Monthly Archives: August 2018

26 August 2018: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b   Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21   Eph 5:21-32
or 5:2a, 25-32
  Jn 6:60-69

Discourse conclusion: Do you also wish to go away?

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 about their commitment to discipleship.

In the first reading from the book of Joshua, Joshua asks the Israelites to renew their covenant with God: do they wish to serve the God who has delivered them or return to the service of other gods? The people reaffirm the covenant with YHWH: “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Joshua’s question stands as a challenge to Jewish believers through the centuries. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel, in which Jesus challenges disciples in every generation, asking “Do you also wish to go away?”

The second reading concludes the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme has been unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading is from the household codes section. A household code is a literary form found throughout the ancient world. In Greco-Roman household codes, power determines relationships. In a Christian household, love replaces power in all relationships. Some Christian letter writers simply give a Christian veneer to the household codes by adding the words “in the Lord” to the injunctions. In Ephesians, the author goes much further. He elaborates on marriage as a parable of the relation between Christ and the believing community. The Ephesians writer adopts and subverts the standard household code to mutual submission: for example, not only should wives be obedient to husbands, but also husbands should be obedient to wives.

John’s gospel presents the conclusion of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. Jesus’ own disciples grumble that his revelations–he is “the living bread coming down from heaven” and the bread he will give is “his flesh for the life of the world”–are unacceptable or offensive. Jesus now questions those who have heard his revelations:

  • Would you rather see me “going up?” Jesus’ question has a double meaning. The Greek verb ἀναβαίνω (ah-nah-BAH-ee-noh) means “to ascend” or “to go up.” The first meaning is connected to Hebrew scripture. Moses and Elijah “ascend” or “are taken up” to God, which proves their authority and honor. Jesus has “come down” from God, and will “ascend” again after his resurrection, proving his authority. The second meaning refers to Jesus’ “going up” or “being lifted up” on the cross. This “going up” will further scandalize his disciples, but will also result in “the life of the world.” Jesus admonishes the disciples for interpreting his message in a human-only way (“the flesh”), ignoring the Spirit’s help. Facts alone do not create a disciple; discipleship also requires a Spirit-filled response to the Father made known in the word of Jesus.
  • Do you also wish to go away? Jesus asks this pointed question of the Twelve, who are struggling with who Jesus is. John also asks this question of his own community sixty years later, who are struggling with how the risen Jesus remains present with them in their conflicted community. Jesus asks today’s disciples, who are struggling with continuing faith in Jesus while living in a broken world, the same question.

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to ask: “Why am I a disciple?” Jesus’ harsh revelations in the bread of life discourse present a stark choice for his hearers. Their choices reveal who they are. The crowd, hoping at the discourse’s start for more free bread, melts away when Jesus talks about new spiritual bread. His opponents, put off by physicality of Jesus’ own flesh as sacrifice and food, leave in disgust. Many disciples, still expecting a temporal king, reject Jesus’ claim of heavenly origins and return to their old lives. Only his loyal faction, seeing beyond his signs and hearing deeply his words, remain convinced that he is who he says he is, and remain-in-relationship with him. What kind of bread are we looking for? Who can provide that bread?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 August 2018: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Prv 9:1-6   Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7   Eph 5:15-20   Jn 6:51-58

Discourse part 2: The bread I will give is my flesh for the world’s life

Green_banner_smDuring 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 consider the meaning of Jesus’ self-gift for the life of the world.

The first reading from the book of Proverbs personifies Wisdom and Folly as women who invite hearers to competing banquets. Wisdom’s banquet symbolizes joy and closeness to God. Folly’s banquet consists of stolen bread and decietful water that bring death to guests. Jewish hearers recognize in this allegory their need to pursue the Torah’s wisdom to avoid foolishness and to live. Christians hear parallels with today’s gospel, in which Jesus tells disciples that eating his flesh and drinking his blood will give eternal life.

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 continues the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis). Last week the author presented a program of formative actions: actions for disciples who are “new persons” in Christ. In today’s reading, the author’s eschatological view defines his formative actions. He reminds disciples that the age of evil powers is passing away; they must choose the wise path and live as members of God’s kingdom.

John’s gospel presents the second part of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. In a series of questions and responses, Jesus introduced the discourse’s main ideas. This week’s final question shapes the discourse’s second part.

Jesus tells the synagogue assembly: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Those opposed to Jesus’ revelation begin to fight with each other. They frame their objections as a final question.

  • How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus’ opponents continue to misunderstand the promise Jesus offers, focusing on only the physical implications of his promise. Jesus speaks to the synagogue crowd during the Passover feast, which commemorates God’s gifts of Torah and manna. In Jewish thought, both Torah and manna provide nourishment. “Eating” manna nourishes the body; “eating” (studying and practicing) Torah feeds a Jew’s spiritual life. Up to this point in his discourse, Jesus has described himself as manna/bread from heaven, whose teachings from the Father provide a new and greater spiritual life. Jesus now reveals that in the near future he will give his flesh to give life to the whole world. He will give his flesh in two ways:
    • Through the cross. Jesus will give himself as a physical sacrifice to redeem the world. In Jewish sacrificial practice, the one offering sacrifice separated the victim’s blood from its flesh. When Jesus speaks about his “flesh” and “blood” separately, he indicates his physical death as a sacrifice. The Word became flesh to bring life to the world (Jn 1:3-4).
    • Through the Eucharist. After his physical death and resurrection, Jesus will give himself in a new way so that disciples may remain in a living relationship with Jesus and the Father. This new relationship is Jesus’ continuing presence with his believing community. In addition, his glorified flesh and blood give disciples eternal life and a share in Jesus’ resurrection (Jn 6:54).

Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to look beyond the physical signs of God’s care and to come to a deeper understanding of the incarnation, cross, and resurrection. The first reading warns us to pursue divine Wisdom, because folly leads to spiritual death. In the gospel, Jesus sums up his mission: to bring the entire world to eternal life. His transformative death brings eternal life to the world’s doorstep, but it is Jesus’ Eucharistic gift that brings eternal life and Jesus’ abiding presence to disciples who totally absorb (“eat”) God’s revelation. Do we seek deeper Wisdom in our busy lives? Can we ignore the meaning of the incarnation and cross? What does Eucharist really mean to us?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 August 2018: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  1 Kgs 19:4-8   Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9   Eph 4:30-5:2   Jn 6:41-51

Discourse part 1: I am the bread coming down from heaven

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 physical and spiritual nourishment that God provides.

The first reading from the Book of Kings tells how God fed the prophet Elijah on his journey through the wilderness. Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb (an alternate name for Sinai) begins as a flight from danger, but takes a surprising turn. In his wilderness exile, Elijah prays for death because he has been unable to turn the Israelites back to God. God feeds Elijah with miraculous bread to sustain him for his long trip to Horeb/Sinai. Christians hear the angelic bread from heaven as a type of eucharist: food for a pilgrim on his way to God’s mountain.

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 continues the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis). Last week the author described the necessary attitudes of the “new person.” This week he lays out a program of formative actions, stated as imperatives: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit;” “remove all bitterness, fury, anger, and shouting;” “be kind, compassionate, forgiving of one another;” “be imitators of God;” and “walk in love.” By connecting these formative actions to baptism (“being sealed, ” preparing for the “day of redemption”), the author teaches that baptism initiates discipleship, but discipleship requires continuous growth and work. The author’s imperatives are a post-baptismal catechesis–actions for disciples who are “new persons” in Christ.

John’s gospel presents the first part of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. Last week the crowd caught up with Jesus at a Capernaum synagogue. In a series of questions and responses, Jesus introduced the discourse’s main ideas. This week another key question shapes the discourse’s first part.

Jesus tells those in the synagogue: “I am the bread of life; the one coming to me never hungers, the one believing in me will never thirst again” (Jn 6:35). Immediately those opposed to Jesus’ revelation (here designated as “the Jews”) begin to grumble, just as the Israelites grumbled against Moses in the wilderness (Ex 16:2). They frame their objection as a question, which has several layers.

  • Is this not Jesus, whose father and mother we know? “The Jews” object that Jesus can’t be “from heaven,” because they know his earthly father and mother. Culturally, they object to Jesus placing himself “above his station,” even equating himself to Moses, who also gave bread from heaven. They judge Jesus is not a qualified messenger, and so reject his claims about who he is, his authority, and his ability to give bread he promises.

    Jesus answers them by revealing his origins: what they do not know.

      • First: The Father is the one sending Jesus (v 39). In the ancient world, a sender authorized his delegate to speak and to act in the sender’s place. The delegate’s authority came from and was the same as the sender. Jesus speaks and acts for the Father.
      • Second: The Father draws believers (v 44). In the mystery of faith, the Father bestows faith on people, allowing them to believe and to be drawn to the Father and the Sent One (Jesus).
      • Third: The Sent One (Jesus) reveals the Father (v 40). Based on the believer’s response, she or he receives everlasting life (a share in the Father’s life).
      • Fourth: Jesus will raise up the believing ones at the end of time (v 44). When believers yield to the “works of God” (see v 28 and last week’s discussion), they receive the gift of eternal life. Being “taught by God” means listening to/hearing the Father, yielding to the Father (doing the works of God), and therefore recognizing Jesus as God’s Sent One.

    Jesus fulfills the prophetic promise “They shall all be taught by God” by revealing the Father to all nations. The Torah only partially reveals the Father ( = produces life); but the true bread from heaven (Jesus) fully reveals the Father. Jesus surpasses the former bread from heaven (the physical food of manna and the spiritual food of Torah).

    Jesus points out that the physical manna gave only physical life; manna did not give eternal life. The Jews’ ancestors and even the great Moses ate the physical food, but all are physically dead. Unlike the physical effect of the physical manna, those eating the true bread from heaven will live forever.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God nourishes the believing community. In the past, God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with physical manna and with God’s spiritual word in the Torah. In today’s gospel, Jesus reveals that he is the true bread that feeds us as God’s living Word. Is the Liturgy of the Word something we sit through waiting to encounter Jesus at the Table of the Eucharist? Or do we let ourselves be nourished by the true bread from heaven Jesus shares at the Table of the Word? Do we recognize both as the bread coming down from heaven?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 August 2018: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ex 16:2-4, 12-15   Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54   Eph 4:17, 20-24   Jn 6:24-35

Bread coming down from heaven: the living Word of God

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 manna in the wilderness and the bread of life that feeds the whole world.

The first reading, from Exodus, tells of God giving the grumbling Israelites bread and meat in the wilderness. Through this gift of bread, God demonstrates care for the people. In later Jewish thought the “bread from heaven” or “bread of angels” becomes a symbol of God’s word (Torah) and God’s wisdom (Ps 119:103; Pv 9:5; Sir 15:1-3), and a type of the promised messianic feast. In today’s gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the bread of life: he is both food (God’s gift in the wilderness) and wisdom (God’s self-revelation in the Torah).

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 continues the ethical exhortation (or paraenesis). Last week the author explained how God united Jew and gentile into a single, new person. This week the author describes the necessary attitudes and behaviors of the new person. Christians must “take off” the old or worn-out self and “put on” the new or fresh self. The language of “taking off” and “putting on” comes from the ritual practice of stripping off a catechumen’s old clothing before he or she enters the baptismal water, then clothing the newly-baptized with a new, white garment after baptism.

John’s gospel presents the introduction to Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. Last week Jesus multiplied bread to feed the crowd in the wilderness. This week the crowd catches up with Jesus, who has returned to Capernaum. A series of questions and answers shapes John’s introduction to the discourse:

  • When did you get here? The crowd asks an irrelevant question showing that, although they experienced Jesus’ sign of feeding in the wilderness the day before, they still don’t understand who he is. Jesus instructs the crowd to work for bread that remains or abides. The Son of Man will give this bread that produces eternal life. Because God sent the Son of Man, God approves (“sets a seal on”) him.
  • What work can we do? The crowd misunderstands the meaning of “to work for bread that remains.” They think they can do some physical action to gain more of Jesus’ physical bread. Jesus corrects their misunderstanding. God freely gives this spiritual bread to the one who believes in Jesus. The “work” or spiritual action to gain this spiritual bread requires a total submission of self to the Word of God in Christ.
  • What sign do you give? Following on the earlier mention of Moses, and Jesus’ claim to be sealed by the Father, the crowd asks for a sign that is greater than Moses’ Passover sign: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Jesus uses their scripture citation as the starting point for his discourse. Jesus again corrects the crowd’s misunderstanding: God provided manna, not Moses. God’s gift of manna, physical bread given to the Israelites in the past, is superseded by God’s gift now: Jesus, the true bread from heaven, who gives life to the whole world.
  • Give us this bread always! Again correcting the crowd’s confusion, Jesus reveals he is the true bread from heaven, who both reveals the Father and gives eternal life.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God feeds the believing community. In the past, God fed the Israelites starving in the wilderness with physical manna that disappeared. In today’s gospel, Jesus promises that God will feed the whole world with bread from heaven that will abide with us forever. Do we know what and who this bread is? Are we doing the spiritual work to gain this bread? Are we seeking this bread always?

—Terence Sherlock

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