| 1 Kgs 17:10-16
|| Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
|| Heb 9:24-28
|| Mk 12:38-44 or
Lessons in giving service
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings present RCIA participants and the believing community with contrasting stories of greed and generosity.
The first reading from the first Book of Kings tells the story of Elijah and a widow. At God’s command, Elijah proclaims a drought against Israel, the northern kingdom. God sends Elijah to the town of Zarephath. God commanded a widow there to feed Elijah. The widow has only a handful of flour and a little oil to feed herself and her son. Trusting Elijah as a prophet, the widow feeds him; she is then able to feed herself and her son for a year from the jar of flour and jug of oil. The story’s primary focus is the power of God’s word spoken through the prophet. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for its secondary focus: the widow’s generosity in giving the prophet all she had.
The second reading continues the continuous reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Today’s reading again contrasts the Jewish high priests with Jesus. First, while the high priests offer sacrifices in an earthly, material sanctuary (“a copy”), Jesus completes his sacrifice in the presence of God in heaven. Next, the high priests repeated their atoning sacrifices yearly (on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), Jesus made his offering only once (on the cross). Finally, the high priests sacrificed animals and offered animal blood as atonement; Jesus offered himself and his own blood as his saving act.
Mark’s gospel places Jesus in Jerusalem, teaching in the temple area. Mark presents two teachings, connected by the word “widow.” In the first teaching (Mk 12:38-40), Jesus’ criticizes some scribes’ attitudes and actions (especially in their treatment of widows); in the second teaching (Mk 12:41-44), Jesus comments on a widow’s Temple donation.
- The scribe’s place in society. A scribe was someone who could read and write: an educated man. Because they were knowledgeable in the Torah, the basis of Jewish law, scribes acted as both lawyers and theologians. That is, they both interpreted Mosaic law and wrote contracts and administrative documents based on the law. Their expertise positioned them for leading roles in Jewish society. The Torah forbade scribes from taking payment for their rabbinical teaching. To compensate, scribes developed other ways to make a living off others–charging legal fees, managing estates (“devouring the households of widows”), or sponging off benefactors.
Jesus accuses the scribes of abusing their religious positions to make a profit on society’s most defenseless members.
- The widow’s place in society. According to Jewish law, a woman whose husband had died had no inheritance rights. Widows relied on sons or male relatives for legal and financial support; a widow without sons turned to scribes for legal help in managing their personal money (“households”). (A greedy scribe could quickly eat up a widow’s meager holdings.) When such a widow’s savings were gone, she was reduced to depending on charity.
Jesus comments to his disciples that the widow “gave all she had, her life.” Read in isolation, this teaching can be interpreted as praise for her generosity. But, coming immediately after his condemnation of greedy scribes, Jesus’ words can also be understood as a lament for the religious authorities’ exploitation of the poor. That is, the scribes teach the need for alms and sacrificial giving, and those contributing believe the temple authorities will redistribute the collections to the needy. Instead they spend the funds on long robes and banquets.
Today’s readings ask us to look deeply into our responsibilities to others and to ourselves. Jesus calls his followers to serve God and to serve others selflessly. When we lose sight of the purpose of our service, we destroy its good. If we use service to take advantage of others, or if we give service only as an obligation, we serve neither God nor others. Do we serve God and others responsibly? Are we doing God’s work, or our own?
| Wis 6:12-16
|| Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
|| 1 Thes 4:13-18
|| Mt 25:1-13
The wisdom of watchful waiting
As we near the end of Ordinary time and this liturgical year, the Sunday readings become eschatological: they focus on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings ask us how prepared we are to meet Jesus.
In the first reading, the Wisdom author writes to encourage the Jews in Egypt during a time of suffering and oppression (70-50 BC). This Wisdom passage has an eschatological theme: wisdom is unfading (v 12) and those who find wisdom reign as kings forever (v 21). The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of its similarity to themes in today’s gospel of wisdom, waiting, and the messiah’s coming.
In the second reading, Paul clarifies his teaching about the parousia (Christ’s return at the end of time). In this early period (30s-70s AD), the believing community expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes. Some Thessalonica community members have died; their friends and relatives worry that these “fallen-asleep ones” will miss the Lord’s return. Paul reassures them that Jesus’ own resurrection is his promise to all believers of their personal resurrections.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus presents his fifth and final discourse, his eschatological sermon (Mt 24:1-25:46), which includes the parable of the ten virgins. Jesus sets a scene that all his hearers would recognize–a wedding celebration at a bridegroom’s home.
- First-century wedding culture. The groom and his friends have gone across the village or to a nearby village to bring the bride and her friends back to his home. The returning wedding party wanders through every village street and alley so everyone can see and cheer them as they pass. The ten virgins, the groom’s unmarried teenage relatives, wait for the meandering parade to return, so they can escort them into the groom’s home. Bored by waiting, the teenagers fall asleep.
- The crisis. When the wedding party finally nears the groom’s home, the waiting guests call out. Awakened, the teenage lamp keepers immediately trim their lamps. The delay has depleted their lamps’ oil. Some teenagers brought extra oil; others did not. The ones without oil beg the ones with extra oil to share. The ones with oil refuse, worried there won’t be enough oil for all the lamps to last until the wedding party actually arrives. The ones without oil rush off to find oil. Meanwhile, the bridegroom returns with the wedding party, and all present go into the feast, locking the door after them.
- The parable’s surprise. The five unprepared teenagers return with their now-full lamps and bang on the bridegroom’s door to be let in. They hear the bridegroom’s voice through the door saying, “I don’t know you.” In the middle east, family is everything. Jesus’ hearers would ask: Why would the bridegroom disown his relatives and bar them from his wedding feast?
The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to think about who will enter God’s kingdom. The first reading highlights our need for wisdom. Paul emphasizes our need for faith. The gospel parable tells us we must be thoughtful and prepared. We are the lamp-holding teenagers waiting for the bridegroom’s return. Do we think that baptism guarantees entry to the kingdom? Do our words and actions mark us as part of Jesus’ family? How are we preparing for the bridegroom’s coming?
|2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14
||Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
||2 Thes 2:16-3:5
The end times: promise of resurrection
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. As we near the end of the liturgical year, the Sunday readings’ themes become eschatological, focusing on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings invite us to think about the meaning of resurrection–both Jesus’ Easter resurrection and our own resurrections.
The first reading from 2 Maccabees describes the torture of a Jewish family (a widowed mother and her seven sons) by the Syrian king Antiochus IV. The family chooses to follow the covenant laws rather than save their lives. As they face death, the brothers express their belief in a personal resurrection. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel’s resurrection debate.
The second reading from the second letter to the Thessalonians continues last week’s reading. Last week, the author discussed Jesus’ delayed parousia and urged his hearers not “to be alarmed” by rumors that “the day of the Lord is at hand.” This week the author concludes 2 Thes 2 with a blessing, and opens 2 Thes 3 with a prayer request for his work and for the believing community to grow in faith.
In today’s gospel Jesus spars with the Sadducees over the idea of resurrection. Jesus is now in Jerusalem, teaching in the Temple area. The Sadducees were a conservative Jewish religious faction who accepted only the written Torah as valid Hebrew scripture, rejecting the Prophets and the Writings. They try to turn the Temple crowds against Jesus by presenting an absurd case in which seven brothers in succession marry a childless widow. They then ask Jesus, “If there is a resurrection, to which brother is she married?” They expect Jesus must answer either “All, because they will all be resurrected,” or “None, because there is no resurrection.” Recognizing their trap, Jesus responds by insulting the Sadducees, answering their question, pointing out the limits of their thinking, and asking a question they can’t answer:
- Jesus’ insult: “Humans marry and are given in marriage” (v 34). Jesus states the obvious to insult the Sadducees.
- Jesus’ answer: “Resurrected ones do not marry nor are given in marriage.” (v 35). Jesus answers the Sadducees’ question.
- The Sadducees’ limited thinking: “Resurrected ones can’t die.” (v 36). Jesus tells the Sadducees that resurrected ones are different because they are deathless. Resurrected life is not a continuation of earthly life, but something new and different.
- A question from Jesus: “Moses revealed at the burning bush that he believed in the resurrection” (v 37). Jesus uses the Sadducees’ own Torah (Ex 3:6) to prove the resurrection. Jesus asks, “If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead, how could God be the God of the living?”
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about the meaning of resurrection. Jesus’ final point–that God is a God of the living, not the dead–puts the emphasis on God’s relationship with those God loves. That relationship transcends human death. Jesus’ Easter resurrection foreshadows and promises our own resurrections. Do we believe God’s love surpasses death? Do we live that relationship?
| Reading 1
|| Reading 2
| 1 Kgs 17:10-16
|| Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
|| Heb 9:24-28
|| Mk 12:38-44
Scribes and widows: what God sees
After last week’s celebration of All Saints, we return to Ordinary time. The Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with teachings from Jesus’ ministry. This week Jesus instructs his disciples about the difference between what humans see and what God sees.
The first reading from the Book of Kings is the story of Elijah and the widow. God has sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath. There he asks for food from the widow at the city gate. The widow has only enough flour and oil to make one last meal. Still Elijah asks for her food, promising “the jar of flour will not go empty; the oil jug will not run dry.” The widow feeds Elijah, and miraculously is able to feed her son and herself for a year from the jar and jug. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of the widow’s generosity and her faith that God would provide.
The second reading continues the letter to the Hebrews. The author contrasts Jesus’ sacrificial ministry with the high priest’s ministry. The high priest enters a “sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one.” In Exodus, God instructs Moses to build a sanctuary (the Tent of Meeting). This earthly sanctuary is a copy of God’s heavenly temple. The high priest enters an earthly sanctuary, but Jesus enters the heavenly sanctuary to intercede with God for humans. The high priest enters every year (“many times”), but Jesus enters only once (“at the end of the ages”) to take away sin. Humans die, but Jesus will return to bring salvation.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and continues teaching. Responding to the scribes’ hostile questions, Jesus denounces their behavior and praises true religious action:
- The scribes’ outward show of piety: The scribes, Torah experts, showed off their social standing by their dress (“long robes”), reserved seating in the synagogue, and head-table seating at social events. Because the Torah forbade taking payment for rabbinical teaching, some scribes developed questionable ways to make a living–charging legal fees, managing estates (“devouring the houses of widows”), or simply sponging off benefactors. Their self-aggrandizement at others’ expense will bring them “severe judgement.” Jesus condemns these scribes’ behavior.
- The widow’s true piety: The temple had thirteen offering boxes, each topped with a brass trumpet-shaped collector. Large silver coins made a loud sound when they hit the brass funnel–this is how Jesus knew that “the rich were throwing in many coins.” The widow, who in Jewish society had no inheritance or income, gives two small, light, brass coins worth together less than one cent. Jesus notes that while others give from their abundance, the widow gives everything she has (“her whole life”). Like Elijah’s widow in the first reading, she relies on God to provide; Jesus praises her faith.
This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider why and how we express piety. Are we all about show, using good works to gain praise and respect from others? Or are we concerned only that our inconspicuous generosity benefits others? What judgement will our behavior bring?