| Gn 2:18-24
|| Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
|| Heb 2:9-11
|| Mk 10:2-16
Discipleship: Love in the kingdom-in-progress
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings continue to teach RCIA participants and the believing community about the requirements of discipleship.
The first reading from Genesis is an etiological (or “origins”) story that explains where men and women come from, why they are attracted to each other, and how and why society is structured as it is. God created humans as good; God charged humans to propagate their goodness through creation. Relationships and human marriage (should) mirror God’s goodness. The Lectionary editors chose this story because Jesus quotes this passage in today’s gospel.
The second reading begins a seven-week continuous reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. An unknown author wrote Hebrews to a second-generation Christian community in Rome between 75-90 AD. More sermon than letter, Hebrews argues Jesus’ superiority over the angels and Moses; over the Jewish priesthood; and over (former) Jewish sacrifices. It then discusses faith and endurance, giving examples from the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus’ life; warns about Christian practices; and concludes with blessings and greetings. Today’s reading is from the introduction. The author opens with a summary of Jesus’ incarnation (“made lower than the angels”) and his redemptive mission (“taste death for all”). Jesus is now exalted because he completed (“perfected”) his work through suffering, bringing humans to redemption and glory. Because Jesus shared our humanity, we are siblings to Jesus, who is “not ashamed to call [us] ‘brothers.'”
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is now “on the road” to Jerusalem and directing his teachings to the crowds, not just his disciples. Today we hear two related teachings: marriage as discipleship and children as models for receiving the kingdom. Both teachings are about practical discipleship:
- Marriage as discipleship. Jesus’ radical teaching on marriage–God is the author of human marriage (Gen 2: 23-24) and what God joins humans can’t take apart–is consistent with his other radical teachings. He does not abolish the Law, but rather goes to the root of the Law. The tension Jesus and the Pharisees express about marriage and divorce remains today. Jesus summons everyone to a discipleship that includes radical demands. Every generation struggles to actualize the spirit of Jesus’ “one flesh/no divorce” teaching while balancing real social and pastoral needs (moral conflicts, cultural conflicts, spousal abuse, mental illness, and so on). Discipleship doesn’t offer easy answers.
- Receiving the kingdom. Blessing children was an ancient Jewish practice. The disciples thought they were helping Jesus by limiting access to him, but they missed Jesus’ teaching about the need to welcome the non-person (see last week’s gospel). Those without any social standing, including children, receive everything as a gift. The kingdom is God’s freely-given gift. The kingdom is transcendent (not a human product or achievement) and eschatological (its fullness is future). Humans can neither bring God’s kingdom themselves nor lay any personal claim on it.
Today’s readings again challenge every disciple to reexamine his or her words and actions. Jesus’ call to love is absolute. For married disciples, Jesus sets out the positive ideal that a husband and a wife become “one flesh.” In all its joys and difficulties, married love is a witness to discipleship and to the kingdom’s promise. For all disciples, Jesus again reiterates that God’s kingdom is a gift, not a human achievement or award. Only those who receive the kingdom as a gift and make no claim on it because of power or status or entitlement will enter. Accepting the kingdom as God’s unmerited gift is a witness to discipleship and the kingdom’s meaning. How do we understand Jesus call to love in our most intimate relationship and our relationships to others? How do we receive the gift of the kingdom?
| Is 5:1-7
|| Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
|| Phil 4:6-9
|| Mt 21:33-43
A vineyard owner and his problem tenants
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 invite us to think about the responsibilities of stewardship.
In the first reading, Isaiah tells an allegorical story about a vineyard owner. Although he carefully develops his vineyard and plants good grapes, only wild grapes grow. Because his grapes fail, the owner chooses to tear down his vineyard. Isaiah explains the owner is God, and the grapes are the people of Judah. God will punish the people because they failed in their stewardship to keep God’s covenant. Jesus tells a similar allegorical parable in today’s gospel.
In the second reading, Paul concludes his letter to the Philippi ekklesia. Many scripture scholars believe this letter is a composite of two or three letters. If so, v 6-7 end one letter and v 8-9 end a different letter. Paul closes the first letter with a request that the Philippians not to be anxious, but rather to bring their requests to God in prayer. Paul closes the other letter with an exhortation that the Philippians model their lives on Christ as Paul does, referencing Christ’s example from last week’s christological hymn (Phil 2:6-11).
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus directs an allegorical parable to the chief priests and elders, using elements from Isaiah’s vineyard parable (first reading). The story has the following parts:
- The parable/allegory. Echoing Isaiah’s parable, Jesus describes a landowner (God) who creates a vineyard (the chosen people). In Jesus’ story, the owner leases the vineyard to tenants (the religious leaders). At the harvest, the owner sends his servants (the prophets) to collect his share. The tenants beat, kill, and stone his servants. The owner responds by sending more servants; the tenants treat these servants in the same way. Finally the owner sends his son (Jesus), whom the tenants throw out of the vineyard and kill.
- Jesus’ question and the religious leaders’ answer. Jesus ends his parable by asking the chief priests and elders, “What do you think the owner will do to the tenants?” The religious leaders implicate themselves when they answer: “He’ll kill the evil tenants and lease the vineyard to others who will produce fruit.” Jesus presses his point by quoting Ps 118 about the stone (Jesus) rejected by the builders (the religious authorities) becoming the cornerstone or capstone (his resurrection).
- Jesus’ interpretation. In case the religious leaders didn’t understand the allegory, Jesus tells them bluntly that God’s kingdom will be taken from them and given to people (more faithful stewards) who will produce fruit.
RCIA participants and the believing community are challenged in today’s readings to consider their stewardship. Although we may not think of ourselves as religious leaders, we have stewardship responsibilities to ourselves, our children, our spouses, our neighbors, and our world. We are responsible for hearing and acting on God’s instructions and remaining in covenant with God, and bringing others into loving relationships. Are we faithful tenants and stewards? Do we listen when God speaks to us through Word and sacrament? Do we act out of love for God and our neighbor?
|Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4
||Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
||2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Discipleship: loyal living and faith-full acts
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 challenge our idea of faith.
In the first reading, the prophet Habakkuk complains to God that God ignores the unrighteous acts of Judah’s rulers against the people. God answers with a vision of Jerusalem–Judah’s capital city–destroyed, and its people taken as captives to Babylon. God tells Habakkuk that, in contrast to the unrighteous acts of Judah’s rulers, “the just (righteous) one will live because of his faith.” The just ones who remain loyal to God–who live their faith–God will save. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because its saying on faith echoes Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel.
In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author looks back on Paul’s life and draws lessons from it; he also looks to the future and offers challenges and hopes to Timothy and his readers. “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice:” the Greek word δειλία (dih-LEE-ah) is better translated as “fear” to contrast with the gospel’s active faith that can uproot a tree and plant it in the sea.
Today’s gospel from Luke is part of four connected sayings about how a disciple acts (Lk 17: 1-10): Today’s reading includes only sayings 3 and 4:
- Saying 3: Having faith (Lk 17: 5-6). The disciples ask Jesus to “Increase their faith.” In the ancient world, faith is an action, not simply “intellectual assent.” (The idea of faith as intellectual assent alone took root in western thought during the Enlightenment, in the 1700s AD.) The ancients understood faith as the actions of fidelity, or actions of loyalty, or of a lived commitment. The disciples ask Jesus to help them live their commitment or loyalty to him; Jesus responds with actions (“say,” “be uprooted,” “be planted”). If a disciple practices seemingly small faithful acts, God’s power can magnify their results.
- Saying 4: Confusing discipleship with entitlement (Lk 17: 7-10). Jesus tells the disciples a short parable about a slave who serves his master (Lk 17: 7-9). The master expects the slave to serve him; the slave expects to serve the master. In this social structure, the master’s needs come first, and the slave’s needs come second. The parable’s meaning turns on the Greek word ἀχρεῖος (ahk-RIH-os), here translated as “unprofitable.” The root word χρεῖος connotes monetary utility or debt value. As a slave, the slave’s actions generate nothing of surplus or monetary value for the master; the slave’s only value is in serving the master. Taken together with the disciples request for increased faith, Jesus reminds his disciples that God works through their actions, and their results belong to God alone. When they fulfill discipleship’s demands, they are only doing their duty.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of faith. God tells Habakkuk that practicing fidelity makes one just. The disciples ask Jesus to “increase their faith,” he tells them that their faith-filled acts can have outsized results. Jesus also reminds the disciples that the results of their faithful acts belong to God, not to the disciples. Do we think that faith is simply nodding our heads when asked about God? Or do we practice dynamic faith so that every our action affirms our loyalty to God and faithfulness to God’s Word?
||Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Daily discipleship: love in a fallen world
Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we hear Jesus teach about the daily challenges of discipleship.
The first reading from Genesis is a story about origins. It explains where men and women come from, why they are attracted to each other, and how and why society is structured as it is. The Lectionary editors chose this story because Jesus quotes this passage in today’s gospel.
The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews, a complex work that assumes its hearers are well-versed in Hebrew scripture. Today’s reading introduces Jesus as redeemer. Jesus became human (“made lower than the angels”) to redeem humankind (“taste death for everyone”). Jesus is now exalted, having been “perfected through suffering.” Jesus (“he who consecrates”) and we the redeemed (“those who are being consecrated”) have “one origin.” Because Jesus shared our humanity, we are siblings to Jesus, who is “not afraid to call [us] ‘brothers.'”
Mark’s gospel begins a new chapter (Mk 10). In this chapter Jesus’ teachings shift to practical discipleship issues: marriage, raising children, running a business. Jesus now directs his teachings to the crowds, not just his disciples. Today we hear two stories: a teaching on marriage and teaching on the kingdom. Both teachings are about practical discipleship:
- Marriage teaching: Jesus presents an image of marriage before Adam and Eve turn against God. We can understand this to mean that God’s original intent (“one flesh”) is the standard for all relationships. Because Jesus has destroyed sin, we no longer need the Mosaic divorce exception. Jesus establishes the kingdom of God, in which all humanity is restored to its God-created state. Jesus holds disciples–those “on the way” to the kingdom of God–to a higher standard: “What God has joined (literally “glued”) no human can unjoin.” God joins a husband and wife into one flesh; in this equality and oneness, both the husband and wife have a mutual responsibility to lifelong fidelity.
- Kingdom teaching: Jesus shows that discipleship–and access to the kingdom–is not based on abilities, social achievement, public behavior, or status. Jesus tells the disciples that “the kingdom of God belongs to the least ones:” slaves, non-persons, children. Jesus’ embrace of children is a parable-in-action: this is God welcoming all simple, trusting, and humble sons and daughters into a relationship, which is the beginning of God’s kingdom.
RCIA participants–and the entire believing community–continuously seek to understand what Jesus asks of us as disciples. All Jesus’ discipleship teachings revolve around love: love of God and love for the Other. The daily challenge of human relationships–family, spouses, friends, coworkers, teachers, students, caregivers–presents opportunities to live out God’s design for human love. In a fallen world filled with imperfect people we learn the meaning of “taking up the cross.” How we live our day-to-day discipleship prepares us for God’s kingdom. How does our love for imperfect others reflect our love for God?