Tag Archives: Year A

15 October 2017: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 25:6-10a   Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6   Phil 4:12-14, 19-20   Mt 22:1-14

A king and his problem party guests

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 think about invitations, banquets, and worthiness.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah comforts the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Isaiah tells the captives that God has a plan to destroy Judah’s enemies and save God’s poor. God will then host a victory banquet for all in Jerusalem. This banquet is the eschatological (end-time) feast that represents God’s universal invitation to salvation. Christian hearers recognize in Isaiah’s prophecy Jesus’ description of God’s kingdom repeated in today’s gospel.

In the second reading’s letter to the Philippi believing community, Paul thanks the Philippians for their gifts and support while he is in prison. Paul prays that “God will supply whatever you need,” just as the Philippians have met Paul’s needs. His closing doxology (“to God be glory forever”) asks God’s blessing on the Philippians.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus directs another allegorical parable to the chief priests and elders, using elements from Isaiah’s banquet story (first reading). The allegory has the following parts:

  • The first parable/allegory (v 2-9). Hebrew scripture uses king as an image for God, and the wedding feast as an image of the end-time messianic banquet. In Matthew’s allegory, the invited ones are the Jewish religious leaders whom the prophets (the king’s slaves) invited to God’s kingdom. Some invitees shame the king by begging off with poor excuses not to attend, but other invitees challenge the king’s honor by killing his slaves. The shamed king responds in anger, saying that those who shamed him were not worthy of his feast. The king tells his slaves to go out into the public gathering places and invite whomever you find. In the allegory, these new invitees are from “all nations.”
  • The second parable/allegory (v 10-13). The slaves gathered everyone they found, both bad and good, and brought them to the feast. (Like the parable of the dragnet [Mt 13:47-48], the kingdom gathers together the good and the bad. Sorting comes later.) When the king reviews the invitees, he finds one not properly dressed for the feast. The king judges that invitee not worthy, and orders him bound and thrown out of the feast. The allegory’s outside darkness is a place outside God’s kingdom.
  • The saying/interpretation (v 14). “Many are called/invited, but few chosen/elected.” Matthew concludes the allegory by reminding his community that they have been called/invited in the place of the others, but if they fail to live up to the invitation (wear the wedding garment) they will face the same consequences as the religious leaders.

In today’s readings RCIA participants and the believing community are challenged to examine their invitation and response to the banquet. Salvation requires more than accepting the invitation. We must also be worthily dressed to be among the chosen. That is, faith brings our invitation, but we must show continued righteousness as well. Jesus defines such righteousness in his sermon on the mount and other teachings. Do we think baptism alone will get us into God’s eschatological feast? Do we wear our garment–our words and actions–daily? Would the king judge us worthy of his son’s feast?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 October 2017: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 5:1-7   Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20   Phil 4:6-9   Mt 21:33-43

 

A vineyard owner and his problem tenants

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 think about the responsibilities of stewardship.

In the first reading, Isaiah tells an allegorical story about a vineyard owner. Although he carefully develops his vineyard and plants good grapes, only wild grapes grow. Because his grapes fail, the owner chooses to tear down his vineyard. Isaiah explains the owner is God, and the grapes are the people of Judah. God will punish the people because they failed in their stewardship to keep God’s covenant. Jesus tells a similar allegorical parable in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul concludes his letter to the Philippi ekklesia. Many scripture scholars believe this letter is a composite of two or three letters. If so, v 6-7 end one letter and v 8-9 end a different letter. Paul closes the first letter with a request that the Philippians not to be anxious, but rather to bring their requests to God in prayer. Paul closes the other letter with an exhortation that the Philippians model their lives on Christ as Paul does, referencing Christ’s example from last week’s christological hymn (Phil 2:6-11).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus directs an allegorical parable to the chief priests and elders, using elements from Isaiah’s vineyard parable (first reading). The story has the following parts:

  • The parable/allegory. Echoing Isaiah’s parable, Jesus describes a landowner (God) who creates a vineyard (the chosen people). In Jesus’ story, the owner leases the vineyard to tenants (the religious leaders). At the harvest, the owner sends his servants (the prophets) to collect his share. The tenants beat, kill, and stone his servants. The owner responds by sending more servants; the tenants treat these servants in the same way. Finally the owner sends his son (Jesus), whom the tenants throw out of the vineyard and kill.
  • Jesus’ question and the religious leaders’ answer. Jesus ends his parable by asking the chief priests and elders, “What do you think the owner will do to the tenants?” The religious leaders implicate themselves when they answer: “He’ll kill the evil tenants and lease the vineyard to others who will produce fruit.” Jesus presses his point by quoting Ps 118 about the stone (Jesus) rejected by the builders (the religious authorities) becoming the cornerstone or capstone (his resurrection).
  • Jesus’ interpretation. In case the religious leaders didn’t understand the allegory, Jesus tells them bluntly that God’s kingdom will be taken from them and given to people (more faithful stewards) who will produce fruit.

RCIA participants and the believing community are challenged in today’s readings to consider their stewardship. Although we may not think of ourselves as religious leaders, we have stewardship responsibilities to ourselves, our children, our spouses, our neighbors, and our world. We are responsible for hearing and acting on God’s instructions and remaining in covenant with God, and bringing others into loving relationships. Are we faithful tenants and stewards? Do we listen when God speaks to us through Word and sacrament? Do we act out of love for God and our neighbor?

—Terence Sherlock

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1 October 2017: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Ez 18:25-28   Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14   Phil 2:1-11   Mt 21:28-32

A father and his problem children

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 ask us what it takes to change our minds.

In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel emphasizes individual responsibility and accountability for our actions. Those who turn away from lawlessness and turn toward good will live; those who do not turn back from lawlessness will suffer eternal death. Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel teaches that God’s invitation requires a response, and that each is accountable for his or her choice and its consequences.

In the second reading Paul writes to the Philippi ekklesia to encourage them to stand firm in one spirit and to model their behavior on Christ’s life. He quotes from an early liturgical hymn: Christ humbled himself, emptying out his divinity to become fully human. He was obedient to God’s saving mission, even to his death. God exalted Christ, proclaiming him messiah and Lord. Paul suggests that the Philippians humbly love one another, empty their own interests, and embrace Christ’s obedience.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus directs a parable to the chief priests and elders about a man who asks his two problem children to work in the family vineyard.

  • The first child. The first child says “no,” but, later, regrets his answer and goes to the vineyard. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised by the first child’s no response. Children were culturally and religiously expected to honor parents by complying with their requests. Jesus tells us that “afterwards” or “later” the first child “changed his mind.” Matthew uses the Greek word μεταμέλλομαι (meh-tah-MEHL-loh-mah-ee), which means “to regret” or “to wish a choice could be undone.” Realizing his answer was wrong, the first child acts to correct it.
  • The second child. The second child says “yes, sir” but does not go. Jesus’ hearers would have been even more surprised by the second child’s action (or inaction). Although the second child’s yes would have restored the hearers’ religious and cultural expectations, his inaction undermines their expectations. Although this child respectfully addresses his father as “sir,” he willfully ignores his duties: “he did not go.”
  • Which one did the father’s will? The religious leaders answer “the first child.” By their answer, the religious leaders condemn themselves. Jesus constructs the parable using the religious leaders’ own language (the “vineyard” as the people of Israel) and metaphors (God as “father,” Israel as “children of God”). The religious leaders admit that they have failed to work in the vineyard. John’s preaching had given them time to change their minds, but they refused. The tax collectors and prostitutes who have changed their minds enter the kingdom, while the religious leaders do not.

RCIA participants and the believing community find hope in today’s readings. Ezekiel proclaims God’s desire that we turn away from evil and turn back to God’s ways. Jesus’ parable teaches that wrong choices are not permanent. Anyone can change his mind, do what is right, and enter God’s kingdom. Redemption is available to all. What keeps us from working in the vineyard? Pride? Anger? Fear? Human respect? What keeps us from changing our minds?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 September 2017: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 55:6-9   Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18   Phil 1:20c-24, 27a   Mt 20:1-16a

God’s abundant generosity and our response

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 ask us to think about God’s generosity to us and others.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s mercy motivates all to “seek the Lord.” “God’s ways” remain a mystery to humans. God’s mercy, generosity, and kindness cannot be understood by humans. Jesus brings out this idea in greater detail in today’s parable.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Philippi ekklesia while he is in prison in Ephesus in 56 AD. His imprisonment probably causes him to reflect on his own life and death. Whether he lives or dies, Paul will magnify Christ through his own body. He urges the Philippians also to “live lives worth of Christ’s gospel.”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a generous house-master. Not all the workers agree with the owner’s actions:

  • The conflict. The first-hired workers believe the owner should compensate them more than their agreed-on full-day wage. Their argument ignores the “fair wage” agreement they made in concert with the owner, and they insist the owner is shaming them by making them equal to the eleventh-hour workers.
  • The resolution. The owner replies that he is acting neither unjustly nor dishonorably. He reminds the workers that they and he agreed together on the fair wage at the start of the day.
  • The owner’s question. The parable ends abruptly with the owner asking the first-hired workers: Are you envious because I am generous? In the Greek text, the owner says these workers have the “evil eye.” The Semitic idiom evil eye describes someone who is envious, holds a grudge, is mean-spirited, or ungenerous (see Deut 15:9; Pv 28:22; Sir 14:8; Mt 6:23). Because the last-hired workers receive an unearned and undeserved gift from the owner, the first-hired workers are offended. They see the owner’s unwarranted generosity as an injustice–“we should get more than them!”

    The owner points out that the injustice lies with the murmuring workers’ envy. Envy–being angry at another’s good fortune–is from the devil (Wis 2:24). Jesus’ parable asks his hearers to decide if the owner is fair or generous, or both, or neither. That is, the hearers must examine their own reaction to the owner’s choice.

Today’s readings present RCIA participants and the believing community with a thought problem. Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus’ parable shows us that the kingdom is about God’s abundant generosity. Wouldn’t life be great if we all worked for a generous owner? Yet we are filled with righteous indignation and complain about God’s goodness to others. We want God to be generous with others, but more generous with us. We fear God’s abundant generosity because we can’t understand it. Are we afraid there’s not enough for everyone? Can we let go of our envy of those to whom God is generous? Can we recognize the unearned and undeserved gifts that God has given us?

—Terence Sherlock

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17 September 2017: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Sir 27:30-28:7   Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12   Rom 14:7-9   Mt 18:21-35

Forgiving others as God forgives us

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 ask us to think about whom and how we forgive.

In the first reading, the wisdom writer Sirach contemplates how betrayal of confidence destroys friendship and does irreparable harm. God grants the malicious and vengeful person mercy and forgiveness only after that person first forgives his neighbor. Wisdom literature reminds its hearers that God’s commands inform moral choices and actions. Jesus takes up God’s command to forgive in today’s gospel.

In the second reading, Paul continues his letter to the Romans. He reminds the Roman ekklesia that no matter how each Christian lives, he or she lives for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord; Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead.

In the gospel, Matthew concludes his “sermon on the church.” Jesus teaches the disciples about forgiveness. He answers Peter’s question, tells a parable, and sums up the lesson with a saying:

  • Peter’s question. After Jesus’ instructions about ministering to those who hurt the community, Peter asks a follow-up question. How forgiving does the ekklesia need to be? Should we be generous and forgive people seven times? No, Jesus says, you must forgive seventy times seven–that is, an unlimited number of times.
  • A parable. Jesus’ parable is about a master’s abundant forgiveness and a slave’s stinginess. Although the slave owes the master over $152 million (in today’s US dollars), the master forgives the slave’s debt and releases him and his family from their obligation. Unfortunately, the slave doesn’t forgive his fellow-slave’s $5 debt to him. The scale of what the slave owes his master indicates the slave’s dire position and the master’s abundant mercy. Jesus compares our debt to God (and God’s forgiveness of us) with our debts to each other (and our own generosity, or lack of generosity with each other).
  • A summary saying. Jesus draw a connection between forgiveness and resentment: we cannot forgive someone unless we forgive that person “from the heart;” that is, we must release our resentment toward the person as well as forgive the person. This is how God forgives us.

Today’s readings challenge each of us to examine how and whom we forgive. Both Sirach and Jesus tell us that our forgiveness of each other must imitate God’s unlimited forgiveness. In his “sermon on the church,” Matthew notes that such forgiveness extends to tax collectors and gentiles–those outside the believing community. Finally, Jesus teaches that forgiving words aren’t enough: we must forgive “from the heart” as well. Many people turn away from the ekklesia because they do not find forgiveness among its members. Our challenge as a believing community’s is to keep Jesus’ forgiving spirit alive instead of simply memorializing his sayings. Do we recognize God’s abundant forgiveness in our own lives, especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist? Do we witness to God’s presence in our lives by readily offering extravagant mercy and abundant forgiveness to others? Do we forgive from our hearts, or only with our words?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 September 2017: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Ez 33:7-9  Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9  Rom 13:8-10  Mt 18:15-20

The believing community: love, loss, prayer, change

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 describe the believing community’s responsibilities to its members.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel shifts the prophet’s role from addressing the people of Israel to addressing the individual within the community. The prophet’s task is to warn, and the individual’s responsibility is to hear and respond. In today’s gospel, Jesus describes the believing community’s role of warning members who bring harm to the ekklesia.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In this section, Paul comes close to Jesus’ interpretation of the law of love (Mt 22:38-40). He says the law of love supersedes all other laws, Mosaic and civil, because when love is the basis for moral decisions, the goals of all laws–protection of familial relationships, life, and security–are met and safeguarded. This law of love underlies the gospel’s fraternal correction.

Matthew’s gospel is from the “sermon on the church” section. Jesus addresses the believing community’s responsibility to care for its members, even those who offend or hurt the community. He instructs disciples as follows:

  • The teaching’s context. Throughout Chapter 18, Matthew presents Jesus’ teachings for and about the ekklesia. Jesus first resolves the disciples’ dispute about who is the greatest among them (v 1-5); warns about temptation (v 6-9); tells of God’s interest in and mercy for the lost (v 12-14); instructs how to manage loss within the community (v 15-20); and finally, teaches about forgiveness (v 21-35). Within this context, fraternal correction is a loving, pastoral action that preserves the ekklesia‘s unity.
  • The need for correction. Jesus teaches the disciples how to correct someone whose actions offend or harm the community while he or she remains part of the community. First, address the person’s behavior in private. If private correction fails, address the person’s behavior in the presence of two or three witnesses. If this correction fails, bring the matter to the local believing community. If ekklesia correction fails, as a last resort, expel the offender from the believing community to avoid further damage to the community.
  • The need for continued community. Jesus’ call for fraternal correction follows the parable of the lost sheep (v 12-14). Jesus reminds his disciples that they must also pray for the offender’s metanoia (change of mind/heart) because each one is important to God. Jesus ends today’s teaching ends with a description of God’s response to prayer. Jesus promises to be in the midst of any gathering of his disciples, however small. Jesus’ presence within the praying community adds to the efficacy of the ekklesia‘s prayer to the Father.

Although founded by Jesus and guided by the Spirit, the believing community is made of redeemed but imperfect humans. All get lost sometimes. All fail to love perfectly; there are times when our unloving behavior hurts others. The believing community offers forgiveness and support always to those who “miss the mark.” Do we easily correct others without first examining our own actions? Do we have the humility to hear the request to change our own hearts/minds? Do we pray for metanoia, especially our own?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 September 2017: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Jer 20:7-9  Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9  Rom 12:1-2  Mt 16:21-27

Discipleship: disowning self, owning a cross, following after

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe discipleship’s requirements and paradox.

The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah articulates the role and fate of the prophet. A prophet speaks for God, delivering God’s message to kings and to common people. Unfortunately, speaking God’s word results in rejection, persecution, and martyrdom. Jesus takes up this theme in today’s gospel.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 12 and 13, Paul explains how Christians should live in response to the mercy of God. He begins by comparing the Mosaic law’s ritual sacrifices with the believing community’s offering of themselves as a “living sacrifice.” Their lives should emulate Christ’s own sacrificial life, using the gifts God has given in service to others. Later in the letter, Paul provides specific examples of how to live out a life of sacrifice.

Matthew’s gospel signals a change in Jesus’ ministry: it marks the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and the start of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem. Last week, Peter named Jesus as the messiah. Now Jesus reveals what his messiahship means, and what that means for his disciples:

  • Jesus defines messiahship. Jesus reveals to his disciples his messianic mission, known only to the Father and Jesus. The “elders, chief-priests, and scribes” will reject Jesus’ message, and their actions will result in his suffering and death. Although Jesus tells his disciples he will be raised, they miss this hope-filled part of his message.

    Peter, shocked by Jesus’ revelation, still wants a messiah who conquers and reigns. In Peter’s words, Jesus recognizes an echo of Satan’s temptations in the desert (Mt 4:8-10): be the people’s messiah, rather than God’s messiah. We see the conflict between last week’s inspired Peter who recognized Jesus as messiah, and this week’s human Peter who can’t hear the divine meaning of messiahship.
  • Jesus defines discipleship. Jesus is very clear about the cost of following him.

    First, a disciple must disown him- or herself. That is, a disciple places others before him- or herself.

    Next, a disciple takes up his or her cross. This image doesn’t affect us today, because state executions are private. But most first-century hearers would have actually seen prisoners being led through town, already tied to the crossbeams on which they would be crucified.

    Finally, after presenting discipleship as rejection and death, Jesus invites his hearers to walk the road with him.

    But discipleship isn’t all bad: Jesus closes his teaching by connecting discipleship with God’s coming kingdom. At the parousia, God’s agent (the son of man) will judge each person based on his or her actions or deeds. Disciples will be awarded eternal life in the kingdom; those who rejected discipleship will forfeit their eternal souls.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider his or her own discipleship. Discipleship requires that we speak God’s truth to a world interested only in its own messages. The ones who most need our help reject us. Crosses come in many forms: exclusion, illness, loneliness. And yet we are called to follow, because to live this way is to bring God’s kingdom for others and for us. Discipleship remains always our choice. Whose truth do we choose to speak? Whose path do we choose to follow? Whose kingdom do we choose to build up? Whose life do we choose to save?

—Terence Sherlock

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27 August 2017: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Is 22:19-23  Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8  Rom 11:33-36  Mt 16:13-20

Who are you?

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe Simon-Peter’s special role in the believing community.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah recounts the events of 701BC, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib devastated Judah, forcing King Hezekiah to surrender. Through God’s action, Eliakim became master of King Hezekiah’s palace. The master of the palace carried the door keys on a cord that hung from his shoulder. The keys symbolized his authority to admit or to deny anyone access to the king. Just as God gave Eliakim the palace keys, Jesus gives Simon-Peter the keys to God’s kingdom.

The second reading continues the letter to the Romans. In chapters 9 through 11, Paul explores the mystery of Israel. Today’s reading concludes Paul’s meditation on Israel’s place in salvation history. Both the Jews who rejected Jesus and the gentiles who rejected God’s law have nonetheless received God’s gift of faith. Paul ends with a doxology praising the depths of the riches and wisdom of God.

In Matthew’s gospel Simon-Peter reveals Jesus’ identity, and Jesus tells Simon-Peter who he will become.

  • Who is Jesus? Simon-Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God.”

First, Simon-Peter calls Jesus “the Christ.” The Greek word χριστός (kris-TOS) means “anointed one” or “Christ,” and is equivalent to the Hebrew word messiah. Simon-Peter tells Jesus that he and the disciples believe he is the long-promised fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

Then Simon-Peter calls Jesus “son of God.” The anointed kings of David’s line were called God’s sons (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). “Son of God” here means “the messiah of Israel.” But Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ sonship is different–unique (Mt 11:27) and transcendent (Mt 3:17).

  • Who is Simon-Peter? Jesus now returns the favor by telling Simon-Peter who he is:

First, Jesus gives Simon a new name: Peter, which means “the Rock” (in Aramaic, Kephas; in Greek, Petros). Jesus renames Simon because Simon is to be the solid foundation of rock (in Aramaic, kephas; in Greek, petra) on which Jesus’ believing community (ekklesia, or church) will be built.

Next, Jesus promises the Rock that even the “gates of the netherworld” won’t overpower this ekklesia. In Jewish thought, the gates of the netherworld opened into Sheol or the Pit, which held not only the souls of the dead but also the powers or spirits that brought death and deception to the living.

Finally, Jesus invests the Rock with the keys to God’s kingdom, like Eliakim in the first reading (Is 22:22). Jesus gives the Rock and his successors authority to forgive sins (“bind and loose”), continuing Jesus’ mission of reconciling humans with the Father.

Today’s readings invite RCIA participants and everyone in the believing community to consider who we are. Paul reminds the Romans that everyone has a role in salvation history. Eliakim was surprised to be made master of the palace; we can be sure that Simon-The Rock was also surprised when Jesus revealed his future role in the believing community. God gives each of us keys, such as understanding, knowledge, authority, and patience. Do we recognize who we are and accept the keys we’re given? Do we use our keys to open doors for others? Or do we choose to lock others out?

—Terence Sherlock

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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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