Tag Archives: Discipleship

26 November 2017: Solemnity of Christ the King

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ez 34:11-12, 15-17   Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6   1 Cor 15:20-26, 28   Mt 25:31-46

Shepherds and kings, sheep and goats: taking sides

White_gold_banner_sm On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the readings celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Mark’s gospel.) The readings ask us to think about shepherds and kings.

In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel addresses the failed Jerusalem leaders (v 17). God holds the leaders responsible for the people’s exile in Babylon. God promises to take back the role of shepherding, rescuing, and judging the people. Christian hearers understand that Jesus, the good shepherd (Jn 10:11), fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy: God has come to care for the people. The Lectionary editors chose this reading (especially Ez 34:16) because it parallels today’s gospel.

In the second reading from his first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul lays out the end-time timeline so the Corinthians can see their place in God’s redemptive plan. Christ, who is already resurrected and therefore the “firstfruit,” has begun his reign as the kingdom’s king and the believing community’s head. During this present time, Christ’s enemies are still active, although “under his feet.” At Christ’s second coming, “those who belong to Christ” will be resurrected. The end follows. Having destroyed every oppressive sovereignty, authority, and power, and overcome all his enemies including death, Christ hands back God’s kingdom to God. Through Christ’s redemptive act, God’s relationship with the redeemed world is once again restored and direct: God is all in all.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus describes how God, shepherd and king, will judge the whole world at the end of time.

  • The sorting. First century Palestinian shepherds grazed the sheep and goats together. In the evening, they separated the goats, who were sensitive to cold, from the sheep, who remained out all night. In the gospel, God the Shepherd sorts everyone from all nations, based on their service or love of others.
  • The right-side sheep. In the ancient world, the right hand or side is often used symbolically. The king’s right hand is a place of prestige, power, or honor. In Jewish tradition sheep symbolized honor, virility, and strength.
  • The left-side goats. In the ancient world, the left hand or side was believed unlucky or evil. The Latin word sinistra means both “left” and “evil;” it is the root of English word sinister. Because soldiers wore shields on their left arms, people thought the left side was weaker and less honorable. The ancients considered goats lascivious; goats symbolized shame and shameful behavior.
  • The surprise. Jesus’ hearers would expect that God would reward or punish disciples based on their love of others. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised to learn that God judges not just disciples, but all nations according to the law of love. Even the least one is the same as God, worthy of love and service.

The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider God’s role as shepherd and king. As Ezekiel tell us, God alone shepherds, redeems, and judges the people. Paul describes God’s redemptive plan. Matthew identifies how the king measures each of us. Does the Shepherd see honorable sheep or shameless goats? To which side will the King sort us? Will we be surprised?

—Terence Sherlock


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5 November 2017: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10   Ps 131:1, 2, 3   1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13   Mt 23:1-12

Discipleship: service, not self-serving

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 remind us who we are.

In the first reading, the prophet Malachi criticizes the temple priests for neglecting their sacrifice and excoriates the Jewish people for their lax attitude toward the Mosaic covenant. Malachi calls all to change their ways or suffer future punishment. In the gospel Jesus issues similar warnings to his disciples about the right way and wrong way to act.

In the second reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he has given them the good news freely, without charge and without “burdening” them. On missionary trips, Paul repaired tents to support himself. During the day he would set up a stall in the marketplace and mend leather items; at night he would meet in the Thessalonians’ homes and preach the good news. Paul gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians’ faith in receiving the good news as God’s word, and for continuing to live in faith.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus, who has been sparring with various religious leader factions (see Mt 21-22), now vehemently denounces the scribes and the Pharisees.

Scripture scholars point out that Matthew constructed this speech. Although some criticisms undoubtedly originated with Jesus (for example, see Mk 12:38-40), other criticisms date to a time after Jesus’ earthly ministry. These other criticisms reflect the conflict between Pharisaic Judaism and Matthew’s community when Matthew composed his gospel (80-85 AD). This speech is not purely anti-Pharisaic; Matthew recognizes the same faults are present in his believing community. He is warning his ekklesia to examine their own conduct and attitudes, such as:

  • Saying vs doing. Jesus charges the scribes and Pharisees with failing to practice what they tell others to do. Jesus tells his disciples that what they say and what they do must be the same.
  • Being honored vs being honorable. Jesus charges the scribes and Pharisees with using religious practice to receive honor from people rather than to give honor to God. Jesus tells his disciples that despite their apparent differences (Jewish vs gentile, learned vs untutored, urban vs rural), all are equal–they are siblings of the same Father.
  • Knowing the difference between serving and being self-serving. Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest among them will be the one who serves all. Disciples teach Jesus’ message and meaning of service only when they are serving others.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to apply Malachi’s complaints and Jesus’ critiques to our own lives. Edwyn Hoskyns, a twentieth century Christian theologian, has written “we are all Pharisees.” Who doesn’t like telling others how to live? Who doesn’t enjoy flattery and honorific titles? Humility is essential to discipleship and ministry. Without humility, we are in constant danger of failing as disciples, becoming the very people Malachi and Jesus condemn. Do we always practice what we preach? Do we recognize our dependence on God and each other? Do we serve others without expecting to be served?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 September 2017: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Jer 20:7-9  Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9  Rom 12:1-2  Mt 16:21-27

Discipleship: disowning self, owning a cross, following after

Green_banner_smDuring 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 describe discipleship’s requirements and paradox.

The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah articulates the role and fate of the prophet. A prophet speaks for God, delivering God’s message to kings and to common people. Unfortunately, speaking God’s word results in rejection, persecution, and martyrdom. Jesus takes up this theme in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 12 and 13, Paul explains how Christians should live in response to the mercy of God. He begins by comparing the Mosaic law’s ritual sacrifices with the believing community’s offering of themselves as a “living sacrifice.” Their lives should emulate Christ’s own sacrificial life, using the gifts God has given in service to others. Later in the letter, Paul provides specific examples of how to live out a life of sacrifice.

Matthew’s gospel signals a change in Jesus’ ministry: it marks the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the start of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem. Last week, Peter named Jesus as the messiah. Now Jesus reveals what his messiahship means, and what that means for his disciples:

  • Jesus defines messiahship. Jesus reveals to his disciples his messianic mission, known only to the Father and Jesus. The “elders, chief-priests, and scribes” will reject Jesus’ message, and their actions will result in his suffering and death. Although Jesus tells his disciples he will be raised, they miss this hope-filled part of his message.

    Peter, shocked by Jesus’ revelation, still wants a messiah who conquers and reigns. In Peter’s words, Jesus recognizes an echo of Satan’s temptations in the desert (Mt 4:8-10): be the people’s messiah, rather than God’s messiah. We see the conflict between last week’s inspired Peter who recognized Jesus as messiah, and this week’s human Peter who can’t hear the divine meaning of messiahship.
  • Jesus defines discipleship. Jesus is very clear about the cost of following him.

    First, a disciple must disown him- or herself. That is, a disciple places others before him- or herself.

    Next, a disciple takes up his or her cross. This image doesn’t affect us today, because state executions are private. But most first-century hearers would have actually seen prisoners being led through town, already tied to the crossbeams on which they would be crucified.

    Finally, after presenting discipleship as rejection and death, Jesus invites his hearers to walk the road with him.

    But discipleship isn’t all bad: Jesus closes his teaching by connecting discipleship with God’s coming kingdom. At the parousia, God’s agent (the son of man) will judge each person based on his or her actions or deeds. Disciples will be awarded eternal life in the kingdom; those who rejected discipleship will forfeit their eternal souls.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider his or her own discipleship. Discipleship requires that we speak God’s truth to a world interested only in its own messages. The ones who most need our help reject us. Crosses come in many forms: exclusion, illness, loneliness. And yet we are called to follow, because to live this way is to bring God’s kingdom for others and for us. Discipleship remains always our choice. Whose truth do we choose to speak? Whose path do we choose to follow? Whose kingdom do we choose to build up? Whose life do we choose to save?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 August 2017: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a  Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14  Rom 9:1-5  Mt 14:22-33

Getting in over our heads

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 focus on God’s power and our discipleship.

The first reading from the first Book of Kings recounts Elijah’s personal encounter with God. While living in self-imposed exile on Mt Horeb for killing Baal’s prophets, Elijah encounters God. Hebrew scripture often portrays God as a God of power and might. But Elijah encounters God not in power (wind, earthquake, fire), but rather “the thinnest stillness.” In a similar way, Jesus reveals himself to the disciples in today’s gospel not in power, but in a personal encounter.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In Romans chapters 9 through 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel. Through Christ, God offers salvation to Jews and to all people. Although Paul sees Israel rejecting Christ now, he believes that God may still bring the people of the promises and covenants to salvation.

Matthew’s gospel presents a miracle story in two parts: Jesus walks on water to meet his disciples, and Jesus rescues an over-excited Peter from drowning.

  • Walking on water. The disciples mistake Jesus for a ghost. The Greek word φάντασμα (FAHN-tahs-mah) means “ghost” or more likely “spirit.” People of the ancient world saw the world as full of good and bad spirits who could help or hurt humans. First-century Jews recognized God as the most powerful spirit with authority over all other spirits. Jesus demonstrated his power over natural events (Mt 8:23-27) and other spirits (Mt 8:16). The disciples, familiar with scripture telling of God’s control over the chaotic waters (Ps 65:8; 89:10; 93:3-4; 107:29), would see Jesus walking on water as proof of his divine power.
  • Saving Peter. When he impetuously jumps out of the boat, Peter sees the wind and becomes afraid that the wind spirit’s power might be stronger than Jesus’ power. Jesus stretches out his hand and takes hold of Peter, saving him. When Jesus and Peter climb into the boat, the wind ceases. Jesus does what God did: he treads on the waters of the sea, he stills storms and quiets waves, nut most importantly, he reaches out to save those in danger (Pss 18:17; 144:7). The disciples, familiar with Hebrew scripture, would recognize that Jesus acts as only God can act. Their realization that Jesus is God’s son naturally follows.

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider God’s power. In Elijah’s story, God reveals power through stillness and silence. In Peter’s story, Jesus reveals power by saving Peter. Like Peter, sometimes we get in over our heads. God, in a personal encounter with us, takes hold of us in our failures and strengthens our faith. This is how we grow in Christian maturity and discipleship. What kind of power do we worship? What kind of power does God reveal to us? Can we recognize God’s extended hand when we’re sinking?

—Terence Sherlock

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6 August 2017: Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Dn 7:9-10, 13-14  Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9  2 Pt 1:16-19  Mt 17:1-9

Transfiguration: changing our view of ourselves and others

White_gold_banner_sm This week we interrupt Ordinary time readings to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. In Lent the Transfiguration readings foreshadow Jesus’ coming glory at Easter; today’s readings emphasize Jesus’ glory at his second coming (parousia).

In the first reading the prophet Daniel describes his eschatological, or end-time, vision. For Jewish hearers, Daniel offers the consolation that God will bring about their victory over their oppressors. Christian hearers recognize Daniel’s promised “son of man” as Jesus, who will fully establish God’s kingdom when he returns. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with the gospel because of its parallels to the Transfiguration, including brightness (Mt 17:2), the clouds (Mt 17:5), and Jesus’ self-identification as “the son of man” (Mt 17:9).

In the second reading the author of 2 Peter gives his final message and advice. Scripture scholars place this letter’s composition around 135AD, making it the last written text of the canonical Christian scriptures. The author assures his hearers that Peter’s apostolic message is reliable because he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ glory (the Transfiguration) and he received the prophetic message (Jesus’ teachings). The author documents Peter’s experience to preserve the historical facts about Jesus’ life and teachings, and to capture the truths of the faith until Jesus returns.

In the gospel, Matthew describes Jesus’ physical transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. The Transfiguration story is full of scriptural references:

  • The mountain. In Hebrew scripture, God always appears to humans on a mountain (for example: Abraham, Gn 22; Moses, Ex 3; Elijah, 1Kgs 19). By placing Jesus’ transfiguration on a mountain, Matthew is telling us that Peter, James, and John are about to encounter God.
  • Moses and Elijah. In Hebrew scripture, Moses, who received the commandments from God (Ex 19), represents the Law; and Elijah, one of Israel’s great prophets, represents all the prophets. First-century Jewish tradition stated that both Moses and Elijah would return to announce and to welcome the messiah and God’s kingdom. By placing Moses and Elijah on the mountain in conversation with Jesus; Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, he is the messiah, and God’s kingdom is near.
  • The cloud. In Hebrew scripture, a cloud indicates God’s presence among the people (for example, the pillar of cloud, Ex 13:21-22; surrounding the ark, Ex 4-:34-36; filling the Temple, Is 6:4). By surrounding Peter, James, and John with a cloud, Matthew is telling us that they will experience God’s presence.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on the Transfiguration as a glimpse of future resurrection and parousia. But the Transfiguration has a message for us right now. Every day we see other people transfigured, and we ourselves are transfigured. We encounter someone whose words or actions make us see them differently. Or we have our own “mountaintop experience” that transforms our understanding of ourselves or our world. The Transfiguration did not permanently change Jesus, but it did permanently change Peter, James, and John. Are we open to God’s presence and the change it brings? Do everyday transfigurations transform our relationship with God and others? Is God well pleased with our words and actions?

—Terence Sherlock

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30 July 2017: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12  Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130  Rom 8:28-30  Mt 13:44-52


Parables about choices in discipleship

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 focus on God’s kingdom and our discipleship.

In the first reading from the book of Kings, Solomon asks God for wisdom, rather than riches or a long life. Wisdom (knowledge of God) should be valued above all else; the parables in today’s gospel depict the kingdom as a treasure beyond value.

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul describes God’s plan and care for a believer’s salvation. This passage has a complicated history; words like “predestined” and “justified” are sometimes freighted with meanings Paul didn’t intend. Paul’s point is simply that all things unfold according to God’s plan (God’s foreknowing). God designs (predestines) all humans to be able to be like (conformed to) Christ. God calls all to salvation through Christ. Those who accept God’s call, God “makes right” with God (justifies). Those who are “right with God,” God also allows to share now and in the future in the effects of Christ’s resurrection (glorifies). This is good news for disciples!

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus concludes teaching the crowds and disciples in parables. Jesus presents the kingdom as a hidden treasure, a merchant seeking pearls, and a dragnet. Jesus also directs a parable about a house-master to his disciples. In these parables, Jesus overturns his hearers’ expectations about how disciples come to God’s kingdom, who can enter, and how disciples understand and teach the kingdom.

  • A hidden treasure. Jesus’ hearers would expect that something as important as the kingdom to be visible and obvious. Instead, Jesus tells them it is hidden. The surprise is that the treasure is found by chance. The parable invites the hearers to imagine finding such a treasure and how they would react.
  • A merchant seeking pearls. Jesus’ hearers would expect that the kingdom would be easy to acquire. Instead, Jesus describes the merchant as actively seeking. The surprise is the way in which the merchant changes when he finds a unique pearl. Jesus says he sells everything he had; he is no longer a pearl merchant. The parable invites the hearers to imagine what would cause them to completely change their lives.
  • A dragnet. Jesus’ hearers would expect the kingdom to be exclusive, limited to holy people or to people with special knowledge. The surprise is that the kingdom gathers in everyone, the good and the bad together. Only when the net is full do the fishermen pull it in and sort its contents. The parable invites the hearers to think about a kingdom that is open to all, and their place in such a kingdom.
  • A house-master. Jesus directs this parable to his disciples who now know how to interpret parables. The disciples would expect the house-master to bring out only what is new. The surprise is the house-master brings out both new and old treasures. The parable invites disciples to think about the value of the Torah as well as Jesus’ new teachings in presenting the good news.

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider how disciples discover the kingdom (by accident or by searching), who enters the kingdom, and how disciples understand God’s law. How we find the kingdom and find ourselves included isn’t important. It is our words and actions, rooted in God’s law, that make us disciples. Have we hidden our treasure or traded it away, or do we bring it out and share it?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 July 2017: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 55:10-11  Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14  Rom 8:18-23  Mt 13:1-23

Disciples: seeds and sowers

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 focus on Jesus’ parable of the sower.

In the first reading, Isaiah reminds the people of the creative power of God’s word. The prophet poetically compares the power of God’s rain and snow to the power of God’s word. Both change the world and enable humans to thrive; both return to God only after they fulfill their work. Christians hear this reading as a prefiguring of Jesus as God’s Word and the power of the parables to deliver God’s message (see today’s gospel).

In his letter to the Roman ekklesia, Paul describes the believing community waiting now in the hope of God’s coming glory (the parousia). Paul links the created world’s destiny to the future glory that belongs to the believing community. All creation shares now in the corruption Adam’s disobedience caused; in the future, it will share in redemption’s benefits and the glory that comes from God’s ultimate liberation (Rom 8:19-22). Believers enjoy the firstfruits (the Spirit) now as a guarantee of the future liberation of their bodies from the influence of the rebellious old self (Rom 8:23).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the crowds and the disciples the parable of the sower. A parable contains something that surprises the hearer to make him or her think. In this parable, the successful yield is the surprise: in Jesus’ time, a typical grain yield might be four- to eight-fold. A yield of thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold would astound Jesus’ hearers and lead them to wonder who the sower is and what kind of seed this could be.

  • The sower. Jesus’ audience would know that Hebrew scripture presents God as a sower (Is 55:10-11; Jer 31:27-28). They would hear the parable simply as a message of God’s care and abundance (see the first reading).
  • The seed. Those who really understand the parable–who have ears to hear–would perceive Jesus as offering God’s powerful and transforming word, and that God’s word requires their response. That is, the seed is really about becoming Jesus’ disciples. Jesus explains how people fail as disciples (they don’t understand the message, they are not committed, they give in to competing priorities). He also describes the results of successful disciples (increasing God’s kingdom by thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold).

Today’s readings ask the believing community to listen to God’s word. God’s word is the seed sown within us, full of power and potential to transform if we respond. We have many excuses about why we don’t allow God’s word in: it’s too hard, I’m distracted, I’m too busy. For those who hear God’s word and choose discipleship, God’s superabundance becomes evident in their lives. Like the sower in the parable, both Jesus and his disciples encounter failures and successes in their ministry, but ultimately success will outweigh the failures. As disciples, do we have ears to hear, or only excuses to offer? As disciples, what kind of soil do we provide for God’s seed?

—Terence Sherlock

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9 July 2017: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

 Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Zec 9:9-10  Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14  Rom 8:9, 11-13  Mt 11:25-30

Jesus’ invitation to everyone

Green_banner_sm In 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 focus on Jesus and his invitation to come to him.

In the first reading, Zechariah describes a just and humble savior who arrives riding on a donkey (Gn 49:11; Jgs 5:10; 10:4). The evangelists (Mt 21:4-5; Jn 12:14-15) apply this prophecy to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel in which Jesus describes himself as “meek and humble of heart.”

In the second reading’s letter to the Romans, Paul uses a Jewish concept to describe the human condition. The Greek word σάρξ (SARKS), here translated as “flesh,” also means “the body” or “humanness” itself. Jewish people understood this word to mean “the whole human person.” In the same way, the Greek word πνεῦμα (pNYOO-mah) means both “spirit” as well as “God’s animating force that makes someone alive.” Paul, a Jew, understands that the body (σάρξ) is subject to sin and death, while the spirit (πνεῦμα) is our connection to God. To live only in the flesh or the body (σάρξ) is a death sentence; but to live in the spirit (πνεῦμα) supersedes death and gives us eternal life.

In the gospel, Matthew’s chapters 11 and 12 report the growing opposition to Jesus, focusing on disputes about faith and discipleship. Today’s reading from chapter 11 has two parts: Jesus’ relationship with his Father, and Jesus’ invitation to come to him.

  • Relationship of Father and Son. Jesus again describes his special relationship to the Father, and promises to share this relationship with everyone. The Father has hidden the kingdom’s revelation from the learned (the Pharisees) because they rejected Jesus’ teaching. The childlike (literally “infants”) hear Jesus’ message; Jesus reveals God’s kingdom to them. What the Father handed over to the Son, the Son reveals to those whom he wishes.
  • Invitation to discipleship. Jesus closes his teachings with a call for disciples. In Hebrew scripture and its rabbinic interpretation, a yoke is a metaphor for religious instruction. The Pharisees’ yoke consisted of 613 commandments. Jesus’ yoke consisted of his teachings and his way of life. In his invitation, Jesus emphasizes that discipleship is not effortless, but it is achievable. He promises that those who take on the work of bringing God’s kingdom will have rest.

Today’s readings ask the believing community to examine our discipleship. In baptism we accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Discipleship requires work; the disciple’s work is to bring God’s kingdom. Jesus teaches his disciples to bring God’s kingdom with humility. Have we learned the ways of God’s kingdom, or do we preach our own kingdom? Do we bring God’s kingdom to everyone through humble service to others, or do we bring our own kingdom to only the ones we choose?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 July 2017: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a Ps 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19 Rom 6:3-4, 8-11 Mt 10:37-42

Discipleship: challenges and consolations

Green_banner_sm In 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 reflect on discipleship’s demands and promises.

In the first reading from the second book of Kings, the prophet Elisha accepts the Shunammite woman’s hospitality. Jewish hearers understand Elisha’s need to reciprocate the woman’s hospitality, and see his action as serving God’s people. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that “one who receives a prophet earns a prophet’s reward.” Those who show hospitality to Jesus’ disciples will earn a greater reward.

In the second reading to the ekklesia at Rome, Paul reflects on the “already” and “not yet” meanings of baptism. In baptism disciples already participate in the death and new life given by God at Jesus’ resurrection. In baptism disciples have a promise–a “not yet” share–of eternal life: That is, Jesus’ work (his obedience in life and death; his glorification) is complete, but a disciple’s work continues. A disciple’s resurrection requires “living to God in Christ:” continuing obedience to God’s will and rejecting sin (hamartia).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus concludes his instructions to his disciples about their mission. In today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples how he will measure them, and how they will be rewarded.

Who is worthy? In Jesus’ time, family (and family loyalty) was the main impediment to discipleship. In a tribal culture, only family members could be trusted, and only the extended family could provide honor and status, as well as economic, religious, educational, and social connections needed to live. Jesus tells his first-century disciples they must place a relationship with him before their relationship with their families–a radical request.

In the twenty-first century, personal success at any cost is the main impediment to discipleship. In a culture that prizes individuals above community, an individual’s success defines worth and status. Jesus asks his twenty-first-century disciples to place their relationship with him before personal achievements–an equally radical request.

In all times, Jesus calls disciples to loyalty to his mission, to the cross’ death to self-interest, and to the daily work of losing one’s life by giving it away to others.

How are disciples rewarded? If the reward for hosting a prophet (see today’s first reading) or a righteous person is great, the reward for hospitality toward Jesus’ disciples is much greater. To receive a disciple is the same as receiving Jesus himself. In this life a disciple might expect hospitality (for example, a cold cup of water) as payment. The disciple’s full payment comes only in the eschatological feast in God’s kingdom. In the kingdom, disciples will receive Jesus’ own reward from the Father: eternal life.

As Jesus concludes his discipleship mission statement, he says clearly what he expects from those who would follow him: place Jesus and his message before everyone and everything else, put yourself and your concerns last, and spend your time and money on others first. This is what the believing community should look like. Do we measure up to Jesus’ requirements? Are we worthy to be called disciples?

—Terence Sherlock

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25 June 2017: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 20:10-13 Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35 Rom 5:12-15 Mt 10:26-33

Discipleship: a fearless life

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 invite us to reflect on discipleship’s risks and rewards.

In the first reading Jeremiah laments the fate of all prophets: rejection. The Temple guard put Jeremiah in stocks to keep him from prophesying about the coming Babylonian siege. Jeremiah suffers a crisis of faith (“You seduced me, Lord…” v7) because the people reject him and his prophesy. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it parallels Jesus’ warnings to disciples in today’s gospel.

In the second reading to the ekklesia at Rome, Paul reflects on Adam’s sin (Gn 3:1-13) in the context of the redemptive mystery of Christ. Paul compares Christ to Adam, not to explain human origins, but to introduce the mystery of human sinfulness. Paul sees sin as a power over someone. This power causes humans to revolt against God, and exalt in their own desires and interests. Sin leads to spiritual death: total aloneness and self-imposed alienation from God. God’s response to human failure is not punishment, but superabundant grace and God’s redemptive gift (Jesus). Paul contrasts Adam’s disobedience with Christ’s complete obedience; Jesus’ life of obedience to the Father, including his “obedience unto death,” is his redemptive act.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus continues to prepare the disciples for their mission to the world. In today’s reading, Jesus gives his disciples three instructions:

  • Proclaim without fear. Disciples should not fear those who oppose them or want to dispute or to condemn Jesus’ good news. Disciples should proclaim Jesus’ message openly, in the light and from the housetops.
  • Expect rejection. Like Jesus, Jeremiah, and all the prophets, disciples should be prepared to be rejected, opposed, persecuted, and even martyred for following the gospel’s words and actions.
  • Remain faithful. Jesus assures the disciples that God knows them personally and values their works. Jesus is joined to (literally “is of one mind with”) every disciple who faithfully witnesses to his message, and Jesus acknowledges those disciples before his heavenly Father.

Jesus’ instructions are as valid to his twenty-first century disciples (us) as they were to his first-century disciples. Proclaiming God’s words and imitating Jesus’ actions will always result in rejection, opposition, and persecution by those who would rather keep their words and actions hidden and secret. However, Jesus assures his disciples that the Father cares for them, and that he himself continues to stand with them during their trials. As a result, disciples should fear no one. Today’s readings ask: Is our discipleship fearless, or have we dialed back the gospel’s words and actions to accommodate our comfortable culture? Will Jesus recognize his message reflected in what we say and do, or will he turn to the Father and shake his head?

—Terence Sherlock

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