| 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
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?
| Reading 1
| Zec 9:9-10
|| Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
|| Rom 8:9, 11-13
|| Mt 11:25-30
Jesus’ invitation to everyone
In 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 focus on Jesus and his invitation to come to him.
In the first reading, Zechariah describes a just and humble savior who arrives riding on a donkey (Gn 49:11; Jgs 5:10; 10:4). The evangelists (Mt 21:4-5; Jn 12:14-15) apply this prophecy to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel in which Jesus describes himself as “meek and humble of heart.”
In the second reading’s letter to the Romans, Paul uses a Jewish concept to describe the human condition. The Greek word σάρξ (SARKS), here translated as “flesh,” also means “the body” or “humanness” itself. Jewish people understood this word to mean “the whole human person.” In the same way, the Greek word πνεῦμα (pNYOO-mah) means both “spirit” as well as “God’s animating force that makes someone alive.” Paul, a Jew, understands that the body (σάρξ) is subject to sin and death, while the spirit (πνεῦμα) is our connection to God. To live only in the flesh or the body (σάρξ) is a death sentence; but to live in the spirit (πνεῦμα) supersedes death and gives us eternal life.
In the gospel, Matthew’s chapters 11 and 12 report the growing opposition to Jesus, focusing on disputes about faith and discipleship. Today’s reading from chapter 11 has two parts: Jesus’ relationship with his Father, and Jesus’ invitation to come to him.
- Relationship of Father and Son. Jesus again describes his special relationship to the Father, and promises to share this relationship with everyone. The Father has hidden the kingdom’s revelation from the learned (the Pharisees) because they rejected Jesus’ teaching. The childlike (literally “infants”) hear Jesus’ message; Jesus reveals God’s kingdom to them. What the Father handed over to the Son, the Son reveals to those whom he wishes.
- Invitation to discipleship. Jesus closes his teachings with a call for disciples. In Hebrew scripture and its rabbinic interpretation, a yoke is a metaphor for religious instruction. The Pharisees’ yoke consisted of 613 commandments. Jesus’ yoke consisted of his teachings and his way of life. In his invitation, Jesus emphasizes that discipleship is not effortless, but it is achievable. He promises that those who take on the work of bringing God’s kingdom will have rest.
Today’s readings ask the believing community to examine our discipleship. In baptism we accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Discipleship requires work; the disciple’s work is to bring God’s kingdom. Jesus teaches his disciples to bring God’s kingdom with humility. Have we learned the ways of God’s kingdom, or do we preach our own kingdom? Do we bring God’s kingdom to everyone through humble service to others, or do we bring our own kingdom to only the ones we choose?
||Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
||Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
The mission of a disciple
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings offer reflections on discipleship and its authority.
The first reading from Isaiah draws parallels between Judah’s restoration after the Babylonian exile and the coming of the kingdom proclaimed in Luke’s gospel. Isaiah tells the returning Jews that “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” In today’s gospel, Jesus gives the power or authority of God’s kingdom to his disciples to heal sickness and to expel demons, fulfilling Isaiah’s promise that “the Lord is making known his power.”
The second reading concludes Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Summarizing his letter, Paul tells the Galatians to glory in the cross (which is a “new creation”), not in the mark of circumcision (“which means nothing”). Only the “marks of Jesus”–that is, signs of discipleship–have meaning. Paul’s signs of discipleship–his scars from floggings (Acts 16:22; 2 Cor 11:25) and stonings (Acts 14:19)–mark him as belonging to Christ, who also suffered.
Luke’s gospel continues from last week, presenting us with more ideas about discipleship and its requirements. Jesus prepares seventy-two disciples for an apostolic mission–to do advance work for Jesus in the surrounding towns. Jesus outlines how disciples should conduct themselves:
- Proclaim God’s kingdom: The disciples mission is to bring God’s kingdom near. Disciples show the kingdom’s signs by bringing peace, by preaching metanoia (a change of heart), and by healing.
- Travel simply: The mission is so urgent that the disciples carry only the message of the kingdom. While on the mission, disciples don’t need money or extra baggage.
- Accept hospitality: The disciples depend on hospitality from people they don’t know and who don’t know them. Disciples accept what strangers offer with grace and thanks.
- Expect rejection: Just as Jesus has been rejected, the disciples should also expect to be rejected. Disciples warn those who reject God’s kingdom, then continue their mission elsewhere. God alone judges those who reject the kingdom.
Their mission completed, the disciples return, flush with their success. Jesus cautions the disciples that it’s not their success–it’s God’s power working through them. Instead, they should rejoice that God selected them and God empowered them to reveal the kingdom (“their names are written in heaven”).
Jesus’ four-point plan about a disciple’s mission is equally valid today–for us, his current disciples. When we miss only one point, our mission falls apart and we fail to bring the kingdom near. When we think that our work alone makes us great disciples, we recall who selected us in the first place. Are we bringing God’s kingdom near? Do our marks confirm that we belong to Christ? Where are our names being written?
|Ez 2: 2-5
||Ps 123: 1-2, 2, 3-4
||2 Cor 12: 7-10
||Mk 6: 1-6
Prophecy, relationships, change, and acts of power
In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the readings invite us to think about our role as prophets.
The first reading describes Ezekiel’s call by God to be a prophet. In the Hebrew scriptures, Ezekiel is one of the three major prophets (along with Isaiah and Jeremiah). Ezekiel prophesied to the Jewish people during the Babylonian captivity (597-539BC). God’s spirit enters Ezekiel and God tells him that he will 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.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus has just completed a series of teachings and “acts of power,” concluding with raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Now he returns to Nazareth, his home town (literally, his “father’s place.”) Although Jesus preaches powerfully in the synagogue (“many were astonished”), but they can’t get past his history with them–they know him as a craftsman, they know his mother and family. Their familiarity breeds contempt (“offense”). Feeling their disdain and dishonor, Jesus reminds them that a prophet is always rejected by the ones who know the prophet best–friends and family. Jesus is amazed by their unbelief. Without their cooperating faith, Jesus’ ministry of preaching and healing is ineffective. Acts of power require a relationship. When no relationship exists, there can be no metanoia (“change of heart”) or healing.
In the second reading Paul writes “to the ekklesia being in Corinth.” Scripture scholars believe that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of two to five letters that Paul wrote sometime in the mid to late 50s. In today’s reading Paul opens his letter with a few lines about being an apostle. To balance Paul’s special gifts (“the excess of revelations”) God has given him, Paul says that God has also given him a physical problem (“a thorn in the flesh”) to keep him from becoming proud. Paul transforms his physical aliment into a teaching moment (“I will boast of my weakness”) so that the Corinthians can see Christ’s power in Paul. He accepts his limitations for Christ (“when I am weak, I am most powerful”).
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our role as prophets. Ezekiel and Jesus speak and preach God’s word; Paul lets his actions-how he deals with his unnamed physical infirmity–witness to God’s message. God calls us as members of the believing community to witness our faith to each other and to the world. We prophecy in words sometimes, but mostly in deeds–how we live our daily lives–to bring ourselves and others into relationship with God. We know that prophetic witnesses risk rejection by strangers and by loved ones. As the gospel shows, unless we are in relationship with God, no metanoia or healing is possible. Do we think we know God so well that we can’t hear God’s offer of relationship? Do we find in our relationship with God the courage to live a life of prophecy and witness? Are we willing to boast of our weaknesses so God’s mighty acts of power can happen?