Tag Archives: 16 Sunday in Ordinary time

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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23 July 2017: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Wis 12:13, 16-19  Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16  Rom 8:26-27  Mt 13:24-43

Parables about the unexpected and surprising kingdom

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 God’s nature and God’s kingdom.

In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, the author considers the paradox of balancing divine mercy with divine power: “Your mastery of all things makes you lenient to all (v 16),” “Though mighty, you judge with clemency (v 18).” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to compliment the kingdom’s descriptions in the gospel parables.

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul addresses the Spirit’s role in completing our prayer. Human prayer is sometimes imperfect in how we praise God or what we ask for. The Spirit comes to our aid to help us form our praise, petitions, and thanks, and present them to God. Paul anticipates John’s description of the Spirit as our paraclete.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus continues teaching  in parables. Jesus presents the crowds and the disciples with three images of the kingdom of the heavens: a field of wheat and weeds, a mustard seed, and leaven. In these parables, Jesus overturns his hearers’ expectations about how God’s kingdom comes, how the kingdom is revealed, and who can enter. This reflection focuses on the most complex image, the wheat and weeds.

First-century feuding parties would often ruin each other’s crops. The practice was so common that a Roman law forbade sabotaging wheat fields with darnel, a poisonous plant that resembles wheat in its early growth. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised by the householder’s decision to wait until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds. In their honor/shame culture, they would expect that someone outwitted and shamed by his enemy would hide or remove the evidence of shame. The householder instead outwits (and shames) his enemy. By waiting, the householder saves his wheat crop, and gets the added benefit of using the weeds to fuel his oven.

This parable warns disciples about human judgement. The kingdom, which is already here, contains both the good and the bad. Disciples may too quickly label someone a “sinner” and judge that person excluded from the kingdom. But God alone judges the worthy and unworthy (see the first reading). A disciple’s work is to preach the kingdom and to encourage conversion (metanoia).

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider how God’s kingdom comes, is recognized, and is encountered and lived. The mustard seed parable tells us the kingdom starts small, but grows large enough to encompass the whole world. The leaven parable tells us that the kingdom starts as a hidden thing, but becomes visible as it changes the world. The wheat-and-weeds parable reminds us that, although we have a role in bringing God’s kingdom, God alone, who is both just and merciful, chooses who will enter. As disciples, are we growing the kingdom by our words and actions? Do we reveal the kingdom daily by our example? Do we invite everyone to the kingdom without judgement or preference?

—Terence Sherlock

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17 July 2016: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 18:1-10a Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 5 Col 1:24-28 Lk 10:38-42

The one important thing

Green_banner_sm 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 continue to examine the commands of loving God and loving the neighbor.

In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham provides hospitality to three guests, following the customs and culture of his time. What is culturally unusual is that Abraham personally attends to his guests–Abraham, rather than his servants, “hastens,” “runs,” “takes,” “sets before,” and “waits on” them. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel Martha’s similar hospitality to Jesus in today’s gospel.

In the second reading from the letter to the Colossians, the author describes his role in bringing forth the “mystery hidden from ages and generations.” Christ is God’s mystery; in Christ are hidden all the treasures and knowledge of God, which God has now revealed to all nations.

In the gospel, Luke continues Jesus’ teachings about the law of love. Despite everyone’s best intentions, serving God can sometimes seem to conflict with the need to serve the neighbor. Luke outlines the conflict and Jesus’ answer:

  • Martha provides hospitality to Jesus the neighbor: Luke tells us that “Martha received him,” that is, offered Jesus and his disciples hospitality. (See the gospel reading from two weeks ago, Lk 10:1-12, 17-20, for Jesus’ instructions about how disciples should accept hospitality.) Martha, like Abraham in the first reading, is all action, preparing and serving her guests.
  • Mary listens to Jesus the Word of God: Luke says that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to his word: What is culturally unusual is that Mary, a woman, would remain with the men to hear Jesus teach–Luke says “she was listening to the word of him.” In the ancient world, “to sit at the feet” of someone means “to become a follower or disciple.”
  • The conflict: Luke describes Martha as “burdened with much serving.” The Greek word περισπάω (peh-ree-SPAH-oh), here translated as “burdened,” really means “distracted.” That is, Martha’s serving distracts her from Jesus’ teachings. Martha’s distraction is cultural, not service-related–she worries that Mary’s discipleship would complicate their family relationships and social standing. Jesus discerns in Martha’s appeal–“Tell Mary to help me”–her real worry. He responds not to Martha’s request for help, but to her distraction.
  • The choice: Jesus tells Martha to worry about one thing: heeding the word of Jesus. This teaching harmonizes with Jesus’ earlier answer about love of God and love of neighbor as the basic observance needed for eternal life. (See last week’s gospel, Lk 10:25-37, for Jesus’ instructions about love of neighbor.) Martha’s action (love of neighbor) is important, but Mary’s action (love of God) is even more important.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community if we have our priorities straight. The law of love requires a careful balance between service and listening. Culture and social convention sometimes bias us to act without considering God’s encouraging words. Which “one thing” do we worry about?

–Terence Sherlock

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19 July 2015: 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: 30-3

Shepherds and rulers, bad and good

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 good and bad shepherds.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah criticizes the Jewish leaders for their poor shepherding of the people. The Hebrew word ra`ah means both “to shepherd” and “to rule”; this is why scripture often equates rulers and shepherds. Jeremiah’s message is direct: God will punish the bad shepherds who don’t care for God’s sheep and scatter them. The leaders’ behavior (worshiping foreign gods) and bad decisions (provoking the Babylonian empire) resulted in the Babylonians taking the Jewish people into exile. However, Jeremiah also tells the people that God, the true shepherd, will “gather the remnant” and restore them under a good shepherd from David’s line–a messiah (“anointed one”). This promised messianic shepherd will “reign and govern wisely” and “do what is just and right.”

Mark’s gospel picks up the shepherd theme. The Twelve return to Jesus in Nazareth and report on their first mission. Jesus and the Twelve travel by boat to an empty (literally “lonesome”) place or wilderness to rest. The locals figure out where they are going and show up before Jesus and the Twelve even get there. (Middle eastern culture is suspicious of groups who separate themselves from community life.) When Jesus sees the crowd, he pities (literally “to feel in his gut for”) them because they are lost, “like sheep without a shepherd,” and begins to teach them. Mark shows Jesus fulfilling God’s promise hear in Jeremiah to “raise up a branch from David’s line” who will “do what is just and right in the land.” Today’s gospel sets up next week’s gospel about Jesus’ mighty act of feeding 5,000 in the wilderness.

In today’s continuation of the letter to the Ephesians, the author explains how Christ unifies Jewish Christians and gentile Christians through his transformative death (“his blood,” “the cross”). Christ creates a single body (his mystical body or the ekklesia) without “dividing walls” that incorporates Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. For the author, the believing community unites in worship when it meets through Christ (his mystical body), and prays in the one Spirit to the Father.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and all of us to reflect on our shepherding roles. Through baptism God literally in-corporates us–makes us part of the body of Christ. Baptism also makes us part of God’s reign, anointed with the responsibility to bring forth God’s kingdom here and now. This means we share in God’s shepherding duties to those within and outside the fold. Do we rule wisely? Do we care for those entrusted to us? Do we break down the dividing walls? Do we do what is right and just?

—Terence Sherlock

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