Tag Archives: 25 Sunday in Ordinary time

24 September 2017: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 55:6-9   Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18   Phil 1:20c-24, 27a   Mt 20:1-16a

God’s abundant generosity and our response

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 ask us to think about God’s generosity to us and others.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s mercy motivates all to “seek the Lord.” “God’s ways” remain a mystery to humans. God’s mercy, generosity, and kindness cannot be understood by humans. Jesus brings out this idea in greater detail in today’s parable.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Philippi ekklesia while he is in prison in Ephesus in 56 AD. His imprisonment probably causes him to reflect on his own life and death. Whether he lives or dies, Paul will magnify Christ through his own body. He urges the Philippians also to “live lives worth of Christ’s gospel.”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a generous house-master. Not all the workers agree with the owner’s actions:

  • The conflict. The first-hired workers believe the owner should compensate them more than their agreed-on full-day wage. Their argument ignores the “fair wage” agreement they made in concert with the owner, and they insist the owner is shaming them by making them equal to the eleventh-hour workers.
  • The resolution. The owner replies that he is acting neither unjustly nor dishonorably. He reminds the workers that they and he agreed together on the fair wage at the start of the day.
  • The owner’s question. The parable ends abruptly with the owner asking the first-hired workers: Are you envious because I am generous? In the Greek text, the owner says these workers have the “evil eye.” The Semitic idiom evil eye describes someone who is envious, holds a grudge, is mean-spirited, or ungenerous (see Deut 15:9; Pv 28:22; Sir 14:8; Mt 6:23). Because the last-hired workers receive an unearned and undeserved gift from the owner, the first-hired workers are offended. They see the owner’s unwarranted generosity as an injustice–“we should get more than them!”

    The owner points out that the injustice lies with the murmuring workers’ envy. Envy–being angry at another’s good fortune–is from the devil (Wis 2:24). Jesus’ parable asks his hearers to decide if the owner is fair or generous, or both, or neither. That is, the hearers must examine their own reaction to the owner’s choice.

Today’s readings present RCIA participants and the believing community with a thought problem. Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus’ parable shows us that the kingdom is about God’s abundant generosity. Wouldn’t life be great if we all worked for a generous owner? Yet we are filled with righteous indignation and complain about God’s goodness to others. We want God to be generous with others, but more generous with us. We fear God’s abundant generosity because we can’t understand it. Are we afraid there’s not enough for everyone? Can we let go of our envy of those to whom God is generous? Can we recognize the unearned and undeserved gifts that God has given us?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 September 2016: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Am 8:4-7 Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8 1 Tm 2:1-8 Lk 16:1-13

 

Discipleship: trust God, use possessions

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 ask us to examine our attitudes about God and our use of God’s gifts.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos describes his fourth vision: God promises to destroy the northern kingdom (Israel) because the rich cheat the poor. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because the theme of defrauding correlates with the steward’s wrongdoing in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to Timothy. After Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon, the Jewish community prayed for their pagan rulers. Following that tradition, the Timothy author asks prayers for “kings and civil authorities” so that the Christian community may continue in a “quiet and tranquil life.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a wily steward whom Jesus praises for his wisdom. While Jesus’ first century hearers easily understood the message, we twenty-first century hearers don’t get it. Here’s what we miss in the parable:

  • The characters. The parable has four actors: (1) A rich man who owns multiple tenant farms. (2) An unjust steward. (3) The debtors of the rich owner. (4) The community who brings the charge of “squandering the owner’s possessions” against the steward.
  • The set up. The community tells the owner that the steward has been cheating him. The owner calls the steward, fires him, and orders him to return the account books.
  • The steward’s actions: The steward is silent before the owner. Jesus’ audience would expect the steward to deny the charges and to negotiate with the owner. His silence implies he is guilty, and that he can’t manipulate the honorable owner. After some reflection, the steward comes up with a plan that will shame the owner and get the steward another job. While he still has the owner’s account books, the steward illegally and unjustly conspires with the debtors to change the books and bills. As co-conspirators and beneficiaries of the steward’s stealing, the debtors can’t report the steward’s cheating. The steward returns the account books to the owner, and the debtors return to the community, telling everyone about the kind steward who convinced the generous owner to reduce their debts.
  • The owner’s options and choice: The steward leaves the owner with only two options: (1) Tell the community that the debtors’ reductions were illegal and the debtors must pay in full. (2) Accept that he’s been duped, enjoy his increased status as a generous rich man, and let the steward go unpunished. He chooses the honorable second option, and praises the steward for acting “prudently” or wisely. The steward’s wisdom was in understanding the owner’s honor and relying on his characteristic mercy and generosity.

Today’s parable asks RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our relationship with God and possessions. Jesus applauds the steward’s trust in the owner’s honor and mercy. Like the steward, we trust that God treats us with mercy and generosity, no matter how we squander God’s gifts (possessions). Do we take God’s mercy for granted? Do we act as if possessions will save us? Have we convinced ourselves that our private actions have no communal consequences?

–Terence Sherlock

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20 September 2015: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 2:12, 17-20 Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8 Jas 3:16-4:3 Mk 9:30-37

Discipleship: welcoming the nowhere man

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 the Book of Wisdom. An unknown Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria wrote this book between 100-28 BC. The early Christians understood the “just one” or “righteous one” as Jesus, and these themes appear throughout the passion narratives. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel prediction of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

The second reading continues James’ letter. Today’s reading is part of a larger section (Jas 3:1-5-6) in which the author addresses faults that divide a believing community. He tells his hearers that where “malice and factions exist in a believing community, disorder follows.” Passions (literally “selfish pleasures”) cause strife and fights. The author urges the practice of “wisdom,” which leads to peace in the ekklesia.

Mark’s gospel finds Jesus and the disciples journeying to Jerusalem. Mark repeats the phrase “on the way” twice in today’s reading. The phrase means not only a physical journey, but a disciple’s path to understanding. Mark uses “the way” to remind readers about the choices of discipleship. Today Jesus predicts his passion, death, and resurrection a second time. The disciples “were not understanding” and “were afraid to ask.” Instead they argue about who among them is “the first.” The disciples again show that they are not hearing Jesus’ message. Jesus tries to shift their vision: “to be first, you must be the least, and the servant of all.” To demonstrate his teaching, Jesus places a child in their midst. We might interpret Jesus’ words and actions toward the child as sentimental and passively protective. First-century disciples would hear Jesus’ teaching very differently–in the ancient world, a child was legally and socially a nobody, a non-person without rights. The gospel uses the Greek word παιδίον, which can mean “child,” “servant,” or “slave.” By “putting his arms around” the child, Jesus literally embraces the non-person. He teaches and shows the disciples “when you welcome and accept the lowest one, the helpless one, the inconsequential one, you welcome and accept me.” To further drive home his teaching, Jesus adds, “You welcome and accept not only me, but also the one who sent me.” That is, the disciple’s treatment of a non-person is the measure of that disciple’s treatment of God.

The RCIA process encourages candidates and especially catechumens to think about discipleship. Under the best conditions (“who will be first in the kingdom”), discipleship isn’t easy (“take care of the unwanted immigrant”). Under the worst conditions (“you’ll be handed over and killed”), discipleship can break our faith (“they were afraid”). Discipleship doesn’t have an autopilot setting: it’s a path filled with daily decisions–faction or fellowship, selfish pleasures or service–that only we can make. Are we listening to Jesus’ great teachings, or are we worried only about our own greatness?

—Terence Sherlock

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