Tag Archives: 15 Sunday in Ordinary time

16 July 2017: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 55:10-11  Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14  Rom 8:18-23  Mt 13:1-23

Disciples: seeds and sowers

Green_banner_sm During 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’ parable of the sower.

In the first reading, Isaiah reminds the people of the creative power of God’s word. The prophet poetically compares the power of God’s rain and snow to the power of God’s word. Both change the world and enable humans to thrive; both return to God only after they fulfill their work. Christians hear this reading as a prefiguring of Jesus as God’s Word and the power of the parables to deliver God’s message (see today’s gospel).

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul describes the believing community waiting now in the hope of God’s coming glory (the parousia). Paul links the created world’s destiny to the future glory that belongs to the believing community. All creation shares now in the corruption Adam’s disobedience caused; in the future, it will share in redemption’s benefits and the glory that comes from God’s ultimate liberation (Rom 8:19-22). Believers enjoy the firstfruits (the Spirit) now as a guarantee of the future liberation of their bodies from the influence of the rebellious old self (Rom 8:23).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowds and the disciples the parable of the sower. A parable contains something that surprises the hearer to make him or her think. In this parable, the successful yield is the surprise: in Jesus’ time, a typical grain yield might be four- to eight-fold. A yield of thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold would astound Jesus’ hearers and lead them to wonder who the sower is and what kind of seed this could be.

  • The sower. Jesus’ audience would know that Hebrew scripture presents God as a sower (Is 55:10-11; Jer 31:27-28). They would hear the parable simply as a message of God’s care and abundance (see the first reading).
  • The seed. Those who really understand the parable–who have ears to hear–would perceive Jesus as offering God’s powerful and transforming word, and that God’s word requires their response. That is, the seed is really about becoming Jesus’ disciples. Jesus explains how people fail as disciples (they don’t understand the message, they are not committed, they give in to competing priorities). He also describes the results of successful disciples (increasing God’s kingdom by thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold).

Today’s readings ask the believing community to listen to God’s word. God’s word is the seed sown within us, full of power and potential to transform if we respond. We have many excuses about why we don’t allow God’s word in: it’s too hard, I’m distracted, I’m too busy. For those who hear God’s word and choose discipleship, God’s superabundance becomes evident in their lives. Like the sower in the parable, both Jesus and his disciples encounter failures and successes in their ministry, but ultimately success will outweigh the failures. As disciples, do we have ears to hear, or only excuses to offer? As disciples, what kind of soil do we provide for God’s seed?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 July 2016: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 30:10-14 Ps 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
or Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Col 1:15-20 Lk 10:25-37

Love: go and do the same

Green_banner_smDuring 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 focus on God’s law of love.

The first reading, from Deuteronomy, is from Moses’ “farewell address” section. Moses tells the Israelites that God’s law is not unknowable or undoable, but real and nearby–“in your mouth” (already memorized) and “in your heart” (already internalized). The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match Jesus’ teaching about the law of love in the gospel.

The second reading begins the letter to the Colossians. Scripture scholars believe that today’s passage is part of an early Christian liturgical hymn, known to the Colossians. The hymn presents Christ as the mediator of creation and of redemption. We will hear the author develop these themes in the coming weeks’ readings.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus and a Law expert tangle about legalism versus love. To understand the parable, we must first understand how the Law expert is testing Jesus:

Part 1: Legal definition of “what I must do.” The expert in Hebrew scripture (the Law or Torah) baits Jesus with a theological question about what he needs to “do to inherit eternal life.” The Law expert’s question has two hidden assumptions:

  1. Do:  The Law expert uses a Greek verb tense (aorist tense, which has no English counterpart) that indicates an action that is done once and completed. That is, the Law expert is looking for a “one-and-done” action.
  2. Inherit eternal life:  Anyone casually familiar with Hebrew scripture (especially a Law expert!) knows that eternal life is a gift from God, not something inherited or earned. That is, the Law expert is looking for a future reward for his pious acts.

Jesus’ response turns the Law expert’s question back on the questioner. The Law expert correctly answers “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” Jesus’ comment about the law of love–“Do this and you will live“–corrects the Law expert’s errors:

  1. Do:  Jesus uses a Greek verb tense and mood (present tense, imperative mood) to indicate an action that must be continued and repeated. The Law is a way of life, not a “one-and-done” action.
  2. You-will-live:  Jesus redirects the Law expert’s view from eternal life to this life. The Law is about how to live this life, not about earning points for the next life.

Part 2: Legal definition of “whom I need to love.” The Law expert foolishly persists with legal questions. Jesus replies with a parable that overturns the definition of neighbor. The Jewish passers-by fail as neighbors because they don’t offer help (even though the Law requires that they must). The Samaritan–a Jewish enemy (like a Hamas member)–helps the half-dead Jewish man. He acts, “moved by compassion” (literally “his guts ached”). For Jesus, the law of love is not a theological question but a very human reaction to suffering. A neighbor is not a theoretical definition, but the person next to you who needs help, no matter who he is.

Jesus turns the parable back on the Law expert: Who became a neighbor? The Law expert admits that love must be more than feeling, it must be action: “mercy.”) Jesus orders the Law expert to “Go and do the same.”

Sometimes we of the believing community let love get stuck in committee. We argue about “who” and “what,” when we should just do. What are we waiting for?

–Terence Sherlock

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12 July 2015: 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

Baptism: being called, being sent

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 Christian calling.

In the first reading, God puts Amos the prophet in a tough spot. God sends Amos, a southerner from Judah, to the northern kingdom (Israel) to deliver an unpopular message: Change your ways! Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, rejects Amos’ message because it conflicts with the happy news that Amaziah prefers to give the northern king. Amos tells Amaziah that it was God who called Amos, and it’s God’s message–that’s what it means to be a prophet.

Mark’s gospel describes Jesus summoning and sending the Twelve to spread his message through Galilee (what was left of the northern kingdom Israel in the first reading). Jesus delegates his own authority over unclean spirits to the Twelve. Jesus also sends them in twos so that they are not alone. Jesus orders the Twelve to take nothing with them except their mission: preaching metanoia (“change of heart”), expelling unclean spirits, and healing the sick. Mark uses the same words to describe the start of Jesus’ mission (Mk 1:15ff). Mark is reminding his ekklesia that is it a community (“two by two”), its authority is from Jesus, and its mission is to preach metanoia and to heal.

Today’s letter to the Ephesians is an early liturgical hymn used during baptism. The hymn’s themes include: the catechumen’s election and predestination before the world’s creation (“chose us before the world’s foundation,” “destined us for adoption”); Christ’s death and resurrection (“redemption by his blood; forgiveness of sins”); knowledge from Christian experience (“In wisdom he made known to us the mystery of his will”); the cosmic scope of salvation history (“God’s plan to sum up all things in Christ”); and the sealing of gentile Christians in the Spirit at initiation (“in him you were sealed with the Spirit’s promise”).

This week’s readings revolve around being called and being sent. Ephesians reminds RCIA catechumens and all of us that in baptism God adopts us as daughters and sons, and, through Jesus’ saving death, we receive unmerited salvation. In baptism we are also called–like the Twelve–to spread the good news that we are redeemed. Redemption requires metanoia (“change of heart”). Like Amos, we might find we’re sent with an unpopular message. But we are not sent alone. We are sent with the rest of the believing community, and we are sent with Jesus’ own authority. Do we preach metanoia? Do we heal? Do we hear what we preach?

—Terence Sherlock

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