Monthly Archives: July 2018

29 July 2018: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Kgs 4:42-44   Ps 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18   Eph 4:1-6   Jn 6:1-15

Bread as sign: what does it mean?

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about the miracle, meaning, and warning of the bread.

The first reading, from the second book of Kings, tells how the prophet Elisha fed over a hundred people with only twenty barley loaves. This story is part of a cycle of Elisha stories that show God’s power working through the prophet. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for its clear parallels to Jesus’ feeding the five thousand in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading is from the start of the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis) section. The author reminds Christians that the Spirit forms them into a single, harmonious believing community. In contrast to polytheistic Roman world, Jesus’ disciples belong to one Lord and they share one faith, signified in their one baptism. God is Father of all, leads all, and is present in all. The author exhorts the believing community to live the implications of that unity.

John’s gospel presents the sign of Jesus feeding the crowd in the wilderness, which introduces Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. (We will hear Jesus’ discourse over the next four weeks.) In John’s gospel, a sign is not simply a miracle, but the way Jesus reveals God’s glory. A sign incorporates a gift that God gave to the Israelites, and which Jesus now fulfills and makes complete.

  • The gift to the Israelites. John sets the scene with two pieces of information: first, that “Jesus went up on the mountain” with his disciples; and second, “Passover was near.” Passover commemorates the Exodus, including Moses ascending the Sinai mountain to receive the Torah, and feeding the Israelites in the wilderness with God’s manna. Jesus’ sign will have something to do with manna and Torah.
  • The gift fulfilled and made complete. Jesus’ gratuitous gift of food (and later himself) to crowds in the wilderness fulfills and completes God’s former gift of manna. This feeding becomes prophecy-in-action: it fulfills the messianic promises of a superabundant messianic meal in God’s kingdom, and it foretells the continuing gift of God’s ongoing presence in the believing community through the Eucharist. (We’ll hear more about the Eucharist in the discourse of the coming weeks.)

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider not only the sign’s meaning, but also our reaction. The crowd’s reaction to the sign, and Jesus’ response, should be a warning to the believing community and to each disciple. The crowd saw Jesus simply as someone who could give them bread and wanted him to be their temporal food king. But Jesus is not a give-them-what-they-want messiah. As individuals and as an ekklesia, Jesus calls us to witness and to serve as he did. We are always in danger that the crowd’s voice–loud, flattering, power-granting, profitable–will pull us from Jesus’ path. To follow what the crowd says and wants is to give up our discipleship to Jesus and his ekklesia. As we think about the meaning of Jesus’ self-giving gift, we ask: Who feeds us? Why do we take and eat? Whom do we feed?

—Terence Sherlock


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22 July 2018: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jer 23:1-6   Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6   Eph 2:13-18   Mk 6:30-34

The lost sheep and their compassionate shepherd

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize God’s offer of merciful love in our own lives.

In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah criticizes the Jewish leaders (“shepherds”) for their poor care of the Jewish people. The leaders’ behavior and bad decisions will result in war with Babylon and Jewish captivity. Jeremiah foretells that God will return the people and appoint just shepherds, descended from David, to care for them. Christian hearers understand that Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy as a just ruler in David’s line. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match Jesus’ concern for the people in today’s gospel.

The second reading is a continuation of the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading contains the letter’s theological core. The author contrasts those who were far from God (gentile Christians) with the ones closer to God (Jewish Christians). The far ones lacked the near ones’ messianic expectation, lacked the various covenants God made with Israel, and lacked hope of salvation and knowledge of the true God. By his saving and transformative death, Christ transcended all religious barriers between Jews and gentiles. Christ fulfilled and abolished the law–not the moral demands of the law, but the law as the only path to salvation. Christians now keep the law because they have been saved by grace, not to earn salvation.

Mark’s gospel concludes the Twelve’s sending from last week (Mk 6:7-13) with their return; it also sets up next week’s reading (the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness). Jesus invites the Twelve to rest in the wilderness, but further ministry interrupts his plans:

  • Jesus calls disciples to active ministry and to quiet prayer. The wilderness or “deserted place” represents time for the disciples to be alone with Jesus and reflect on their recent missionary work. To be effective, a disciple must balance service to others (action) with a reflective prayer life (words, silence). When a disciple loses this balance, service can become self-serving, or prayer can become a list of complaints to God.
  • Jesus’ compassion for God’s people. Despite his need for “wilderness time” with his disciples, Jesus is moved to pity when he sees the people as lost sheep (see the first reading). The Greek verb σπλαγχνίζομαι (splang-KNIHd-zoh-mah-ee) means “to have a physical and emotional reaction in a person’s guts.” This Greek verb captures the Hebrew scripture’s idea of “merciful love,” a quality of God alone: With everlasting love I will have compassion on you (Is 54:7-8).
  • Jesus’ teaching is both a compassionate act and prophecy-in-action. Out of compassion for the people’s “lostness,” Jesus begins to teach them–something their failing leaders should be doing. (Next week Jesus will also miraculously feed them in the wilderness.) The Hebrew scripture connects “teaching” and “eating” with acquiring wisdom (Sir 15:3; Sir 24:19-21 Pv 9:5). Jesus’ literal teaching (word) and feeding (action) become prophecy-in-action, both fulfilling the prophets’ promise and foreshadowing the liturgical signs of Word and Eucharist.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our lostness and how God reaches out to us again and again. Jeremiah promises that God will give the people just and compassionate shepherds. Mark shows Jesus overcome with compassion for the shepherdless sheep, and how he teaches and feeds them with his words. With all the competing demands for our time and attention, we are easily lost. To find ourselves, we need to take a wilderness break. In the silence God’s merciful love can teach and feed us. In the liturgy of the Word God teaches and speaks to us; in the liturgy of the Eucharist God feeds us. Can we make time to encounter God’s compassion?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 July 2018: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Am 7:12-15   Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14   Eph 1:3-14   Mk 6:7-13

The mission of a disciple

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to examine the Twelve’s discipleship as well as our own.

In the first reading from the prophet Amos, God sends Amos to the people of Israel (the northern kingdom) because the northern prophets fail to proclaim God’s message. The priest Amaziah, speaking for the king, supports the status quo: the royal house and patriotism. The prophet Amos, speaking for God, denounces the king and government for its injustices and inhuman policies. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel to compare the mission of Amos’ mission to preach to God’s people in Israel with the disciples’ mission to preach to God’s people in Galilee. The disciple’s role is often to challenge the status quo to bring about God’s justice.

The second reading is from the beginning of the letter to the “saints who are in Ephesus.” This letter will be read continuously for the next six weeks. The opening verses are almost certainly drawn from hymns and liturgy of the late first century. Ephesians preserves Paul’s teachings by further developing images from Paul’s authentic letters in new ways. The author celebrates the role of Christ and the believing community in God’s plan to unite all things in heaven and on earth. In the mystery of God’s will, God has destined Christians to sonship in Christ; they are redeemed through his blood, forgiven, experience the richness of grace, and heard the word of truth.

Mark’s gospel picks up from last week’s reading, when Nazareth rejects Jesus. Today Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs to spread his message of conversion and healing. The following words indicate this reading is not only about the Twelve’s mission, but also the discipleship of all believers:

  • Having summoned them. Mark uses “summon” when Jesus first calls the Twelve (Mk 3:13). Mark uses the same “summon” to call the disciples (Mk 10:42; Mk 12:43) and the crowds (Mk 7:14; Mk 8:34).
  • He began to send them. The Greek verb ἀποστέλλω (ah-poh-STEHL-loh) means “to send out” or “to dispatch.” It is the root of the Modern English word apostle.
  • Take nothing on the road. The word Mark uses means “a road,” “a journey,” “a path,” or “the Way.” The first-century believing community described themselves as “followers of The Way.” In Greek, the word for disciple means literally “someone who walks the same road or walks behind a leader.”

Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the believing community that preaching, exorcising, and healing are the signs of God’s kingdom. Today’s gospel links the ministries of Jesus and his historical disciples with Mark’s community’s work, as well as our own: all preach, and all meet rejection and failure in the mission. The believing community can never forget its origin as a missionary community. The ekklesia is a community that is called, sent, travels light, proclaims the word fearlessly, confronts evil powers, and demonstrates God’s healing power. Where are we being sent? What do we take with us? What are we proclaiming? How do we speak against evil? How do we heal others?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 July 2018: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ez 2:2-5   Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4   2 Cor 12:7-10   Mk 6:1-6

The scandal of the too familiar

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to examine who Jesus is and who we are.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel describes Ezekiel’s call from God to be a prophet, and to speak in God’s name. Whether the Jewish people accept or reject Ezekiel’s message, the people will know that a prophet has been among them. The Lectionary editors paired this reading with today’s gospel as a commentary on Jesus’ reception in his hometown.

The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the ekklesia at Corinth. In today’s reading, Paul describes his apostleship. God has granted Paul special gifts, but God has also given him an unspecified physical problem (“a thorn in the flesh”) to keep Paul’s pride in check. Paul transforms his “thorn” into a teaching moment so that the Corinthians can see Christ’s power in Paul: “when I am weak, I am most powerful.”

Mark’s gospel presents Jesus returning to Nazareth after successful teaching and healing throughout Galilee and the Decapolis. As he teaches in the synagogue, his friends and neighbors are astonished at his authority. Their astonishment turns to contempt as they question Jesus’ identity. Their questions also echo in Mark’s own believing community:

  • Where did he get this? Jesus’ neighbors have known Jesus since he was a child. At first they are amazed by his teachings. They refuse to believe that a local boy could be so different from them.
  • What is this wisdom bestowed on him? Jesus’ neighbors want to know the source of Jesus’ “wisdom.” In Hebrew scripture, “wisdom” and “power” signify God’s creative action (Jer 10: 12, 51:15). Jesus’ wisdom underlies the authority with which he teaches and heals (Mk 1:21-28).
  • How do mighty works come though his hands? Mark uses “mighty works” where the other gospels use miracle. The phrase “come though his hands” recalls Hebrew scripture’s description of God delivering the Israelites from Egypt (Dt 5:15, Ex 7:4).
  • Isn’t he just a local craftsman? Jesus’ neighbors reject his powerful words and actions by recalling his former trade. Ironically, they are unable to connect Jesus’ work with his hands and the miracles he works by his touch (see last week’s gospel, Mk 5:21-43).
  • Isn’t he Mary’s son? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here? Because Jesus’ neighbors know his family, they think they know him. They fail to hear that Jesus invites them to a new family that will form God’s kingdom (Mk 3:31-35).

Jesus scandalizes his neighbors, friends, and family. The Greek verb σκανδαλίζω (skahn-dah-LIHd-zoh) means “to offend” or “to cause to stumble.” They are unable to move beyond their own prejudices to see God as the source of Jesus’ authority and power. Jesus acts only when people are open to deeper faith and discipleship. Without faith, Jesus’ mighty works would be simply magic tricks.

The readings challenge RCIA candidates and the believing community to examine our own views of Jesus and of ourselves. Mark invites his community to ask who they believe Jesus is; Mark’s gospel provides his evidence and answer. As disciples, we claim to know Jesus. Do we really know what Jesus says and teaches, or are we like the friends and neighbors who are so familiar with childhood stories about him that we can’t hear what Jesus is really asking us to do? Have we become too comfortable in our own stories to do the hard work of discipleship?

—Terence Sherlock

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