| Wis 7:7-11
|| Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
|| Heb 4:12-13
|| Mk 10:17-30
Costs and rewards of discipleship
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 costs and rewards of discipleship.
The first reading from the Book of Wisdom compares the value of earthly riches with the value of wisdom. In this passage, Solomon asks God for prudence and wisdom; he values wisdom over health, beauty, and wealth. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to contrast with the rich man’s choice in today’s gospel.
The second reading continues the 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. Today’s reading is at the conclusion of the “superiority of Jesus as God’s son” section, specifically Jesus’ superiority over Moses. The author shows how scripture acts as a test for those who believe in Jesus. (“Scripture” means Hebrew scripture; Christian scripture doesn’t exist yet.) God tested the Israelites in the wilderness; those who were not faithful (“united in faith”) or who were disobedient to God’s word did not “enter into the rest” of the promised land. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, God also tests the obedience and unity of the Christian believing community. God’s word penetrates between soul and spirit and is able to discern a person’s deepest reflections and thoughts. God will call each in the ekklesia to “render an account.”
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is “on the road” to Jerusalem, teaching the crowds and his disciples about discipleship. Today we hear three further teachings about the challenges and rewards of discipleship:
- A rich man wants more in his life. The man has kept the Mosaic law “from this youth.” His devotion to the Law is enough to inherit eternal life, but the man seeks more. Jesus invites him to radical discipleship: sell his possessions, break his family ties, and follow Jesus. The man declines Jesus’ invitation because he is too attached to his riches–the security of home, family and relatives, and self-sufficiency of land–to accept an itinerant life of service and teaching. (This is the first time in Mark gospel that someone directly refuses Jesus’ call.)
- Riches can make people value the wrong things. Jesus privately instructs his disciples about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom. Riches (home, family, and land) provide security and comfort, allowing people to become too self-reliant and blind to the poor. Riches can undermine a person’s trust in and need for God. A rich person can become so distracted by keeping and managing money and things that he or she misses God’s free and freely-given gift of the kingdom.
- God rewards disciples now and in the future. Jesus promises disciples a new family (brothers, sisters, mothers, children) based on the power of God, rather than on blood kinship. God replaces the family’s father, and invites disciples to share in the coming kingdom. Scripture scholars suggest that Mark added the phrase “with persecutions” to acknowledge the conditions in his own ekklesia. The phrase also reminds us of the mystery of the cross as a positive benefit of discipleship.
Today’s readings again challenge our ideas about discipleship. Mark describes discipleship as voluntary poverty undertaken in the service of proclaiming and witnessing to the kingdom. Mark developed his view of discipleship based on Jesus’ and his first disciples’ itinerant missions, but the basic principles of poverty and riches–possessions as an obstacle to discipleship, the difficulty of the rich to enter the kingdom, and the present and future rewards of discipleship–continue to challenge today’s disciples, especially disciples who live in wealthy nations. Are we so attached to friends, money, and power that we turn down Jesus’ invitation to discipleship? Are we so worried about our own riches that we can’t see our need for God? Are we so focused on discipleship’s risks that we miss the kingdom’s joys?
| Is 25:6-10a
|| Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
|| Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
|| Mt 22:1-14
A king and his problem party guests
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 invitations, banquets, and worthiness.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah comforts the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Isaiah tells the captives that God has a plan to destroy Judah’s enemies and save God’s poor. God will then host a victory banquet for all in Jerusalem. This banquet is the eschatological (end-time) feast that represents God’s universal invitation to salvation. Christian hearers recognize in Isaiah’s prophecy Jesus’ description of God’s kingdom repeated in today’s gospel.
In the second reading’s letter to the Philippi believing community, Paul thanks the Philippians for their gifts and support while he is in prison. Paul prays that “God will supply whatever you need,” just as the Philippians have met Paul’s needs. His closing doxology (“to God be glory forever”) asks God’s blessing on the Philippians.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus directs another allegorical parable to the chief priests and elders, using elements from Isaiah’s banquet story (first reading). The allegory has the following parts:
- The first parable/allegory (v 2-9). Hebrew scripture uses king as an image for God, and the wedding feast as an image of the end-time messianic banquet. In Matthew’s allegory, the invited ones are the Jewish religious leaders whom the prophets (the king’s slaves) invited to God’s kingdom. Some invitees shame the king by begging off with poor excuses not to attend, but other invitees challenge the king’s honor by killing his slaves. The shamed king responds in anger, saying that those who shamed him were not worthy of his feast. The king tells his slaves to go out into the public gathering places and invite whomever you find. In the allegory, these new invitees are from “all nations.”
- The second parable/allegory (v 10-13). The slaves gathered everyone they found, both bad and good, and brought them to the feast. (Like the parable of the dragnet [Mt 13:47-48], the kingdom gathers together the good and the bad. Sorting comes later.) When the king reviews the invitees, he finds one not properly dressed for the feast. The king judges that invitee not worthy, and orders him bound and thrown out of the feast. The allegory’s outside darkness is a place outside God’s kingdom.
- The saying/interpretation (v 14). “Many are called/invited, but few chosen/elected.” Matthew concludes the allegory by reminding his community that they have been called/invited in the place of the others, but if they fail to live up to the invitation (wear the wedding garment) they will face the same consequences as the religious leaders.
In today’s readings RCIA participants and the believing community are challenged to examine their invitation and response to the banquet. Salvation requires more than accepting the invitation. We must also be worthily dressed to be among the chosen. That is, faith brings our invitation, but we must show continued righteousness as well. Jesus defines such righteousness in his sermon on the mount and other teachings. Do we think baptism alone will get us into God’s eschatological feast? Do we wear our garment–our words and actions–daily? Would the king judge us worthy of his son’s feast?
|2 Kgs 5:14-17
||Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
||2 Tm 2:8-13
Discipleship: to heal and to save
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 salvation.
In the first reading from the second book of Kings, God heals the Syrian Naaman’s leprosy through the prophet Elisha’s word. Elisha refuses Naaman’s gift because Naaman’s healing is from God, not from Elisha. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Naaman’s cure of leprosy, his thanksgiving, and his faith all have parallels in today’s gospel story of the ten lepers.
The second reading from the second letter to Timothy presents a summary of Paul’s teachings (2 Tim 2: 8), followed by an ancient Christian hymn (2 Tim 2: 9-13). The hymn tells us that through baptism Christians die spiritually with Christ and hope to live with him and reign with him forever.
In Luke’s gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Luke reiterates that Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem when he encounters the lepers, presumably a mix of Jews (from Galilee) and Samaritans (from Samaria). Here are the key points:
- Leprosy and Mosaic Law: The Hebrew and Greek words traditionally translated as “leprosy” describe a variety of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrhea, but not Hansen’s disease (modern “leprosy.”) Under Mosaic law (Lv 14), anyone who showed evidence of “leprosy” was considered unclean and could not live in the community. This is why the lepers are “outside the village.” Both Jews and Samaritans followed the same Mosaic laws concerning purity and leprosy.
- Encountering Jesus: Seeing Jesus, the lepers call out “have mercy on us.” Jesus tells them to “show yourselves to the priests” to fulfill Mosaic law. On their way to see the priests, the lepers are healed. The Greek word σώζω (SOHd-zoh) means both “to heal” and “to save.”
- Thanksgiving and faith: Realizing he is healed/saved, one man returns, glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Luke notes that the returning man was a Samaritan–a non-Jew and a Jewish enemy. Jesus tells the man, “Go, your faith has saved you.”
- Meanings: First, faith in Jesus saves. This story follows last week’s teachings on faith and discipleship (Lk 17: 1-10)–especially the disciples’ request to “Increase our faith.” Luke uses the leper’s cure to demonstrate faith-in-action. Second, Jesus saves those from all nations. The Greek word ἀλλογενής (ahl-loh-geh-NAYS), here translated as “stranger,” literally means “those outside the family.” Luke uses the Samaritan leper’s healing to show that faith supersedes ethnicity and religion. Faith, and therefore salvation, is open to all people.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of saving/healing. God heals/saves Naaman even though he is a Syrian and worships Baal. Jesus heals/saves the ten lepers even though not all of them are Jewish. Although nine do not return to glorify God and thank Jesus, Jesus does not take away their healing. God’s healing/saving is a gift without strings, open to all. Do we offer our healing and salvation to all who ask our mercy, or do we limit our healing and saving only to those we know or only to those who appreciate it?
||Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Discipleship: discerning costs and rewards
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 Jesus continues to teach about the challenges of discipleship.
The first reading is from the book of Wisdom. First century Christians read the Hebrew wisdom writings and recognized Jesus as the “incarnation of the wisdom of God.” Paul, John, and the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus’ divine wisdom in several places. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel teaching on leaving all to obtain God’s wisdom and eternal life.
The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews concludes last week’s discussion about Jesus as God’s son. Earlier the author wrote about the efficacy of scripture. He now plays on the phrase “word of God,” meaning both scripture and Jesus. In the author’s community, believers have become bored and indifferent to their faith. He warns community that scripture and Jesus reveal each person’s thoughts and intent (“discern thoughts and the heart’s reflections”).
In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way;” Jesus gives further teaching about “the way” of discipleship. Today’s reading contains three interconnected stories: the rich young man, the camel and the needle, and a teaching on the rewards of discipleship.
- Story of the rich young man. “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jews of Jesus’ time, the answer was to follow the Mosaic law. This man, however, seems to be looking for something more. Jesus comment “No one is good but God” invites the man to reflect on Jesus’ goodness. Does the man recognize God’s goodness in Jesus? Jesus challenges the would-be disciple: “You lack one thing–sell what you have and follow me.” In Jesus’ society, family, home, and land were a person’s most precious possessions. Jesus invitation to discipleship asks the man to become as dependent on God as a child (see last week’s reading). The man can’t give up his earthly security; he passes on Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
- Story of the camel and needle. Jesus’ point is that earthly wealth breeds spiritual complacency. To “be saved,” to “enter the kingdom,” and to gain “eternal life” all mean the same thing. “Impossible for humans,” Jesus says, but with God “all things are possible.” The kingdom is beyond human achievement, it is neither a right nor a reward; it is God’s gift.
- Teaching on the rewards of discipleship. Jesus promises anyone who gives up family, home, and land (and accepts persecution) for his sake and the sake of the good news will receive those things and more a hundred times over. For disciples, persecution is not a maybe but how–state-sponsored pogroms, social ostracism, public mockery, familial rejection–discipleship includes these.
With RCIA catechumens and candidates, each of us asks: Is discipleship worth it? Like the rich man, we long for a completeness the world cannot give but we are still attracted to human riches and the seeming security they promise. We can’t earn “the kingdom,” “eternal life,” or “God’s wisdom”–these are God’s gifts, freely given to those who choose to follow Jesus on the way. Only when we become as dependent on God as children (“to such as these the kingdom belongs”) will we understand discipleship. Can we let go of our illusion of earthly security long enough to see reality of God’s wisdom?