Monthly Archives: February 2017

26 February 2017: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 49:14-15 Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9 1 Cor 4:1-5 Mt 6:24-34

Discipleship: trust, worry, and dependence on God

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. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings ask us to consider God’s continuous care for us.

In the first reading Isaiah provides consolation for those returning from exile–God has not forgotten them or forsaken them. For today’s hearers this reading emphasizes God’s care for God’s people. The gospel echoes that God never forgets anyone.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This week Paul tells the Corinthians how to evaluate their teachers. The apostolic leaders (Apollos, Paul, Kephas) are Christ’s assistants, not philosophers with hidden knowledge. Apostolic leaders are measured by their faithfulness to the gospel message, not by their speaking ability or authority.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today’s reading picks up with the “Material possessions vs human relationships” section, and has two parts:

  • Parable of serving two masters. A slave can obey, honor, or be loyal to (“love”) only one master at a time; as a result he ignores (“hates”) his other masters. Jesus’ parable warns about priorities: a disciple’s loyalty and service is to God first, and everything else (mammon) second. Mammon represents anything that competes with God, including money, possessions, and even self. The Aramaic root of mammon means “trust” or “the person or thing in which one places trust.” This saying about mammon/trust leads logically to Jesus’ teaching about a disciple’s dependence on God.
  • Dependence on God. The Greek word μεριμνάω (meh-rim-NAH-oh), meaning “to worry about,” appears six times in ten verses (Mt 6:25-34). Jesus knows the reality of human needs (food and clothing), but he forbids disciples from making human needs an object of anxiousness–that is, when a disciple becomes a slave to such worries. Jesus contrasts the actions and attitudes of gentiles and disciples. Gentiles crave (and become slaves to) human needs because they trust only in mammon. Disciples seek God’s kingdom and its righteousness because they trust God already knows what they need and will provide “all these things.” Jesus is not saying that a disciple shouldn’t plan; Jesus is condemning worry and planning that ignores God’s providence, or that chases after security that makes faith unnecessary.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize that humans are wired to worry. Worrying becomes a problem when we put more trust in human solutions than in God’s care for us. We should take comfort in knowing that the Father cares for us and always provides what we need. Such trust in the Father brings us peace and joy, freeing us from worry and fear. What is the source of our worry? Who owns our exclusive trust?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 February 2017: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 1 Cor 3:16-23 Mt 5:38-48

Called to be holy, called to be perfect

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. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings call disciples to holiness by being as perfect as the Father.

In the first reading from Leviticus, God calls Israel to be holy by obeying God’s laws. These laws include attitudes and actions towards one’s fellow Israelites–the neighbor. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because the instruction about holiness matches the second reading and the instruction to love is the basis for today’s gospel.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul told the Corinthians that they must hear what the Spirit teaches. This week, Paul addresses the Corinthian’s factions and wisdom-seeking. The Corinthian ekklesia (believing community) is a temple because God’s Spirit lives in the community, making them holy. By dividing the ekklesia into factions, the Corinthians have defiled the temple and endangered their holiness. To help the Corinthians restore their spiritual balance, Paul explains everyone’s place in serving God’s kingdom: the ekklesia leaders serve the ekklesia, who serve Christ, who serves God.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus again challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and to become as perfect as their heavenly Father. The reading has three parts:

  • Release the need to retaliate. Hebrew scripture’s law “an eye for an eye” (Ex 21:24) was meant to limit revenge–punishment or restitution should not exceed the injury done. Although the Law granted a wronged person the right to retribution, Jesus’ new law forbids all retaliation. When insulted or dishonored, a disciple must break the cycle of retaliation and not demand what is legally his.
  • Love your enemies. Hebrew scripture contains no command requiring Jews to hate their enemies, but hating enemies is assumed to be just, especially when these foreigners are state or religious enemies. Jesus extends the “love the neighbor” commandment to even the enemy and the persecutor. Jesus teaches that God is Father to all humans, therefore all humans are family and deserve familial love.
  • Be as perfect as the Father. Hebrew scriptures calls Jews “to be holy, just as your God is holy” (first reading). First-century Jews understood holiness as separation–from sin, sinners, and gentiles. Jesus calls his disciples not simply to be holy, but to be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Disciples imitate their Father’s perfect love through actions and attitudes: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth, replace retaliation with generosity, replace hate with love.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize that simple observance of a law does not produce love. Rules don’t transform people, but encountering love does. Disciples must cultivate attitudes and actions that transform them and all who encounter them. Jesus calls us to go beyond conformity to the Law and to imitate the Father’s perfect love. Every day we have the opportunity to transform anger, selfishness, deceit, retaliation, and hate into perfect love. This is how we change the world and ourselves. Doesn’t the world need transforming? Don’t we?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 February 2017: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 15:15-20 Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34 1 Cor 2:6-10 Mt 5:17-37

The law, the kingdom, and the challenge of discipleship

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. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the need of a disciple’s attitudes and actions to surpass the Law.

In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach links free will with human responsibility. God gives everyone a choice to choose good or evil; the wise person chooses to follow the Law (commandments), and therefore to choose life. Christian hearers also understand God has given us a model to follow (Jesus, God’s son). Jesus’ own choices provide a template for actions and attitudes that exceed the Law (see today’s gospel).

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul urged the Corinthians to search for something wiser than human wisdom. This week, Paul tells the Corinthians that they can grasp God’s wisdom only if they become open to the Spirit and the language that the Spirit teaches.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and so to become more intimately aligned with God’s kingdom. The reading has three parts:

  • Jesus and the Law. Jesus makes it clear both to his disciples and to his opponents that the Law–which reveals God–stands forever. To describe his role, Jesus uses the Greek word πληρόω (play-ROH-oh), which means not only “to make complete” but “to fill or fulfill abundantly.” Jesus’ attitudes and actions complete or fulfill the picture of God already revealed in the Law.
  • Jesus’ challenge to disciples. Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees not for their desire to follow the Law, but for their focus on the Law’s proscriptions rather than its intent. The scribes and Pharisees study and follow the Law to make themselves righteous before God. Jesus’ disciples must seek God first, then live the Law.
  • Jesus’ examples of greater righteousness. Jesus corrects and expands the Law to further reveal God. He introduces each teaching with the formula: “You have heard it said…, but I say to you;” he speaks with more authority than Moses and (as God’s son) with the legal force of God. He reveals the human attitudes behind murder (anger), adultery (selfish desire), divorce (defending one’s honor/avoiding shame), and oaths (deceit). He then challenges disciples to actions that are beyond the Law’s requirements: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth. Only when disciples exceed the Law’s requirements can they enter God’s kingdom.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we, as disciples, encounter God in the Law. Choosing the Law over evil is our first step. Observing the Law makes us better people. Seeking God revealed in the Law and living the beatitudes makes us disciples worthy of the kingdom. Do we see the Law as a limit to personal freedom? Do we find the Law a burden because there are too many rules? Do we encounter God in the Law by seeing our human weaknesses? Do we see the Father’s love and caring in those attitudes and actions that exceed the Law?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 February 2017: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 58:7-10 Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 1 Cor 2:1-5 Mt 5:13-16

Tasting and seeing discipleship

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the results of discipleship.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah warns that fasting alone does not change a person or create a just world. In Hebrew scripture, the prophets call the Jewish people to be “a light to the nations.” The Jewish people’s metanoia (change of mind/heart) and resulting social actions become a light that will draw the gentiles to God. Jesus makes a similar point about disciples in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul targeted the Corinthian’s exclusivity: they think too highly of themselves. This week, Paul tells the Corinthians to search for something wiser than human wisdom. God’s mysterious wisdom is unavailable to worldly-wisdom seekers. God’s mystery is known only to God; it is God’s plan of salvation and involves Jesus and the cross. Paul doesn’t appeal to philosophy, but rather the truth of God’s Spirit and God’s power.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus gives two parables about discipleship. When living the beatitudes (Jesus’ new law), disciples become salt and light.

  • Salt: The ancient world used salt to season and to preserve food. Just as salt changes the taste of food, a disciple’s life changes the world. That is, a disciple who is poor in spirit, mourns evil, practices humility, hungers after justice, shows mercy, single-mindedly seeks God, makes peace, and endures persecution becomes a living example of God’s kingdom.
  • Light: In Hebrew scripture, the prophets call the Jewish people to be “a light to the nations” (Is 60:1-3, Bar 4:2); in today’s first reading (Is 58:7-10), the Lord tells the returning exiles to care for others so “your light will break like the dawn” and “the light shall rise from you.” Jesus’ parable is in this prophetic tradition: now his disciples are a light to the nations. As a lamp reveals everything it shines on, so a disciple’s life becomes a beacon or example to everyone.

By adding the parables of salt and light at the end of the beatitudes, Matthew provides a “call to action” for disciples. Discipleship is not simply a relationship between Jesus and a disciple, but a relationship that extends from the disciple to the world. Through the disciple’s own actions and attitudes, the world experiences Jesus’ and the Father’s love.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how our lives reflect discipleship. Do our actions and attitudes align with the beatitudes? Do our daily interactions leave others seasoned or soured? Do our words and examples enlighten or darken others’ lives?

—Terence Sherlock

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