Monthly Archives: May 2018

27 May 2018: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Dt 4:32-34, 39-40   Ps 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22   Rom 8:14-17   Mt 28:16-20

Trinity: revealed, experienced, lived

White_gold_banner_sm On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the Lectionary readings trace the human experience of the mystery of God, and how God’s self-revealing words and actions lead us to explore God’s three-fold nature and the mystery of salvation.

In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the mighty acts of God: creation (“God created humans on the earth”), law-giving (God spoke “from the midst of fire” on Sinai, giving commandments to make the people holy), and salvation (what God “did for you in Egypt,” delivering the Israelites from slavery to freedom). In these acts, the chosen people experience God’s three-fold engagement as creator, savior, and caller-to-holiness.

In the second reading from his letter to the Romans, Paul describes how Christians experience God in baptism. We experience God first as an adoptive Father whom we call out to as “Abba.” We experience the Spirit as a witness to our adoption, that as God’s children, we are heirs to God’s kingdom. We experience Christ, our sibling, who shares both his sufferings (death) and glorification (resurrection and eternal life) with us.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commissions his disciples to baptize all nations “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Scripture scholars believe that when Matthew wrote his gospel in the 80s AD, his community was already using this Trinitarian baptismal formula to initiate new members. Their lived experience led them to know God as a caring Father, Jesus as the Father’s teaching and saving Son, and the Spirit as their community’s binding force.

When somebody mentions “the Trinity,” our eyes can glaze over. Explanations are usually full of technical theological words like “person” or “hypostasis,” or strange math where 3 = 1. But theology (the study of God) came centuries after God’s own self-revelation and humans own lived experience of God.

We know God though the way God acts in history, through the incarnate Word we personally encounter, and through the renewing Spirit that permeates our believing communities. Paul greets his ekklesiais with “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” because he personally experienced the grace, love, and community of the saving God. Matthew’s ekklesia initiates its new members “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” because they personally experienced God in this threefold distinction. Unfortunately, theology’s technical words about the Trinity fail to capture the living God of personal experience.

The Trinity Sunday readings invite us to consider our own personal experience of the Father, Son, and Spirit, a God who reveals an ever-deepening mystery of God-in-relationship. As disciples, do we continue to encounter God by listening to Jesus, by learning from Jesus’ actions how to live, by learning how to pray with the Spirit, and by doing what is pleasing to the Father? Or do we know all we need to about the God who created, saves, and connects us?

—Terence Sherlock

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20 May 2018: Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Vigil Gn 11:1-9 or
Ex 19:3-8a, 16-20b or
Ez 37:1-14 or
Jl 3:1-5
  Ps 104:1-2, 24 and 35, 27-28, 29-30   Rom 8:22-27   Jn 7:37-39
Extended Vigil [1] Gn 11:1-9
[2] Ex 19:3-8a, 16-20b
[3] Ez 37:1-14
[4] Jl 3:1-5
[1] Ps 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
[2] Dan 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56 or Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
[3] Ps 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
[4] Ps 104:1-2, 24 and 35, 27-28, 29-30
  Rom 8:22-27   Jn 7:37-39
Sunday Acts 2:1-11 Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34  1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13   Jn 20:19-23

Lectionary note: Reading options based on celebration
The Lectionary presents two sets of readings for Pentecost: the Vigil/Extended Vigil of Pentecost or Pentecost Sunday. This commentary uses the readings for the Vigil of Pentecost.

Pentecost: the Spirit in prophecy, in liturgical action, and abiding with us

Red_banner_smPentecost marks the end of the Easter season and the readings that examine the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. The final Easter season readings present different views on how the Spirit’s coming and the new ekklesia fulfill the Hebrew prophets’ vision of a new Israel.

The Lectionary offers a choice of first readings from Hebrew scripture, all of which foreshadow the Pentecost event:

  1. The Tower of Babel (Gn 11:1-9). The Babel story warns us about taking too much credit for our own accomplishments while ignoring God’s role in our achievements. When placed next to Luke’s Pentecost description (Acts 2: 6-11), we see the Spirit reverses Babel’s language confusion so all can hear the Eleven’s message of God’s salvation.
  2. The Mosaic covenant (Ex 19:3-8a, 16-20b). The Jewish feast of Pentecost, or Shavuot, is both a harvest festival and the anniversary of God giving the Torah to Israelites at Sinai. Both Paul and Luke highlight Pentecost’s agricultural and covenantal aspects. Paul describes the gift of the Spirit as the firstfruits of our inheritance (Rom 8:23). Luke’s Pentecost description (Acts 2:1-11) suggests the inauguration of the new covenant, as promised by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:33).
  3. God’s Spirit enlivens dry bones (Ez 37:1-14). The prophet Ezekiel foretells that God will raise a new Israel out of the dry bones of the exiles. Christians understand that the ekklesia, the believing community the Spirit institutes at Pentecost, fulfills God’s promise to raise up a new Israel.
  4. God pours out the Spirit on all (Jl 3:1-5). The prophet Joel promises that on the day of the Lord, God will pour out the Spirit on Jews and gentiles. Christians understand that the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost fulfills Joel’s prophecy.

In the second reading from the letter to the Romans, Paul connects the Spirit’s coming in baptism with the Spirit’s firstfruits in each of us as we await Jesus’ return. The Spirit teaches us how to pray and intercedes for us; all actions visible in the Eleven at the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1-11).

In John’s gospel, Jesus reveals that those who believe in him will find rivers of living water flowing from them. To understand the context of Jesus’ pronouncement, we need to know about the Feast of Booths and its liturgical and eschatological meanings:

  • Water and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot). During this seven-day harvest feast, a Jewish priest would go daily to the Pool of Siloam and fill a gold vessel with water. He and the Levites processed this water to the Temple, where the priest poured the water, along with wine, over the altar as an offering to God. For the Jewish people, water flowing from the Temple was a messianic sign (Ez 47:3-6, Zech 14:8).
  • Jesus and living water. Jesus has spoken of living water earlier (Jn 4:10-15), but here John associates this living water with Jesus’ gift of the Spirit. This living water is eternal life, present in believers because the Father and a disciple abide (remain-in-relationship) with each other. Just as the Jewish priest pouring water over the altar is a liturgical sign of purification and the coming messianic age, pouring water over a person at Christian baptism is a liturgical sign of purification and the coming of the Spirit.
  • Jesus’ glorification and the Spirit. John tells his hearers that the coming of the Spirit must wait for Jesus’ glorification (his transformative death and resurrection). Jesus’ death and resurrection saves all humans and initiates the messianic age. Through liturgical sacramental actions, God abides (remains-in-relationship) with those who believe.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season has given us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. The Lectionary readings have presented stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints: lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. This week we celebrate the ekklesia‘s birth through the Spirit’s coming. The liturgical symbol of water incorporates us into the believing community and its mission to tell everyone the good news. How do we use our living water? How do our lives proclaim the Spirit’s presence? How do we experience the sacraments to abide in God?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 May 2018: Ascension of the Lord /Seventh Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 1:1-11   Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9   Eph 1:17-23 or
Eph 4:1-13
  Mk 16: 15-20

 

Lectionary note: Reading options based on celebration
The Lectionary presents two sets of readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Dioceses that celebrate the Ascension on Thursday use the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Dioceses that celebrate the Ascension on Sunday use the Ascension readings. This reflection uses the Ascension readings.

Ascension: look on earth, not in the sky

White_gold_banner_smThe Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection and ascension. The Ascension invites us to consider how Jesus remains present within the ekklesia.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke summarizes his first book (his gospel) and introduces his second book (Acts). If Luke’s gospel is the story of Jesus’ life and teaching, Luke’s Acts is the story of the Spirit’s teachings and actions in the believing community. In Luke’s tradition, Jesus must ascend in order for the Spirit to be poured out and the ekklesia to be born.

In the second reading from the letter to the Ephesians, the author explains Jesus’ ascension as Jesus’ enthronement at God’s right hand. God makes Jesus Lord, the head of the believing community. The ekklesia is Jesus’ continuing visible presence in the world.

The gospel presents the Ascension account from Mark’s Longer Ending. Most scripture scholars agree that Mark’s gospel ends at Mk 16:8. In the early second century, an unknown copyist added the Longer Ending (Mk 16:9-20), which incorporates traditions from Luke and John. The Ascension traditions are as follows:

  • Matthew and John. In this tradition, the disciples do not witness Jesus’ ascension. In Matthew, Jesus and the eleven meet on a mountain in Galilee, where he gives final instructions to all the disciples, and promises to remain with them always (Mt 28:18-20). In John, Jesus meets seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, where they share a final meal, and Jesus gives special instructions to Peter (Jn 21:15-19).
  • Luke/Acts. In this tradition, the disciples witness Jesus’ ascension. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus appears to the eleven and other disciples, where he shares a meal, gives them final instructions, and leads them to Bethany where they witness Jesus’ ascension (Lk 24:51). In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, Jesus appears to the apostles for forty days after his resurrection. After they eat together, Jesus gives them final instructions, and, as they watch, he is lifted up and disappears in a cloud (Acts 1:9).
  • Mark. The Longer Ending follows Lucian tradition, where the disciples witness Jesus’ ascension. Jesus shares a meal with the eleven, gives them final instructions, and he is taken up into heaven and seated at God’s right hand (Mk 16:19).

 

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 Ascension readings invite us to understand the believing community’s central role in continuing Jesus’ mission. The gospel traditions emphasize that the resurrected Jesus reveals himself at meals. He tells his disciples to continue his words and actions, and that he continues to abide with them. The resurrected Jesus continually reveals himself to his ekklesia in the Eucharist and sacraments, in his gospel words, and the service offered by his believing community. Where do we see and hear the risen Jesus? How do we make him present in service to our world?

—Terence Sherlock

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6 May 2018: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48   Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4   1 Jn 4:7-10   Jn 15:9-17

God acts to change everything

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings focus on how God acts to change everything we think we know.

In the first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, Peter converts the God-fearing centurion Cornelius. God, not Peter, drives the entire Cornelius story: God sends an angel to tell Cornelius about Peter; God sends Peter a vision about clean and unclean animals; God pours out the Spirit on Cornelius and the gentiles without them being baptized. Luke’s point is that the Spirit drives the sometimes too-timid believing community and its leaders to act. By pouring out the Spirit on the unbaptized gentiles, God signals that God has accepted the gentiles. Playing catch-up to the Spirit, Peter baptizes Cornelius and his household to show that he also accepts the gentiles.

In the second reading, John the Elder continues his case about why we, as true disciples, should love one another. John restates the primacy of love: God’s love for us and our love for one another. Those who love are begotten by God and therefore know God. Those who claim to know God (the gnostics) but who don’t love, don’t really know God at all, because God is love. God revealed God’s love by sending the Son to give life to all. Love, then, is not what we do, but what God has done for us.

In John the Evangelist’s gospel, Jesus continues his description of discipleship:

  • Abiding in love (v9-11). Just as Jesus’ relationship with the Father is continuous and unending, so also is Jesus’ relationship (abiding) with each disciple. Jesus remains-in-relationship with the Father by doing what the Father asks him. In the same way, a disciple remains-in-relationship with Jesus by keeping Jesus’ command.
  • Jesus’ command: Love as I have loved you (v12-14). Jesus’ own life becomes a template for discipleship, Just as Jesus loves each disciple, so each disciple must love others. How far do we need to love one another? As far as Jesus loved: to lay down one’s life in service to the other. This command changes the relationship between Jesus and a disciple, and between a disciple and other humans.
  • The new relationship: friends vs slaves (v15-16). In this new relationship, a disciple is no longer a slave (a command-follower), but a friend–a loving participant in Jesus’ mission from the Father. Jesus loves each disciple, and he explicitly chooses each disciple, and he invites each disciple to complete the Father’s mission by bearing fruit. In this new relationship, a disciple’s love is continuous and life-long (abiding). This new relationship allows a disciple to ask the Father for whatever he needs, and the Father will give it.

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 continue to examine our discipleship. The first reading tells us that the Spirit will push timid disciples and leaders to accomplish God’s plan. John the Elder reminds disciples that it’s not what we do that’s important, but what God has already done for us. Jesus has redefined the love relationship between a disciple and God and a disciple and others. Easter changes everything. How have we changed? Can we feel the Spirit’s push? Can we see what God has done for us? Can we lay down our own lives to serve others?

—Terence Sherlock

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