Monthly Archives: September 2017

1 October 2017: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ez 18:25-28   Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14   Phil 2:1-11   Mt 21:28-32

A father and his problem children

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 ask us what it takes to change our minds.

In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel emphasizes individual responsibility and accountability for our actions. Those who turn away from lawlessness and turn toward good will live; those who do not turn back from lawlessness will suffer eternal death. Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel teaches that God’s invitation requires a response, and that each is accountable for his or her choice and its consequences.

In the second reading Paul writes to the Philippi ekklesia to encourage them to stand firm in one spirit and to model their behavior on Christ’s life. He quotes from an early liturgical hymn: Christ humbled himself, emptying out his divinity to become fully human. He was obedient to God’s saving mission, even to his death. God exalted Christ, proclaiming him messiah and Lord. Paul suggests that the Philippians humbly love one another, empty their own interests, and embrace Christ’s obedience.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus directs a parable to the chief priests and elders about a man who asks his two problem children to work in the family vineyard.

  • The first child. The first child says “no,” but, later, regrets his answer and goes to the vineyard. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised by the first child’s no response. Children were culturally and religiously expected to honor parents by complying with their requests. Jesus tells us that “afterwards” or “later” the first child “changed his mind.” Matthew uses the Greek word μεταμέλλομαι (meh-tah-MEHL-loh-mah-ee), which means “to regret” or “to wish a choice could be undone.” Realizing his answer was wrong, the first child acts to correct it.
  • The second child. The second child says “yes, sir” but does not go. Jesus’ hearers would have been even more surprised by the second child’s action (or inaction). Although the second child’s yes would have restored the hearers’ religious and cultural expectations, his inaction undermines their expectations. Although this child respectfully addresses his father as “sir,” he willfully ignores his duties: “he did not go.”
  • Which one did the father’s will? The religious leaders answer “the first child.” By their answer, the religious leaders condemn themselves. Jesus constructs the parable using the religious leaders’ own language (the “vineyard” as the people of Israel) and metaphors (God as “father,” Israel as “children of God”). The religious leaders admit that they have failed to work in the vineyard. John’s preaching had given them time to change their minds, but they refused. The tax collectors and prostitutes who have changed their minds enter the kingdom, while the religious leaders do not.

RCIA participants and the believing community find hope in today’s readings. Ezekiel proclaims God’s desire that we turn away from evil and turn back to God’s ways. Jesus’ parable teaches that wrong choices are not permanent. Anyone can change his mind, do what is right, and enter God’s kingdom. Redemption is available to all. What keeps us from working in the vineyard? Pride? Anger? Fear? Human respect? What keeps us from changing our minds?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 September 2017: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 55:6-9   Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18   Phil 1:20c-24, 27a   Mt 20:1-16a

God’s abundant generosity and our response

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 ask us to think about God’s generosity to us and others.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s mercy motivates all to “seek the Lord.” “God’s ways” remain a mystery to humans. God’s mercy, generosity, and kindness cannot be understood by humans. Jesus brings out this idea in greater detail in today’s parable.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Philippi ekklesia while he is in prison in Ephesus in 56 AD. His imprisonment probably causes him to reflect on his own life and death. Whether he lives or dies, Paul will magnify Christ through his own body. He urges the Philippians also to “live lives worth of Christ’s gospel.”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a generous house-master. Not all the workers agree with the owner’s actions:

  • The conflict. The first-hired workers believe the owner should compensate them more than their agreed-on full-day wage. Their argument ignores the “fair wage” agreement they made in concert with the owner, and they insist the owner is shaming them by making them equal to the eleventh-hour workers.
  • The resolution. The owner replies that he is acting neither unjustly nor dishonorably. He reminds the workers that they and he agreed together on the fair wage at the start of the day.
  • The owner’s question. The parable ends abruptly with the owner asking the first-hired workers: Are you envious because I am generous? In the Greek text, the owner says these workers have the “evil eye.” The Semitic idiom evil eye describes someone who is envious, holds a grudge, is mean-spirited, or ungenerous (see Deut 15:9; Pv 28:22; Sir 14:8; Mt 6:23). Because the last-hired workers receive an unearned and undeserved gift from the owner, the first-hired workers are offended. They see the owner’s unwarranted generosity as an injustice–“we should get more than them!”

    The owner points out that the injustice lies with the murmuring workers’ envy. Envy–being angry at another’s good fortune–is from the devil (Wis 2:24). Jesus’ parable asks his hearers to decide if the owner is fair or generous, or both, or neither. That is, the hearers must examine their own reaction to the owner’s choice.

Today’s readings present RCIA participants and the believing community with a thought problem. Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus’ parable shows us that the kingdom is about God’s abundant generosity. Wouldn’t life be great if we all worked for a generous owner? Yet we are filled with righteous indignation and complain about God’s goodness to others. We want God to be generous with others, but more generous with us. We fear God’s abundant generosity because we can’t understand it. Are we afraid there’s not enough for everyone? Can we let go of our envy of those to whom God is generous? Can we recognize the unearned and undeserved gifts that God has given us?

—Terence Sherlock

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17 September 2017: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Sir 27:30-28:7   Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12   Rom 14:7-9   Mt 18:21-35

Forgiving others as God forgives us

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 ask us to think about whom and how we forgive.

In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach contemplates how betrayal of confidence destroys friendship and does irreparable harm. God grants the malicious and vengeful person mercy and forgiveness only after that person first forgives his neighbor. Wisdom literature reminds its hearers that God’s commands inform moral choices and actions. Jesus takes up God’s command to forgive in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul continues his letter to the Romans. He reminds the Roman ekklesia that no matter how each Christian lives, he or she lives for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord; Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.

In the gospel, Matthew concludes his “sermon on the church.” Jesus teaches the disciples about forgiveness. He answers Peter’s question, tells a parable, and sums up the lesson with a saying:

  • Peter’s question. After Jesus’ instructions about ministering to those who hurt the community, Peter asks a follow-up question. How forgiving does the ekklesia need to be? Should we be generous and forgive people seven times? No, Jesus says, you must forgive seventy times seven–that is, an unlimited number of times.
  • A parable. Jesus’ parable is about a master’s abundant forgiveness and a slave’s stinginess. Although the slave owes the master over $152 million (in today’s US dollars), the master forgives the slave’s debt and releases him and his family from their obligation. Unfortunately, the slave doesn’t forgive his fellow-slave’s $5 debt to him. The scale of what the slave owes his master indicates the slave’s dire position and the master’s abundant mercy. Jesus compares our debt to God (and God’s forgiveness of us) with our debts to each other (and our own generosity, or lack of generosity with each other).
  • A summary saying. Jesus draw a connection between forgiveness and resentment: we cannot forgive someone unless we forgive that person “from the heart;” that is, we must release our resentment toward the person as well as forgive the person. This is how God forgives us.

Today’s readings challenge each of us to examine how and whom we forgive. Both Sirach and Jesus tell us that our forgiveness of each other must imitate God’s unlimited forgiveness. In his “sermon on the church,” Matthew notes that such forgiveness extends to tax collectors and gentiles–those outside the believing community. Finally, Jesus teaches that forgiving words aren’t enough: we must forgive “from the heart” as well. Many people turn away from the ekklesia because they do not find forgiveness among its members. Our challenge as a believing community’s is to keep Jesus’ forgiving spirit alive instead of simply memorializing his sayings. Do we recognize God’s abundant forgiveness in our own lives, especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist? Do we witness to God’s presence in our lives by readily offering extravagant mercy and abundant forgiveness to others? Do we forgive from our hearts, or only with our words?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 September 2017: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Ez 33:7-9  Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9  Rom 13:8-10  Mt 18:15-20

The believing community: love, loss, prayer, change

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 describe the believing community’s responsibilities to its members.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel shifts the prophet’s role from addressing the people of Israel to addressing the individual within the community. The prophet’s task is to warn, and the individual’s responsibility is to hear and respond. In today’s gospel, Jesus describes the believing community’s role of warning members who bring harm to the ekklesia.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In this section, Paul comes close to Jesus’ interpretation of the law of love (Mt 22:38-40). He says the law of love supersedes all other laws, Mosaic and civil, because when love is the basis for moral decisions, the goals of all laws–protection of familial relationships, life, and security–are met and safeguarded. This law of love underlies the gospel’s fraternal correction.

Matthew’s gospel is from the “sermon on the church” section. Jesus addresses the believing community’s responsibility to care for its members, even those who offend or hurt the community. He instructs disciples as follows:

  • The teaching’s context. Throughout Chapter 18, Matthew presents Jesus’ teachings for and about the ekklesia. Jesus first resolves the disciples’ dispute about who is the greatest among them (v 1-5); warns about temptation (v 6-9); tells of God’s interest in and mercy for the lost (v 12-14); instructs how to manage loss within the community (v 15-20); and finally, teaches about forgiveness (v 21-35). Within this context, fraternal correction is a loving, pastoral action that preserves the ekklesia‘s unity.
  • The need for correction. Jesus teaches the disciples how to correct someone whose actions offend or harm the community while he or she remains part of the community. First, address the person’s behavior in private. If private correction fails, address the person’s behavior in the presence of two or three witnesses. If this correction fails, bring the matter to the local believing community. If ekklesia correction fails, as a last resort, expel the offender from the believing community to avoid further damage to the community.
  • The need for continued community. Jesus’ call for fraternal correction follows the parable of the lost sheep (v 12-14). Jesus reminds his disciples that they must also pray for the offender’s metanoia (change of mind/heart) because each one is important to God. Jesus ends today’s teaching ends with a description of God’s response to prayer. Jesus promises to be in the midst of any gathering of his disciples, however small. Jesus’ presence within the praying community adds to the efficacy of the ekklesia‘s prayer to the Father.

Although founded by Jesus and guided by the Spirit, the believing community is made of redeemed but imperfect humans. All get lost sometimes. All fail to love perfectly; there are times when our unloving behavior hurts others. The believing community offers forgiveness and support always to those who “miss the mark.” Do we easily correct others without first examining our own actions? Do we have the humility to hear the request to change our own hearts/minds? Do we pray for metanoia, especially our own?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 September 2017: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Jer 20:7-9  Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9  Rom 12:1-2  Mt 16:21-27

Discipleship: disowning self, owning a cross, following after

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 discipleship’s requirements and paradox.

The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah articulates the role and fate of the prophet. A prophet speaks for God, delivering God’s message to kings and to common people. Unfortunately, speaking God’s word results in rejection, persecution, and martyrdom. Jesus takes up this theme in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 12 and 13, Paul explains how Christians should live in response to the mercy of God. He begins by comparing the Mosaic law’s ritual sacrifices with the believing community’s offering of themselves as a “living sacrifice.” Their lives should emulate Christ’s own sacrificial life, using the gifts God has given in service to others. Later in the letter, Paul provides specific examples of how to live out a life of sacrifice.

Matthew’s gospel signals a change in Jesus’ ministry: it marks the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the start of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem. Last week, Peter named Jesus as the messiah. Now Jesus reveals what his messiahship means, and what that means for his disciples:

  • Jesus defines messiahship. Jesus reveals to his disciples his messianic mission, known only to the Father and Jesus. The “elders, chief-priests, and scribes” will reject Jesus’ message, and their actions will result in his suffering and death. Although Jesus tells his disciples he will be raised, they miss this hope-filled part of his message.

    Peter, shocked by Jesus’ revelation, still wants a messiah who conquers and reigns. In Peter’s words, Jesus recognizes an echo of Satan’s temptations in the desert (Mt 4:8-10): be the people’s messiah, rather than God’s messiah. We see the conflict between last week’s inspired Peter who recognized Jesus as messiah, and this week’s human Peter who can’t hear the divine meaning of messiahship.
  • Jesus defines discipleship. Jesus is very clear about the cost of following him.

    First, a disciple must disown him- or herself. That is, a disciple places others before him- or herself.

    Next, a disciple takes up his or her cross. This image doesn’t affect us today, because state executions are private. But most first-century hearers would have actually seen prisoners being led through town, already tied to the crossbeams on which they would be crucified.

    Finally, after presenting discipleship as rejection and death, Jesus invites his hearers to walk the road with him.

    But discipleship isn’t all bad: Jesus closes his teaching by connecting discipleship with God’s coming kingdom. At the parousia, God’s agent (the son of man) will judge each person based on his or her actions or deeds. Disciples will be awarded eternal life in the kingdom; those who rejected discipleship will forfeit their eternal souls.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider his or her own discipleship. Discipleship requires that we speak God’s truth to a world interested only in its own messages. The ones who most need our help reject us. Crosses come in many forms: exclusion, illness, loneliness. And yet we are called to follow, because to live this way is to bring God’s kingdom for others and for us. Discipleship remains always our choice. Whose truth do we choose to speak? Whose path do we choose to follow? Whose kingdom do we choose to build up? Whose life do we choose to save?

—Terence Sherlock

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