Tag Archives: Discipleship

17 June 2018: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ez 17:22-24   Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16   2 Cor 5:6-10   Mk 4:26-34

God’s kingdom: secret seeds, bushes, and birds

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider the mystery of God’s kingdom.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel describes God’s promises to restore the exiles and to reestablish David’s line. God will plant a cutting from a mighty cedar tree in the heights of Israel. The tree stands for Israel (the restored Davidic dynasty). The birds who come to roost in the branches are the returning exiles (the captives in Babylon). Eventually all nations (“birds of every kind”) will come to recognize the God of Israel. Christians hear Ezekiel’s words fulfilled in Jesus; Jesus is David’s descendant, and Jesus inaugurates God’s messianic kingdom, which is open to all nations. The gospel’s mustard seed parable echoes this theme of including all nations in God’s kingdom.

The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the ekklesia at Corinth. The overarching theme of 2 Cor is Paul’s defense against false teachers who created confusion in the community. In today’s reading, Paul contrasts “home/away” and “seen/ unseen” to explain how we live between the already and the not yet. Now we all live (“are at home”) in physical bodies, and so we are separated from the risen Christ. Now we know the risen Christ only by faith, since we can no longer see him. Our faith tells us that when we die (“leave our bodies”) we will be with the resurrected Christ. Now we should live as Jesus lived (“aspire to please him”) so that when we meet him (“appear before the judgement seat”), Jesus will recognize us as his disciples (“receive recompense”).

Mark’s gospel is from Jesus’ “day of parables” (Mk 4). We hear two parables and Mark’s summary:

  • Parable of the seed growing quietly (v 26-29). This parable is unique to Mark. Jesus reminds his hearers that seeds grow without human intervention. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that God’s kingdom would come unnoticed, without cataclysmic signs. The kingdom of God develops quietly yet powerfully until God fully establishes the kingdom at the final judgment (Mk 4:29; Rev 14:15).

The parable encourages disciples in Mark’s community who feel their efforts are fruitless, and warns those who think they can bring the kingdom through their own projects and plans.

  • Parable of the mustard seed (v 30-32). This parable also appears in Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that God’s kingdom would be present but be unseen. Jesus probably told this parable in response to his opponents’ criticism: if the kingdom of God is here, why can’t we see it? The biblical image of a tree housing many birds symbolizes an empire that grants protection to people of many races and languages (see the first reading). With comic irony Jesus portrays the kingdom not as a lofty cedar tree (first reading), but as a weedy bush.

The parable encourages Mark’s community, which is facing failure and persecution (Mk 13:9-13). Jesus continues to grow the believing community even when they lack faith.

  • Mark’s summary (v 33-34). Mark concludes with two important ideas about discipleship:

First, Jesus speaks to the crowd as they are able to hear. The Greek verb ἀκούω means “to hear,” “to listen,” “to understand,” or “to obey.” Mark wants his community to remember that the kingdom grows as a disciple reflects on the parables and embraces their implications, enlarging his or her ability “to hear.”

Second, Jesus explains everything to the disciples privately. The Greek verb ἐπιλύω means “to explain” and is often translated as “to interpret religious or oracular statements.” Mark wants his community to hear Jesus address the needs in their ekklesia: proper moral conduct (Mk 7:17-21), divorce (Mk 10:10-12), and the danger of wealth (Mk 10:23-30).

The readings challenge RCIA candidates and the believing community to consider the mystery of God’s kingdom, and our response as disciples. Jesus describes God’s kingdom as a seed that grows by its own power, and as a tiny seed that grows into a shrub that is home to many birds. The kingdom comes according to God’s plan, not ours. The kingdom comes for everyone, not just for us and our friends. As disciples, we should cooperate with God’s plan. As disciples we should seek to grow the kingdom. Are we promoting God’s agenda, or our own? Do we have faith that the community will grow as God wills, or do we believe we know better?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 June 2018: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 3:9-15   Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8   2 Cor 4:13-5:1   Mk 3:20-35

Conflicts: Who is Jesus? Who is our family?

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary readings ask us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings challenge every RCIA participant and each one of the believing community to examine his or her commitment to discipleship.

The first reading from the book of Genesis explores the consequences of humanity’s disobedience and rejection of God. A theological tension exists between God’s “good” creation and the created world’s own intransigence (for example, disobedience and violence). The Torah becomes a story of recalcitrance (on creation’s part) and rescue (on God’s part). Later Jewish and Christian interpreters identify the serpent with Satan. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel because the gospel reading refers to Satan.

The second reading continues Paul’s second letter to the Corinth ekklesia. Paul describes his faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead, a faith that also includes a hope that God will raise Paul and his converts. God is already renewing the believing community’s “inner nature” in preparation for the final resurrection. Believers do not yet have the fullness of the resurrected life, but something starting in the inner person that will be clothed by the resurrection body.

The gospel uses what scholars call the “Marcan sandwich” technique to tell two conflict stories at once: a conflict with religious authorities and a conflict within a family. The actions are as follows:

  • The family conflict (part 1). Jesus is in his new home in Capernaum, teaching and healing. He is so successful, he doesn’t have time to eat. Back in Nazareth, his family hears what’s going on and are worried; they think he is crazy. Jesus has attracted the attention of the “scribes from Jerusalem;” his family may be genuinely worried that the authorities will execute Jesus for his words and actions. If the family declares Jesus insane, they can legally protect him from execution.


    Because Jesus’ family needs time to travel from Nazareth to Capernaum, Mark cuts to the related religious controversy story.
  • Conflict with religious authorities. The scribes from Jerusalem want to shame and discredit Jesus. They make two charges against him. First, that Jesus is possessed. Second (and more serious), that Jesus is an agent of the “ruler of demons.” Using the ruler of demons’ power/authority to cast out lower demons is the same as practicing magic, actions forbidden in Jewish law (Dt 18:10-12).
     

    Jesus refutes their charges first by pointing out that a kingdom or house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus then attacks their statement that Jesus’ power/authority comes from the devil. Using a parable about a strong one (Satan), Jesus shows that he is the stronger one (or “mightier one”) who binds Satan, as foretold by the Baptist (Mk 1:7). Finally, Jesus shames the scribes by saying they have insulted God (blasphemed). Because the scribes interpret the goodness of Jesus’ actions as evil, they have closed themselves to the actions of God’s holy Spirit. This “unforgivable sin” is similar to Hebrew scripture’s phrase “hardness of heart.”
     

    With the religious authorities’ conflict settled, Mark turns back to the family conflict story.

  • The family conflict (part 2). The crowd informs Jesus that his family is outside, seeking him. Jesus contrasts his misunderstanding family gathered outside with the attentive listeners gathered inside the house. Jesus’ work is to establish a new family: a family of God united by love, familiarity, and loyalty, stronger than blood relationships. Discipleship in God’s kingdom is more important than family and tribal ties. Jesus is not rejecting his earthly family, but resetting his family’s claim on him.

The readings confront RCIA candidates and the believing community with the reality of who Jesus is and his call to discipleship. Do we see Jesus and the more powerful one who binds Satan to heal and save us, or are we distracted from the actions of God’s Spirit? Do we choose discipleship’s attentive listening, or are our human relationships so comfortable we can’t hear Jesus’ message?

—Terence Sherlock

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6 May 2018: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48   Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4   1 Jn 4:7-10   Jn 15:9-17

God acts to change everything

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings focus on how God acts to change everything we think we know.

In the first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, Peter converts the God-fearing centurion Cornelius. God, not Peter, drives the entire Cornelius story: God sends an angel to tell Cornelius about Peter; God sends Peter a vision about clean and unclean animals; God pours out the Spirit on Cornelius and the gentiles without them being baptized. Luke’s point is that the Spirit drives the sometimes too-timid believing community and its leaders to act. By pouring out the Spirit on the unbaptized gentiles, God signals that God has accepted the gentiles. Playing catch-up to the Spirit, Peter baptizes Cornelius and his household to show that he also accepts the gentiles.

In the second reading, John the Elder continues his case about why we, as true disciples, should love one another. John restates the primacy of love: God’s love for us and our love for one another. Those who love are begotten by God and therefore know God. Those who claim to know God (the gnostics) but who don’t love, don’t really know God at all, because God is love. God revealed God’s love by sending the Son to give life to all. Love, then, is not what we do, but what God has done for us.

In John the Evangelist’s gospel, Jesus continues his description of discipleship:

  • Abiding in love (v9-11). Just as Jesus’ relationship with the Father is continuous and unending, so also is Jesus’ relationship (abiding) with each disciple. Jesus remains-in-relationship with the Father by doing what the Father asks him. In the same way, a disciple remains-in-relationship with Jesus by keeping Jesus’ command.
  • Jesus’ command: Love as I have loved you (v12-14). Jesus’ own life becomes a template for discipleship, Just as Jesus loves each disciple, so each disciple must love others. How far do we need to love one another? As far as Jesus loved: to lay down one’s life in service to the other. This command changes the relationship between Jesus and a disciple, and between a disciple and other humans.
  • The new relationship: friends vs slaves (v15-16). In this new relationship, a disciple is no longer a slave (a command-follower), but a friend–a loving participant in Jesus’ mission from the Father. Jesus loves each disciple, and he explicitly chooses each disciple, and he invites each disciple to complete the Father’s mission by bearing fruit. In this new relationship, a disciple’s love is continuous and life-long (abiding). This new relationship allows a disciple to ask the Father for whatever he needs, and the Father will give it.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks to give us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings invite us to continue to examine our discipleship. The first reading tells us that the Spirit will push timid disciples and leaders to accomplish God’s plan. John the Elder reminds disciples that it’s not what we do that’s important, but what God has already done for us. Jesus has redefined the love relationship between a disciple and God and a disciple and others. Easter changes everything. How have we changed? Can we feel the Spirit’s push? Can we see what God has done for us? Can we lay down our own lives to serve others?

—Terence Sherlock

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29 April 2018: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 9:26-31   Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32   1 Jn 3:18-24   Jn 15:1-8

Disciples, connected or kindling

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on a disciple’s role in continuing Jesus’ mission.

The first reading is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. For the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing about Peter and his role in the believing community. In today’s reading, we begin to hear about the ekklesia‘s other hero, Paul. Luke introduces Paul at Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:58). Paul persecutes the believing community in Jerusalem, and plans to expand his persecution into Damascus. While traveling to Damascus, Paul encounters the risen Jesus and becomes a disciple. Preaching about Jesus in Damascus, he is nearly killed by angry synagogue members. Paul escapes to Jerusalem, where he meets with Jesus’ disciples for the first time. Paul himself describes this journey to discipleship in Gal 1:13-24.

The second reading continues from John the Elder’s letter. John the Elder sums up how to live a Christian life: If we believe in Jesus’ name (have faith) and we love one another (show works), we remain-in-relationship (abide) with God, and God remains-in-relationship (abides) with us. Today’s gospel gives us Jesus’ own teaching about abiding with him.

In John’s gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the true vine. Jesus repeats twice that he is the vine. Each time, he describes different and unique aspects of his relationship to disciples:

  • The metaphor of the vine and branches (vv 1-5a). Jesus reveals that he is the Father’s true or authentic vine. Hebrew scripture identifies God as the vineyard owner and the people as God’s plantings (Is 27: 2-6, Jer 2:21; Ps 80; Ex 19:10-14). Jesus extends the metaphor, telling us that he (vine) and his disciples (branches) replace the people of Israel as God’s authentic vine. God carefully tends the branches, cutting away what’s dead and pruning what remains to increase its yield (fruit). Jesus tells his disciples that, because they have listened to his word (which reveals the Father), they have been pruned and are bearing fruit.
  • What happens to branches and to disciples (vv 5b-8). Jesus extends the metaphor again to include the relationship between the vine and its branches. The Greek verb μένω (MEHN-oh) emphasizes a relationship: “remaining in relationship” or “continuing in association.” Only by remaining continuously connected to the vine can a branch live and produce fruit. A disciple who breaks his or her relationship with Jesus and leaves the community stops producing spiritual fruit and becomes spiritually dead. A disciple who remains-in-relationship with Jesus (has faith) bears fruit (works). The disciple’s works (words and actions) show that he or she remains-in-relationship (abides) with Jesus.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks to give us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings invite us to examine our discipleship. A true disciple remains continuously connected to Jesus, the true vine. A true disciple bears fruit. In this continuing relationship, Jesus and the disciple continue Jesus’ saving mission: to reveal the Father’s love through continuing acts of love. How is our relationship with Jesus? Are we alive, fruitful, and loving? Or are we deadwood and kindling for the fireplace?

—Terence Sherlock

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4 March 2018: Third Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ex 20:1-17   Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11   1 Cor 1:22-25   Jn 2:13-25

 

Lectionary note
On the third Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary offers two sets of readings. Masses that include catechumens celebrating the Scrutinies use Year A readings; all other masses use Year B readings. This reflection uses Year B readings.

Discipleship: faith and signs

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested and transfigured, and as he foretells his coming glory. For RCIA participants, Lent’s rites and prayers prepare them for the Easter Vigil sacraments. Today’s readings ask us to reconsider God’s signs and our response.

The first reading from Exodus describes God giving the commandments to the Israelites at Sinai. The Decalogue (Greek: “ten words”) is a sign of God’s covenant with God’s people. This sign reminds Jewish hearers of their relationship with and requirements to God and to others. For Christians, the Decalogue is the summary of moral obligations, expanded by Jesus’ teachings.

The second reading from Paul’s first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth critiques those whose faith relies on signs or wisdom. Paul preaches faith in Christ crucified: an incomprehensible sign to Jews who want a powerful messiah, and complete foolishness to Greek gentiles who want a brilliant philosopher-teacher. Yet, in the cross, believers will find that God’s foolishness is far wiser than human wisdom, and that God’s power is stronger than human strength.

John’s gospel recounts Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. This reading has many themes, but this reflection focuses on Jesus’ signs and their meaning:

  • Jesus’ sign. Jesus’ opponents ask Jesus to give a sign to prove his authority for prophetic action of cleansing of the Temple. He answers this opponents with the sign of his resurrection: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus connects his prophecy-in-action in the Temple with a different temple: his body. In Johannine fashion, Jesus’ opponents misunderstand him, and they reject Jesus’ sign: “And you in three days, will you raise it up?” In John’s hands, Jesus’ opponents’ mockery becomes ironic. They don’t believe Jesus, so no sign he gives them will lead to faith or enable them to see beyond their limited understanding.
  • Relationship between faith and signs. Jesus expects reciprocity with believers. Jesus trusts and abides with someone only if that person believes in Jesus (Jn 1:12-13).
    • Jesus’ opponents demand a sign first, but reject the sign because it isn’t what they expect. They do not believe in the sign or in Jesus.
    • Jesus’ disciples believe first, because Jesus’ prophetic action fulfills Hebrew scripture. Their believing allows them to see the truth in Jesus’ sign of the resurrection.
    • The many who “begin to believe because of Jesus’ signs” may or may not become disciples. If their faith doesn’t move from believing in signs to believing in Jesus, Jesus will be unable to trust and abide in them.

This week RCIA candidates and the believing community reflect on signs and faith. In the readings God and Jesus offer signs that invite us into deeper relationship, and Paul warns about missing signs because they don’t match what we expect. Signs of covenant and community are always present, but we must see with faith to know their deeper meanings. Do we demand signs to guarantee our faith? Is our faith contingent on only signs we want or know? Does our faith let us see in and beyond the unexpected sign?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 February 2018: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 9:8-15   Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9   1 Pt 3:18-22   Mk 1:12-15

Preparing for Easter: baptism and testing

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, and foretells his coming glory to the temple leadership, Nicodemus, and his disciples. For RCIA participants, the Lenten season is a time of rites and prayers that prepare them for the sacraments they will experience at the Easter Vigil. The readings recall the meaning of our baptism and ask us to consider how our discipleship is tested.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah, his family, and all living things. God will never again destroy the world by water. God seals this covenant with the rainbow as its sign. Early Christian writers understand the flood story as prefiguring baptism. The Lectionary editors chose this story to match today’s second reading.

The second reading is from the first letter of Peter. Today’s selection is part of a baptismal homily. The author draws on Jewish tradition about the “imprisoned spirits,” spirits of the wicked drowned by the flood of Noah’s time. Christ’s “proclamation” is the good news of salvation, and the wicked dead are now given a chance to repent. This interpretation sets up his typology of the flood water and baptism. Noah and his family are saved though water, which the ark sails on or through. Christians, also, are saved through baptismal water, which they float on or through. As part of baptism, the catechumen “appeals” or pledges to God a “clear conscience” or changed heart (metanoia). Jesus preaches this same metanoia in today’s gospel.

Mark’s gospel contains two related narratives: Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, and the start of his mission and message.

  • Testing in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11), the Spirit drives him into the wilderness, traditionally a place of testing and revelation. Satan, God’s adversary, wants to find out what God’s words–“You are my beloved son”–really mean. Satan tests Jesus to see who he is, and to determine Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus has come to break Satan’s grasp on the world and on humanity. Mark connects Jesus’ baptism and testing to warn the newly baptized that baptism does not make them immune to ongoing testing.
  • Mission and message. Mark summarizes Jesus’ good news and the action required from those who hear his proclamation: “God’s kingdom is near. Change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news.” For Mark, Hebrew scripture’s promises are the root of Christian faith, and Christian life and experience reflects those fulfilled promises. Their path to faith in the good news leads them through metanoia and baptism.

Today’s Lenten readings remind RCIA candidates and the believing community about the meaning and power of baptism. Discipleship requires that we live in the ambiguity of the wilderness: a place of both testing and revelation. Evil attacks us–pride, greed, addictions, institutional violence, and on and on. At the same time, through baptism, we share in the Spirit’s power to break evil’s grip and to live out salvation’s good news. What tests do we face every day? How do we respond? What is revealed?

—Terence Sherlock

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4 February 2018: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jb 7:1-4, 6-7   Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6   1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23   Mk 1:29-39

Suffering and service

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time, the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to think about the human condition and a disciple’s response.

In the first reading from the book of Job, the author attempts to understand and to explain why innocent people suffer. In the author’s time (seventh-to-fifth century BC), Jewish thought focused on God’s othernessGod is not like humans. The author concludes that God is beyond human understanding. Human suffering has a divine purpose humans can’t know. For Christians, Jesus’ incarnation means God has become human. Jesus answers Job’s question through Jesus’ transformative life, death, and resurrection. Today’s gospel shows that God is knowable, present, and engaged in human life; someone who also suffers, heals, and saves.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul considers his right to be supported by the community to which he preaches. Paul’s service of the good news is a repeated choice or commitment, not a one-time decision. He freely chooses to be in slavery “to all” so that he might reach more people (to save them). Paul preaches about what he believes, and, in doing so, hopes to share in the promises of the good news.

In the gospel, Mark concludes Jesus’ first day of ministry: Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus ministers to the whole town, and his disciples forget why he came:

  • Simon’s mother-in-law. On arriving at Simon’s house, Jesus and the disciples find Simon’s mother-in-law too sick to perform the traditional demands of first-century hospitality. Jesus’ touch heals her. As proof that she is healed, she fulfills her obligation of hospitality by “serving them.” The Greek verb διακονέω (dee-ah-koh-NEH-oh), root of the English word “deacon,” means “to serve” or “to wait on.” Simon’s mother-in-law embodies the ideal disciple as someone in service to others–a point that disciples James and John miss (see Mk 10:43).
  • All who were ill or possessed. As the Baptizer foretold in Mk 1:7-8, Jesus comes with power and authority preaching and healing. Jesus’ power/authority to heal breaks evil’s hold on this world and displaces demons, which makes room for God’s kingdom. The Greek verb θεραπεύω (theh-rah-PYOO-oh), root of the English word “therapy,” means “to serve” or “to heal.” Its use here implies that Jesus did not simply heal, but spent time ministering to each person.
  • Everyone wants you. The reason that Jesus came was to preach God’s kingdom (Mk 1:14-15). Jesus’ healings were just a small part of his ministry. Unfortunately, Peter, Andrew, James, and John (and everyone else) want to promote Jesus’ powerful acts above his message of salvation. Jesus reminds them why he came: to tell everyone that the time is fulfilled, God is near, and to change their hearts and minds.

Today’s readings display how far we have progressed in our understanding of suffering. The believing community and RCIA participants find Job searching for a reason and encounter Jesus proclaiming an answer in words and actions. Job experiences God as a distant power and wisdom; Simon’s mother-in-law and Capernaum’s suffering people experience Jesus’ physical touch and personal attention. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus transforms the meaning of suffering. As disciples, Jesus calls us to continue his individual service and ministry to make God near to everyone. Where do we drive out today’s demons? How do we heal those who suffer? How do we serve to make others whole?

—Terence Sherlock

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21 January 2018: Third Sunday of Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jon 3:1-5, 10   Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9   1 Cor 7:29-31   Mk 1:14-20

Discipleship: hear, change, follow

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings ask us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings encourage every RCIA participant and everyone in the entire believing community to examine his or her own call to discipleship.

In the first reading the prophet Jonah finally arrives in Nineveh and begins to preach God’s message. God spares Nineveh because its gentile people heard God’s warning (“Nineveh will be destroyed”) and changed their minds (they “believed God”) and actions (they “fasted and put on sackcloth”). The connection between the first reading and today’s gospel is the Greek verb μετανοέω (meh-tah-noh-EH-oh), which means “to convert” or “to turn away from one thing and turn toward something else” (Joh 3:10). Jesus uses this same word in preaching the good news (Mk 1:15).

In the second reading, Paul suggests that the Corinthian ekklesia live “as if not,” that is, with a sense of detachment from this world’s priorities. Paul’s apocalyptic view–that “the world is passing away” and Christ would return soon–colors his advice. Christians who know this life and world is temporary should live differently from those who are unaware of Jesus’ promise to return and to fulfill God’s kingdom.

In today’s gospel, Mark introduces Jesus’ teaching and his call to discipleship.

  • Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ teaching has three parts:
    1. “The proper time has been fulfilled.” Through the Baptizer’s preparatory preaching (Mk 1:4-8), Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10-11), and Jesus’ testing (Mk 1:12-13), Jesus is ready to proclaim the good news and the people are ready to hear it.
    2. “God’s reign (or kingdom) is nearby.” The Greek word translated here as “nearby” means both “near in time” and “near physically.” In Jesus’ physical presence, God’s kingdom is within reach; in Jesus’ preaching about God’s kingdom, God’s kingdom is close to being implemented in time (although not yet fully arrived, not until the parousia).
    3. “Change your hearts/minds and believe in the good news.” The metanoia that Jesus calls for, and which he demonstrates in his words and actions, is the heart of Mark’s gospel: turn away from evil and turn toward God. The believing that Jesus calls for is not a simple intellectual assertion, but trust and personal commitment, often when facing a threatening or uncertain future.
  • Jesus’ call to follow him. After someone hears Jesus’ teaching, that person is ready to be invited to “walk the road” with Jesus. Jesus calls each disciple by name. His invitation requires an immediate response. Simon, Andrew, James, and John literally drop what they are doing and follow. The Greek word translated here as “to follow” also means “to become a disciple.”

 

 

The readings confront RCIA candidates and the believing community with the reality of discipleship: hear God’s message, change our mind/heart, and immediately follow. Metanoia is at the heart of discipleship: we must change before we can follow. Jesus’ invitation begins when we hear what God asks. God’s request turns us around and changes how we see ourselves and the world. How do we respond? Do we drop everything and follow this different and unknown path? Or do we stay in our familiar boat, content to follow a safe and known way?

—Terence Sherlock

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14 January 2018: Second Sunday of Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19   Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10   1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20   Jn 1:35-42

Discipleship: called by name into an abiding relationship

Green_banner_sm This week the liturgical calendar changes to Ordinary time, and the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to examine their call to discipleship and its implications.

In the first reading, the book of Samuel describes Samuel’s call by God to be a prophet. Samuel is living in the tabernacle in Shiloh with Eli the priest. God calls Samuel by name into a special relationship and mission. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel Jesus’ call of his disciples in the gospel.

In the second reading from his first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul writes to correct the Corinthians misunderstandings. In this passage he addresses the ethical problem of sexual immorality associated with temple prostitution. Through three metaphors, Paul asks three questions:

  1. Your bodies are members of Christ. The idea of Greek citizens as parts of a civic body is a favorite figure in Greek life and philosophy. Paul applies this image to the ekklesia members who are parts of Christ’s body. Paul asks: why would Christians defile Christ and themselves through unions with unbelievers?
  2. Your body is a temple. Paul imagines the ekklesia as a temple, where each member is a living stone in the temple’s construction. God’s Spirit resides in this temple, just as God’s presence resided in the Jerusalem Temple. Paul asks: why would Christians seek God in pagan temples and rites?
  3. You have been bought by Christ. Paul believes all people are slaves to sin. Through Christ’s redeeming action and Christian baptism, Christ buys Christians out of slavery, as the Greeks buy slaves in the market. Paul asks: why would Christians want to enslave themselves again to pagan gods?

In the gospel, the Baptizer has just completed his testimony about Jesus. John now tells the story of Jesus’ disciples, describing two ways to encounter Jesus, and Jesus’ response:

  • Those who seek. Andrew and his unnamed companion (the beloved disciple) begin following Jesus after the Baptizer points him out. Jesus asks them “What are looking for?” The Greek verb ζητέω (dzay-TEH-oh) means “to seek” or “to search after.” Jesus is asking them, “If you want to be my disciple, what do you seek from me?”
  • Those who are brought by others. Simon receives his call to follow Jesus though his brother Andrew. Jesus looks at Simon and calls him by a new name. Simon’s renaming to Peter, like Abram’s renaming to Abraham (Gn 17:5), and Jacob’s renaming to Israel (Gn 32:29), indicates Peter will have a special role in God’s plan.
  • Jesus’ invitation: come and abide. Whether a disciple seeks out Jesus or comes to Jesus through another, Jesus invites the disciple to experience life with Jesus. John uses the Greek verb μένω (MEHN-oh) to describe life with Jesus. μένω means literally “to stay with” and metaphorically “to remain-in-relationship” or “to abide.” John uses μένω to indicate that the disciples not only stay with Jesus, but began to experience an abiding relationship.

Today’s readings prod RCIA candidates and the believing community to examine Jesus’ invitation to discipleship. Like Samuel in the first reading and the disciples in the gospel, God calls each of us by name to fulfill a task only we can complete. But first we must answer Jesus’ question: what do you seek? The question isn’t a test; it’s a call to self-examination. Choosing to walk the same road with Jesus requires not just sacrifice, but self-sacrifice. In Baptism and Confirmation God calls us by a new name. Whose voice do we hear? What or whom do we seek? Are we ready to complete the unique task for which we’ve been called-by-name?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 December 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29   Rom 16:25-27   Lk 1:26-38

Advent: God’s promises are fulfilled

Purple_banner_sm As our Advent waiting and preparation comes to a close, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with the culmination of the mystery of God-with-us.

In the first reading, the book of Samuel records David’s wish to build God a permanent temple (house). God answers David through the prophet Nathan: God pledges to build David a house (a lineage) that last forever. Christians hear in God’s promise that, from David’s house, an anointed one (messiah) will come to lead and to protect God’s people. Jesus, born with Mary’s active participation, fulfills this prophecy.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Roman ekklesia that God’s mystery, “kept secret for long ages,” is revealed in Jesus’ coming. In Jesus, all Hebrew scripture prophecies attain their full meanings. Gabriel’s words to Mary begin to reveal these hidden meanings.

In Luke’s annunciation narrative, Gabriel presents God’s invitation to Mary. She responds in three parts:

  • Mary’s reaction. Gabriel greets Mary as “God’s favored one.” Luke says the greeting “perplexes” or “greatly confuses” Mary, and then that she “thinks carefully about its implications.” Mary does not passively receive Gabriel’s greeting. She carefully considers what being “God’s favored one” might mean for her.
  • Mary’s question. Mary asks Gabriel: how will this happen? Luke’s Greek Christian community is expecting a Greek mythological divine/human impregnation story, but instead, Gabriel answers Mary using Hebrew scriptural allusions:
    • First, “the holy Spirit will-come-to you.” In Genesis, God’s creative spirit “hovers over” the unformed world (Gn 1:2). Luke uses the same Greek verb to describe the Spirit’s coming both to Mary in today’s reading (v 35) and to the apostles at Pentecost (Ac 1: 8). Luke connects the Spirit’s action at Jesus’ conception with the Spirit’s action at the ekklesia‘s (believing community’s or church’s) beginnings.
    • Next, “God’s-presence-will-shadow you.” The Greek verb ἐπισκιάζω (eh-pee-skee-AHd-zoh) means “to cover” or “to shadow.” Hebrew scripture uses this word to indicate God’s presence at Sinai (Ex 19:9) and especially in the Tent of Meeting (Ex 40:34). Luke uses the same word (v 35) to show Mary as a new Ark of the Covenant, the place where God’s glory resides. Luke connects God’s presence at Jesus’ conception with God’s covenant and protection throughout history.
  • Mary’s answer. Mary’s first statement acknowledges her relationship to God doesn’t require that God offer her a choice. But God invites Mary to participate in human salvation. Mary’s “yes” is a model for Christian discipleship: I give up my plans and myself to do whatever God requires.

For this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God fulfills the promise of salvation. God promises David that his house will last forever. Paul explains to the Romans that we understand God’s promises only through Jesus’ coming. Luke shows us how God’s promises are fulfilled only through human cooperation. The annunciation is neither history or myth. Luke presents a theological conversation between Mary and Gabriel, revealing that Jesus is God and savior, incarnated into our human experience in a unique and extraordinary way, with the cooperation of someone just like us. Jesus invites us to discipleship. Like Mary, we can choose to cooperate in God’s saving plans.

—Terence Sherlock

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