Tag Archives: Ordinary time

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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11 February 2018: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Lv 13:1-2, 44-46   Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11   1 Cor 10:31-11:1   Mk 1:40-45

Who may join the believing community?

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 separation and healing.

In the first reading from the book of Leviticus, the priestly author describes the ritual process for evaluating serious skin diseases (often mistranslated as “leprosy.”) With little understanding of medical conditions, causes, and correlations, the ancient Jews considered those affected to be ritually unclean. Striving to be holy like God, they sought ritual and moral purity in their lives, separating those who were unclean. When the person’s unclean skin condition cleared up, a priest ritually restored the person to the community. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to provide the religious and social context for today’s gospel.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul continues answering the Corinthians’ questions. They ask if they can eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:25-30). Today’s reading begins immediately after Paul’s detailed answer. Paul now offers a general teaching, telling the Corinthians that they must look at the big picture to avoid offending others. Paul’s goal is to bring Jesus’ saving message to all (Jews and Greeks). Paul humbles himself to please everyone, and invites the Corinthians to follow his example.

In Mark’s gospel, a man with a serious skin condition seeks Jesus out and is healed.

  • The man’s request. The man comes to Jesus. As we learn from the first reading, the man violates Mosaic law by entering the village and not calling out “Unclean!” In his words (“begging”) and actions (“kneeling”) he shows his faith in Jesus. He says, “If you want to cleanse me, you have the power.” The Greek verb δύναμαι (DOO-nah-mah-ee), meaning “to have power,” is the root of the English word dynamite. This word reminds us that the Baptizer’s promised “one more powerful is coming” (Mk 1:7).
  • Jesus’ response. Jesus responds with compassion: “Of course I want to! Let your healing be done,” and touches the man. The man’s healing is immediate. Jesus, following the law, instructs the man to present himself to a priest so the man could be fully restored to community life.
  • A theology within the story. Through his compassionate, healing gesture of touching the man, Jesus makes himself ritually unclean. In some way, Jesus and the man trade places. Mark tells us that, because of the man’s proclamations, Jesus is unable to enter the town and has to stay outside in the empty places (v 45).

The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider inclusion and exclusion. To protect the community’s holiness, the Jewish priests had the authority to exclude those whose outward appearance indicated spiritual illness. The man in today’s gospel seeks wholeness. He knows Jesus has the power to heal him, if Jesus wishes. Of course Jesus wants to! What about us? We have the power to exclude those who look or act differently. We also have the power to heal by including those who ask to join us. Whom do we exclude or separate? When have we been included and healed? Who still remains in the empty places, waiting?

—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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28 January 2018: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Dt 18:15-20   Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9   1 Cor 7:32-35   Mk 1:21-28

Teaching and acting with authority and power

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 authority and power.

In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses promises the Israelites that God will continue to provide them with prophets and prophetic leaders. God fulfills this promise through a prophetic “office:” first, through judges, and later, through formal prophets, invested with God’s authority to speak for God. In later biblical periods, Jews understood this promise in a messianic sense: God would send one final prophet (the “eschatological prophet”) who would inaugurate the end times. Jesus stands in Israel’s prophetic tradition, as well as fulfilling the role of the eschatological prophet, who both teaches and redeems.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul answers the community’s questions and corrects their understandings about marriage. Because Paul believes that Christ’s return is imminent, he counsels the Corinthians not to focus on worldly concerns (like marriage). Although he recommends a celibate life, Paul doesn’t deny marriage to those who want to be married. Paul’s point is simply: those without worldly attachments and responsibilities are better able to pursue the Lord’s work (building up and serving the believing community).

In the gospel, Mark describes Jesus’ first day of ministry: he teaches in the synagogue with authority and he exorcises the unclean spirit with power. The Greek word ἐξουσία (ehks-oo-SEE-ah) means both “authority” and “power.” Jesus’ authority/power is a sign that God’s kingdom is present:

  • In authoritative words. The synagogue attendees recognize that Jesus “teaches with authority (ἐξουσία),” unlike the scribes. Jesus proclaimed the nearness of God’s kingdom (Mk 1:15), while the scribes focused on traditional doctrine. Jesus’ words cause “amazement” or “astonishment.” Jesus’ teaching about the good news of salvation demonstrates his authority to save God’s people.
  • In powerful actions. Jesus expels a demon with a single command. The demon knows that Jesus has come to destroy evil’s reign on earth. The bystanders recognize Jesus’ power (ἐξουσία), saying “even the unclean spirits obey him.” Jesus’ action causes “amazement” or “astonishment.” Jesus’ handling of the unclean spirit demonstrates his power over evil.

This week’s readings ask us to examine authority and power. As the first reading tells us, God is authority’s source. In the gospel, we see Jesus standing in the prophetic tradition, teaching and healing. Because Jesus is God, his authority and power bring salvation and clear the way for God’s kingdom. Whose authority and power do we recognize? Are they using their authority and power to save and heal, or do they use it to exclude and harm? Do their words and actions amaze and astonish us?

—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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19 November 2017: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31   Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5   1 Thes 5:1-6   Mt 25:14-30

Kingdom come

Green_banner_sm On this final Sunday of Ordinary time, the readings’ themes focus on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings outline again what God requires of disciples who wish to enter the kingdom.

The first reading, from the book of Wisdom, presents an ideal woman serving her family and community. This woman is also Wisdom personified; a person’s reward for seeking Wisdom is a worthy spouse and children, a great household, and renown in the community. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it mentions “receiving a reward for labors,” which echoes the gospel’s theme.

The second reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian ekklesia, contains Paul’s response to concerns about the “time and season” of Jesus’ return. Seeking to calm the community he founded, Paul points out that no one knows when the end is coming. As children of the light and of the day, they shouldn’t worry about the coming judgement. Rather, they should rejoice, because the parousia marks their day of salvation. They need only to stay alert and awake.

Matthew’s gospel continues Jesus’ eschatological sermon (Mt 24:1-25:46), which includes the parable of the talents. Matthew has adapted Jesus’ parable to emphasize its end-time themes.

  • The master’s charge. A man who is going on a long journey entrusts three slaves with varying amounts of money. He expects them to manage what they’ve been given.
  • The slaves’ actions. In the master’s absence, the first and second slaves work and trade the master’s money and double its value. The third slave, out of fear, buries the money he had been given, doing nothing.
  • The surprise. When the master returns, he demands an accounting. The master is pleased with the first two slaves’ work and results and invites them “to share in his joy.” Unsurprisingly, the master calls the third slave “useless” because he did nothing with his master’s money. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that the master not only punishes the third slave, but disowns him (like the bridegroom disowned his teenage cousins in last week’s gospel). The master has the useless slave thrown into the outer darkness, where he is no longer a slave, but a non-person. The “outer darkness” is Matthew’s codeword for “denied entrance to God’s kingdom.” Matthew’s hearers understand that Jesus holds his disciples to a high standard: they must live the gospel to enter God’s kingdom.

The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to examine God’s entry requirements for the kingdom. The first reading highlights actions. The second reading focuses on watchfulness. The gospel describes the consequences of discipleship. At the parousia, disciples will be called to account for what they have done with the good news God entrusted to them. Only those who grow the gospel by their words and actions will enter the kingdom. Are we faithful and productive stewards who promote and live Jesus’ message? Or are our choices and actions ruled by our own fear or laziness?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 November 2017: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Wis 6:12-16   Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8   1 Thes 4:13-18   Mt 25:1-13

The wisdom of watchful waiting

Green_banner_sm As we near the end of Ordinary time and this liturgical year, the Sunday readings become eschatological: they focus on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings ask us how prepared we are to meet Jesus.

In the first reading, the Wisdom author writes to encourage the Jews in Egypt during a time of suffering and oppression (70-50 BC). This Wisdom passage has an eschatological theme: wisdom is unfading (v 12) and those who find wisdom reign as kings forever (v 21). The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of its similarity to themes in today’s gospel of wisdom, waiting, and the messiah’s coming.

In the second reading, Paul clarifies his teaching about the parousia (Christ’s return at the end of time). In this early period (30s-70s AD), the believing community expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes. Some Thessalonica community members have died; their friends and relatives worry that these “fallen-asleep ones” will miss the Lord’s return. Paul reassures them that Jesus’ own resurrection is his promise to all believers of their personal resurrections.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus presents his fifth and final discourse, his eschatological sermon (Mt 24:1-25:46), which includes the parable of the ten virgins. Jesus sets a scene that all his hearers would recognize–a wedding celebration at a bridegroom’s home.

  • First-century wedding culture. The groom and his friends have gone across the village or to a nearby village to bring the bride and her friends back to his home. The returning wedding party wanders through every village street and alley so everyone can see and cheer them as they pass. The ten virgins, the groom’s unmarried teenage relatives, wait for the meandering parade to return, so they can escort them into the groom’s home. Bored by waiting, the teenagers fall asleep.
  • The crisis. When the wedding party finally nears the groom’s home, the waiting guests call out. Awakened, the teenage lamp keepers immediately trim their lamps. The delay has depleted their lamps’ oil. Some teenagers brought extra oil; others did not. The ones without oil beg the ones with extra oil to share. The ones with oil refuse, worried there won’t be enough oil for all the lamps to last until the wedding party actually arrives. The ones without oil rush off to find oil. Meanwhile, the bridegroom returns with the wedding party, and all present go into the feast, locking the door after them.
  • The parable’s surprise. The five unprepared teenagers return with their now-full lamps and bang on the bridegroom’s door to be let in. They hear the bridegroom’s voice through the door saying, “I don’t know you.” In the middle east, family is everything. Jesus’ hearers would ask: Why would the bridegroom disown his relatives and bar them from his wedding feast?

The readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to think about who will enter God’s kingdom. The first reading highlights our need for wisdom. Paul emphasizes our need for faith. The gospel parable tells us we must be thoughtful and prepared. We are the lamp-holding teenagers waiting for the bridegroom’s return. Do we think that baptism guarantees entry to the kingdom? Do our words and actions mark us as part of Jesus’ family? How are we preparing for the bridegroom’s coming?

—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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