Monthly Archives: April 2017

30 April 2017: Third Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Acts 2:14, 22-33 Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11 1 Pt 1:17-21 Lk 24:13-35

Resurrection: mystery of continuing presence

White_gold_banner_sm Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings describe the resurrected Jesus present in words (scripture) and actions.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke recounts Peter’s first kerygmatic speech, given the day of Pentecost. Peter uses Psalm 16 to shows that David (the psalm’s author) foretold Jesus’ resurrection.

In the second reading from Peter’s first letter, the author describes God’s call to the believing community. God has redeemed the people through Christ’s own blood; therefore God calls them to holiness and to mutual love.

In today’s gospel, Luke relates the disciples’ surprise encounter with the resurrected Jesus, who reveals himself in words and actions. Luke uses the journey, the road, or “the way” as a metaphor for discipleship, and teaches disciples how to recognize the resurrected Jesus:

  • In words. Jesus reveals that all of Hebrew scripture explains what he has done as messiah, including his suffering and death. Jesus connects his saving action with the scripture’s suffering ones (Isaiah’s suffering servant, the prophets, the Jewish people).
  • In actions. Jesus reveals himself in the “breaking of bread,” a Jewish ritual performed at every shared meal. In the late first century, Christian communities shared meals together as a continuation of Jesus’ meals in his public life, and possibly in anticipation of the end-time messianic banquet.

By the time Luke wrote his gospel, the Christian liturgy already was taking shape, including readings (from Hebrew scripture and possibly Paul’s letters) and breaking bread together in a shared meal. In a disciple’s ordinary life (the journey), Jesus is always present but often unrecognized. Liturgy reveals Jesus in word and action, reminding disciples that we need to look for Jesus in order to see him.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord. Jesus is always present with us on our journey. When do we hear him speaking? Where do we suddenly see him?

—Terence Sherlock

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23 April 2017: Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Acts 2:42-47 Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 1 Pt 1:3-9 Jn 20:19-31

Resurrection: a source of new sight

White_gold_banner_sm Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings frame resurrection as the source of Christian community and a new way of seeing.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke presents an ideal (and idealized) picture of a Christian community. For Luke, the ideal believing community would live in perfect communion or fellowship, would pray for each other, would break bread to recall the Lord’s death, and would listen to the apostle’s teachings about Jesus and discipleship. Luke’s description shows us how far we still have to go.

In the second reading from Peter’s first letter, the author tells his readers that baptism, sometimes called “the bath of regeneration,” is the source of their inheritance of salvation. Our salvation is Jesus’ gift from his passion, death, and resurrection.

In today’s gospel, John contrasts two ways of seeing. When the disciples first see Jesus, they “recognize” him as the same person as the pre-resurrection Jesus. They tell Thomas what they have seen–their “experience.” Thomas doesn’t accept their “experience;” Thomas needs to see and “recognize” Jesus himself. When Jesus appears again, he invites Thomas to see–“recognize”–him; Thomas sees–“experiences”–the resurrected Jesus in a new and personal way. Jesus tells Thomas and the disciples that they believe because they have seen and “experienced” Jesus, but future disciples will believe without seeing and “recognizing” Jesus as he was before his resurrection.

The resurrection requires that disciples learn a new way of seeing and of coming to faith. Before Jesus’ resurrection, disciples encountered and experienced Jesus in a human way, and their faith rested on Jesus’ physical presence. When the disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus, they didn’t recognize him–he didn’t look like the earthly Jesus of their memory. Instead the disciples recognized Jesus by his words and actions. The disciples’ faith, once based on seeing Jesus’ earthly presence, now changes to seeing Jesus’ presence in his continuing relationship with them, and his continuing words and actions. For Catholics, Jesus remains present with us in scripture (words), in sacraments (words, actions, presence), and within the believing community (actions and presence).

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord.

—Terence Sherlock

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16 April 2017: Easter day

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23 Col 3:1-4 or
1 Cor 5:6b-8
Jn 20:1-9 or
Mt 28:1-10 or
Lk 24:13-35

Resurrection: signs and faith

Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents two different sets of readings for Easter: the Easter Vigil mass, and the mass of Easter day. This commentary follows the readings for the mass of Easter day.

 

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter readings bring all of us–neophytes, newly received Catholics, those continuing the RCIA process, those considering Catholicism, and those who have been Catholic for many years–face-to-face with our own discipleship.

The first reading, from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, gives Peter’s kerygmatic speech to Cornelius and his household. The kerygma is the initial and essential gospel message that introduces a person to Christ and appeals for conversion. Peter’s message includes the resurrection story, the starting point for belief and discipleship.

The second reading, from the letter to the ekklasia in Colossae, is a meditation on a disciple’s baptismal death-and-rising with Christ. Baptism is our first encounter with the risen Jesus and the beginning of discipleship. If we were baptized as infants, we probably don’t remember this meeting or our godparents pledging our discipleship for us. The reading reminds us that, as baptized disciples, we must continually seek what is from above; that is, we must show Jesus to others in our words and actions.

John’s gospel gives us a sketch of three types of faith. During Jesus’ human life, Mary, Peter, and the unnamed disciple all believed in the Jesus they knew. Jesus’ death required them to see and to know him in a different way. When each encounters the empty tomb, each responds differently:

  • Mary is looking for Jesus’ physical body, so she can’t see the empty tomb’s meaning. This is discipleship limited to a Jesus we knew from our past.
  • Peter notices the empty tomb’s details-the linen wrappings, the folded face cloth-but can’t quite grasp what all these details mean. This is discipleship lost in confusion and doubt.
  • The unnamed disciple enters the empty tomb, sees everything, and immediately begins to believe. He understands that God has acted here, but he needs the Holy Spirit’s insight to see the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. This is discipleship searching for the things from above.

Disciples come to understand and to believe in the resurrection only when they personally encounter the risen and glorified Jesus. First-century disciples met the glorified Jesus in a garden, in an upper room, on the road, and by the sea. They didn’t immediately recognize the resurrected Jesus because he was different from the human Jesus they knew. Only when the glorified Jesus speaks or shares a meal with them do they see it’s him.

It’s the same for us: we encounter the risen Jesus in the Word, in sacraments, and in each other in a garden, on the road, at work, on vacation. We may not recognize him immediately in our family, friends, community, strangers, others. Only a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus grows our faith and reveals the meaning and promise of the empty tomb. Have we seen him? Do we know him? Do we show him to others?

—Terence Sherlock

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9 April 2017: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s passion

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 50:4-7 Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 Phil 2:6-11 Mt 26:14–27:66 or
Mt 27:11-54 (short form)

Lent: songs and stories

Red_banner_sm As Lent draws to a close, the Lectionary readings for Palm Sunday give RCIA participants and the believing community many images to reflect on for Holy Week. Today’s readings include two songs and a story.

The two songs are Isaiah’s Suffering Servant song in the first reading (Is 50:4-7), and Paul’s Carmen Christi (L: “Song of the Christ”) in the second reading (Phil 2:6-11). I’ve written about these songs and their meanings in last year’s Palm Sunday reflection, found here.

The story is Matthew’s passion narrative. We can read other parts of the gospels as short stories that tell Jesus’ words or acts, but the passion narratives are one, continuous story. The passion narrative is rich and deep and deserves a full and careful reading. Throughout Matthew’s passion, Jesus’ accusers words and actions ironically reveal who Jesus really is:

  • The Sanhedrin. The chief priests ask Jesus under oath if Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mt 26:63). Jesus responds “You have said so,” an affirmative answer. The Sanhedrin convicts Jesus of blasphemy for speaking the truth about his messiahship and divinity.
  • Pilate. The chief priests bring Jesus to Pilate for trial. Before Pilate, the chief priests and elders accuse Jesus of sedition, a Roman capital offense, rather than blasphemy, a religious offense. Pilate asks Jesus if he is “King of the Jews” (Mt 27:11). Jesus responds “You say so,” an affirmative answer. Pilate convicts Jesus for speaking the truth about his kingdom (but not a kingdom Pilate would understand).
  • Barabbas. Barabbas is a Hebrew word meaning “son (bar) of his father (abba).” Pilate tells the crowd they must choose Barabbas or Jesus (Mt 27:17)–two sons of very different fathers. The crowd’s selection (Mt 27:21) is tinged with irony: they choose Barabbas, a revolutionary, who gives violence and death; rather than Jesus, the Father’s Son, who gives peace and eternal life.
  • Soldiers. The soldiers dress Jesus in a red military cloak and crown him with a “victory crown” (usually a diadem or laurel wreath, but the soldiers use thorns) to mock his kingship (Mt 27:29). Their actions reveal Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering servant (see the first reading, Is 50:4-7).
  • The centurion. At Jesus’ death, the Roman centurion and his men, witnessing the darkness and earthquake, acknowledge Jesus “was the son of God” (Mt 27:54). Matthew uses the centurion’s statement ironically: Romans considered the Roman emperor divine, the son of a god.

Palm Sunday introduces the most important feasts in the liturgical year. For RCIA participants, the Triduum–and especially the Easter Vigil–is the culmination of their journey to become full sacramental participants in our Catholic believing community. Their desire to become true disciples, to witness to the suffering servant and crucified savior, and to share Jesus’ resurrected life should make all of us stop and think. What do we think of Jesus’ saving act? How do we react to Jesus’ death? How to we participate in Jesus work? Where do we fit in Jesus’ story?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 April 2017: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ez 37:12-14 Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 Rom 8:8-11 Jn 11:1-45

A matter of death and life

Purple_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading invites the believing community to think about physical death and eternal life, and asks those preparing for Easter initiation to meditate on baptism’s death-to-life transformation.

John’s gospel tells of Jesus raising his friend, Lazarus, from death. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s contrasts of physical death and eternal life, and on its baptismal imagery.

  • Physical death vs eternal life. Through words and a sign (John’s name for a miracle), Jesus leads Martha to deeper faith. Like many first-century Jews, Martha already believes that God will raise up her brother on the last day. She also believes that Jesus is the messiah and the Son of God. In his dialogue with Martha, Jesus teaches that he is the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in him will never die. He gives believers an eternal life that is impervious to physical death. Those who believe Jesus is messiah and Son of God will experience a new,resurrected, transformed, eternal life, that Jesus’ own resurrection promises and demonstrates. As a sign to Martha, Jesus returns Lazarus to life..Jesus calls us “to turn away from sin and believe in the good news.” In today’s story Jesus faces the full impact of sin and its human consequences. As he stands before his friend’s tomb, we read that “Jesus wept.” The Greek text is better translated as “Jesus broke into tears.” Jesus experiences the human cost of Adam’s sin: physical death. A few lines later we hear Jesus is “deeply moved”–which is better rendered as “strongly insistent” or “strongly convinced and focused.” That is, Jesus resolves to change sin’s outcome and restore Lazarus to life. We should find consolation in Jesus’ determination and action: he strongly desires to give life to each of us.
  • The catechumen’s baptismal death-into-life transformation. Jesus reformulates the Jewish idea of future resurrection into something new: “I AM theresurrection and the life.Resurrection means the eternal life that Jesus gives to the one believing in him, even if that one physically dies. Life means the new spiritual life Jesus gives through baptism to the one believing in him. Being submerged in baptism’s living water is a sign of death: the one being baptized dies to a former life and is reborn to a new, eternal life in Christ. Jesus himself will raise all believers on the last day; but the life Jesus gives is a present reality as well as a future promise. Eternal life is a current and ongoing participation in Jesus’ own life, in sacramental encounters and in the believing community.

The sign of Lazarus is a challenge to our faith. Martha stands for believers who ask: If Jesus gives eternal life, why do my family and friends die? Martha represents believers whose faith is real but inadequate–“if only Jesus hadn’t left us after his resurrection, the ones who believe in him wouldn’t die.” Here is the paradox for the believing community: eternal life doesn’t abolish physical death, but transcends it. Eternal life is not only a pledge of resurrection on the last day, but an ongoing participation in the ever-living Jesus’ life now, moment-to-moment. Those who believe this never die, even though they face physical death. The same living Jesus present with us now in our physical existence continues to be with us for eternity. In him we remain alive forever.

—Terence Sherlock

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