Monthly Archives: July 2017

30 July 2017: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12  Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130  Rom 8:28-30  Mt 13:44-52

 

Parables about choices in discipleship

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on God’s kingdom and our discipleship.

In the first reading from the book of Kings, Solomon asks God for wisdom, rather than riches or a long life. Wisdom (knowledge of God) should be valued above all else; the parables in today’s gospel depict the kingdom as a treasure beyond value.

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul describes God’s plan and care for a believer’s salvation. This passage has a complicated history; words like “predestined” and “justified” are sometimes freighted with meanings Paul didn’t intend. Paul’s point is simply that all things unfold according to God’s plan (God’s foreknowing). God designs (predestines) all humans to be able to be like (conformed to) Christ. God calls all to salvation through Christ. Those who accept God’s call, God “makes right” with God (justifies). Those who are “right with God,” God also allows to share now and in the future in the effects of Christ’s resurrection (glorifies). This is good news for disciples!

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus concludes teaching the crowds and disciples in parables. Jesus presents the kingdom as a hidden treasure, a merchant seeking pearls, and a dragnet. Jesus also directs a parable about a house-master to his disciples. In these parables, Jesus overturns his hearers’ expectations about how disciples come to God’s kingdom, who can enter, and how disciples understand and teach the kingdom.

  • A hidden treasure. Jesus’ hearers would expect that something as important as the kingdom to be visible and obvious. Instead, Jesus tells them it is hidden. The surprise is that the treasure is found by chance. The parable invites the hearers to imagine finding such a treasure and how they would react.
  • A merchant seeking pearls. Jesus’ hearers would expect that the kingdom would be easy to acquire. Instead, Jesus describes the merchant as actively seeking. The surprise is the way in which the merchant changes when he finds a unique pearl. Jesus says he sells everything he had; he is no longer a pearl merchant. The parable invites the hearers to imagine what would cause them to completely change their lives.
  • A dragnet. Jesus’ hearers would expect the kingdom to be exclusive, limited to holy people or to people with special knowledge. The surprise is that the kingdom gathers in everyone, the good and the bad together. Only when the net is full do the fishermen pull it in and sort its contents. The parable invites the hearers to think about a kingdom that is open to all, and their place in such a kingdom.
  • A house-master. Jesus directs this parable to his disciples who now know how to interpret parables. The disciples would expect the house-master to bring out only what is new. The surprise is the house-master brings out both new and old treasures. The parable invites disciples to think about the value of the Torah as well as Jesus’ new teachings in presenting the good news.

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider how disciples discover the kingdom (by accident or by searching), who enters the kingdom, and how disciples understand God’s law. How we find the kingdom and find ourselves included isn’t important. It is our words and actions, rooted in God’s law, that make us disciples. Have we hidden our treasure or traded it away, or do we bring it out and share it?

—Terence Sherlock

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23 July 2017: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Wis 12:13, 16-19  Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16  Rom 8:26-27  Mt 13:24-43

Parables about the unexpected and surprising kingdom

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on God’s nature and God’s kingdom.

In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, the author considers the paradox of balancing divine mercy with divine power: “Your mastery of all things makes you lenient to all (v 16),” “Though mighty, you judge with clemency (v 18).” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to compliment the kingdom’s descriptions in the gospel parables.

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul addresses the Spirit’s role in completing our prayer. Human prayer is sometimes imperfect in how we praise God or what we ask for. The Spirit comes to our aid to help us form our praise, petitions, and thanks, and present them to God. Paul anticipates John’s description of the Spirit as our paraclete.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus continues teaching  in parables. Jesus presents the crowds and the disciples with three images of the kingdom of the heavens: a field of wheat and weeds, a mustard seed, and leaven. In these parables, Jesus overturns his hearers’ expectations about how God’s kingdom comes, how the kingdom is revealed, and who can enter. This reflection focuses on the most complex image, the wheat and weeds.

First-century feuding parties would often ruin each other’s crops. The practice was so common that a Roman law forbade sabotaging wheat fields with darnel, a poisonous plant that resembles wheat in its early growth. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised by the householder’s decision to wait until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds. In their honor/shame culture, they would expect that someone outwitted and shamed by his enemy would hide or remove the evidence of shame. The householder instead outwits (and shames) his enemy. By waiting, the householder saves his wheat crop, and gets the added benefit of using the weeds to fuel his oven.

This parable warns disciples about human judgement. The kingdom, which is already here, contains both the good and the bad. Disciples may too quickly label someone a “sinner” and judge that person excluded from the kingdom. But God alone judges the worthy and unworthy (see the first reading). A disciple’s work is to preach the kingdom and to encourage conversion (metanoia).

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider how God’s kingdom comes, is recognized, and is encountered and lived. The mustard seed parable tells us the kingdom starts small, but grows large enough to encompass the whole world. The leaven parable tells us that the kingdom starts as a hidden thing, but becomes visible as it changes the world. The wheat-and-weeds parable reminds us that, although we have a role in bringing God’s kingdom, God alone, who is both just and merciful, chooses who will enter. As disciples, are we growing the kingdom by our words and actions? Do we reveal the kingdom daily by our example? Do we invite everyone to the kingdom without judgement or preference?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 July 2017: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 55:10-11  Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14  Rom 8:18-23  Mt 13:1-23

Disciples: seeds and sowers

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on Jesus’ parable of the sower.

In the first reading, Isaiah reminds the people of the creative power of God’s word. The prophet poetically compares the power of God’s rain and snow to the power of God’s word. Both change the world and enable humans to thrive; both return to God only after they fulfill their work. Christians hear this reading as a prefiguring of Jesus as God’s Word and the power of the parables to deliver God’s message (see today’s gospel).

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul describes the believing community waiting now in the hope of God’s coming glory (the parousia). Paul links the created world’s destiny to the future glory that belongs to the believing community. All creation shares now in the corruption Adam’s disobedience caused; in the future, it will share in redemption’s benefits and the glory that comes from God’s ultimate liberation (Rom 8:19-22). Believers enjoy the firstfruits (the Spirit) now as a guarantee of the future liberation of their bodies from the influence of the rebellious old self (Rom 8:23).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowds and the disciples the parable of the sower. A parable contains something that surprises the hearer to make him or her think. In this parable, the successful yield is the surprise: in Jesus’ time, a typical grain yield might be four- to eight-fold. A yield of thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold would astound Jesus’ hearers and lead them to wonder who the sower is and what kind of seed this could be.

  • The sower. Jesus’ audience would know that Hebrew scripture presents God as a sower (Is 55:10-11; Jer 31:27-28). They would hear the parable simply as a message of God’s care and abundance (see the first reading).
  • The seed. Those who really understand the parable–who have ears to hear–would perceive Jesus as offering God’s powerful and transforming word, and that God’s word requires their response. That is, the seed is really about becoming Jesus’ disciples. Jesus explains how people fail as disciples (they don’t understand the message, they are not committed, they give in to competing priorities). He also describes the results of successful disciples (increasing God’s kingdom by thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold).

Today’s readings ask the believing community to listen to God’s word. God’s word is the seed sown within us, full of power and potential to transform if we respond. We have many excuses about why we don’t allow God’s word in: it’s too hard, I’m distracted, I’m too busy. For those who hear God’s word and choose discipleship, God’s superabundance becomes evident in their lives. Like the sower in the parable, both Jesus and his disciples encounter failures and successes in their ministry, but ultimately success will outweigh the failures. As disciples, do we have ears to hear, or only excuses to offer? As disciples, what kind of soil do we provide for God’s seed?

—Terence Sherlock

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9 July 2017: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

 Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Zec 9:9-10  Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14  Rom 8:9, 11-13  Mt 11:25-30

Jesus’ invitation to everyone

Green_banner_sm In Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on Jesus and his invitation to come to him.

In the first reading, Zechariah describes a just and humble savior who arrives riding on a donkey (Gn 49:11; Jgs 5:10; 10:4). The evangelists (Mt 21:4-5; Jn 12:14-15) apply this prophecy to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel in which Jesus describes himself as “meek and humble of heart.”

In the second reading’s letter to the Romans, Paul uses a Jewish concept to describe the human condition. The Greek word σάρξ (SARKS), here translated as “flesh,” also means “the body” or “humanness” itself. Jewish people understood this word to mean “the whole human person.” In the same way, the Greek word πνεῦμα (pNYOO-mah) means both “spirit” as well as “God’s animating force that makes someone alive.” Paul, a Jew, understands that the body (σάρξ) is subject to sin and death, while the spirit (πνεῦμα) is our connection to God. To live only in the flesh or the body (σάρξ) is a death sentence; but to live in the spirit (πνεῦμα) supersedes death and gives us eternal life.

In the gospel, Matthew’s chapters 11 and 12 report the growing opposition to Jesus, focusing on disputes about faith and discipleship. Today’s reading from chapter 11 has two parts: Jesus’ relationship with his Father, and Jesus’ invitation to come to him.

  • Relationship of Father and Son. Jesus again describes his special relationship to the Father, and promises to share this relationship with everyone. The Father has hidden the kingdom’s revelation from the learned (the Pharisees) because they rejected Jesus’ teaching. The childlike (literally “infants”) hear Jesus’ message; Jesus reveals God’s kingdom to them. What the Father handed over to the Son, the Son reveals to those whom he wishes.
  • Invitation to discipleship. Jesus closes his teachings with a call for disciples. In Hebrew scripture and its rabbinic interpretation, a yoke is a metaphor for religious instruction. The Pharisees’ yoke consisted of 613 commandments. Jesus’ yoke consisted of his teachings and his way of life. In his invitation, Jesus emphasizes that discipleship is not effortless, but it is achievable. He promises that those who take on the work of bringing God’s kingdom will have rest.

Today’s readings ask the believing community to examine our discipleship. In baptism we accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Discipleship requires work; the disciple’s work is to bring God’s kingdom. Jesus teaches his disciples to bring God’s kingdom with humility. Have we learned the ways of God’s kingdom, or do we preach our own kingdom? Do we bring God’s kingdom to everyone through humble service to others, or do we bring our own kingdom to only the ones we choose?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 July 2017: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a Ps 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19 Rom 6:3-4, 8-11 Mt 10:37-42

Discipleship: challenges and consolations

Green_banner_sm In Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite us to reflect on discipleship’s demands and promises.

In the first reading from the second book of Kings, the prophet Elisha accepts the Shunammite woman’s hospitality. Jewish hearers understand Elisha’s need to reciprocate the woman’s hospitality, and see his action as serving God’s people. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that “one who receives a prophet earns a prophet’s reward.” Those who show hospitality to Jesus’ disciples will earn a greater reward.

In the second reading to the ekklesia at Rome, Paul reflects on the “already” and “not yet” meanings of baptism. In baptism disciples already participate in the death and new life given by God at Jesus’ resurrection. In baptism disciples have a promise–a “not yet” share–of eternal life: That is, Jesus’ work (his obedience in life and death; his glorification) is complete, but a disciple’s work continues. A disciple’s resurrection requires “living to God in Christ:” continuing obedience to God’s will and rejecting sin (hamartia).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus concludes his instructions to his disciples about their mission. In today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples how he will measure them, and how they will be rewarded.

Who is worthy? In Jesus’ time, family (and family loyalty) was the main impediment to discipleship. In a tribal culture, only family members could be trusted, and only the extended family could provide honor and status, as well as economic, religious, educational, and social connections needed to live. Jesus tells his first-century disciples they must place a relationship with him before their relationship with their families–a radical request.

In the twenty-first century, personal success at any cost is the main impediment to discipleship. In a culture that prizes individuals above community, an individual’s success defines worth and status. Jesus asks his twenty-first-century disciples to place their relationship with him before personal achievements–an equally radical request.

In all times, Jesus calls disciples to loyalty to his mission, to the cross’ death to self-interest, and to the daily work of losing one’s life by giving it away to others.

How are disciples rewarded? If the reward for hosting a prophet (see today’s first reading) or a righteous person is great, the reward for hospitality toward Jesus’ disciples is much greater. To receive a disciple is the same as receiving Jesus himself. In this life a disciple might expect hospitality (for example, a cold cup of water) as payment. The disciple’s full payment comes only in the eschatological feast in God’s kingdom. In the kingdom, disciples will receive Jesus’ own reward from the Father: eternal life.

As Jesus concludes his discipleship mission statement, he says clearly what he expects from those who would follow him: place Jesus and his message before everyone and everything else, put yourself and your concerns last, and spend your time and money on others first. This is what the believing community should look like. Do we measure up to Jesus’ requirements? Are we worthy to be called disciples?

—Terence Sherlock

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