||Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
||2 Thes 1:11-2:2
The mercy that searches out disciples
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 invite us to think about discipleship and God’s mercy.
In the first reading the Wisdom author reflects on the paradox of God’s infinite power and God’s infinite mercy. Despite God’s power and majesty (“the universe is like a grain in a balance”), God is “merciful to all.” God “overlooks our sins” to give us a chance to metanoia–“turn back” to God. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the theme of mercy in today’s gospel reading.
In the second reading the author tells the Thessalonians not to be “shaken” by rumors that Jesus has already returned, marking the “day of the Lord” and the final judgement. The Thessalonica ekklesia has been “stirred up” by people within their community speculating about Jesus’ return. As we get closer to the end of the liturgical year (20 November 2016), the Sunday readings will focus more and more on the end times.
In the gospel, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, whose name in Hebrew means “to be pure or clean.” The crowd, however, thinks Zacchaeus is anything but pure–he’s a head tax collector and a Roman collaborator. The story asks us to think about Jesus’ requirements for discipleship and God’s mercy to us. Consider the following:
- Seeking: Luke says that Zacchaeus seeks Jesus (v 3). Luke uses the Greek word ζητέω (dzay-TEH-oh), which means not only “to investigate” but “to search for actively.” Luke hints that Zacchaeus wants more than a glimpse of Jesus; he wants to be Jesus’ disciple. (In verse 10 Jesus uses the same Greek word to tell his disciples that he is actively searching “for the lost.”)
- Staying: Jesus tells the up-a-tree Zacchaeus to hurry down so Jesus can stay with Zacchaeus at his house (v 5). Luke uses the Greek word μένω (MEN-oh), which means not only “to lodge” but “to remain.” Jesus knows that Zacchaeus seeks discipleship, and Jesus offers to remain with him. (In verse 10 Jesus tells his disciples that “today salvation has come to this house,” indicating that Jesus’ remaining presence gives salvation.)
- Living God’s teachings: Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he “is already giving half his possessions” to the poor (v 8). Luke uses a Greek verb tense that indicates Zacchaeus’ giving started in the past and is continuing, not a future event (“I shall give”) as translated in today’s reading. That is, Zacchaeus is already fulfilling Mosaic Law (and exceeding its requirements). Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus’ righteous by calling him a “son of Abraham” (v 9).
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our discipleship in light of God’s mercy. The first reading reminds us that God is merciful to all. The gospel reiterates Jesus mission: actively seeking and saving the lost. Jesus actively searches for us as disciples. Disciples actively search for Jesus and live his teachings. Jesus remains with his disciples, bringing mercy and salvation. Are we continually searching out Jesus, or do we think we have found out all we need to know? Do we find continuing joy in Jesus’ abiding presence, or do we see him as an occasional visitor?
|Sir 35:12-14, 16-18
||Ps 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
||2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18
Prayer: considering the mystery of God’s grace
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 invite us to think about our prayers and God’s grace.
In the first reading from his wisdom book, Sirach tells us that God is “a God of justice who knows no favorites.” All prayer reaches God, and God does not delay in responding. God’s justice (and God’s corresponding mercy) is at the heart of today’s gospel.
In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author uses a liturgical prayer image familiar to both Jews and Greeks: the pouring of a libation (offering) to God or the gods. The author, speaking as Paul, imagines his blood poured out in sacrifice as an act of worship. God awards all who “keep faith” the crown of righteousness.
Today’s gospel reading is the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, which is challenging for two reasons: (1) two interpretations surround the parable, and (2) Jesus’ interpretation can be translated three ways. The gospel consists of the following parts:
- The parable (v 10-13). Jesus tells his disciples another parable about prayer, continuing last week’s theme. The Pharisee is a meticulous keeper of Mosaic law; the tax collector is an untrustworthy collaborator. Jesus’ first-century hearers would recognize these characters as stereotypes: the super-pious good person, and the cheating, Roman-collaborating bad person. Both go to the Temple to pray at the daily atonement service. Their prayers and attitudes are very different.
- The first interpretation (v 9). Luke interprets the parable before he tells it. He says Jesus addresses the parable to those who believe they can do without God.
- The second interpretation (v 14a) and saying (v 14b). Jesus interprets the parable after he tells it. Jesus’ interpretation turns on which person went home justified. The Greek word παρά (pah-RAH) can mean a position (“along with”), a causality (“because of”), or a non-correspondence (“rather than”). The possible translations are:
- The tax collector went home justified rather than the Pharisee [the Lectionary version]. Jesus’ audience would be surprised to hear that God rejects the Pharisee’s prayer but accepts the tax collector’s prayer. While they could understand God rejecting the tax collector because of his work, they would not understand God rejecting the Pharisee-his life is exemplary, even if his prayer is less so.
- The tax collector went home justified along with the Pharisee. Jesus’ audience would be more shocked to hear that God accepts the prayers of both men. This translation challenges Jesus’ hearers to realize that God gives grace to all. God decides whom to grace, even if we don’t think God is being “fair.”
- The tax collector went home justified because of the Pharisee. Jesus’ audience would be most shocked to hear that God accepts the prayer of the tax collector because of the prayer (and actions) of the Pharisee. This translation challenges Jesus’ hearers to understand that we are all involved in each other’s salvation. We do not “stand alone” or “stand apart;” our actions–good and bad–affect everyone else. God’s gives grace to all, and God’s grace acts on us all, through our interactions with each other.
Scripture scholars call the “whoever exalts himself…” saying a “floating statement” because it appears in several places (Lk 14:11, Lk 18:14, Mt 23:12); it is not uniquely associated with this interpretation.
A possible meaning: The parable presents two flawed humans: the Pharisee more than fulfills the Law but does not need or ask for God’s mercy. The tax collector asks for God’s mercy but does not show a need to live differently. The parable’s meaning is purposely ambiguous, forcing us to decide its meaning. If we hear “only the tax collector went home justified,” the parable is about intent of humans’ flawed prayers (something only God can judge). If we hear “they both went home justified,” the parable is about God’s graciousness rather than humans’ flawed prayers. If we hear “the tax collector went home justified because of the Pharisee,” the parable is about God’s graciousness to the community rather than individual humans’ flawed prayers.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our prayers. Do our prayers express our need for God? Do we pray with or apart from the rest of the believing community? Do we recognize God’s grace and mercy that comes to us through others? Do we pray for ourselves, or for God’s grace?
||Ps 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
||2 Tm 3:14-4:2
Prayer: more than persistence
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 invite us to think about God and prayer.
This reflection focuses on the gospel only. Today’s gospel reading includes the parable of the widow and the judge, which is challenging for several reasons: (1) two interpretations surround the parable, (2) the parable relies on an unfamiliar (to us) rabbinical interpretive technique, and (3) some critical words have different translations. The gospel consists of the following parts:
- The parable (v 2-5). As we’ve seen in other parables, not all parable characters are exemplary. In today’s parable, both characters are unlikeable. The judge “neither fears God nor respects humans;” and the widow seeks “vengeance” against her opponent (not “a just decision” as appears in today’s translation). The judge finally grants the widow’s vengeance because he’s afraid she’ll turn violent (“strike me”). The Greek word ὑπωπιάζω (hoo-poh-pee-AHd-zoh) is a boxing term meaning “to give a black eye.”
- The first interpretation (v 1). Luke interprets the parable before he tells it. He sees the widow as the main character, and tells us to be persistent like the widow, to “pray without losing heart.” Luke interprets the parable for his Greek hearers who wouldn’t understand parable’s rabbinical context.
- The second interpretation (v 6-7) and the related saying (v8). The Lord interprets the parable after he tells it. He sees the judge as the main character and the key to the parable. Jesus uses a rabbinical interpretive technique called qal v’homer (“light to heavy”) to explain the parable. The judge’s actions provide a baseline (the “light” part): a flawed human judge renders a flawed judgement to a flawed human. Jesus then contrasts the parable’s flawed judge with God (the “heavy” part): God is a perfect judge who renders just and merciful judgements to flawed humans. To emphasize the contrast, in the Greek version of the gospel, Jesus describes God using the Greek word μακροθυμέω (mak-roh-thoo-MEH-oh), which means “patient.” That is, God judges us with patience despite our flaws and failures. (The translators of today’s gospel left out the word “patient,” obscuring the interpretation’s meaning.) Jesus closes by connecting God’s just actions with our faith. When the son of man returns, he may find a faith-less world, unable to accept God’s answers to its prayers. That is, God always answers our prayers, but sometimes we don’t like the answer.
A possible meaning: When we see the judge as the parable’s central character, we can begin to understand the parable’s possible meanings. Jesus calls the judge “unjust” because he renders his verdict out of fear, not out of justice. God is the just and patient judge who hears our petitions (prayers) and, despite our own failings, answers them justly. We may think that God sometimes answers us “unjustly;” this may cause us to lose faith. This is why Luke urges us to “pray without losing heart (faith).”
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our prayer life. Do we ask God for what is good and just for all, or do we pray for vengeance? Do we appreciate God’s patience with our selfish prayers? Do we accept God’s answer to our prayer, or continue to ask for what we want? Do we reject and punish God when we think God doesn’t hear us?
|2 Kgs 5:14-17
||Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
||2 Tm 2:8-13
Discipleship: to heal and to save
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 challenge our idea of salvation.
In the first reading from the second book of Kings, God heals the Syrian Naaman’s leprosy through the prophet Elisha’s word. Elisha refuses Naaman’s gift because Naaman’s healing is from God, not from Elisha. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Naaman’s cure of leprosy, his thanksgiving, and his faith all have parallels in today’s gospel story of the ten lepers.
The second reading from the second letter to Timothy presents a summary of Paul’s teachings (2 Tim 2: 8), followed by an ancient Christian hymn (2 Tim 2: 9-13). The hymn tells us that through baptism Christians die spiritually with Christ and hope to live with him and reign with him forever.
In Luke’s gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Luke reiterates that Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem when he encounters the lepers, presumably a mix of Jews (from Galilee) and Samaritans (from Samaria). Here are the key points:
- Leprosy and Mosaic Law: The Hebrew and Greek words traditionally translated as “leprosy” describe a variety of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrhea, but not Hansen’s disease (modern “leprosy.”) Under Mosaic law (Lv 14), anyone who showed evidence of “leprosy” was considered unclean and could not live in the community. This is why the lepers are “outside the village.” Both Jews and Samaritans followed the same Mosaic laws concerning purity and leprosy.
- Encountering Jesus: Seeing Jesus, the lepers call out “have mercy on us.” Jesus tells them to “show yourselves to the priests” to fulfill Mosaic law. On their way to see the priests, the lepers are healed. The Greek word σώζω (SOHd-zoh) means both “to heal” and “to save.”
- Thanksgiving and faith: Realizing he is healed/saved, one man returns, glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Luke notes that the returning man was a Samaritan–a non-Jew and a Jewish enemy. Jesus tells the man, “Go, your faith has saved you.”
- Meanings: First, faith in Jesus saves. This story follows last week’s teachings on faith and discipleship (Lk 17: 1-10)–especially the disciples’ request to “Increase our faith.” Luke uses the leper’s cure to demonstrate faith-in-action. Second, Jesus saves those from all nations. The Greek word ἀλλογενής (ahl-loh-geh-NAYS), here translated as “stranger,” literally means “those outside the family.” Luke uses the Samaritan leper’s healing to show that faith supersedes ethnicity and religion. Faith, and therefore salvation, is open to all people.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of saving/healing. God heals/saves Naaman even though he is a Syrian and worships Baal. Jesus heals/saves the ten lepers even though not all of them are Jewish. Although nine do not return to glorify God and thank Jesus, Jesus does not take away their healing. God’s healing/saving is a gift without strings, open to all. Do we offer our healing and salvation to all who ask our mercy, or do we limit our healing and saving only to those we know or only to those who appreciate it?
|Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4
||Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
||2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Discipleship: loyal living and faith-full acts
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 challenge our idea of faith.
In the first reading, the prophet Habakkuk complains to God that God ignores the unrighteous acts of Judah’s rulers against the people. God answers with a vision of Jerusalem–Judah’s capital city–destroyed, and its people taken as captives to Babylon. God tells Habakkuk that, in contrast to the unrighteous acts of Judah’s rulers, “the just (righteous) one will live because of his faith.” The just ones who remain loyal to God–who live their faith–God will save. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because its saying on faith echoes Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel.
In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author looks back on Paul’s life and draws lessons from it; he also looks to the future and offers challenges and hopes to Timothy and his readers. “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice:” the Greek word δειλία (dih-LEE-ah) is better translated as “fear” to contrast with the gospel’s active faith that can uproot a tree and plant it in the sea.
Today’s gospel from Luke is part of four connected sayings about how a disciple acts (Lk 17: 1-10): Today’s reading includes only sayings 3 and 4:
- Saying 3: Having faith (Lk 17: 5-6). The disciples ask Jesus to “Increase their faith.” In the ancient world, faith is an action, not simply “intellectual assent.” (The idea of faith as intellectual assent alone took root in western thought during the Enlightenment, in the 1700s AD.) The ancients understood faith as the actions of fidelity, or actions of loyalty, or of a lived commitment. The disciples ask Jesus to help them live their commitment or loyalty to him; Jesus responds with actions (“say,” “be uprooted,” “be planted”). If a disciple practices seemingly small faithful acts, God’s power can magnify their results.
- Saying 4: Confusing discipleship with entitlement (Lk 17: 7-10). Jesus tells the disciples a short parable about a slave who serves his master (Lk 17: 7-9). The master expects the slave to serve him; the slave expects to serve the master. In this social structure, the master’s needs come first, and the slave’s needs come second. The parable’s meaning turns on the Greek word ἀχρεῖος (ahk-RIH-os), here translated as “unprofitable.” The root word χρεῖος connotes monetary utility or debt value. As a slave, the slave’s actions generate nothing of surplus or monetary value for the master; the slave’s only value is in serving the master. Taken together with the disciples request for increased faith, Jesus reminds his disciples that God works through their actions, and their results belong to God alone. When they fulfill discipleship’s demands, they are only doing their duty.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of faith. God tells Habakkuk that practicing fidelity makes one just. The disciples ask Jesus to “increase their faith,” he tells them that their faith-filled acts can have outsized results. Jesus also reminds the disciples that the results of their faithful acts belong to God, not to the disciples. Do we think that faith is simply nodding our heads when asked about God? Or do we practice dynamic faith so that every our action affirms our loyalty to God and faithfulness to God’s Word?