Tag Archives: Discipleship

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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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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