| Is 50:5-9a
|| Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
|| Jas 2:14-18
|| Mk 8:27-35
Discipleship: deny yourself, pick up your cross, repeat daily
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask each RCIA participant and each believing community member to look closely at his or her discipleship.
The first reading describes Isaiah’s “suffering servant,” who is a prophet to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Although the people reject his message, he continues to deliver God’s message because he knows that God will prove him correct. Christians see in the suffering servant a type or foretelling of Jesus’ life and mission. By extension, every disciple chooses to be a suffering servant who witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and mission. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel Jesus’ prediction of his passion in today’s gospel.
The second reading continues the letter of James. Although this letter is traditionally ascribed to James, who was executed in 62 AD, internal evidence indicates the letter was written between 90-100 AD. The letter is an exhortation that focuses on moral conduct. In today’s reading the author criticizes believing community members who make distinctions between faith and works. Some in the ekklesia (possibly Gnostics) hold that simply believing in Jesus is sufficient for salvation. The author corrects them: faith and works are two sides of the same coin. Proper conduct comes about only when a believer has an authentic commitment to God in faith (Jas 2:18, 26).
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus asks the million-dollar question on which discipleship hinges: Who do you say I am? He addresses his current disciples first, then invites the crowd (everyone, including us) to respond.
- Peter and the disciples. By naming Jesus messiah or anointed (“christos” in Greek, “Christ” in English), Peter answers Jesus’ question correctly, but incompletely. First century Judaism did not have a common definition of messiah: some expected a military conqueror; others, a political leader; still others, a religious reformer. The Romans and Jewish leaders would see any messiah as a threat to the empire and to Judea’s stability.
- Jesus’ reaction. Jesus knows that his disciples still don’t understand who he is. He tells them bluntly (no more parables) he is a suffering messiah who will be rejected and executed, but who will rise again. By calling Peter “Satan” (which means “adversary” or “tester”), Jesus shows that human thinking can sometimes be so wrong that it becomes adversarial to God’s plans. God’s thinking turns this world’s values upside down. Jesus calls disciples to turn-around (metanoia) their human thinking.
- The crowd of potential disciples. By including the crowd, Jesus directs his teaching to both his current disciples and to everyone who wishes to follow him. First, deny yourself. You must act selflessly and put everyone else first. Next, pick up your cross. To follow Jesus is to share completely in his journey. (Mark’s own community knew people who were recently executed by Nero during the Christian purges in Rome in the 60s.) This is what you must do to follow every day.
Today’s readings challenge every disciple to reexamine his or her response. Discipleship requires self-denial and readiness to suffer. This is what following the way of Jesus means. When we tailor our words and actions to win the world’s acceptance, we lose our discipleship. When we skip over the more difficult parts of the gospel (like loving the neighbor), we lose our discipleship. Discipleship is neither safe nor comfortable; if we think denying ourselves is easy, we’ve lost our discipleship. Who do you say Jesus is? How much do you want to follow him?
| Sir 27:30-28:7
|| Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
|| Rom 14:7-9
|| Mt 18:21-35
Forgiving others as God forgives us
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 ask us to think about whom and how we forgive.
In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach contemplates how betrayal of confidence destroys friendship and does irreparable harm. God grants the malicious and vengeful person mercy and forgiveness only after that person first forgives his neighbor. Wisdom literature reminds its hearers that God’s commands inform moral choices and actions. Jesus takes up God’s command to forgive in today’s gospel.
In the second reading, Paul continues his letter to the Romans. He reminds the Roman ekklesia that no matter how each Christian lives, he or she lives for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord; Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.
In the gospel, Matthew concludes his “sermon on the church.” Jesus teaches the disciples about forgiveness. He answers Peter’s question, tells a parable, and sums up the lesson with a saying:
- Peter’s question. After Jesus’ instructions about ministering to those who hurt the community, Peter asks a follow-up question. How forgiving does the ekklesia need to be? Should we be generous and forgive people seven times? No, Jesus says, you must forgive seventy times seven–that is, an unlimited number of times.
- A parable. Jesus’ parable is about a master’s abundant forgiveness and a slave’s stinginess. Although the slave owes the master over $152 million (in today’s US dollars), the master forgives the slave’s debt and releases him and his family from their obligation. Unfortunately, the slave doesn’t forgive his fellow-slave’s $5 debt to him. The scale of what the slave owes his master indicates the slave’s dire position and the master’s abundant mercy. Jesus compares our debt to God (and God’s forgiveness of us) with our debts to each other (and our own generosity, or lack of generosity with each other).
- A summary saying. Jesus draw a connection between forgiveness and resentment: we cannot forgive someone unless we forgive that person “from the heart;” that is, we must release our resentment toward the person as well as forgive the person. This is how God forgives us.
Today’s readings challenge each of us to examine how and whom we forgive. Both Sirach and Jesus tell us that our forgiveness of each other must imitate God’s unlimited forgiveness. In his “sermon on the church,” Matthew notes that such forgiveness extends to tax collectors and gentiles–those outside the believing community. Finally, Jesus teaches that forgiving words aren’t enough: we must forgive “from the heart” as well. Many people turn away from the ekklesia because they do not find forgiveness among its members. Our challenge as a believing community’s is to keep Jesus’ forgiving spirit alive instead of simply memorializing his sayings. Do we recognize God’s abundant forgiveness in our own lives, especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist? Do we witness to God’s presence in our lives by readily offering extravagant mercy and abundant forgiveness to others? Do we forgive from our hearts, or only with our words?
|Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
||Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
||1 Tm 1:12-17
The God who actively searches for the lost
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 confront us with God’s active mercy and its effect.
In the first reading, the Exodus writers show that God’s mercy is always present to the Israelites, no matter what they do. God sought out Abraham and made a covenant with him long before God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Moses reminds God to remain faithful to the covenant and to show mercy to the people have broken it. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to compliment Jesus’ three parables of loss-and-finding.
The second reading is from the first letter to Timothy, which we will hear for the next several weeks. The section immediately before today’s reading instructs Timothy on his duty to restrain false and useless teaching. In the section we hear today, the author (speaking as Paul) gives his own experience as a “blasphemer and persecutor” to show that even those opposed to sound doctrine can be converted through the “abundant grace of the Lord.” God’s abundant grace exists for us even before we know we need it.
The gospel presents three parables about people who experience loss: the shepherd who lost a sheep, a woman who lost a coin, and a father who lost a son.
- What is a parable? The Greek word παραβολή (pah-rah-boh-LAY) means “to throw one thing next to another thing” to create a comparison. Parables are not allegories; they do not have only one interpretation. Parables are ambiguous–they ask more questions than they answer. When Jesus tells a parable, he challenges his hearers to compare their actions or attitudes with those in the story.
- The audience and context. Jesus addresses today’s parables to the Pharisees and scribes–good Jews who kept the covenant laws. Jesus tells these parables after the Pharisees and scribes criticize Jesus for “welcoming sinners and eating with them.”
- An interpretation. The three parables focus on the actions of a person who has lost something or someone–how the shepherd, the woman, and the father react to the loss. The person who loses the sheep, coin, or son first searches. Only after finding the sheep, coin, and son, does the person rejoice, gather friends, neighbors, and family, and celebrate the finding. Jesus seems to be asking the Pharisees and scribes why, as recognized religious people, they don’t act: search out the lost and restore the “sinners” to God and the community. These religious leaders instead criticize Jesus, who searches out the lost, and, on finding them (“welcomes them”), rejoices and celebrates (“eats with them”)–offering mercy, discipleship, and a place at the table in the God’s kingdom.
Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the believing community that we are in a relationship with a God-who-searches. After humans initially broke this relationship, God searched and found others (Abraham and his descendants) to continue the relationship. The Timothy author describes God’s overflowing abundance of grace, from God who sought out Paul. Through parables and actions Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes (and us) that God’s mercy is active, not passive. God doesn’t say, “You know where to find me,” or “Call me when you’re ready to talk.” God actively searches for the lost. As disciples of the God-who-actively-seeks-the-lost, we also must practice active mercy and active searching. Do we search out the ones whom we know are lost, or do we wait for the lost to find us? If we don’t search and find, how can we rejoice and celebrate?
||Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Discipleship: a way of seeing
In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.
The first reading is from Isaiah. Scripture scholars identify the author as an anonymous poet (called “Second Isaiah” or “Deutero-Isaiah”) who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian exile (about 550-539 BC). Second Isaiah wrote four “Servant Songs” about Israel’s suffering servant, a man called to lead the nations but who was abused and condemned; in the end he is rewarded for his sufferings. Early Christians saw the suffering servant in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In today’s third servant song the suffering servant “gives his back to those who beat me” and his face “to buffets and spitting”–we see the messiah’s passion foreshadowed.
The second reading continues the letter of James. In today’s reading, the author criticizes believing community members who distinguish between faith and works. Some in the ekklesia (possibly Gnostics) see belief in Jesus as sufficient for salvation. The author asks: What good is faith without the works that make faith real? Without works, faith is a dead thing. Others in the ekklesia see faith and works as two different gifts (“you have faith and I have works”). The author corrects them: faith and works are two sides of the same coin. He says, “you can’t show me your faith alone, but I can show you works that come from my faith.”
In Mark’s gospel we hear Jesus’ teaching about discipleship. Last week Jesus healed the deaf-mute, but his disciples still can’t see who Jesus is. This week, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say I am?” The disciples give positive, but non-committal,answers. Jesus asks them directly: “Who do you say I am?” Peter, the spokesman, responds: “You are the anointed one, the messiah.” Jesus then teaches the disciples about the messiah’s mission: rejection, suffering, death, resurrection. (See the first reading’s “suffering servant.”) Peter rebukes (literally “censures”) Jesus for Jesus’ description of messiahship. Jesus rebukes Peter right back: “Go away, Satan. You’re seeing things like a human, not the way God sees!” Jesus addresses the disciples and the crowds on discipleship: you must leave your family and friends (“deny oneself”) and walk with Jesus and his followers. Everyone has a choice: follow the world’s path to have a worldly life–and lose your life in the end; or give away your life in service to Jesus’ message–and save your life.
As the RCIA process resumes its weekly sessions this week, the readings provide catechumens and candidates–and all believing community members–with stark words about what Jesus expects of his disciples: See things from God’s point of view. Give up your comfortable, clannish ways. Walk with me on my path. Our baptismal profession of faith puts us on the disciples’ path. Our Baptism and Confirmation anointings make us other Christs and other messiahs. Whom do we say Jesus is? How do we see ourselves as disciples? Have we learned to see with God’s eyes? Can others see our faith and discipleship in our works?