Monthly Archives: April 2018

29 April 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 9:26-31   Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32   1 Jn 3:18-24   Jn 15:1-8

Disciples, connected or kindling

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on a disciple’s role in continuing Jesus’ mission.

The first reading is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. For the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing about Peter and his role in the believing community. In today’s reading, we begin to hear about the ekklesia‘s other hero, Paul. Luke introduces Paul at Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:58). Paul persecutes the believing community in Jerusalem, and plans to expand his persecution into Damascus. While traveling to Damascus, Paul encounters the risen Jesus and becomes a disciple. Preaching about Jesus in Damascus, he is nearly killed by angry synagogue members. Paul escapes to Jerusalem, where he meets with Jesus’ disciples for the first time. Paul himself describes this journey to discipleship in Gal 1:13-24.

The second reading continues from John the Elder’s letter. John the Elder sums up how to live a Christian life: If we believe in Jesus’ name (have faith) and we love one another (show works), we remain-in-relationship (abide) with God, and God remains-in-relationship (abides) with us. Today’s gospel gives us Jesus’ own teaching about abiding with him.

In John’s gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the true vine. Jesus repeats twice that he is the vine. Each time, he describes different and unique aspects of his relationship to disciples:

  • The metaphor of the vine and branches (vv 1-5a). Jesus reveals that he is the Father’s true or authentic vine. Hebrew scripture identifies God as the vineyard owner and the people as God’s plantings (Is 27: 2-6, Jer 2:21; Ps 80; Ex 19:10-14). Jesus extends the metaphor, telling us that he (vine) and his disciples (branches) replace the people of Israel as God’s authentic vine. God carefully tends the branches, cutting away what’s dead and pruning what remains to increase its yield (fruit). Jesus tells his disciples that, because they have listened to his word (which reveals the Father), they have been pruned and are bearing fruit.
  • What happens to branches and to disciples (vv 5b-8). Jesus extends the metaphor again to include the relationship between the vine and its branches. The Greek verb μένω (MEHN-oh) emphasizes a relationship: “remaining in relationship” or “continuing in association.” Only by remaining continuously connected to the vine can a branch live and produce fruit. A disciple who breaks his or her relationship with Jesus and leaves the community stops producing spiritual fruit and becomes spiritually dead. A disciple who remains-in-relationship with Jesus (has faith) bears fruit (works). The disciple’s works (words and actions) show that he or she remains-in-relationship (abides) with Jesus.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks to give us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings invite us to examine our discipleship. A true disciple remains continuously connected to Jesus, the true vine. A true disciple bears fruit. In this continuing relationship, Jesus and the disciple continue Jesus’ saving mission: to reveal the Father’s love through continuing acts of love. How is our relationship with Jesus? Are we alive, fruitful, and loving? Or are we deadwood and kindling for the fireplace?

—Terence Sherlock

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22 April 2018: Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 4:8-12   Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29   1 Jn 3:1-2   Jn 10:11-18

Shepherds, true and false

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on authority and relationships.

The first reading is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Continuing from last week’s reading, Peter heals a crippled beggar. The Temple authorities arrest Peter and John for the healing and for teaching about Jesus, and demand to know by whose authority they act. Peter answers that they act in Jesus’ name–the only name that grants salvation. Peter implicitly questions the Sanhedrin’s own authority: the Sanhedrin rejected Jesus, yet God raised Jesus from the dead. How is the Sanhedrin’s authority greater than God’s? Jesus addresses the question of leadership in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues from John the Elder’s letter. For John, the Father’s gift of the Son is the greatest sign of God’s love. Baptism makes believers true children of God. This relationship is both a present reality (we are adopted children of God; therefore, we are all siblings) and also part of the life to come (only at Jesus’ return will we gain true knowledge of God). Jesus addresses these relationships in today’s gospel.

In John’s gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus continues the teachings he started in Jn 9, criticizing the Jewish leaders who do not act on their God-given responsibilities to care for God’s people. Jesus repeats twice that he is the good shepherd. Each time, he describes different and unique aspects of his shepherding:

  • The good shepherd contrasted with the hireling (Jn 10:11-13). Jesus contrasts the Good Shepherd’s actions with the hired hand’s behavior. The Greek verb μέλω (MEHL-oh) means “to care (for)” or “to be concerned about,” and denotes a relationship between two people. The good shepherd’s concern for the sheep means that he will give his life for them; the hired worker worries only about himself and preserving his own life.
  • The good shepherd’s relationship with the sheep and the Father (Jn 10: 14-18). Jesus now shifts from others’ relationship with the sheep to his own relationship with the sheep, a relationship rooted in knowing each sheep. The Greek verb γινώσκω (gih-NOH-skoh) means “to know,” “to recognize,” and “to comprehend,” suggesting an intimate, personal relationship. The relationship between the shepherd and sheep is a further expression of the preexisting relationship between the Father and the Son. The knowledge and oneness that the Father and Son share leads logically to the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks to give us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings invite us to consider relationships and authority. Some believe that authority alone makes them leaders. Jesus tells us that relationship must precede leadership. Authority without relationship allows leaders to save themselves without concern for the people they lead. The true or good shepherd has a relationship first, based on knowing what each person needs, connected to the Father’s love. Are we happy with unconcerned leaders? Or do we want the care and concern only the authentic shepherd offers? Can we hear the true shepherd’s voice calling us by name?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 April 2018: Third Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 3:13-15, 17-19   Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9   1 Jn 2:1-5a   Lk 24:35-48

Being present to Jesus’ presence

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan and his continuing presence with his disciples.

The first reading is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. In the Temple, Peter and John encounter a crippled beggar, whom Peter heals. A crowd gathers. Peter preaches to the crowd, describing and interpreting Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection: Jesus was the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures; he suffered, died, and was raised (“glorified”); his death resulted in forgiveness of sin; believing in Jesus’ name leads to forgiveness of personal sin.

The second reading is from John the Elder’s first letter. Reacting to false teachings in the Johannine community, the author reiterates apostolic teachings about Jesus: Jesus is the “righteous one” who acts as our “intercessor” with the Father and who has “expiated” the sins of the whole world. God’s love is perfected in those who truly know God by keeping God’s commands.

Luke’s gospel describes the disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus. The disciples recognize Jesus, but know that he is different. Jesus explains how he is now present to them, and how he will continue to remain present with them:

  • Jesus is now physically present to his disciples. As he does in John’s gospel (Jn 20:27), Jesus invites his disciples to touch him to prove his physical reality (“he is not a spirit”). Jesus confirms he is a physical being with flesh and bones. The Hebrew idiom “flesh and bones” (see Gn 2:23) suggest not only humanity, but shared humanity (as with kin relations). Jesus shows his disciples he is physically the same person they knew. Yet, still the disciples do not believe Jesus is with them. Luke suggests that facts alone or experience alone cannot bring people to faith; people also require the interpretive word.
  • After his ascension, Jesus will be present to his disciples in a new way. Jesus explains to his disciples all his prophecies about his passion, death, and resurrection, and how his words are now fulfilled. Jesus also shows how God’s plan, foretold in Hebrew scripture from the beginning (Law), by the prophets and though the writings (psalms), has been brought to fulfillment in him. Through Jesus’ interpretive words, Luke explains how Jesus remains present to his disciples in a new way. When disciples speak Jesus’ words or hear Jesus’ words spoken, Jesus is present with them. When disciples act as Jesus acted or remember what Jesus did, Jesus is present with them. Recalling and repeating Jesus’ words and actions within the framework of his fulfilled prophecies become the basis for Jesus’ sacramental presence with us.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks to give us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. Jesus remains present to the believing community both physically and in a new reality. Jesus is physically present to us in his words and in the signs of shared experiences, such as meals (eucharist), incorporation (baptism), healing (reconciliation, anointing the sick), and so on. Jesus is also present in a new way in the words and actions of the Spirit-led community itself, when the community recalls Jesus words together and remembers and reenacts his service to one another. Jesus is present to us; are we present to him in his words and in his believing community?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 April 2018: Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 4:32-35   Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24   1 Jn 5:1-6   Jn 20:19-31

I believe because…

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on the resurrection’s meaning to individuals, to the disciples, and to the believing community.

The first reading is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Throughout the Easter season, a reading from Acts replaces the usual Hebrew scripture reading. Today’s selection gives an idealized picture of the Jerusalem community, describing the apostles’ power in witnessing to the resurrection and how the community shared and distributed its material resources. Luke places the apostles at the center of the ekklesia‘s life, both preaching the resurrection and caring for the believing community. That there are no needy among them is a sign of God’s favor bestowed to the ekklesia.

The second reading is from the first letter from John the Elder. The reading’s themes include baptism and baptismal rebirth. John circles around the idea of those begotten by God. Those who believe in Jesus, who believe he is God’s Son, and believe he reveals the Father are begotten by God. Their faith leads to baptism, which is a commitment to metanoia–changing one’s mind and heart. Believing in Jesus, then, leads to victory over the world. Jesus, who passed through water (baptism) and blood (death), makes our victory (eternal life, a share in his resurrection) possible.

John’s gospel presents two post-resurrection appearances: the first without Thomas, and the second that includes Thomas. John’s appearance stories describe different journeys to faith:

  • The disciples come to faith in Jesus. Although Mary, Peter, and the beloved disciple tell the other disciples about seeing the empty tomb, the disciples do not believe and remain fearful (“the doors were locked.”) Jesus appears to them, but they hesitate. They recognize him and rejoice only after they see his marks of crucifixion (“showed them his hands and side.”) When the disciples come to believe, Jesus commissions them (“I send you”) to spread his teaching. As he promised, he sends the Paraclete (“breathed on them”) to guide and to teach them.
  • Thomas comes to faith in Jesus. Although all the other disciples tell Thomas about seeing the resurrected Jesus (“we have seen the Lord!”), their testimony fails to bring Thomas to faith. Thomas places his own conditions on faith (“to see and touch.”) When Jesus appears eight days later, he grants Thomas’ conditions “to see and touch,” but Jesus also asks Thomas to go beyond his unbelieving to believing. Without touching Jesus, Thomas moves to believing (“my Lord and my God.”) John concludes this appearance story with Jesus’ blessing future disciples (us) who believe even without seeing.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks to give us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. The Lectionary presents stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. Jesus reveals himself in the actions of the believing community, in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the one who has been raised. Is our believing complete or conditional? What will it take for us to believe without seeing?

—Terence Sherlock

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