Monthly Archives: January 2017

29 January 2017: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Zep 2:3; 3:12-13 Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 1 Cor 1:26-31 Mt 5:1-12a

Blessed are you?

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Beginning this week and for the next four weeks, the gospel follows Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the beatitudes.

In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah calls the Judeans to conversion to avoid the coming judgement–“the day of the Lord.” He addresses the people as anawim (AHN-ah-vim)–a Hebrew word meaning “the poor”–who depend completely on God for their lives. The Lectionary editors pair Zephaniah’s message to the anawim with Jesus’ message to the poor in spirit to contrast the coming “day of the Lord” with the coming “kingdom of God.”

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul admonished the Corinthians for their disunity and quarrels. This week, Paul addresses the root cause of their exclusivity: they think too highly of themselves. Paul reminds the Corinthians that, by human standards, other people would judge them as not too smart, powerful, or classy. God chooses (calls) slow, powerless, nobodies that everyone despises to shame the world’s wise, powerful, top-class people. Paul suggests they confine their boasting to “boasting in the Lord”–recognizing that all humans live only because of God’s grace and goodness.

Matthew’s gospel begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus teaches his disciples and the crowds his new law: the beatitudes.

  • What is a beatitude? Beatitudes are a common literary form in Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, and other ancient writings. The Greek word μακάριος (mah-KAH-ree-ohs) means “blessed,” “happy,” or “fortunate,” and addresses someone who is to be praised or congratulated for being in a privileged position. In Jewish tradition, a beatitude commended someone who choose a particular path in life, or promised future consolation to someone currently experiencing affliction.
  • What do the beatitudes mean? Jesus addresses his beatitudes to his disciples. He calls disciples to serve and to model God’s kingdom in this world. Worldly kingdoms (social, business, political) are in conflict with one another and with God’s kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples to give up attachments to worldly kingdoms and to align themselves with God’s kingdom. They must take on actions and attitudes–being poor in spirit, mourning evil, practicing humility, hungering after justice, showing mercy, single-mindedly seeking God, making peace, enduring persecution–that Jesus himself lives.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how our lives reflect God’s kingdom. Like the Judeans, we need Zephaniah’s message of continuing conversion. Like the Corinthians, we need Paul’s reminder that God is in charge, not us. As disciples, we need to walk Jesus’ path to bring the kingdom. Can we let go of our addictions to earthly wisdom, power, and status? Can we put down some of the worldly things we think we need–pride, revenge, fear–to pick up some of Jesus’ own attitudes and actions?

—Terence Sherlock

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22 January 2017: Third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 8:23-9:3 Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 Mt 4:12-23

Light comes to the shadowlands

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings foretell and fulfill the promises to people living in darkness.

In the first reading, Isaiah foretells the former northern kingdom of Israel’s deliverance from the Assyrians. This restoration will not simply lift the darkness of foreign occupation, but will bring joy to the people. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Jesus’ ministry, which begins in today’s gospel, fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul admonishes the Corinthians for their disunity and quarrels. He hears that they are pledging loyalty to human leaders–Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas–rather than to Christ. Paul tells them that Christ didn’t send him to baptize in Paul’s name, but to preach Christ’s good news. Their disunity empties Christ’s cross of its meaning: salvation for all.

Matthew’s gospel announces the start of Jesus’ ministry, which begins after Jesus is baptized and is tempted in the desert. The place, the disciples, and acts of ministry are all significant:

  • Place. Jesus’ move from Nazareth to Capernaum, a town in the former Naphtali territory, fulfills Isaiah’s oracle about “the light rising upon Zebulun and Naphtali.” The Israelites in this region were the first Jews displaced from the Promised Land (by the Assyrians in 733 BC), and they experienced a time of darkness and death. Matthew places the start of Jesus’ ministry here to show the return of light and hope to these first-displaced Jews.
  • Disciples. The Greek word ἀκολουθέω (ah-koh-loo-THEH-oh), translated here as “follow,” means “to join (someone) on the road.” Jesus asks the fishermen not just to “come with him,” but also to “become disciples to his way.” In both the Greek and Jewish worlds, disciples chose their teachers. Jesus reverses the usual order by choosing his own disciples. Also somewhat surprising is that they “immediately” respond, leaving their livelihood and families. Their encounter with Jesus results in radical change.
  • Acts of ministry. Matthew defines Jesus’ ministry as “teaching,” “preaching,” and “healing.” Jesus teaches in the synagogues, where the community discussed God’s law (Torah) and God’s words (the prophets). Jesus preaches the same message as the Baptizer: metanoia, “change your mind/heart”–turn away from sin and turn toward God. Jesus heals the sick and weak, offering people hope and joy. Jesus’ prophetic actions announce the start of God’s messianic kingdom.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our roles in the kingdom Jesus announces. Isaiah tells us worldly kingdoms come and go; they are sometimes good, but sometimes gloomy and joyless. God’s kingdom, inaugurated by Jesus’ ministry, will be different: God’s Law and God’s Word will rule this kingdom, full of hope and joy. God’s kingdom is open to all; all are called to be disciples to God’s way. When we encounter God, radical change can happen. Can we answer immediately? Can we allow ourselves to be chosen, rather than to choose? Can we follow a path that is not our own? Will we change our hearts and minds?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 January 2017: Second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 49:3, 5-6 Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10 1 Cor 1:1-3 Jn 1:29-34

Seeing and not seeing

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings tell us to look, to see, and to perceive who Jesus is.

The first reading from Isaiah presents the second (of four) Servant Songs. Jewish readers see the Servant as the prophet Isaiah, or a messianic figure descended from David, or the personification of Israel. Christian readers see the Servant as Christ who reconciles all humans to God. The Lectionary editors matched this Servant Song to the Baptizer’s insight that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.”

The second reading begins Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes to clear up misunderstandings in the Corinth ekklasia (believing community). The Corinthians are too focused on themselves, and are disconnected from the larger ekklasia. In today’s reading, Paul introduces the letter’s themes. He prays for “peace” because the Corinthians lack peace. He prays for “grace” because the Corinthians misunderstand the charisms (graces, gifts) they have. Paul will spend the rest of his letter correcting these errors.

In the gospel, John the evangelist plays with words and meanings. The Greek word εἴδω (EYE-doh) can mean “to see with eyes” or “to know” and “to perceive.” The Baptizer admits that he didn’t see/know Jesus. But at Jesus’ baptism, the Baptizer has an insight from God, and suddenly he sees, recognizes, and knows exactly who Jesus is and gives his testimony about Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ role in salvation:

  • The Lamb of God. The Baptizer calls Jesus the “lamb of God.” John may be thinking of the paschal lamb, whose blood saved Israel (Ex 12); or the Temple lambs, sacrificed to purge people’s sins; or the suffering servant, offered like a lamb as a sin-offering (Is 53:7, 10). In Aramaic (the language the Baptist and Jesus spoke), the word talya can mean “lamb,” “child/son,” and “slave/servant.” The Aramaic word ties Jesus’ title back to the first reading’s Servant Song. In this phrase, the Baptizer sees Jesus’ identity: suffering servant, lamb of sacrifice, Son of God.
  • The one who takes away the world’s sin. John recognizes Jesus as more than a paschal lamb or Temple sacrificial lamb. Jesus is the Lamb/Servant/Son of God who alone can completely reconcile God and humans. The Baptizer sees the Spirit descend on and remain with Jesus. Jesus pours out this same Spirit on everyone he encounters. In this phrase, the Baptizer sees Jesus’ role: to restore all humans everywhere to God.

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to see who Jesus really is: God-made-flesh who remains with us reconciling us with God. Like the Corinthians, we sometimes “get in our own heads” and can’t see the larger picture. Or like the Baptizer, we see someone without really perceiving that person. Today’s readings remind us that we need regular spiritual eye exams. Do we really see and know Jesus? Do we see and know ourselves and our role in reconciliation?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 January 2017: Epiphany of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 60:1-6 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 Mt 2:1-12

Epiphany: the Gift is made present to all

White_gold_banner_smToday the believing community celebrates the Epiphany. Epiphany, which means “shining upon” or “manifestation,” is also called “little Christmas” or “Three King’s day,” and, in many places, is the day Christians exchange gifts. Traditionally, Orthodox and Roman churches celebrate Epiphany on 6 January as the twelfth day of Christmas. The feast commemorates the magi’s (or “wise men”) visit to Jesus.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah urges the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem. He promises that God will restore the people and city to its former glory under David. God’s restoration draws “all nations” to Jerusalem. Foreign (gentile) kings will bring “gold and frankincense” as tribute and gifts. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to highlight the magi’s gifts in the gospel.

In the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, the author summarizes Paul’s mission and message: God’s kingdom includes all–gentiles as well as the Jewish people. Together the Jews and gentiles are “co-heirs, co-members of the body of Christ (the ekklasia), and co-partners in the gospel promise.” All are invited into God’s kingdom. This reading highlights the gentiles’ role in recognizing the kingdom.

Matthew’s gospel recounts the magi’s visit, which further reveals Jesus’ identity:

  • King of the Jews. The magi are astrologers (early astronomers) who discern Jesus’ title based on naturally occurring celestial events (the star). They ask Herod, who wrangled the title “King of the Jews” from his Roman overlords, “where can we find the King of the Jews?” (Imagine the ensuing awkward pause as they sort out who is king of the Jews.) Herod calls his Jewish priests and scribes and asks “What do you know about this?” They search the Hebrew scripture and find the prophet Micah’s prophecy that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Matthew shows that both nature and scripture reveal Jesus’ identity to all who seek him.
  • Worthy of homage. The magi come to “do him homage.” Here and throughout this passage, Matthew uses the Greek word προσκυνέω (“pros-koo-NEH-oh”) which means “to prostrate before,” “to adore,” or “to worship.” Matthew shows that the gentile magi recognize that Jesus is worthy not only of human honor, but of divine worship.
  • Gifts foretell Jesus’ destiny. The magi give Jesus not only honor and worship, they also give him symbolic gifts. Gold is an appropriate gift for a human ruler. Incense is a gift offered (burned) to honor a divinity. Myrrh is spice used as a salve and for embalming. Matthew shows that the gentile magi recognize Jesus’ kingship, his divinity, and his mission to suffer and die.

Marking the Christmas season’s end, Epiphany calls RCIA participants and all of us to reflect further on the meaning of the incarnation. God’s gift of God-made-flesh and God-with-us is given to us without any possibility of our repayment. The incarnation, like all sacraments, is God’s superabundant presence. Epiphany–manifestation–tells us that God is found everywhere (God’s kingdom is already here, open to all), God is worthy of our worship, and God’s giving-ness fuels our mission to give our own lives in service. What star do we follow? What king do we seek? What treasure do we offer?

—Terence Sherlock

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