Tag Archives: parable

23 October 2015: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 35:12-14, 16-18 Ps 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23 2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18 Lk 18:9-14

Prayer: considering the mystery of God’s grace

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite us to think about our prayers and God’s grace.

In the first reading from his wisdom book, Sirach tells us that God is “a God of justice who knows no favorites.” All prayer reaches God, and God does not delay in responding. God’s justice (and God’s corresponding mercy) is at the heart of today’s gospel.

In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author uses a liturgical prayer image familiar to both Jews and Greeks: the pouring of a libation (offering) to God or the gods. The author, speaking as Paul, imagines his blood poured out in sacrifice as an act of worship. God awards all who “keep faith” the crown of righteousness.

Today’s gospel reading is the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, which is challenging for two reasons: (1) two interpretations surround the parable, and (2) Jesus’ interpretation can be translated three ways. The gospel consists of the following parts:

  • The parable (v 10-13). Jesus tells his disciples another parable about prayer, continuing last week’s theme. The Pharisee is a meticulous keeper of Mosaic law; the tax collector is an untrustworthy collaborator. Jesus’ first-century hearers would recognize these characters as stereotypes: the super-pious good person, and the cheating, Roman-collaborating bad person. Both go to the Temple to pray at the daily atonement service. Their prayers and attitudes are very different.
  • The first interpretation (v 9). Luke interprets the parable before he tells it. He says Jesus addresses the parable to those who believe they can do without God.
  • The second interpretation (v 14a) and saying (v 14b). Jesus interprets the parable after he tells it. Jesus’ interpretation turns on which person went home justified. The Greek word παρά (pah-RAH) can mean a position (“along with”), a causality (“because of”), or a non-correspondence (“rather than”). The possible translations are:
    1. The tax collector went home justified rather than the Pharisee [the Lectionary version]. Jesus’ audience would be surprised to hear that God rejects the Pharisee’s prayer but accepts the tax collector’s prayer. While they could understand God rejecting the tax collector because of his work, they would not understand God rejecting the Pharisee-his life is exemplary, even if his prayer is less so.
    2. The tax collector went home justified along with the Pharisee. Jesus’ audience would be more shocked to hear that God accepts the prayers of both men. This translation challenges Jesus’ hearers to realize that God gives grace to all. God decides whom to grace, even if we don’t think God is being “fair.”
    3. The tax collector went home justified because of the Pharisee. Jesus’ audience would be most shocked to hear that God accepts the prayer of the tax collector because of the prayer (and actions) of the Pharisee. This translation challenges Jesus’ hearers to understand that we are all involved in each other’s salvation. We do not “stand alone” or “stand apart;” our actions–good and bad–affect everyone else. God’s gives grace to all, and God’s grace acts on us all, through our interactions with each other.

Scripture scholars call the “whoever exalts himself…” saying a “floating statement” because it appears in several places (Lk 14:11, Lk 18:14, Mt 23:12); it is not uniquely associated with this interpretation.

A possible meaning: The parable presents two flawed humans: the Pharisee more than fulfills the Law but does not need or ask for God’s mercy. The tax collector asks for God’s mercy but does not show a need to live differently. The parable’s meaning is purposely ambiguous, forcing us to decide its meaning. If we hear “only the tax collector went home justified,” the parable is about intent of humans’ flawed prayers (something only God can judge). If we hear “they both went home justified,” the parable is about God’s graciousness rather than humans’ flawed prayers. If we hear “the tax collector went home justified because of the Pharisee,” the parable is about God’s graciousness to the community rather than individual humans’ flawed prayers.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our prayers. Do our prayers express our need for God? Do we pray with or apart from the rest of the believing community? Do we recognize God’s grace and mercy that comes to us through others? Do we pray for ourselves, or for God’s grace?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 October 2016: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 17:8-13 Ps 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 2 Tm 3:14-4:2 Lk 18:1-8

 

Prayer: more than persistence

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite us to think about God and prayer.

This reflection focuses on the gospel only. Today’s gospel reading includes the parable of the widow and the judge, which is challenging for several reasons: (1) two interpretations surround the parable, (2) the parable relies on an unfamiliar (to us) rabbinical interpretive technique, and (3) some critical words have different translations. The gospel consists of the following parts:

  • The parable (v 2-5). As we’ve seen in other parables, not all parable characters are exemplary. In today’s parable, both characters are unlikeable. The judge “neither fears God nor respects humans;” and the widow seeks “vengeance” against her opponent (not “a just decision” as appears in today’s translation). The judge finally grants the widow’s vengeance because he’s afraid she’ll turn violent (“strike me”). The Greek word ὑπωπιάζω (hoo-poh-pee-AHd-zoh) is a boxing term meaning “to give a black eye.”
  • The first interpretation (v 1). Luke interprets the parable before he tells it. He sees the widow as the main character, and tells us to be persistent like the widow, to “pray without losing heart.” Luke interprets the parable for his Greek hearers who wouldn’t understand parable’s rabbinical context.
  • The second interpretation (v 6-7) and the related saying (v8). The Lord interprets the parable after he tells it. He sees the judge as the main character and the key to the parable. Jesus uses a rabbinical interpretive technique called qal v’homer (“light to heavy”) to explain the parable. The judge’s actions provide a baseline (the “light” part): a flawed human judge renders a flawed judgement to a flawed human. Jesus then contrasts the parable’s flawed judge with God (the “heavy” part): God is a perfect judge who renders just and merciful judgements to flawed humans. To emphasize the contrast, in the Greek version of the gospel, Jesus describes God using the Greek word μακροθυμέω (mak-roh-thoo-MEH-oh), which means “patient.” That is, God judges us with patience despite our flaws and failures. (The translators of today’s gospel left out the word “patient,” obscuring the interpretation’s meaning.) Jesus closes by connecting God’s just actions with our faith. When the son of man returns, he may find a faith-less world, unable to accept God’s answers to its prayers. That is, God always answers our prayers, but sometimes we don’t like the answer.

A possible meaning: When we see the judge as the parable’s central character, we can begin to understand the parable’s possible meanings. Jesus calls the judge “unjust” because he renders his verdict out of fear, not out of justice. God is the just and patient judge who hears our petitions (prayers) and, despite our own failings, answers them justly. We may think that God sometimes answers us “unjustly;” this may cause us to lose faith. This is why Luke urges us to “pray without losing heart (faith).”

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our prayer life. Do we ask God for what is good and just for all, or do we pray for vengeance? Do we appreciate God’s patience with our selfish prayers? Do we accept God’s answer to our prayer, or continue to ask for what we want? Do we reject and punish God when we think God doesn’t hear us?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 October 2016: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4 Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14 Lk 17:5-10

 

Discipleship: loyal living and faith-full acts

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings challenge our idea of faith.

In the first reading, the prophet Habakkuk complains to God that God ignores the unrighteous acts of Judah’s rulers against the people. God answers with a vision of Jerusalem–Judah’s capital city–destroyed, and its people taken as captives to Babylon. God tells Habakkuk that, in contrast to the unrighteous acts of Judah’s rulers, “the just (righteous) one will live because of his faith.” The just ones who remain loyal to God–who live their faith–God will save. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because its saying on faith echoes Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel.

In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author looks back on Paul’s life and draws lessons from it; he also looks to the future and offers challenges and hopes to Timothy and his readers. “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice:” the Greek word δειλία (dih-LEE-ah) is better translated as “fear” to contrast with the gospel’s active faith that can uproot a tree and plant it in the sea.

Today’s gospel from Luke is part of four connected sayings about how a disciple acts (Lk 17: 1-10): Today’s reading includes only sayings 3 and 4:

  • Saying 3: Having faith (Lk 17: 5-6). The disciples ask Jesus to “Increase their faith.” In the ancient world, faith is an action, not simply “intellectual assent.” (The idea of faith as intellectual assent alone took root in western thought during the Enlightenment, in the 1700s AD.) The ancients understood faith as the actions of fidelity, or actions of loyalty, or of a lived commitment. The disciples ask Jesus to help them live their commitment or loyalty to him; Jesus responds with actions (“say,” “be uprooted,” “be planted”). If a disciple practices seemingly small faithful acts, God’s power can magnify their results.
  • Saying 4: Confusing discipleship with entitlement (Lk 17: 7-10). Jesus tells the disciples a short parable about a slave who serves his master (Lk 17: 7-9). The master expects the slave to serve him; the slave expects to serve the master. In this social structure, the master’s needs come first, and the slave’s needs come second. The parable’s meaning turns on the Greek word ἀχρεῖος (ahk-RIH-os), here translated as “unprofitable.” The root word χρεῖος connotes monetary utility or debt value. As a slave, the slave’s actions generate nothing of surplus or monetary value for the master; the slave’s only value is in serving the master. Taken together with the disciples request for increased faith, Jesus reminds his disciples that God works through their actions, and their results belong to God alone. When they fulfill discipleship’s demands, they are only doing their duty.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of faith. God tells Habakkuk that practicing fidelity makes one just. The disciples ask Jesus to “increase their faith,” he tells them that their faith-filled acts can have outsized results. Jesus also reminds the disciples that the results of their faithful acts belong to God, not to the disciples. Do we think that faith is simply nodding our heads when asked about God? Or do we practice dynamic faith so that every our action affirms our loyalty to God and faithfulness to God’s Word?

—Terence Sherlock

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25 September 2016: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Am 6:1a, 4-7 Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 1 Tm 6:11-16 Lk 16:19-31

 

The entitlement and isolation of riches

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings tell us to change the way we act toward those who suffer.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos complains about Israel’s conspicuous consumption. Judgement is coming, he warns, in the form of the Assyrians. Israel’s opulent lifestyle parallels the rich man’s actions in today’s gospel; he also faces justice.

In the second reading the author of the first letter to Timothy charges Timothy to uphold his baptismal and apostolic mission. While the author appears to address Timothy specifically, some scholars understand this passage as addressed to the ordained ministers in Timothy’s ekklasiais.

In the gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

  • The characters: (1) A rich man, with resources like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos, wears purple clothes and fine linen underwear. Jesus tells us that this ultra-rich man “has a feast every day,” meaning that he doesn’t keep sabbath. (2) A poor man, who suffers with full-body sores, is too weak to walk or to work. Jesus tells us the poor man’s name–Lazarus (in Hebrew: Eliezer), which means “God helps.”
  • The social context: The poor man’s family, knowing the rich man is the only person in the community with resources to help, place Lazarus at the rich man’s gate every day. In Hebrew culture, the Law (Dt 15:11) requires the rich to help the poor, and the prophets (like Amos) constantly remind the rich of their obligations. In Greek and Roman society, the social culture of patronage required the rich to help the poor.
  • What happens: Lazarus dies. In the afterlife, Abraham greets Lazarus with a banquet, with Lazarus as honored guest, seated next to Abraham. The rich man dies. In the afterlife, the rich man, now in the underworld (“hades”), sees Abraham and Lazarus feasting in paradise. He demands Abraham’s help and expects Lazarus to be his slave. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that the rich man even knew Lazarus’ name and would expect him to beg forgiveness for ignoring Lazarus “daily at his gate.” Instead, the rich man speaks only to Abraham, while continuing to ignore Lazarus. Abraham answers the rich man kindly (“my child”) and reminds him he had “good things” in his earthly life, but Lazarus had “bad things.” Abraham is saying the rich man had the means to help Lazarus but did not. The rich man treats Abraham as his inferior, arguing with him. Failing to hear what Abraham says, the rich man remains unchanged. The rich man’s sin is not that he was rich; it was that he was indifferent to the suffering poor man in front of him.
  • An interpretation: “Reversal of fortune” stories are common in all ancient cultures. This parable goes further, describing the danger of wealth. It asks: Can a rich person can enter heaven? In other places Jesus answers “yes,” but wealth makes it difficult, and great wealth makes it almost impossible. Riches can insulate and isolate us.

Today’s parable asks RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our engagement in the kingdom. Baptism and discipleship require us to bring God’s kingdom through caring and compassionate acts. God’s gifts to us provide us with the means to act. Are we complacent in riches that can isolate and entitle us; or do we hear the scriptures’ cry to see and to serve the ones who suffer, who may be at our own doors?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 September 2016: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Am 8:4-7 Ps 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8 1 Tm 2:1-8 Lk 16:1-13

 

Discipleship: trust God, use possessions

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask us to examine our attitudes about God and our use of God’s gifts.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos describes his fourth vision: God promises to destroy the northern kingdom (Israel) because the rich cheat the poor. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because the theme of defrauding correlates with the steward’s wrongdoing in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to Timothy. After Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon, the Jewish community prayed for their pagan rulers. Following that tradition, the Timothy author asks prayers for “kings and civil authorities” so that the Christian community may continue in a “quiet and tranquil life.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a wily steward whom Jesus praises for his wisdom. While Jesus’ first century hearers easily understood the message, we twenty-first century hearers don’t get it. Here’s what we miss in the parable:

  • The characters. The parable has four actors: (1) A rich man who owns multiple tenant farms. (2) An unjust steward. (3) The debtors of the rich owner. (4) The community who brings the charge of “squandering the owner’s possessions” against the steward.
  • The set up. The community tells the owner that the steward has been cheating him. The owner calls the steward, fires him, and orders him to return the account books.
  • The steward’s actions: The steward is silent before the owner. Jesus’ audience would expect the steward to deny the charges and to negotiate with the owner. His silence implies he is guilty, and that he can’t manipulate the honorable owner. After some reflection, the steward comes up with a plan that will shame the owner and get the steward another job. While he still has the owner’s account books, the steward illegally and unjustly conspires with the debtors to change the books and bills. As co-conspirators and beneficiaries of the steward’s stealing, the debtors can’t report the steward’s cheating. The steward returns the account books to the owner, and the debtors return to the community, telling everyone about the kind steward who convinced the generous owner to reduce their debts.
  • The owner’s options and choice: The steward leaves the owner with only two options: (1) Tell the community that the debtors’ reductions were illegal and the debtors must pay in full. (2) Accept that he’s been duped, enjoy his increased status as a generous rich man, and let the steward go unpunished. He chooses the honorable second option, and praises the steward for acting “prudently” or wisely. The steward’s wisdom was in understanding the owner’s honor and relying on his characteristic mercy and generosity.

Today’s parable asks RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our relationship with God and possessions. Jesus applauds the steward’s trust in the owner’s honor and mercy. Like the steward, we trust that God treats us with mercy and generosity, no matter how we squander God’s gifts (possessions). Do we take God’s mercy for granted? Do we act as if possessions will save us? Have we convinced ourselves that our private actions have no communal consequences?

–Terence Sherlock

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11 September 2016: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19 1 Tm 1:12-17 Lk 15:1-32

 

The God who actively searches for the lost

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings confront us with God’s active mercy and its effect.

In the first reading, the Exodus writers show that God’s mercy is always present to the Israelites, no matter what they do. God sought out Abraham and made a covenant with him long before God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Moses reminds God to remain faithful to the covenant and to show mercy to the people have broken it. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to compliment Jesus’ three parables of loss-and-finding.

The second reading is from the first letter to Timothy, which we will hear for the next several weeks. The section immediately before today’s reading instructs Timothy on his duty to restrain false and useless teaching. In the section we hear today, the author (speaking as Paul) gives his own experience as a “blasphemer and persecutor” to show that even those opposed to sound doctrine can be converted through the “abundant grace of the Lord.” God’s abundant grace exists for us even before we know we need it.

The gospel presents three parables about people who experience loss: the shepherd who lost a sheep, a woman who lost a coin, and a father who lost a son.

  • What is a parable? The Greek word παραβολή (pah-rah-boh-LAY) means “to throw one thing next to another thing” to create a comparison. Parables are not allegories; they do not have only one interpretation. Parables are ambiguous–they ask more questions than they answer. When Jesus tells a parable, he challenges his hearers to compare their actions or attitudes with those in the story.
  • The audience and context. Jesus addresses today’s parables to the Pharisees and scribes–good Jews who kept the covenant laws. Jesus tells these parables after the Pharisees and scribes criticize Jesus for “welcoming sinners and eating with them.”
  • An interpretation. The three parables focus on the actions of a person who has lost something or someone–how the shepherd, the woman, and the father react to the loss. The person who loses the sheep, coin, or son first searches. Only after finding the sheep, coin, and son, does the person rejoice, gather friends, neighbors, and family, and celebrate the finding. Jesus seems to be asking the Pharisees and scribes why, as recognized religious people, they don’t act: search out the lost and restore the “sinners” to God and the community. These religious leaders instead criticize Jesus, who searches out the lost, and, on finding them (“welcomes them”), rejoices and celebrates (“eats with them”)–offering mercy, discipleship, and a place at the table in the God’s kingdom.

Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the believing community that we are in a relationship with a God-who-searches. After humans initially broke this relationship, God searched and found others (Abraham and his descendants) to continue the relationship. The Timothy author describes God’s overflowing abundance of grace, from God who sought out Paul. Through parables and actions Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes (and us) that God’s mercy is active, not passive. God doesn’t say, “You know where to find me,” or “Call me when you’re ready to talk.” God actively searches for the lost. As disciples of the God-who-actively-seeks-the-lost, we also must practice active mercy and active searching. Do we search out the ones whom we know are lost, or do we wait for the lost to find us? If we don’t search and find, how can we rejoice and celebrate?

—Terence Sherlock

 

Author’s note
To read more about the parable of the father who lost a son, see the reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C.

 

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4 September 2016: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 9:13-18b Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17 Phmn 9-10, 12-17 Lk 14:25-33

 

Discipleship: warnings about its difficulty

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings warn would-be disciples about how difficult it is to follow Jesus.

In the first reading, book of Wisdom’s author describes how difficult it is for humans to know God’s mind. Unless God sends us wisdom, we are unable to “search out things in heaven.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel the difficult discipleship messages in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul writes to Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus. While Paul is in prison (probably in Ephesus), he met and baptized Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to take a social risk in service to the gospel: to receive Onesimus back without reprisal, to refuse financial reparation, to go farther in generosity and free Onesimus, and to recognize Onesimus as a brother through baptism.

In the gospel, Luke shifts abruptly from Jesus talking to dinner guests in the Pharisee’s house (last week’s gospel, Lk 14: 7-14) to Jesus addressing “great crowds travelling with him” about the difficulties of being Jesus’ disciple. Luke gives three sayings and two parables from Jesus about discipleship:

  • Saying 1: Hating (renouncing) family and life (Lk 14:26). Luke uses the Greek word μισέω (mih-SHEH-oh), translated here as “hate.” μισέω can also mean “disregard” or “to regard less than.” Would-be disciples must put Jesus ahead of family and social ties–one’s very life. In tight-knit Middle Eastern society, choosing to align with someone outside the family carried risk: loss of family, loss of status, and possibly loss of personhood.
  • Saying 2: Carrying a cross (Lk 14:27). Choosing Jesus over family means losing not only social ties, but also economic ties–the usual way of earning a living. Would-be disciples will encounter personal suffering and economic uncertainty (and, in later times, persecution)–hard burdens for anyone to carry.
  • Saying 3: Renouncing possessions (Lk 14:33). Choosing Jesus means giving up all earthly possessions of family, status, and the security of ownership. Luke warns would-be disciples to consider carefully what Jesus asks. He tells two short parables about discipleship’s risks and costs.
  • Parable 1: Building a tower (Lk 14:28-30) and Parable 2: Strategizing for war (Lk 14:31-32). Would-be disciples must gage their level of commitment. If a would-be disciple lacks commitment–lays a foundation but is unable to finish the tower–he will be ridiculed and shamed. Would-be disciples without sufficient resources–to win the battle–will lose everything.

Over the last few weeks, Jesus described the kingdom’s bounty and feasts. Today he paints a realistic picture of discipleship’s personal costs. God’s kingdom is not yet here; the disciples’ mission is to bring God’s kingdom. Paul challenges Philemon to start bringing the kingdom by changing his relationship with Onesimus. Jesus challenges his hearers to follow him only if they are willing to lose themselves. Many oppose God’s kingdom (and Jesus’ disciples) because God’s kingdom means an end to their personal earthly kingdoms. Do we have the wisdom to give up our personal kingdoms and become disciples committed to bring God’s kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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28 August 2016: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 Ps 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11 Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a Lk 14:1, 7-14

 

Discipleship: lessons in humility

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe how a disciple’s relationship requires humility both before God and with others.

The first reading from the book of Sirach teaches a lesson in humility. Humility may help in human relationships (“you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”), but its real purpose is to create a right relationship with God. Humility gives us a true estimate of ourselves, so that we will do what should be done, and avoid what is beyond our understanding (“too sublime”) and “strength.” The Lectionary editors chose this passage to match Jesus’ teaching about humility in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, from the closing section of the letter to the Hebrews, the author contrasts the historical events of Mt Sinai with the promises of Mt Zion. Sinai represents God’s covenant with Moses, a physical covenant written on stone. God’s pronouncements were so awesome that the Hebrews begged God never to address them directly again. Zion represents God’s new covenant, mediated through Jesus. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, given amid fire, storm, and thunder, the new covenant is given in the heavenly Jerusalem at an angelic feast. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice (‘the sprinkled blood'”) is perfect and more powerful (“speaks more eloquently”) than Abel’s offering.

Luke’s gospel is set at a meal in a Pharisee’s house. Jesus uses an earthly dinner to give two parables about conduct at the coming messianic feast:

  • Choosing a seat at a feast (Lk 14:8-11). Jesus addresses his first parable to those who were invited. Jesus’ instruction is not about strategic seating, but about a person’s relationship with God. God invites everyone to the messianic feast. Those who consider themselves righteous because they keep Torah and attend Temple might expect the best seats. However, God’s seating arrangement doesn’t follow our assumptions, as we heard in last week’s parable about the house-master. Jesus concludes with a wisdom saying about “being humbled” and “being exalted.” Echoing today’s first reading, Jesus tells us that our humility before God lets us recognize our place at the feast.
  • Whom to invite to a meal (Lk 14:12-14). Jesus addresses his second parable to the Pharisee who hosted the dinner. In Mediterranean societies, hosts invited only people of equal social status. Jesus instruction is not about strategic invitations, but about a person’s relationship with others. Those who give exclusive dinners expect to be invited to the best parties with the best people. However, God’s invitation to the future messianic feast depends on how inclusive, not exclusive, our guest lists are now. We’ll hear more about God’s invitations in the upcoming parable about Lazarus (25 Sunday in Ordinary time).

Today’s readings remind RCIA participants and the whole believing community that humility is central to our relationship to God and to the neighbor. True humility gives a disciple self-perspective: it’s not all about me. Being invited to the feast doesn’t mean we automatically sit at the head table. Where we’re seated (or if we’re seated) will depend on the invitations we’ve extended or withheld. How will we be “repaid at the resurrection”?

—Terence Sherlock

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21 August 2016: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 66:18-21 Ps 117:1, 2 Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 Lk 13:22-30

 

Discipleship: the narrow door

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe the universal call to discipleship, its urgency, and the consequences for those who are slow to accept.

The first reading from Isaiah tells Isaiah’s prophecy that God calls “all nations of every language” to Jerusalem to worship with the Jewish people. This prophecy foreshadows the messianic banquet of today’s gospel.

The second reading continues our reading from the letter to the Hebrews. In last week’s reading, the Hebrews’ author recommends Jesus and his sufferings as model for readers and their persecution. In this week’s reading he calls their persecution a “discipline.” The Greek word παιδεία (pah-ee-DIH-ah) means “the correction given to children.” God’s discipline, while uncomfortable, strengthens the readers’ resolve to live according to Christ’s teachings in a polytheistic, non-Christian world.

Luke’s gospel continues Jesus’ discipleship teachings. Jesus is about half-way through his journey to Jerusalem. Although Jesus invites everyone to God’s kingdom, only those who persist in discipleship will share in the messianic banquet. Today he gives two sayings and a parable about preparing for the kingdom and the feast:

  • Saying 1: strive to enter by the narrow door. The Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι (ah-go-NIHd-zoh-mah-ee), translated as “strive,” comes from a word meaning a contest or struggle. The word ἀγωνίζομαι carries an urgency that the English word “strive” does not–Jesus urges his hearers to strain every fiber of your being to get into the kingdom. Jesus also says that a “narrow door” leads to the kingdom and the banquet. In the parable that follows, he explains how the door is narrow.
  • Parable: the house-master. Jesus warns that the time is short–at some point “the house-master locks the door,” locking out those who haven’t acted. Those outside bang on the door and plead, but the house-master says “I don’t know you.” The outsiders claim they shared a meal with the house-master and heard him teach, but still the house-master says, “I don’t know you. You failed to act for good. Go away!” The outsiders failed to act as true disciples–to “change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). The banquet goes on inside, with Abraham, his descendants, the prophets, and some surprise guests. The first reading reveals the identity of these guests; Jesus’ second saying explains how they got in.
  • Saying 2: the last are first. Some of those invited first to the messianic feast–the Jews who heard Jesus teach–failed to act on his invitation to become disciples. As a result, the ones invited last–those from “all nations of every language” who chose discipleship–will be seated ahead of the ones invited first.

Today’s readings tell RCIA participants and the whole believing community that the door to God’s kingdom and the banquet is narrow. We have to work to get in. And the door won’t be open to us forever. Discipleship, lived every day, is the narrow door. The house-master won’t open the door for casual Christians or in-name-only disciples. Are we straining every fiber of our being to live the gospel? Are we acting for good or are we settling for the world’s good-enough?

—Terence Sherlock

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7 August 2016: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 18:6-9 Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22 Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 Lk 12:32-48

 

Discipleship: watching and waiting for the Lord’s return

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings examine a disciple’s responsibilities while awaiting Jesus’ return.

The first reading from the book of Wisdom is a retelling of the Passover story that emphasizes the patriarchs’ faith. This first reading sets up parallels between Israelites awaiting the Passover (today’s first and second readings) and the believing community awaiting the Lord’s second coming (today’s gospel).

The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews discusses God’s promises to Abraham (a great nation and land) that God fulfilled through the Mosaic law and the promised land. Faith–“the realization of things hoped for”–connects Abraham and Isaac to Christian eschatology. Like the patriarchs, the believing community remains “strangers and aliens seeking a homeland.” Our faith in God’s promises tells us that our home is in God’s kingdom at the messianic banquet.

Luke’s gospel is a collection of four parables that stresses our need for faithful watchfulness while we await Jesus’ parousia (second coming). The four parables are: (1) the lord who serves (Lk 12: 35-38), (2) the thief’s coming (Lk 12: 39-40), (3) the slaves appointed house-managers (Lk 12: 42-46), and (4) the slaves who ignore or don’t know the lord’s will (Lk 12: 47-48). Throughout these parables, Luke uses the Greek words κύριος (KOO-ree-os) meaning “lord,” and δοῦλος (DOO-los) meaning “slave.” To see Jesus’ message, we will look at the first parable:

  • The lord who serves: The lord (κύριος) is at a wedding feast in his home. The slaves (δοῦλος) wait for him in the house’s private quarters. The lord slips out of the feast unexpectedly and returns to his private quarters. When the lord knocks, the waiting servants admit him. In a shocking cultural reversal, the lord ties up his wedding robe and waits on his slaves, serving them himself with food from the wedding feast.
  • Luke’s meaning: By the time Luke writes his gospel (mid-80’s), the believing community has started to lose faith in the Lord’s return. Luke’s Jesus tells his disciples to be prepared for his return, which can happen at any time. Jesus (the κύριος) promises to reward faithful disciples (his δοῦλος) with a share in the wedding feast (the messianic banquet, God’s kingdom). In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells three more parables with the same message of faithful waiting. The parables are meant for all disciples, but those who lead the ekklasia have greater obligations (see the third parable about the slaves appointed house-managers).

This week’s readings highlight the tension between God’s promises and the fulfillment of those promises. We hate to wait! Why doesn’t Jesus hurry up? Our ancestors in faith thought of it this way: Just as the Jewish people expect the messiah to return during the Passover celebration, the early Christians expected Jesus’ parousia to occur at the paschal event (Easter). When the Lord did not return at the midnight vigil, the Christian community celebrated the eucharist, in which Jesus comes in advance (through the sacraments) of his final coming. As disciples, we make God’s kingdom present now, in this world. Jesus is present to us now in the sacraments. What are we waiting for?

—Terence Sherlock

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