Tag Archives: Ordinary time

20 August 2017: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 56:1, 6-7  Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8  Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 Mt 15:21-28

How faith brings God’s kingdom

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 the faith that supports our discipleship.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah challenges the Jews returning from exile in Babylon. The prophet exhorts them to recognize that gentiles who keep the covenant and keep sabbath are part of Israel’s covenant community. Isaiah’s challenge finds a parallel in today’s gospel, where Jesus recognizes and rewards a gentile woman’s faith.

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 gentiles. Paul recognizes that the Jewish rejection of Jesus paved the way for his preaching to the gentiles. He believes that after all gentile nations hear the gospel, Israel as a whole will embrace it. This will be tantamount to resurrection of the dead; that is, Jesus’ parousia will join all believers–gentiles and Jews–at the end of time.

Matthew’s gospel presents a miracle story, but the healing itself is less important than how the Canaanite woman shows her faith.

  • The setting. Jesus and his disciples leave Gennesaret in Galilee and travel west toward the Mediterranean coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, in the Roman province of Syro-Phoenicia, a gentile area.
  • The conflict. A gentile Canaanite woman, familiar with Jesus’ miracles, approaches him. Using a polite request formula (“have mercy”), she asks him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus doesn’t respond. For the woman, Jesus’ silence is a test. For his disciples, Jesus’ silence becomes a teaching about their own faith and discipleship.

    When Jesus finally addresses the woman directly, he uses a parable about “throwing the children’s bread to little dogs.” In calling her a “little dog”–a common Jewish insult for gentiles–Jesus again tests her resolve. The woman ignores Jesus’ insult. She instead turns the insult about “little dogs” to focus on “little bread crumbs.” She again asks Jesus if the Jewish son of David has one small healing to grant to a gentile.
  • The resolution and meaning. Jesus acknowledges the woman’s “great faith.” The woman finds that God’s compassion is available to all. The disciples learn that faith is not limited to one group. Jesus closes with the divine passive (“let it be done”), showing that it is God who acts on the woman’s faith to heal her daughter.

This week’s readings challenge RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our faith. Isaiah makes it clear that faithfulness to God’s law, not ethnicity, determines the people of God. Paul looks for Jesus’ return to bring all people of faith together. Jesus praises the gentile woman’s great faith. Matthew included the Canaanite woman’s story in his gospel to remind his own divided community how far they were from realizing God’s kingdom. We, too, live in divided times. Does our faith bring justice to challenge exclusion? Is our faith great enough to see past a divided world to bring the kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 August 2017: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Getting in over our heads

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on God’s power and our discipleship.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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6 August 2017: Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

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

Transfiguration: changing our view of ourselves and others

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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30 July 2017: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

 

Parables about choices in discipleship

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on God’s kingdom and our discipleship.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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23 July 2017: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Wis 12:13, 16-19  Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16  Rom 8:26-27  Mt 13:24-43

Parables about the unexpected and surprising kingdom

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 nature and God’s kingdom.

In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, the author considers the paradox of balancing divine mercy with divine power: “Your mastery of all things makes you lenient to all (v 16),” “Though mighty, you judge with clemency (v 18).” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to compliment the kingdom’s descriptions in the gospel parables.

In his letter to the Roman ekklasia, Paul addresses the Spirit’s role in completing our prayer. Human prayer is sometimes imperfect in how we praise God or what we ask for. The Spirit comes to our aid to help us form our praise, petitions, and thanks, and present them to God. Paul anticipates John’s description of the Spirit as our paraclete.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus continues teaching  in parables. Jesus presents the crowds and the disciples with three images of the kingdom of the heavens: a field of wheat and weeds, a mustard seed, and leaven. In these parables, Jesus overturns his hearers’ expectations about how God’s kingdom comes, how the kingdom is revealed, and who can enter. This reflection focuses on the most complex image, the wheat and weeds.

First-century feuding parties would often ruin each other’s crops. The practice was so common that a Roman law forbade sabotaging wheat fields with darnel, a poisonous plant that resembles wheat in its early growth. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised by the householder’s decision to wait until the harvest to separate the wheat from the weeds. In their honor/shame culture, they would expect that someone outwitted and shamed by his enemy would hide or remove the evidence of shame. The householder instead outwits (and shames) his enemy. By waiting, the householder saves his wheat crop, and gets the added benefit of using the weeds to fuel his oven.

This parable warns disciples about human judgement. The kingdom, which is already here, contains both the good and the bad. Disciples may too quickly label someone a “sinner” and judge that person excluded from the kingdom. But God alone judges the worthy and unworthy (see the first reading). A disciple’s work is to preach the kingdom and to encourage conversion (metanoia).

Today’s readings ask the believing community to consider how God’s kingdom comes, is recognized, and is encountered and lived. The mustard seed parable tells us the kingdom starts small, but grows large enough to encompass the whole world. The leaven parable tells us that the kingdom starts as a hidden thing, but becomes visible as it changes the world. The wheat-and-weeds parable reminds us that, although we have a role in bringing God’s kingdom, God alone, who is both just and merciful, chooses who will enter. As disciples, are we growing the kingdom by our words and actions? Do we reveal the kingdom daily by our example? Do we invite everyone to the kingdom without judgement or preference?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 July 2017: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Disciples: seeds and sowers

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on Jesus’ parable of the sower.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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9 July 2017: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Jesus’ invitation to everyone

Green_banner_sm In Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings focus on Jesus and his invitation to come to him.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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2 July 2017: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Discipleship: challenges and consolations

Green_banner_sm In Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite us to reflect on discipleship’s demands and promises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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25 June 2017: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Discipleship: a fearless life

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite us to reflect on discipleship’s risks and rewards.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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18 June 2017: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20 1 Cor 10:16-17 Jn 6:51-58

Eucharist: God’s care, community meal, food of eternal life

White_gold_banner_sm On the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Lectionary readings invite us to think about the Eucharist, foreshadowed in the Hebrew scripture as manna and fulfilled in Christian scripture as the bread of life.

In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses recalls God’s great acts, especially God feeding the Israelites with manna in the wilderness. God’s gift of manna expresses God’s care for the chosen people. The gospel compares God’s gift of manna, which sustains human life, with the Father’s gift of Jesus-as-bread, who gives eternal life.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul recalls the blessing cup and broken bread as both a fellowship meal and remembrance meal. However, he emphasizes the community/communion aspect when he stresses one loaf/one body in which all participate and become one.

In John’s gospel, Jesus tells his synagogue listeners that manna saved their ancestors from starvation in the wilderness, but still the Israelites died. For those who follow Jesus, the bread-of-life that Jesus’ offers is both physical food (bread/wine) as well as spiritual food (himself/abiding).

Like the manna in the wilderness, Jesus is God’s gift that reveals God’s care for disciples. Unlike the manna, Jesus gives himself as communion–union with Jesus and the Father–so disciples will abide with the Father and Son forever. Jesus, the bread-coming-down-from-heaven, gives his disciples a share in eternal life though his living, dying, and resurrection. Although Jesus returns to the Father, Jesus continues to abide with the believing community in the Eucharistic meal. By remembering Jesus and by imitating his sacrificial love, the disciples remain-in-relationship with Jesus and the Father.

On this feast celebrating the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ, the readings reveal the Eucharist as wilderness food, fellowship sign, and life source. In the Eucharistic mystery, we continue to see new meanings of manna, meal, and remaining-in-relationship. In the Eucharistic sacrament, we encounter God as gift, covenant meal, and life. At every Mass, Jesus shares a meal with us, made from the Father’s gifts and our work, which the Spirit returns to us as God’s own self. What is our wilderness? What is our food? What gives us life?

—Terence Sherlock

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