Tag Archives: 21 Sunday in Ordinary time

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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27 August 2017: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 22:19-23  Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8  Rom 11:33-36  Mt 16:13-20

Who are you?

Green_banner_smDuring 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 describe Simon-Peter’s special role in the believing community.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah recounts the events of 701BC, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib devastated Judah, forcing King Hezekiah to surrender. Through God’s action, Eliakim became master of King Hezekiah’s palace. The master of the palace carried the door keys on a cord that hung from his shoulder. The keys symbolized his authority to admit or to deny anyone access to the king. Just as God gave Eliakim the palace keys, Jesus gives Simon-Peter the keys to God’s kingdom.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 9 through 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel. Today’s reading concludes Paul’s meditation on Israel’s place in salvation history. Both the Jews who rejected Jesus and the gentiles who rejected God’s law have nonetheless received God’s gift of faith. Paul ends with a doxology praising the depths of the riches and wisdom of God.

In Matthew’s gospel Simon-Peter reveals Jesus’ identity, and Jesus tells Simon-Peter who he will become.

  • Who is Jesus? Simon-Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God.”

First, Simon-Peter calls Jesus “the Christ.” The Greek word χριστός (kris-TOS) means “anointed one” or “Christ,” and is equivalent to the Hebrew word messiah. Simon-Peter tells Jesus that he and the disciples believe he is the long-promised fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

Then Simon-Peter calls Jesus “son of God.” The anointed kings of David’s line were called God’s sons (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). “Son of God” here means “the messiah of Israel.” But Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ sonship is different–unique (Mt 11:27) and transcendent (Mt 3:17).

  • Who is Simon-Peter? Jesus now returns the favor by telling Simon-Peter who he is:

First, Jesus gives Simon a new name: Peter, which means “the Rock” (in Aramaic, Kephas; in Greek, Petros). Jesus renames Simon because Simon is to be the solid foundation of rock (in Aramaic, kephas; in Greek, petra) on which Jesus’ believing community (ekklesia, or church) will be built.

Next, Jesus promises the Rock that even the “gates of the netherworld” won’t overpower this ekklesia. In Jewish thought, the gates of the netherworld opened into Sheol or the Pit, which held not only the souls of the dead but also the powers or spirits that brought death and deception to the living.

Finally, Jesus invests the Rock with the keys to God’s kingdom, like Eliakim in the first reading (Is 22:22). Jesus gives the Rock and his successors authority to forgive sins (“bind and loose”), continuing Jesus’ mission of reconciling humans with the Father.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider who we are. Paul reminds the Romans that everyone has a role in salvation history. Eliakim was surprised to be made master of the palace; we can be sure that Simon-The Rock was also surprised when Jesus revealed his future role in the believing community. God gives each of us keys, such as understanding, knowledge, authority, and patience. Do we recognize who we are and accept the keys we’re given? Do we use our keys to open doors for others? Or do we choose to lock others out?

—Terence Sherlock

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21 August 2016: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 66:18-21 Ps 117:1, 2 Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 Lk 13:22-30


Discipleship: the narrow door

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 describe the universal call to discipleship, its urgency, and the consequences for those who are slow to accept.

The first reading from Isaiah tells Isaiah’s prophecy that God calls “all nations of every language” to Jerusalem to worship with the Jewish people. This prophecy foreshadows the messianic banquet of today’s gospel.

The second reading continues our reading from the letter to the Hebrews. In last week’s reading, the Hebrews’ author recommends Jesus and his sufferings as model for readers and their persecution. In this week’s reading he calls their persecution a “discipline.” The Greek word παιδεία (pah-ee-DIH-ah) means “the correction given to children.” God’s discipline, while uncomfortable, strengthens the readers’ resolve to live according to Christ’s teachings in a polytheistic, non-Christian world.

Luke’s gospel continues Jesus’ discipleship teachings. Jesus is about half-way through his journey to Jerusalem. Although Jesus invites everyone to God’s kingdom, only those who persist in discipleship will share in the messianic banquet. Today he gives two sayings and a parable about preparing for the kingdom and the feast:

  • Saying 1: strive to enter by the narrow door. The Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι (ah-go-NIHd-zoh-mah-ee), translated as “strive,” comes from a word meaning a contest or struggle. The word ἀγωνίζομαι carries an urgency that the English word “strive” does not–Jesus urges his hearers to strain every fiber of your being to get into the kingdom. Jesus also says that a “narrow door” leads to the kingdom and the banquet. In the parable that follows, he explains how the door is narrow.
  • Parable: the house-master. Jesus warns that the time is short–at some point “the house-master locks the door,” locking out those who haven’t acted. Those outside bang on the door and plead, but the house-master says “I don’t know you.” The outsiders claim they shared a meal with the house-master and heard him teach, but still the house-master says, “I don’t know you. You failed to act for good. Go away!” The outsiders failed to act as true disciples–to “change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). The banquet goes on inside, with Abraham, his descendants, the prophets, and some surprise guests. The first reading reveals the identity of these guests; Jesus’ second saying explains how they got in.
  • Saying 2: the last are first. Some of those invited first to the messianic feast–the Jews who heard Jesus teach–failed to act on his invitation to become disciples. As a result, the ones invited last–those from “all nations of every language” who chose discipleship–will be seated ahead of the ones invited first.

Today’s readings tell RCIA participants and the whole believing community that the door to God’s kingdom and the banquet is narrow. We have to work to get in. And the door won’t be open to us forever. Discipleship, lived every day, is the narrow door. The house-master won’t open the door for casual Christians or in-name-only disciples. Are we straining every fiber of our being to live the gospel? Are we acting for good or are we settling for the world’s good-enough?

—Terence Sherlock

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23 August 2015: 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 Jn 6:60-69


The bread of life: test of discipleship

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we conclude our five-week meditation on the Bread of Life teaching, the Eucharist and discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from the last book of Joshua, Moses’ successor. In this passage, Joshua addresses the Hebrew people before he dies, summarizing God’s mighty acts in bringing the Hebrews to the promised land, and God’s now-fulfilled promise to Abraham and his descendants about providing a homeland. Joshua then asks the Hebrews 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 God: “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” The Lectionary editors chose this story because, like today’s gospel, it presents God’s people with a choice.

The second reading is from Ephesians, a letter written between 80-100AD. It is written by Paul, but may be by a Pauline disciple. This section is part of the parenesis (ethical exhortation) of the letter, specifically the “household code.”  In the ancient world, household codes described ideal relationships between household members (husband/wife, parent/child, master/slave) to maintain an orderly life. The Greek Stoic philosophers first proposed household codes, emphasizing the first party’s requirement for obedience and the second party’s obligations. Hellenistic Judaism expanded on the Stoics’ ideas, using the Hebrew scripture as a basis for moral behavior. In today’s reading the Ephesians’ author provides a set of Christian household codes. He reverses the Stoic ethical model, saying that the Christian first party’s obligation is for love and self-sacrifice. In all Christian household relationships, each person is subject to all others out of reverence for Christ. The author constructs a parable comparing the Christian husband-and-wife relationship to the Christ-and-ekklesia relationship. He builds the Christ/ekklesia parable from the mystical union of Christ and ekklesia: Christ as head of the ekklesia’s body; Christ as husband to the ekklesia. Just as Christ’s love is the starting point for his relationship with the ekklesia, so also love should be the starting point for the husband and wife relationship in a Christian marriage. In other household codes, power determines relationships. In a Christian household, love replaces power in all relationships.

This week’s gospel concludes John’s Bread of Life discourse. Over the last few weeks, the Jesus of John’s gospel revealed two new teachings:

  • Jesus as the Bread of Life offered to anyone who believes in him (Jn 6:34-47). Jesus addresses this first teaching to the crowds and to the Jewish people in the Capernaum synagogue. Just as the Torah spiritually feeds the Hebrew people, so Jesus, God’s Word incarnate, offers everyone the Father’s words of love and eternal life. The Jewish hearers understand that Jesus is saying he is the new Torah. They murmur against Jesus and reject him because they “know” him–he is not “the one coming down from God.”
  • Jesus as sacramentally present to the post-resurrection disciples through the Eucharist (Jn 6:37-58). John has Jesus direct this second teaching to the post-resurrection disciples and to John’s own ekklesia. The disciples could understand this Eucharistic teaching only after Jesus had completed his mission, offered his body and blood to the Father on Calvary, and been raised. Just as God-given manna fed and sustained the Hebrews’ physical lives in the wilderness, so Jesus, God-in-flesh, gives his glorified flesh and blood to feed and ensure his disciples’ eternal life in the kingdom. Many disciples–in Jesus’ time and in John’s time–rejected Jesus sacramental teaching as “too hard.” In Jesus’ time they murmur against Jesus because they do not want to believe that Jesus will die; in John’s time they cannot believe his continuing presence with them in the Eucharist. Their faith is too weak to trust in God’s superabundant love.

At today’s decision point, the crowds, the Jews, and many disciples reject Jesus and “go back to their old lives.” Jesus asks the Twelve–his inner circle–if they, also, will go. Peter professes his faith: “We believe you are the holy one of God.”

Like Joshua in the first reading, Jesus presents his mighty acts and promises to the crowd, RCIA participants, and the believing community, and asks each one of us to choose. What Jesus says is hard. We think we know Jesus, the Word of God; but when we hear him in the Liturgy of the Word, sometimes we don’t want to believe him. When Jesus re-presents himself and gives himself to us in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it’s hard for us to believe his is intimately and physically with us. Discipleship is difficult: Jesus presents us with seeming impossible requests and unreachable challenges. Do we have faith in God’s superabundant love? Or will we also go away, back to comfortable, easy lives?

—Terence Sherlock

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