect the messiah to return during the Passover celebration, the early Christians expected Jesus’ parousia to occur at the paschal event (Easter). When the Lord did not return at the midnight vigil, the Christian community celebrated the eucharist, in which Jesus comes in advance (through the sacraments) of his final coming. As disciples, we make God’s kingdom present now, in this world. Jesus is present to us now in the sacraments. What are we waiting for?