Tag Archives: Discipleship

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 ekklasia 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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14 May 2017: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 6:1-7  Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19  1 Pt 2:4-9  Jn 14:1-12

The way and works of the resurrected life

White_gold_banner_sm Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings invite us to think about the resurrected Jesus continually made visible through his disciples’ words and actions.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes how the community’s growth created administrative problems. The Greek-speaking Christians believed their widows were not sharing equally in the community or fellowship–a hallmark of the believing community (Acts 2:42)–during the distribution of the common goods and food. The apostles and community chose seven men to “serve at table”–to minister to community needs.

In the second reading from Peter’s first letter, the author describes Jesus, the cornerstone rejected by the builders, as the foundation of God’s new temple. Each member of the believing community is a living stone in the new temple, God’s new spiritual house. Jesus is a “stone of stumbling” for those who fail to recognize him.

In John’s gospel, Jesus engages in a final discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper. John uses a circular or spiral narrative form to allow Jesus to touch on and connect several ideas, including believing (faith), going and returning (death and resurrection), following the way, seeing/knowing the Father, and doing works and greater works. This reflection examines two of Jesus’ ideas:

  • The way. The Greek word ὁδός (hoh-DOHS) ranges in meaning from the physical road on which people travel, to the trip itself, to a philosophical way of life. The gospel writers use “the Way” to describe the path of discipleship. In Jesus’ time, the disciples’ path began by traveling with Jesus, crisscrossing the highways through Judea, Samaria, the Galilees, and the Decapolis. Walking the road together Jesus taught them his way of life and his relationship to the Father. In Jesus’ words and actions the disciples saw a different path forward. They personally experienced Jesus’ mission and meaning journeying to Jerusalem. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the disciples continued to follow his way in their relationships with each other and with the Father. Today, Christian scripture provides disciples (including us) a roadmap to follow Jesus’ Way.
  • Works. The Father is the source of all the signs or works that Jesus does. Jesus’ and the Father’s abiding or remaining-in-relationship allows them to be in total union in thought and actions. Jesus promises his disciples (including us) that, by believing and by remaining-in-relationship with him, they will do greater works. Through our abiding relationship with the risen Jesus, the Spirit empowers us to continue God’s divine actions in the human world. Faith enables us to bring God’s kingdom to a broken world desperate for signs of God’s care.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord. The readings remind us that we must find a way to make the risen Jesus visible to the world. Do we reveal the risen Lord in the communities we build? Do we show others the way we believe by the way we live? Do our works align with and express our continuing relationship with God?

—Terence Sherlock

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7 May 2017: Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 2:14a, 36-41  Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b4, 5, 6  1 Pt 2:20b-25  Jn 10:1-10

Shepherds: relationships and responsibilities

White_gold_banner_sm Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings invite us to think about the resurrected Jesus as our caretaker and leader.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke recounts the results of Peter’s Pentecost speech (see last week’s first reading). The listeners ask Peter, “What should we do?” He tells them, “Metanoia (change your minds/hearts) and be baptized!”–the expected response to Jesus’ message. In Peter’s message, the listeners hear Jesus’ voice and respond to his invitation.

In the second reading from Peter’s first letter, the author advises the newly-baptized on how to live in an unbelieving world. Through baptism, the neophytes (new Christians) have returned to God, who, through Jesus, shepherds and guards them.

In John’s gospel, Jesus gives a powerful image of his care for God’s people: I AM the good shepherd. After Jesus’ rejection by the Pharisees in the previous chapter (Jn 9:1-41), he restates his identity (“I AM”) and his mission. Jesus’ shepherd image describes both a relationship and a responsibility:

  • Relationship. Jesus defines his relationship with God’s people. God, the gatekeeper, sends Jesus to shepherd God’s people. Jesus calls each person by name to discipleship so that everyone may have “life beyond measure.” That is, Jesus’ mission is to bring God’s messianic kingdom, in which all disciples will have eternal life. Jesus calls those who try to stop his mission (like the Pharisees in Jn 9:1-31) “thieves and robbers” because they keep God’s superabundant kingdom from appearing.
  • Responsibility. Jesus also defines a leader’s relationship and responsibilities to God’s people. God appoints human leaders to care for God’s people. Leaders are stewards and caretakers, not owners. Leaders who overstep their stewardship are “thieves and robbers” because they abuse God’s people and block God’s kingdom from coming. When God’s people hear Jesus’ voice (his words and actions) in a leader, they follow; if they do not hear Jesus’ voice in a leader, they run away.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord. We are God’s people, the flock he guides–not as mindless sheep, but as attentive disciples who listen for the shepherd’s voice. Can we hear Jesus call us by name? Are we helping to bring God’s kingdom, or are we blocking its arrival? Do we lead with Jesus’ service and care, or do we lead with human power and authority?

—Terence Sherlock

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30 April 2017: Third Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Acts 2:14, 22-33 Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11 1 Pt 1:17-21 Lk 24:13-35

Resurrection: mystery of continuing presence

White_gold_banner_sm Throughout the Easter season, the Sunday readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings describe the resurrected Jesus present in words (scripture) and actions.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke recounts Peter’s first kerygmatic speech, given the day of Pentecost. Peter uses Psalm 16 to shows that David (the psalm’s author) foretold Jesus’ resurrection.

In the second reading from Peter’s first letter, the author describes God’s call to the believing community. God has redeemed the people through Christ’s own blood; therefore God calls them to holiness and to mutual love.

In today’s gospel, Luke relates the disciples’ surprise encounter with the resurrected Jesus, who reveals himself in words and actions. Luke uses the journey, the road, or “the way” as a metaphor for discipleship, and teaches disciples how to recognize the resurrected Jesus:

  • In words. Jesus reveals that all of Hebrew scripture explains what he has done as messiah, including his suffering and death. Jesus connects his saving action with the scripture’s suffering ones (Isaiah’s suffering servant, the prophets, the Jewish people).
  • In actions. Jesus reveals himself in the “breaking of bread,” a Jewish ritual performed at every shared meal. In the late first century, Christian communities shared meals together as a continuation of Jesus’ meals in his public life, and possibly in anticipation of the end-time messianic banquet.

By the time Luke wrote his gospel, the Christian liturgy already was taking shape, including readings (from Hebrew scripture and possibly Paul’s letters) and breaking bread together in a shared meal. In a disciple’s ordinary life (the journey), Jesus is always present but often unrecognized. Liturgy reveals Jesus in word and action, reminding disciples that we need to look for Jesus in order to see him.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord. Jesus is always present with us on our journey. When do we hear him speaking? Where do we suddenly see him?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 April 2017: Easter day

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23 Col 3:1-4 or
1 Cor 5:6b-8
Jn 20:1-9 or
Mt 28:1-10 or
Lk 24:13-35

Resurrection: signs and faith

Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents two different sets of readings for Easter: the Easter Vigil mass, and the mass of Easter day. This commentary follows the readings for the mass of Easter day.

 

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter readings bring all of us–neophytes, newly received Catholics, those continuing the RCIA process, those considering Catholicism, and those who have been Catholic for many years–face-to-face with our own discipleship.

The first reading, from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, gives Peter’s kerygmatic speech to Cornelius and his household. The kerygma is the initial and essential gospel message that introduces a person to Christ and appeals for conversion. Peter’s message includes the resurrection story, the starting point for belief and discipleship.

The second reading, from the letter to the ekklasia in Colossae, is a meditation on a disciple’s baptismal death-and-rising with Christ. Baptism is our first encounter with the risen Jesus and the beginning of discipleship. If we were baptized as infants, we probably don’t remember this meeting or our godparents pledging our discipleship for us. The reading reminds us that, as baptized disciples, we must continually seek what is from above; that is, we must show Jesus to others in our words and actions.

John’s gospel gives us a sketch of three types of faith. During Jesus’ human life, Mary, Peter, and the unnamed disciple all believed in the Jesus they knew. Jesus’ death required them to see and to know him in a different way. When each encounters the empty tomb, each responds differently:

  • Mary is looking for Jesus’ physical body, so she can’t see the empty tomb’s meaning. This is discipleship limited to a Jesus we knew from our past.
  • Peter notices the empty tomb’s details-the linen wrappings, the folded face cloth-but can’t quite grasp what all these details mean. This is discipleship lost in confusion and doubt.
  • The unnamed disciple enters the empty tomb, sees everything, and immediately begins to believe. He understands that God has acted here, but he needs the Holy Spirit’s insight to see the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. This is discipleship searching for the things from above.

Disciples come to understand and to believe in the resurrection only when they personally encounter the risen and glorified Jesus. First-century disciples met the glorified Jesus in a garden, in an upper room, on the road, and by the sea. They didn’t immediately recognize the resurrected Jesus because he was different from the human Jesus they knew. Only when the glorified Jesus speaks or shares a meal with them do they see it’s him.

It’s the same for us: we encounter the risen Jesus in the Word, in sacraments, and in each other in a garden, on the road, at work, on vacation. We may not recognize him immediately in our family, friends, community, strangers, others. Only a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus grows our faith and reveals the meaning and promise of the empty tomb. Have we seen him? Do we know him? Do we show him to others?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 March 2017: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 17:3-7 Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 Jn 4:5-42

Water and food: lessons in discipleship

Purple_banner_sm This week, John’s gospel reading asks RCIA candidates and the believing community to think about the personal encounters that create disciples.

John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s confusion and irony about two of life’s basic needs: water and food:

  • Water. Jesus opens his dialogue with the Samaritan woman with a simple request: give me a drink of water. For RCIA participants, especially catechumens and the Elect, this story presents water as an image of baptism–the sacrament of initiation and entry into the believing community. Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman to look beyond water’s functional use. Jesus helps her to see and to know what she really thirsts for.In the sacrament of Baptism, ordinary water becomes living water, imbued with ritual and liturgical significance. The baptismal waters drown our former sinful selves, and resurrect us as new creations flooded with God’s own life. Just as Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman re-integrate her into her social community, Baptism incorporates us into the ekklasia, the believing community. Jesus’ living water restored the Samaritan woman to her social community; Jesus’ baptismal water restores us to God’s family.
  • Food. For the believing community, this story provides lessons in evangelization. To fulfill his mission of bringing everyone to the Father, Jesus “had to” evangelize Samaria. He engages the Samaritan woman in conversation, revealing to her who he is and the water he can provide. After she encounters Jesus’ living water, she goes to tell others about him–“could he be the messiah?” The Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist for Jesus.Returning with food, the Twelve tell Jesus: you need to eat. Jesus responds that he is fed by doing and finishing the Father’s will. He teaches the Twelve something else about evangelization. Jesus tells them that the harvest–those ready to accept Jesus’ teaching and to become his disciples–is ready now. The Twelve must act immediately to bring in the next crop of disciples. Jesus invites the Samaritan woman, the disciples, and us to offer living water to others. Jesus’ spiritual food–“to do the will of the One who sent me”–fuels his mission; our spiritual food–the Eucharist–fuels our mission to live as Jesus taught and to make disciples of all nations.

Today’s reading asks us to think about our own discipleship as well as the evangelization of others: How does someone come to faith? What are the obstacles that a disciple must overcome? We come to faith only through encountering Jesus, like the woman at the well. Our baptismal mission is to make disciples. Do others encounter Jesus then they encounter us? Do we remove obstacles to faith or create them? What fuels our evangelization?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 March 2017: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17 Rom 5:12-19 Mt 4:1-11

Lent: testing, estrangement, reconciliation

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community walks with Jesus during the final period of his ministry. The Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize and to reject temptations that might subvert discipleship. For RCIA participants preparing to receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil, Lent is a time of special rites and prayers.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of humans’ estrangement from God. Our alienation begins in Genesis, but our full reconciliation concludes only with Jesus’ transformative death and resurrection. Today’s second reading contrasts and completes the story.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul contrasts the effects of Adam’s disobedience (today’s first reading) with Christ’s redemptive mystery. Adam’s transgression brings death into the world and to all humans. But God’s grace and Christ’s obedient act (the cross) are greater than Adam’s transgression. Where Adam’s disobedience brought all humans condemnation, God’s freely given, overflowing grace brought all humans righteousness.

Matthew’s gospel described Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness. The Greek word πειράζω (pih-RAHd-zoh) means not only “to test to discover someone’s nature or character,” but also “to try to entrap” as well as “to entice to improper behavior.” Satan’s three tests are as follows:

  • Turn stones to bread. God’s chosen people suffered hunger in the wilderness (Num 11:5-20). Satan tests the hungry Jesus with bread, but his test is really about Jesus as messiah. Food in abundance is a sign of the messianic kingdom. If Jesus uses divine power to satisfy his own hunger, he compromises himself and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 8:3.
  • Throw yourself down from the temple. God’s chosen people demanded proof of God’s presence and protection at Massah (Ex 17:1-7). Satan begins his second test with a scripture quote about God’s protection (Ps 91:11-12), but his test is really about Jesus as obedient son and messiah. Jesus’ public show of power would announce his messiahship to all present. If Jesus uses God’s protection to show his messianic power, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion,responding with Dt 6:16.
  • Earthly power if you worship me. God’s chosen people worshiped a false god when they lost faith in God. In the third test, Satan drops all pretenses and subtlety. He offers Jesus a shortcut to the messianic kingdom without the cross’ humiliation, suffering, and death. If Jesus chooses to establish a political kingdom and this world’s false gods over God’s plan, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 5:7-9.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on human limitations and God’s powerful grace and presence.Rather than use divine power to overcome Satan, Jesus faced the devil’s tests in a human way, in full solidarity with humanity. Jesus shows us that we, too, can overcome traps and temptations. Knowing scripture and committing to live scripture’s message are powerful weapons against the world’s enticements. Do we use God’s word and sacraments when we are tested?

—Terence Sherlock

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26 February 2017: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 49:14-15 Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9 1 Cor 4:1-5 Mt 6:24-34

Discipleship: trust, worry, and dependence on God

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings ask us to consider God’s continuous care for us.

In the first reading Isaiah provides consolation for those returning from exile–God has not forgotten them or forsaken them. For today’s hearers this reading emphasizes God’s care for God’s people. The gospel echoes that God never forgets anyone.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This week Paul tells the Corinthians how to evaluate their teachers. The apostolic leaders (Apollos, Paul, Kephas) are Christ’s assistants, not philosophers with hidden knowledge. Apostolic leaders are measured by their faithfulness to the gospel message, not by their speaking ability or authority.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today’s reading picks up with the “Material possessions vs human relationships” section, and has two parts:

  • Parable of serving two masters. A slave can obey, honor, or be loyal to (“love”) only one master at a time; as a result he ignores (“hates”) his other masters. Jesus’ parable warns about priorities: a disciple’s loyalty and service is to God first, and everything else (mammon) second. Mammon represents anything that competes with God, including money, possessions, and even self. The Aramaic root of mammon means “trust” or “the person or thing in which one places trust.” This saying about mammon/trust leads logically to Jesus’ teaching about a disciple’s dependence on God.
  • Dependence on God. The Greek word μεριμνάω (meh-rim-NAH-oh), meaning “to worry about,” appears six times in ten verses (Mt 6:25-34). Jesus knows the reality of human needs (food and clothing), but he forbids disciples from making human needs an object of anxiousness–that is, when a disciple becomes a slave to such worries. Jesus contrasts the actions and attitudes of gentiles and disciples. Gentiles crave (and become slaves to) human needs because they trust only in mammon. Disciples seek God’s kingdom and its righteousness because they trust God already knows what they need and will provide “all these things.” Jesus is not saying that a disciple shouldn’t plan; Jesus is condemning worry and planning that ignores God’s providence, or that chases after security that makes faith unnecessary.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize that humans are wired to worry. Worrying becomes a problem when we put more trust in human solutions than in God’s care for us. We should take comfort in knowing that the Father cares for us and always provides what we need. Such trust in the Father brings us peace and joy, freeing us from worry and fear. What is the source of our worry? Who owns our exclusive trust?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 February 2017: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13 1 Cor 3:16-23 Mt 5:38-48

Called to be holy, called to be perfect

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings call disciples to holiness by being as perfect as the Father.

In the first reading from Leviticus, God calls Israel to be holy by obeying God’s laws. These laws include attitudes and actions towards one’s fellow Israelites–the neighbor. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because the instruction about holiness matches the second reading and the instruction to love is the basis for today’s gospel.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul told the Corinthians that they must hear what the Spirit teaches. This week, Paul addresses the Corinthian’s factions and wisdom-seeking. The Corinthian ekklasia (believing community) is a temple because God’s Spirit lives in the community, making them holy. By dividing the ekklasia into factions, the Corinthians have defiled the temple and endangered their holiness. To help the Corinthians restore their spiritual balance, Paul explains everyone’s place in serving God’s kingdom: the ekklasia leaders serve the ekklasia, who serve Christ, who serves God.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus again challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and to become as perfect as their heavenly Father. The reading has three parts:

  • Release the need to retaliate. Hebrew scripture’s law “an eye for an eye” (Ex 21:24) was meant to limit revenge–punishment or restitution should not exceed the injury done. Although the Law granted a wronged person the right to retribution, Jesus’ new law forbids all retaliation. When insulted or dishonored, a disciple must break the cycle of retaliation and not demand what is legally his.
  • Love your enemies. Hebrew scripture contains no command requiring Jews to hate their enemies, but hating enemies is assumed to be just, especially when these foreigners are state or religious enemies. Jesus extends the “love the neighbor” commandment to even the enemy and the persecutor. Jesus teaches that God is Father to all humans, therefore all humans are family and deserve familial love.
  • Be as perfect as the Father. Hebrew scriptures calls Jews “to be holy, just as your God is holy” (first reading). First-century Jews understood holiness as separation–from sin, sinners, and gentiles. Jesus calls his disciples not simply to be holy, but to be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Disciples imitate their Father’s perfect love through actions and attitudes: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth, replace retaliation with generosity, replace hate with love.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize that simple observance of a law does not produce love. Rules don’t transform people, but encountering love does. Disciples must cultivate attitudes and actions that transform them and all who encounter them. Jesus calls us to go beyond conformity to the Law and to imitate the Father’s perfect love. Every day we have the opportunity to transform anger, selfishness, deceit, retaliation, and hate into perfect love. This is how we change the world and ourselves. Doesn’t the world need transforming? Don’t we?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 February 2017: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 15:15-20 Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34 1 Cor 2:6-10 Mt 5:17-37

The law, the kingdom, and the challenge of discipleship

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. The gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. This week’s readings focus on the need of a disciple’s attitudes and actions to surpass the Law.

In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach links free will with human responsibility. God gives everyone a choice to choose good or evil; the wise person chooses to follow the Law (commandments), and therefore to choose life. Christian hearers also understand God has given us a model to follow (Jesus, God’s son). Jesus’ own choices provide a template for actions and attitudes that exceed the Law (see today’s gospel).

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, Paul urged the Corinthians to search for something wiser than human wisdom. This week, Paul tells the Corinthians that they can grasp God’s wisdom only if they become open to the Spirit and the language that the Spirit teaches.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount discourse. Today Jesus challenges his disciples to go beyond the Law’s requirements and so to become more intimately aligned with God’s kingdom. The reading has three parts:

  • Jesus and the Law. Jesus makes it clear both to his disciples and to his opponents that the Law–which reveals God–stands forever. To describe his role, Jesus uses the Greek word πληρόω (play-ROH-oh), which means not only “to make complete” but “to fill or fulfill abundantly.” Jesus’ attitudes and actions complete or fulfill the picture of God already revealed in the Law.
  • Jesus’ challenge to disciples. Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees not for their desire to follow the Law, but for their focus on the Law’s proscriptions rather than its intent. The scribes and Pharisees study and follow the Law to make themselves righteous before God. Jesus’ disciples must seek God first, then live the Law.
  • Jesus’ examples of greater righteousness. Jesus corrects and expands the Law to further reveal God. He introduces each teaching with the formula: “You have heard it said…, but I say to you;” he speaks with more authority than Moses and (as God’s son) with the legal force of God. He reveals the human attitudes behind murder (anger), adultery (selfish desire), divorce (defending one’s honor/avoiding shame), and oaths (deceit). He then challenges disciples to actions that are beyond the Law’s requirements: replace anger with love and forgiveness; replace selfish desire with love; replace honor/shame with forgiveness and love; replace deceit with plain-spoken truth. Only when disciples exceed the Law’s requirements can they enter God’s kingdom.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we, as disciples, encounter God in the Law. Choosing the Law over evil is our first step. Observing the Law makes us better people. Seeking God revealed in the Law and living the beatitudes makes us disciples worthy of the kingdom. Do we see the Law as a limit to personal freedom? Do we find the Law a burden because there are too many rules? Do we encounter God in the Law by seeing our human weaknesses? Do we see the Father’s love and caring in those attitudes and actions that exceed the Law?

—Terence Sherlock

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