| Dt 4:1-2, 6-8
|| Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
|| Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
|| Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Discipleship: a set of rules or a way of life?
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 consider how God’s laws and Jesus’ teachings must be the basis for our discipleship.
The first reading is from Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Torah. Moses address the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land, giving advice on how to live once they are settled and exhorting them to stay faithful to God’s covenant. Moses warns the people “not add to what God commands you, or subtract from it.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of Jesus’ criticism of “disregarding God’s commandments” in today’s gospel.
The second reading begins a continuous reading from the letter of James. Traditionally this letter was thought to be from James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem ekklesia, who was executed by stoning in 62 AD. However, internal evidence indicates this letter was written in the late first century (90-100 AD). The letter is an exhortation that focuses on moral conduct. In today’s reading the author says that God brings forth Christians by “the word of truth,” implanted at baptism. Christians are made not simply by hearing the word, but by acting on it. Discipleship requires Christians to act for others and to make moral choices for themselves.
After five weeks of readings from John’s gospel, this week the gospel returns to Mark. Today’s conflict story occurs immediately after Mark’s version of Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water. The Pharisees and Jerusalem scribes ignore Jesus’ acts of power and instead complain to Jesus that his disciples don’t wash before eating. Here is a summary of the arguments:
- The traditions of the elders. These “traditions” refer to a body of detailed, unwritten laws which were part of the oral Torah. In the first century, Jewish Law included not only the written Torah (the five scrolls or books of Mosaic law), but also the oral Torah: laws, statutes, and legal interpretations not recorded in the first five biblical books. In Jesus’ time, not all Jews accepted this oral tradition: the scribes and Pharisees accepted the oral Torah as having the same authority as the written Torah, but the Sadducees and Essenes rejected the oral Torah.
- The difference between God’s commands and human traditions. In his reply to his accusers, Jesus ignores the written vs oral Torah argument, and instead repeats the prophets’ message: God desires works of justice and charity, not empty religious observance. Jesus accuses his opponents of “playing at” following the Torah.
- A parable about what truly defiles a person. In a culture that was fixated on food laws, Jesus’ saying is counter-intuitive. Jesus’ parable about food (“what goes in the stomach/what comes out of the heart”) radically recasts defilement. A person’s own evil words and actions, coming from the source of his physical, spiritual, and mental life (“heart”), make him ritually unclean before God and the covenant.
Today’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to ask: “What kind of disciple am I?” God’s law calls us to a covenant with a living person, not simply a set of rules. Today’s three readings call us to right moral conduct. We can’t simply hand off our personal responsibilities for our own words and actions to some “tradition.” Discipleship requires that always and everywhere we do the right thing, despite what customs or laws might say. Jesus warns that devotion to tradition can result in a moral rigidity that keeps us from expressing God’s justice and charity to everyone. Are we Christians only on Sunday, or every day? Are we simply following the rules, or are we following the disciple’s path?
| Jer 20:7-9
|| Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
|| Rom 12:1-2
|| Mt 16:21-27
Discipleship: disowning self, owning a cross, following after
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 describe discipleship’s requirements and paradox.
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah articulates the role and fate of the prophet. A prophet speaks for God, delivering God’s message to kings and to common people. Unfortunately, speaking God’s word results in rejection, persecution, and martyrdom. Jesus takes up this theme in today’s gospel.
The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 12 and 13, Paul explains how Christians should live in response to the mercy of God. He begins by comparing the Mosaic law’s ritual sacrifices with the believing community’s offering of themselves as a “living sacrifice.” Their lives should emulate Christ’s own sacrificial life, using the gifts God has given in service to others. Later in the letter, Paul provides specific examples of how to live out a life of sacrifice.
Matthew’s gospel signals a change in Jesus’ ministry: it marks the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the start of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem. Last week, Peter named Jesus as the messiah. Now Jesus reveals what his messiahship means, and what that means for his disciples:
- Jesus defines messiahship. Jesus reveals to his disciples his messianic mission, known only to the Father and Jesus. The “elders, chief-priests, and scribes” will reject Jesus’ message, and their actions will result in his suffering and death. Although Jesus tells his disciples he will be raised, they miss this hope-filled part of his message.
Peter, shocked by Jesus’ revelation, still wants a messiah who conquers and reigns. In Peter’s words, Jesus recognizes an echo of Satan’s temptations in the desert (Mt 4:8-10): be the people’s messiah, rather than God’s messiah. We see the conflict between last week’s inspired Peter who recognized Jesus as messiah, and this week’s human Peter who can’t hear the divine meaning of messiahship.
- Jesus defines discipleship. Jesus is very clear about the cost of following him.
First, a disciple must disown him- or herself. That is, a disciple places others before him- or herself.
Next, a disciple takes up his or her cross. This image doesn’t affect us today, because state executions are private. But most first-century hearers would have actually seen prisoners being led through town, already tied to the crossbeams on which they would be crucified.
Finally, after presenting discipleship as rejection and death, Jesus invites his hearers to walk the road with him.
But discipleship isn’t all bad: Jesus closes his teaching by connecting discipleship with God’s coming kingdom. At the parousia, God’s agent (the son of man) will judge each person based on his or her actions or deeds. Disciples will be awarded eternal life in the kingdom; those who rejected discipleship will forfeit their eternal souls.
Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider his or her own discipleship. Discipleship requires that we speak God’s truth to a world interested only in its own messages. The ones who most need our help reject us. Crosses come in many forms: exclusion, illness, loneliness. And yet we are called to follow, because to live this way is to bring God’s kingdom for others and for us. Discipleship remains always our choice. Whose truth do we choose to speak? Whose path do we choose to follow? Whose kingdom do we choose to build up? Whose life do we choose to save?
|Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
||Ps 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
||Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a
||Lk 14:1, 7-14
Discipleship: lessons in humility
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 how a disciple’s relationship requires humility both before God and with others.
The first reading from the book of Sirach teaches a lesson in humility. Humility may help in human relationships (“you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”), but its real purpose is to create a right relationship with God. Humility gives us a true estimate of ourselves, so that we will do what should be done, and avoid what is beyond our understanding (“too sublime”) and “strength.” The Lectionary editors chose this passage to match Jesus’ teaching about humility in today’s gospel.
In the second reading, from the closing section of the letter to the Hebrews, the author contrasts the historical events of Mt Sinai with the promises of Mt Zion. Sinai represents God’s covenant with Moses, a physical covenant written on stone. God’s pronouncements were so awesome that the Hebrews begged God never to address them directly again. Zion represents God’s new covenant, mediated through Jesus. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, given amid fire, storm, and thunder, the new covenant is given in the heavenly Jerusalem at an angelic feast. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice (‘the sprinkled blood'”) is perfect and more powerful (“speaks more eloquently”) than Abel’s offering.
Luke’s gospel is set at a meal in a Pharisee’s house. Jesus uses an earthly dinner to give two parables about conduct at the coming messianic feast:
- Choosing a seat at a feast (Lk 14:8-11). Jesus addresses his first parable to those who were invited. Jesus’ instruction is not about strategic seating, but about a person’s relationship with God. God invites everyone to the messianic feast. Those who consider themselves righteous because they keep Torah and attend Temple might expect the best seats. However, God’s seating arrangement doesn’t follow our assumptions, as we heard in last week’s parable about the house-master. Jesus concludes with a wisdom saying about “being humbled” and “being exalted.” Echoing today’s first reading, Jesus tells us that our humility before God lets us recognize our place at the feast.
- Whom to invite to a meal (Lk 14:12-14). Jesus addresses his second parable to the Pharisee who hosted the dinner. In Mediterranean societies, hosts invited only people of equal social status. Jesus instruction is not about strategic invitations, but about a person’s relationship with others. Those who give exclusive dinners expect to be invited to the best parties with the best people. However, God’s invitation to the future messianic feast depends on how inclusive, not exclusive, our guest lists are now. We’ll hear more about God’s invitations in the upcoming parable about Lazarus (25 Sunday in Ordinary time).
Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the whole believing community that humility is central to our relationship to God and to the neighbor. True humility gives a disciple self-perspective: it’s not all about me. Being invited to the feast doesn’t mean we automatically sit at the head table. Where we’re seated (or if we’re seated) will depend on the invitations we’ve extended or withheld. How will we be “repaid at the resurrection”?
|Dt 4:1-2, 6-8
||Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
||Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
||Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Acting on our beliefs, or simply acting?
In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the gospel returns to Mark and we will continue reading about discipleship in Mark for the rest of this liturgical year.
The first reading is from Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” Deuteronomy contains Moses’ instructions to the Hebrew people before they enter the Promised Land. Today he warns the people “not add to what God commands you, or subtract from it.” This warning connects to today’s gospel. Moses presents the Hebrew people with a stark choice: “love the Lord and keep his commandments” or “serve other gods.”
The second reading is from the letter of James. Scholars determined that James, a relative of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem ekklesia, isn’t the author; the letter describes conditions in the late first century, long after James’ martyrdom by stoning in 62 AD. In today’s reading the author tells us that God brings forth Christians by “the word of truth,” implanted at baptism. In Jewish liturgy, firstfruits are harvest offerings set aside and offered to God in thanksgiving for a good harvest; Christians are firstfruits of God’s kingdom. Christians are not “made” simply by hearing “the word,” but by acting on it–“be doers, not just hearers.” Finally, he says that religion comes down to this: take care of those who are powerless and afflicted (“widows and orphans”) and remain “unspotted by the world.”
The gospel reading follows Mark’s version of Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water. In today’s gospel the Pharisees and scribes ignore Jesus’ acts of power and instead complain to Jesus that his disciples don’t wash before eating. Jesus answers his critics with a scripture quote and concludes by contrasting “God’s commandment” with “human traditions”–the very thing Moses warns the Hebrews about in the first reading. Jesus calls the Pharisees and scribes ὑποκριτής (hoo-poh-kree-TAYS)–“actors.” Today Jesus might call them”poseurs”–wannabes who give lip service to God but “whose hearts are far away.” Jesus turns from the poseurs and addresses the crowd, teaching them that things that go into a person don’t defile that person–it’s the things that begin inside a person and come out as actions that defile. Jesus teaches that purity doesn’t come from clean hands, but from a clean heart.
RCIA participants sometimes worry about getting all the Mass responses and postures–standing, kneeling, and sitting–right. Believing community membership doesn’t depend on knowing the right moment to stand or kneel, but, as the author of James says, active and engaged care of the powerless and afflicted. Moses reminds us that worship is important because it expresses our “love of the Lord.” What does our religion comedown to? Are our actions “pure,” acting on the gospel message and the word planted at our baptisms? Or are we poseurs, our hearts far away from God, acting out a show for others while serving other gods?