Monthly Archives: October 2017

29 October 2017: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ex 22:20-26   Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51   1 Thes 1:5c-10   Mt 22:34-40

The greatest commandment

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 whom we love and serve.

In the first reading, the book of Exodus defines laws of social conduct. Semitic thought is concrete, and gives concrete directives and examples. Honoring God and creating personal holiness requires specific acts. The Torah often casts these acts in a social context, giving Judaism a bias toward social action. In the gospel, Jesus also emphasizes action: love.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue in their faith. When preaching to non-Jews, Paul begins from the faith they have received. Thessalonica was known as a city of cults. Based on Paul’s comment about “turning to God from idols” (1 Th 1:9) we can infer his community was primarily gentile. He praises them as “models for others who believe,” and “whose faith has gone forth.”

In Mathew’s gospel, the religious leaders continue their attacks on Jesus. In today’s conflict story, a Torah scholar tries to entrap Jesus.

  • The question. “Which commandment is the greatest in the law?” The Pharisees counted 613 commands (248 positive commands [“do’s”] and 365 negative commands [“don’ts”]) in the Torah. Torah scholars distinguished between great and small laws, and even the very great and very small commands. The scholar asks Jesus to name “the greatest of the greatest.” No matter what command Jesus cites, the Torah scholars will publicly argue against his choice, shaming him.
  • The answer. Rather than choose one commandment, Jesus quotes two well-known laws. But he connects the commands in a unique way–through the word love. The first command is from the Shema prayer (“Hear, O Israel,” Deut 6:4-5), recited twice daily by every Jew: You shall love the Lord your God. Jesus quotes a second command from Lev 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus notes that on these two commands of love hang the whole of the Law’s instruction and the Prophets’ teaching.

The greatness of Jesus’ teaching is not simply that he associates these two commands, but in the new dimension he gives to both by connecting them though the command to love. Each command requires the other: Without love of neighbor, love of God remains an empty emotion; without love of God, love of neighbor becomes a self-serving exercise in feeling good only about oneself.

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to live both commands of love. The Greek word ἀγαπάω (ah-gah-PAH-oh) means “to have a warm regard for and interest in another,” or “to love actively.” This love is not an emotion, but an action; this action must be lived through specific acts, as exemplified in the first reading. God’s command to protect the disenfranchised–the foreigner, the widow, the orphan–forms the basis for compassionate social justice. Jesus’ restatement of the law of love connects love of God with love of the neighbor. We can’t claim to love God unless we also care for the stranger, the oppressed, the ignored, and those without a voice. We believe God loves us. Whom do we love? How do we serve?

—Terence Sherlock

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22 October 2017: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 45:1, 4-6   Ps 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10   1 Thes 1:1-5b   Mt 22:15-21

Images and inscriptions of belonging

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 examine our attitudes about the things that belong to God.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah recounts how God acts to free the Jewish people from exile in Babylon. God uses the Persian king Cyrus, who conquered the Babylonians, to return the chosen people to their own land. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel to show how God directs human leaders and events to care those who belong to God.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue in their faith and, to answer their questions about the deaths of some believers. Although this letter is the earliest written document in Christian scripture (50-51 AD), it already articulates ideas that became standard Christianity. For example, within the first ten verses, Paul mentions God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and faith, hope, and love.

In Matthew’s gospel, the religious leaders begin their attacks on Jesus. This story is a conflict or controversy story, a common literary form used in New Testament times. It describes the interaction between a teacher and one or more opponents. It has the following structure:

  • The challenge. The Pharisees joined with the Herodians to pose a loaded question to Jesus: “Is it permissible to give the poll-tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus answers “yes,” he is no friend to the Jewish people who seek independence from Rome; he also implicitly denies that God is the only legitimate ruler of Judea. If Jesus answers “no,” he makes himself an enemy of the state. Either answer (or no answer) will shame Jesus, causing him to lose face with his supporters.
  • The response. Jesus knows his opponents’ malicious intent, and exposes their shameful behavior by calling the Pharisees “play-actors” or hypocrites. He then asks for the poll-tax coin. In first-century Jewish culture, religious leaders (Pharisees) would not have carried Roman coins. By quickly producing a Roman coin, they shame themselves by showing that they are not scrupulously observant. Jesus then asks: “Whose image? Whose inscription?” The image was the head of Tiberius Caesar. The inscriptions said “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus” and Pontifex maximus, meaning “high priest.” The human emperor’s overt claims of divinity and high priesthood would offend any observant Jew.
  • A saying. “Give the things of Caesar to Caesar and to God the things of God.” Jesus indicates that Jews (and disciples) can meet both their religious and political responsibilities. But he also subordinates Caesar’s claims to God’s claims. Caesar’s coin–with Caesar’s image on it–belongs to Caesar. But the human person–made in God’s image–belongs to God.

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on how God brings about the divine plan. God uses a non-Jew, Cyrus the Persian, to return God’s people from exile. Jesus reminds us that human leaders are about things, while God is about people. Too often political (and religious) leaders take the human personhood that belongs to God as their own right. We have a moral obligation to speak out and act against a Caesar who takes what belongs to God. To whom do we belong?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 October 2017: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 25:6-10a   Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6   Phil 4:12-14, 19-20   Mt 22:1-14

A king and his problem party guests

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 invite us to think about invitations, banquets, and worthiness.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah comforts the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Isaiah tells the captives that God has a plan to destroy Judah’s enemies and save God’s poor. God will then host a victory banquet for all in Jerusalem. This banquet is the eschatological (end-time) feast that represents God’s universal invitation to salvation. Christian hearers recognize in Isaiah’s prophecy Jesus’ description of God’s kingdom repeated in today’s gospel.

In the second reading’s letter to the Philippi believing community, Paul thanks the Philippians for their gifts and support while he is in prison. Paul prays that “God will supply whatever you need,” just as the Philippians have met Paul’s needs. His closing doxology (“to God be glory forever”) asks God’s blessing on the Philippians.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus directs another allegorical parable to the chief priests and elders, using elements from Isaiah’s banquet story (first reading). The allegory has the following parts:

  • The first parable/allegory (v 2-9). Hebrew scripture uses king as an image for God, and the wedding feast as an image of the end-time messianic banquet. In Matthew’s allegory, the invited ones are the Jewish religious leaders whom the prophets (the king’s slaves) invited to God’s kingdom. Some invitees shame the king by begging off with poor excuses not to attend, but other invitees challenge the king’s honor by killing his slaves. The shamed king responds in anger, saying that those who shamed him were not worthy of his feast. The king tells his slaves to go out into the public gathering places and invite whomever you find. In the allegory, these new invitees are from “all nations.”
  • The second parable/allegory (v 10-13). The slaves gathered everyone they found, both bad and good, and brought them to the feast. (Like the parable of the dragnet [Mt 13:47-48], the kingdom gathers together the good and the bad. Sorting comes later.) When the king reviews the invitees, he finds one not properly dressed for the feast. The king judges that invitee not worthy, and orders him bound and thrown out of the feast. The allegory’s outside darkness is a place outside God’s kingdom.
  • The saying/interpretation (v 14). “Many are called/invited, but few chosen/elected.” Matthew concludes the allegory by reminding his community that they have been called/invited in the place of the others, but if they fail to live up to the invitation (wear the wedding garment) they will face the same consequences as the religious leaders.

In today’s readings RCIA participants and the believing community are challenged to examine their invitation and response to the banquet. Salvation requires more than accepting the invitation. We must also be worthily dressed to be among the chosen. That is, faith brings our invitation, but we must show continued righteousness as well. Jesus defines such righteousness in his sermon on the mount and other teachings. Do we think baptism alone will get us into God’s eschatological feast? Do we wear our garment–our words and actions–daily? Would the king judge us worthy of his son’s feast?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 October 2017: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 5:1-7   Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20   Phil 4:6-9   Mt 21:33-43

 

A vineyard owner and his problem tenants

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 invite us to think about the responsibilities of stewardship.

In the first reading, Isaiah tells an allegorical story about a vineyard owner. Although he carefully develops his vineyard and plants good grapes, only wild grapes grow. Because his grapes fail, the owner chooses to tear down his vineyard. Isaiah explains the owner is God, and the grapes are the people of Judah. God will punish the people because they failed in their stewardship to keep God’s covenant. Jesus tells a similar allegorical parable in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul concludes his letter to the Philippi ekklesia. Many scripture scholars believe this letter is a composite of two or three letters. If so, v 6-7 end one letter and v 8-9 end a different letter. Paul closes the first letter with a request that the Philippians not to be anxious, but rather to bring their requests to God in prayer. Paul closes the other letter with an exhortation that the Philippians model their lives on Christ as Paul does, referencing Christ’s example from last week’s christological hymn (Phil 2:6-11).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus directs an allegorical parable to the chief priests and elders, using elements from Isaiah’s vineyard parable (first reading). The story has the following parts:

  • The parable/allegory. Echoing Isaiah’s parable, Jesus describes a landowner (God) who creates a vineyard (the chosen people). In Jesus’ story, the owner leases the vineyard to tenants (the religious leaders). At the harvest, the owner sends his servants (the prophets) to collect his share. The tenants beat, kill, and stone his servants. The owner responds by sending more servants; the tenants treat these servants in the same way. Finally the owner sends his son (Jesus), whom the tenants throw out of the vineyard and kill.
  • Jesus’ question and the religious leaders’ answer. Jesus ends his parable by asking the chief priests and elders, “What do you think the owner will do to the tenants?” The religious leaders implicate themselves when they answer: “He’ll kill the evil tenants and lease the vineyard to others who will produce fruit.” Jesus presses his point by quoting Ps 118 about the stone (Jesus) rejected by the builders (the religious authorities) becoming the cornerstone or capstone (his resurrection).
  • Jesus’ interpretation. In case the religious leaders didn’t understand the allegory, Jesus tells them bluntly that God’s kingdom will be taken from them and given to people (more faithful stewards) who will produce fruit.

RCIA participants and the believing community are challenged in today’s readings to consider their stewardship. Although we may not think of ourselves as religious leaders, we have stewardship responsibilities to ourselves, our children, our spouses, our neighbors, and our world. We are responsible for hearing and acting on God’s instructions and remaining in covenant with God, and bringing others into loving relationships. Are we faithful tenants and stewards? Do we listen when God speaks to us through Word and sacrament? Do we act out of love for God and our neighbor?

—Terence Sherlock

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