Monthly Archives: August 2017

27 August 2017: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 22:19-23  Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8  Rom 11:33-36  Mt 16:13-20

Who are you?

Green_banner_smDuring 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 describe Simon-Peter’s special role in the believing community.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah recounts the events of 701BC, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib devastated Judah, forcing King Hezekiah to surrender. Through God’s action, Eliakim became master of King Hezekiah’s palace. The master of the palace carried the door keys on a cord that hung from his shoulder. The keys symbolized his authority to admit or to deny anyone access to the king. Just as God gave Eliakim the palace keys, Jesus gives Simon-Peter the keys to God’s kingdom.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 9 through 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel. Today’s reading concludes Paul’s meditation on Israel’s place in salvation history. Both the Jews who rejected Jesus and the gentiles who rejected God’s law have nonetheless received God’s gift of faith. Paul ends with a doxology praising the depths of the riches and wisdom of God.

In Matthew’s gospel Simon-Peter reveals Jesus’ identity, and Jesus tells Simon-Peter who he will become.

  • Who is Jesus? Simon-Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God.”

First, Simon-Peter calls Jesus “the Christ.” The Greek word χριστός (kris-TOS) means “anointed one” or “Christ,” and is equivalent to the Hebrew word messiah. Simon-Peter tells Jesus that he and the disciples believe he is the long-promised fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

Then Simon-Peter calls Jesus “son of God.” The anointed kings of David’s line were called God’s sons (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). “Son of God” here means “the messiah of Israel.” But Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ sonship is different–unique (Mt 11:27) and transcendent (Mt 3:17).

  • Who is Simon-Peter? Jesus now returns the favor by telling Simon-Peter who he is:

First, Jesus gives Simon a new name: Peter, which means “the Rock” (in Aramaic, Kephas; in Greek, Petros). Jesus renames Simon because Simon is to be the solid foundation of rock (in Aramaic, kephas; in Greek, petra) on which Jesus’ believing community (ekklesia, or church) will be built.

Next, Jesus promises the Rock that even the “gates of the netherworld” won’t overpower this ekklesia. In Jewish thought, the gates of the netherworld opened into Sheol or the Pit, which held not only the souls of the dead but also the powers or spirits that brought death and deception to the living.

Finally, Jesus invests the Rock with the keys to God’s kingdom, like Eliakim in the first reading (Is 22:22). Jesus gives the Rock and his successors authority to forgive sins (“bind and loose”), continuing Jesus’ mission of reconciling humans with the Father.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider who we are. Paul reminds the Romans that everyone has a role in salvation history. Eliakim was surprised to be made master of the palace; we can be sure that Simon-The Rock was also surprised when Jesus revealed his future role in the believing community. God gives each of us keys, such as understanding, knowledge, authority, and patience. Do we recognize who we are and accept the keys we’re given? Do we use our keys to open doors for others? Or do we choose to lock others out?

—Terence Sherlock


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20 August 2017: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 56:1, 6-7  Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8  Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 Mt 15:21-28

How faith brings God’s 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 the faith that supports our discipleship.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah challenges the Jews returning from exile in Babylon. The prophet exhorts them to recognize that gentiles who keep the covenant and keep sabbath are part of Israel’s covenant community. Isaiah’s challenge finds a parallel in today’s gospel, where Jesus recognizes and rewards a gentile woman’s faith.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In Romans chapters 9 through 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel. Through Christ, God offers salvation to Jews and gentiles. Paul recognizes that the Jewish rejection of Jesus paved the way for his preaching to the gentiles. He believes that after all gentile nations hear the gospel, Israel as a whole will embrace it. This will be tantamount to resurrection of the dead; that is, Jesus’ parousia will join all believers–gentiles and Jews–at the end of time.

Matthew’s gospel presents a miracle story, but the healing itself is less important than how the Canaanite woman shows her faith.

  • The setting. Jesus and his disciples leave Gennesaret in Galilee and travel west toward the Mediterranean coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, in the Roman province of Syro-Phoenicia, a gentile area.
  • The conflict. A gentile Canaanite woman, familiar with Jesus’ miracles, approaches him. Using a polite request formula (“have mercy”), she asks him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus doesn’t respond. For the woman, Jesus’ silence is a test. For his disciples, Jesus’ silence becomes a teaching about their own faith and discipleship.

    When Jesus finally addresses the woman directly, he uses a parable about “throwing the children’s bread to little dogs.” In calling her a “little dog”–a common Jewish insult for gentiles–Jesus again tests her resolve. The woman ignores Jesus’ insult. She instead turns the insult about “little dogs” to focus on “little bread crumbs.” She again asks Jesus if the Jewish son of David has one small healing to grant to a gentile.
  • The resolution and meaning. Jesus acknowledges the woman’s “great faith.” The woman finds that God’s compassion is available to all. The disciples learn that faith is not limited to one group. Jesus closes with the divine passive (“let it be done”), showing that it is God who acts on the woman’s faith to heal her daughter.

This week’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our faith. Isaiah makes it clear that faithfulness to God’s law, not ethnicity, determines the people of God. Paul looks for Jesus’ return to bring all people of faith together. Jesus praises the gentile woman’s great faith. Matthew included the Canaanite woman’s story in his gospel to remind his own divided community how far they were from realizing God’s kingdom. We, too, live in divided times. Does our faith bring justice to challenge exclusion? Is our faith great enough to see past a divided world to bring the kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 August 2017: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a  Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14  Rom 9:1-5  Mt 14:22-33

Getting in over our heads

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 power and our discipleship.

The first reading from the first Book of Kings recounts Elijah’s personal encounter with God. While living in self-imposed exile on Mt Horeb for killing Baal’s prophets, Elijah encounters God. Hebrew scripture often portrays God as a God of power and might. But Elijah encounters God not in power (wind, earthquake, fire), but rather “the thinnest stillness.” In a similar way, Jesus reveals himself to the disciples in today’s gospel not in power, but in a personal encounter.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In Romans chapters 9 through 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel. Through Christ, God offers salvation to Jews and to all people. Although Paul sees Israel rejecting Christ now, he believes that God may still bring the people of the promises and covenants to salvation.

Matthew’s gospel presents a miracle story in two parts: Jesus walks on water to meet his disciples, and Jesus rescues an over-excited Peter from drowning.

  • Walking on water. The disciples mistake Jesus for a ghost. The Greek word φάντασμα (FAHN-tahs-mah) means “ghost” or more likely “spirit.” People of the ancient world saw the world as full of good and bad spirits who could help or hurt humans. First-century Jews recognized God as the most powerful spirit with authority over all other spirits. Jesus demonstrated his power over natural events (Mt 8:23-27) and other spirits (Mt 8:16). The disciples, familiar with scripture telling of God’s control over the chaotic waters (Ps 65:8; 89:10; 93:3-4; 107:29), would see Jesus walking on water as proof of his divine power.
  • Saving Peter. When he impetuously jumps out of the boat, Peter sees the wind and becomes afraid that the wind spirit’s power might be stronger than Jesus’ power. Jesus stretches out his hand and takes hold of Peter, saving him. When Jesus and Peter climb into the boat, the wind ceases. Jesus does what God did: he treads on the waters of the sea, he stills storms and quiets waves, nut most importantly, he reaches out to save those in danger (Pss 18:17; 144:7). The disciples, familiar with Hebrew scripture, would recognize that Jesus acts as only God can act. Their realization that Jesus is God’s son naturally follows.

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider God’s power. In Elijah’s story, God reveals power through stillness and silence. In Peter’s story, Jesus reveals power by saving Peter. Like Peter, sometimes we get in over our heads. God, in a personal encounter with us, takes hold of us in our failures and strengthens our faith. This is how we grow in Christian maturity and discipleship. What kind of power do we worship? What kind of power does God reveal to us? Can we recognize God’s extended hand when we’re sinking?

—Terence Sherlock

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6 August 2017: Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Dn 7:9-10, 13-14  Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9  2 Pt 1:16-19  Mt 17:1-9

Transfiguration: changing our view of ourselves and others

White_gold_banner_sm This week we interrupt Ordinary time readings to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. In Lent the Transfiguration readings foreshadow Jesus’ coming glory at Easter; today’s readings emphasize Jesus’ glory at his second coming (parousia).

In the first reading the prophet Daniel describes his eschatological, or end-time, vision. For Jewish hearers, Daniel offers the consolation that God will bring about their victory over their oppressors. Christian hearers recognize Daniel’s promised “son of man” as Jesus, who will fully establish God’s kingdom when he returns. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with the gospel because of its parallels to the Transfiguration, including brightness (Mt 17:2), the clouds (Mt 17:5), and Jesus’ self-identification as “the son of man” (Mt 17:9).

In the second reading the author of 2 Peter gives his final message and advice. Scripture scholars place this letter’s composition around 135AD, making it the last written text of the canonical Christian scriptures. The author assures his hearers that Peter’s apostolic message is reliable because he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ glory (the Transfiguration) and he received the prophetic message (Jesus’ teachings). The author documents Peter’s experience to preserve the historical facts about Jesus’ life and teachings, and to capture the truths of the faith until Jesus returns.

In the gospel, Matthew describes Jesus’ physical transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration story is full of scriptural references:

  • The mountain. In Hebrew scripture, God always appears to humans on a mountain (for example: Abraham, Gn 22; Moses, Ex 3; Elijah, 1Kgs 19). By placing Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain, Matthew is telling us that Peter, James, and John are about to encounter God.
  • Moses and Elijah. In Hebrew scripture, Moses, who received the commandments from God (Ex 19), represents the Law; and Elijah, one of Israel’s great prophets, represents all the prophets. First-century Jewish tradition stated that both Moses and Elijah would return to announce and to welcome the messiah and God’s kingdom. By placing Moses and Elijah on the mountain in conversation with Jesus; Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, he is the messiah, and God’s kingdom is near.
  • The cloud. In Hebrew scripture, a cloud indicates God’s presence among the people (for example, the pillar of cloud, Ex 13:21-22; surrounding the ark, Ex 4-:34-36; filling the Temple, Is 6:4). By surrounding Peter, James, and John with a cloud, Matthew is telling us that they will experience God’s presence.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on the Transfiguration as a glimpse of future resurrection and parousia. But the Transfiguration has a message for us right now. Every day we see other people transfigured, and we ourselves are transfigured. We encounter someone whose words or actions make us see them differently. Or we have our own “mountaintop experience” that transforms our understanding of ourselves or our world. The Transfiguration did not permanently change Jesus, but it did permanently change Peter, James, and John. Are we open to God’s presence and the change it brings? Do everyday transfigurations transform our relationship with God and others? Is God well pleased with our words and actions?

—Terence Sherlock

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