Tag Archives: Year B

22 November 2015: Solemnity of Christ the King

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dn 7:13-14 Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5 Rv 1:5-8 Jn 18:33b-37

Kingdoms and kings

On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to think about God’s kingship and God’s kingdom. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Luke’s gospel.)

The first reading from the book of Daniel uses apocalyptic imagery to comfort the persecuted Jews of the second century BC. The author promises that the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph. The phrase “dominion, glory, and kingship” (literally “power, esteem, and land”)sums up the ancient world’s idea of earthly kingship. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the second reading and gospel themes of kingship.

The second reading is from Revelation, written by John of Patmos in the mid-90s AD. Today’s passage focuses on kingship: Jesus’ kingship,the faithful’s kingship, and God’s kingship. Jesus is the “faithful witness,” a reference to his passion and death; he is “firstborn of the dead,” a reference to his resurrection, and “ruler of earthly kings,” a reference to his exaltation by God. The faithful are called a “kingdom of priests;” this baptismal language reminds us who we are–“loved by God”–and our inherent dignity–“redeemed through Jesus’ blood.” God’s kingship spans eternity and the cosmos: God is “alpha and omega,” the beginning and end of all things; God is the one who “is, was, and is-to-come” a reference to God’s name (I am who am) in Ex 3:14, and “the almighty,” from Hebrew and Greek titles meaning ruler of all, all-powerful, or all-mighty.

John’s gospel addresses Jesus’ kingship:

  • Are you a king? Pilate assumes a Roman understanding of earthly kingship (“power, esteem, and land” from the first reading). Anyone who declared himself a king challenged the Roman imperium and was a threat and traitor to the Roman order.
  • My kingdom is not from this world: Jesus rejects Pilate’s definition of kingship. Jesus is not an earthly king with earthly origins. God’s kingdom is the communion of disciples with the Father through Jesus.
  • My kingdom is not from here: Jesus reiterates he is not of this world (Jn 8:23). God’s kingdom is present in Jesus and is imperfectly shared by his disciples. Jesus’ kingdom exists in the world, but it is not from the world (Jn 17:14-18).

Jesus’ definition of kingship is to be a witness to God’s truth (“to testify to the truth”). He acts as an obedient Son who reveals the Father and accomplishes God’s work. Jesus’ death witnesses the Father’s love and completes God’s redemptive reconciliation.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on kingdoms and our places in them. We live in earthly kingdoms (towns, schools, offices, clubs, and so on), where might often makes right and whose currency is prestige. In such kingdoms, it’s good to be king–but sometimes not so good for everyone else. Jesus invites us to live in God’s kingdom, where we are loved and redeemed. Who is our king? Where is our kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 November 2015: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Dn 12:1-3 Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11 Heb 10:11-14, 18 Mk 13:24-32

Shining like stars in the firmament

On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with apocalyptic visions and teachings. These readings are an appropriate close to the liturgical year, encouraging us to find our places in the final age of salvation history.

The first reading is from the book of Daniel. An unknown author composed this work about 150 years before Jesus’ time, when the Syrian Greeks were persecuting the Jews. The author’s message is optimistic and comforting: the just who “lead many to justice” will be spared from the end-time distress and live forever. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the “little apocalypse” of today’s gospel.

The second reading is our final reading from Hebrews. In this summary section, the author compares priests and their offerings. Human high priests offer the same sacrifices over and over, but their sacrifices never take away sin; Christ offered one sacrifice that removed all sin forever. Christ’s one, perfect offering freed everyone; as a result the human priests’ sin-offerings are no longer needed.

The gospel is from Jesus’ eschatological discourse, also called Mark’s little apocalypse. This “final things” discourse includes prophetic warnings (the destruction of the temple, persecution of the disciples, and the need to be watchful) and apocalyptic signs (deceivers, wars, the abomination, signs in the sky). Mark presents Jesus’ words and actions in three contexts: in the past, as fulfillment of the prophets (especially Daniel, Amos, and Zechariah); in the present (Jesus’ own teachings), and in the future (the coming Paschal event, the day of the Lord, and the Second Coming). Because Mark uses the temple as a type for Jesus–the dwelling place of God among the people–we can see many meanings in Jesus’ discourse:

  • The earthly temple in Jerusalem: The Jewish people believed the temple stood at the actural center of the universe. The temple veil contained embroidered images of stars and constellations, and the menorah’s seven branches stood for the sun, moon, and five known planets. When the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, the Jewish people believed that the world had ended and a new age began.
  • The heavenly temple and Jesus: The apocalyptic discourse also prefigures Jesus’ death. In Mark’s gospel the temple prefigures the mystery of Jesus–where God dwells among God’s people. At Jesus’ death, the sun darkens (Mk 15: 33) and the embroidered temple veil is torn in two (Mk 15: 38). Jesus’ death portends the destruction of the temple, and opens the final age of salvation history–the age in which all disciples (including us) live. The “day and hour” of this culmination of salvation history belongs to the Father alone.

This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how we should live in this final age. The Lectionary readings close with the hope discipleship brings: we, the elect, will be gathered from the ends of the earth, to live forever and to shine brightly. Are our names written in the book? Are we leading many to justice?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 November 2015: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

 Reading 1  Response  Reading 2  Gospel
 1 Kgs 17:10-16  Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10  Heb 9:24-28  Mk 12:38-44

Scribes and widows: what God sees

After last week’s celebration of All Saints, we return to Ordinary time. The Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with teachings from Jesus’ ministry. This week Jesus instructs his disciples about the difference between what humans see and what God sees.

The first reading from the Book of Kings is the story of Elijah and the widow. God has sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath. There he asks for food from the widow at the city gate. The widow has only enough flour and oil to make one last meal. Still Elijah asks for her food, promising “the jar of flour will not go empty; the oil jug will not run dry.” The widow feeds Elijah, and miraculously is able to feed her son and herself for a year from the jar and jug. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because of the widow’s generosity and her faith that God would provide.

The second reading continues the letter to the Hebrews. The author contrasts Jesus’ sacrificial ministry with the high priest’s ministry. The high priest enters a “sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one.” In Exodus, God instructs Moses to build a sanctuary (the Tent of Meeting). This earthly sanctuary is a copy of God’s heavenly temple. The high priest enters an earthly sanctuary, but Jesus enters the heavenly sanctuary to intercede with God for humans. The high priest enters every year (“many times”), but Jesus enters only once (“at the end of the ages”) to take away sin. Humans die, but Jesus will return to bring salvation.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and continues teaching. Responding to the scribes’ hostile questions, Jesus denounces their behavior and praises true religious action:

  • The scribes’ outward show of piety: The scribes, Torah experts, showed off their social standing by their dress (“long robes”), reserved seating in the synagogue, and head-table seating at social events. Because the Torah forbade taking payment for rabbinical teaching, some scribes developed questionable ways to make a living–charging legal fees, managing estates (“devouring the houses of widows”), or simply sponging off benefactors. Their self-aggrandizement at others’ expense will bring them “severe judgement.” Jesus condemns these scribes’ behavior.
  • The widow’s true piety: The temple had thirteen offering boxes, each topped with a brass trumpet-shaped collector. Large silver coins made a loud sound when they hit the brass funnel–this is how Jesus knew that “the rich were throwing in many coins.” The widow, who in Jewish society had no inheritance or income, gives two small, light, brass coins worth together less than one cent. Jesus notes that while others give from their abundance, the widow gives everything she has (“her whole life”). Like Elijah’s widow in the first reading, she relies on God to provide; Jesus praises her faith.

This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to consider why and how we express piety. Are we all about show, using good works to gain praise and respect from others? Or are we concerned only that our inconspicuous generosity benefits others? What judgement will our behavior bring?

—Terence Sherlock

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1 November 2015: Solemnity of All Saints

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Rv 7:2-4, 9-14 Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6 1 Jn 3: 1-3 Mt 5: 1-12

How to be a saint

This week the Feast of All Saints interrupts our Ordinary time readings. The Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings about the saints–the “holy ones,” God’s children, God’s heroines and heroes who live with God in the kingdom.

In the first reading from Revelation, John of Patmos uses images and metaphors to picture the end of time. The “uncountable multitude” is us: the believing community who “survived the great trial” and are now with God. John uses the liturgy as a metaphor for heaven: the uncountable multitude in white robes, angels, elders, and four living creatures worship God and the Lamb that was slain (Jesus). In other words, the holy ones (the believing community) have attained complete intimacy with God.

In the second reading, John the Elder gives us another image of heaven. God’s love for us is so great right now that God calls us God’s own children. We don’t know what we will be in the future, but we do know that we will be like God. In the kingdom we will see God as God is. In other words, God wants us to be saints (be with God).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives us the blueprint for living in God’s kingdom. In his eight beatitudes, Jesus lists characteristics and dispositions that his disciples must possess:

  • Poor in spirit: The Hebrew word anawim (“God’s poor”) describes the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, the non-persons who depend totally on God. Jesus’ disciples depend on God completely.
  • Mourning: Jesus’ disciples may not be able to change others’ evil acts, but they can resist evil in themselves by recognizing it and mourning it.
  • Humble: The meek or humble do not react in anger or with force against those who wrong them. Jesus’ disciples rely on God and not their own strength to make things right.
  • Starving for righteousness: Jesus’ disciples are not content with things as they are; they constantly search for something greater.
  • Merciful: The Hebrew word hesed means “loving-kindness:” God’s love for humans, and God’s covenant relationship with the Hebrew people. Jesus’ disciples treat everyone as generously as God has treated them.
  • Clean of heart: The Hebrew word lebab (“heart”) indicates the center of a person’s inner life–emotions, intellect, and will. Jesus’ disciples’ inner lives align with their external acts.
  • Peacemakers: The Hebrew the word shalom (“peace”) means “wholeness,” “completeness,” and “healing”–not only the absence of strife. Jesus’ disciples share the mission of reconciling the world to the Father (2 Cor 5:19).
  • Being persecuted: The scriptures are full of righteous people persecuted for their faith and trust in God. Jesus’ disciples should expect no better treatment from the world.

To live the beatitudes is to imitate Jesus himself: dependent on God alone, recognizing and resisting evil, meeting anger with kindness, always seeking God’s will, being as generous as God, being aligned with God’s will, bringing wholeness and reconciliation, accepting persecution. We are already God’s children; this is how we become saints.

—Terence Sherlock

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25 October 2015: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 31:7-9 Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6 Heb 5:1-6 Mk 10:46-52

Discipleship: Jesus’ lessons on the way

Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus gives his final teaching on discipleship.

The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah (627-585BC). This is a song about the hope-filled return of the Babylonian exiles to Judah (Jerusalem). The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it refers to the blind returning from captivity.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews. Today’s reading discusses the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood. The author outlines the requirements for a high priest: he is selected by God; he represents all humanity before God and offers sacrifice for sins; and he is patient with ignorant and straying humans because he is human himself. Christ did not glorify himself in acting as high-priest-the Father called him to priesthood at his resurrection. The author quotes from two psalms in support: Ps 2 (2:7) and Ps 110 (110:4).

Today’s gospel concludes Mark’s central section–“‘on the way’ to Jerusalem”–and Jesus’ final teachings about discipleship. Just as this section began with Jesus healing a blind man (Mk 8:22-26), it ends with Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. Scripture scholars think that because Mark names him, Bartimaeus was a well-known disciple in the early believing community. Mark frames Jesus’ journey with two blind healings to show Jesus also healing his disciples’ spiritual blindness. Three sayings highlight this healing:

  • Son of David, have mercy on me: Bartimaeus addresses Jesus as “son of David.” First-century Jews understood “son of David” to mean the promised messiah-king who would rule Israel forever. One of the messiah’s signs would be healing the blind. “Have mercy on me” is a petition made to God in the psalms. Blind Bartimaeus already sees more than the disciples and the crowd.
  • What do you want me to do for you: Jesus asks Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” Unlike James and John, Bartimaeus asks to be restored to wholeness–the fulfillment of the messianic promise.
  • Your faith has saved you: The Greek word σώζω (SOH-dzo) means “to save,” “to heal,” and also “to be made whole.” Jesus tells Bartimaeus his active faith has healed him physically and has brought him into God’s kingdom. Throughout this central section, Jesus has been teaching about eternal life and salvation. Bartimaeus’ healing becomes a parable-in-action of God’s kingdom. After he is healed, Bartimaeus immediately becomes Jesus’ disciple (“followed him on the way”).

Over the last six Sundays, Mark’s gospel has challenged RCIA participants’ and the believing community’s ideas about discipleship: seeing from God’s perspective, not a self-centered one (Mk 8:35); service, not entitlement (Mk 9:37); inclusiveness, not creating obstacles (Mk 9:41); perfect love for imperfect people (Mk 10:10); completeness, not security (Mk 10:22); insight, not spiritual blindness (Mk 10:51). Discipleship begins with faith (Mk 8:29)–faith is an action, something we practice as we’re “on the way.” Discipleship is a daily, personal choice. With whom are we walking today?

—Terence Sherlock

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18 October 2015: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 53:10-11 Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 Heb 4:14-16 Mk 10:35-45

Discipleship: service to all

Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus gives his most important teaching on discipleship.

The first reading is from Isaiah’s fourth servant song. The Lectionary editors pair this reading with today’s gospel because Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s righteous one and suffering servant.

The second reading is a continuation of the letter to the Hebrews. In this section, the author compares Jesus to the Jewish high priest. Jesus “passed through the heavens” in the same way that the high priest entered the temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. God’s presence connected the Holy of Holies to heaven (Is 6). Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because his incarnation makes him fully human. As a human he was “tested in every way,” yet he remained “without sin,” living in perfect obedience to God’s will.

In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way” to Jerusalem. Jesus has just made a third prediction of his coming passion, death, and resurrection (Mk 10:32-34). As happened before with Jesus’ previous passion predictions, his disciples don’t understand. James and John outrageously request that Jesus guarantee them places on his right and left hand “in his glory.” Jesus asks if they can “drink the cup” he drinks or “be baptized” with his coming baptism. What is Jesus asking of his disciples?

  • Drink the cup: In Hebrew scripture to “drink the cup” means to accept what God has planned, either a cup of blessing (Ps 16:5) or a cup of wrath (Ps 75:9). In Christian scripture, the cup stands for the Eucharist. The early ekklasia (believing community) understood the Eucharistic cup as the blood of Christ and the source of salvation to all who drink it (Mk 14:23-24).
  • Be baptized: In Hebrew scripture, baptism (immersion in water) means overwhelming calamity (Ps 42:8). In Christian scripture, Jesus’ baptism prefigures his death. The early ekklasia understood baptism as uniting with Jesus in his death, dying to the self, and being reborn a new person (Rm 6:3-4).

James and John reply they are able, which tells Jesus that they are really clueless. When the other ten disciples hear what James and John are asking, they are indignant (literally “have a lot of grief”). Jesus calls them together and gives another teaching on discipleship. Unlike gentile rulers who use their authority to subjugate and to control people, Jesus’ disciples must imitate his humble and self-emptying love. In the kingdom, leaders serve, and the greatest one is the slave to all. Jesus sums up his mission: to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. Jesus fulfills the role of the righteous one and suffering servant from the first reading.

For RCIA participants and for all of us, Jesus presents another clear picture of discipleship: service. We don’t get to choose what service God calls us to perform (“drink the cup”) or how we will serve (“be baptized.”) Discipleship means giving up our personal preferences about service–dying to self–to bring God’s kingdom to others. We pledge our service at our Baptism, and we are strengthened to continue our service whenever we receive the Eucharist. Are we able to be servants and slaves to all?

—Terence Sherlock

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11 October 2015: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 7:7-11 Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17 Heb 4:12-13 Mk 10:17-30

Discipleship: discerning costs and rewards

Between the Easter season and Advent, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week Jesus continues to teach about the challenges of discipleship.

The first reading is from the book of Wisdom. First century Christians read the Hebrew wisdom writings and recognized Jesus as the “incarnation of the wisdom of God.” Paul, John, and the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus’ divine wisdom in several places. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel teaching on leaving all to obtain God’s wisdom and eternal life.

The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews concludes last week’s discussion about Jesus as God’s son. Earlier the author wrote about the efficacy of scripture. He now plays on the phrase “word of God,” meaning both scripture and Jesus. In the author’s community, believers have become bored and indifferent to their faith. He warns community that scripture and Jesus reveal each person’s thoughts and intent (“discern thoughts and the heart’s reflections”).

In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples continue “on the way;” Jesus gives further teaching about “the way” of discipleship. Today’s reading contains three interconnected stories: the rich young man, the camel and the needle, and a teaching on the rewards of discipleship.

  • Story of the rich young man. “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” For Jews of Jesus’ time, the answer was to follow the Mosaic law. This man, however, seems to be looking for something more. Jesus comment “No one is good but God” invites the man to reflect on Jesus’ goodness. Does the man recognize God’s goodness in Jesus? Jesus challenges the would-be disciple: “You lack one thing–sell what you have and follow me.” In Jesus’ society, family, home, and land were a person’s most precious possessions. Jesus invitation to discipleship asks the man to become as dependent on God as a child (see last week’s reading). The man can’t give up his earthly security; he passes on Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
  • Story of the camel and needle. Jesus’ point is that earthly wealth breeds spiritual complacency. To “be saved,” to “enter the kingdom,” and to gain “eternal life” all mean the same thing. “Impossible for humans,” Jesus says, but with God “all things are possible.” The kingdom is beyond human achievement, it is neither a right nor a reward; it is God’s gift.
  • Teaching on the rewards of discipleship. Jesus promises anyone who gives up family, home, and land (and accepts persecution) for his sake and the sake of the good news will receive those things and more a hundred times over. For disciples, persecution is not a maybe but how–state-sponsored pogroms, social ostracism, public mockery, familial rejection–discipleship includes these.

With RCIA catechumens and candidates, each of us asks: Is discipleship worth it? Like the rich man, we long for a completeness the world cannot give but we are still attracted to human riches and the seeming security they promise. We can’t earn “the kingdom,” “eternal life,” or “God’s wisdom”–these are God’s gifts, freely given to those who choose to follow Jesus on the way. Only when we become as dependent on God as children (“to such as these the kingdom belongs”) will we understand discipleship. Can we let go of our illusion of earthly security long enough to see reality of God’s wisdom?

–Terence Sherlock

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27 September 2015: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Num 11:25-29 Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14 Jas 5:1-6 Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Discipleship: inclusive, generous, responsible, accountable

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. Joshua wants to limit the experience of God to the Tent of Meeting, the official “holy place.” Moses laments that God’s presence is not experienced by all the people all the time. In today’s gospel, the disciples’ view of the unknown exorcist is similar to Joshua’s response.

In the second reading, the author of James outlines the problem of earthly riches: they rot and rust and are of no use in the kingdom (“the last days”). If someone collects riches at the expense of others (“withholding wages from the harvester”), those earthly riches are a witness against that one. The cries of unfairly-gotten wealth and defrauded workers “reach the ears of ‘the Lord of Hosts.'” The final sentence–“You have condemned and murdered the righteous one; he offers no resistance”–echoes Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, part of last week’s readings.

Mark’s gospel continues Jesus’ teachings about discipleship. The gospel contains two stories Mark has joined to create a teaching about God’s generosity and punishment:

  • In the unknown exorcist story, John complains to Jesus that someone who is not a disciple (“not walking with us”) is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus defers censuring the man, explaining: “who is not against us is for us.” Jesus emphasizes that God’s inclusiveness is generous, rewarding all acts of service done by anyone, inside or outside the believing community.
  • In the warning against scandal story, Jesus emphasizes that God will punish acts of evil, especially when these acts lead the believing community (“little ones”) astray. The Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skan-dah-LIH-zdo), here translated as “cause to sin,” literally means “trip up” or “cause to stumble;” it’s the root of the English word scandalize. The punishment for tripping up others is Gehenna. In Jesus’ time this ravine outside Jerusalem was a garbage dump for unclean things, such as animal carcasses. Fires burned constantly and maggots (“worms”) filled decaying flesh. Jesus identifies hands, feet, and eyes to illustrate how serious he is. “Hands” and “feet” represent action; “eyes” (usually paired with “heart”) represent reflection or thought. Taken together, Jesus says that a disciple’s intentions (eyes) and actions (hands, feet) must align with God’s teachings.

This week’s readings again confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the meaning of discipleship. Joshua and John both want to keep God’s experience and power for the insiders. Moses and Jesus teach them that discipleship must be inclusive. Jesus warns that discipleship has responsibilities and consequences. Do we recognize God outside our church building? Can we see God in the kindnesses of others who are outside our faith? Are our words and actions worthy of a disciple, or are they obstacles that cause others to falter in their faith?

—Terence Sherlock

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20 September 2015: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 2:12, 17-20 Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8 Jas 3:16-4:3 Mk 9:30-37

Discipleship: welcoming the nowhere man

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. An unknown Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria wrote this book between 100-28 BC. The early Christians understood the “just one” or “righteous one” as Jesus, and these themes appear throughout the passion narratives. The Lectionary pairs this reading with today’s gospel prediction of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

The second reading continues James’ letter. Today’s reading is part of a larger section (Jas 3:1-5-6) in which the author addresses faults that divide a believing community. He tells his hearers that where “malice and factions exist in a believing community, disorder follows.” Passions (literally “selfish pleasures”) cause strife and fights. The author urges the practice of “wisdom,” which leads to peace in the ekklasia.

Mark’s gospel finds Jesus and the disciples journeying to Jerusalem. Mark repeats the phrase “on the way” twice in today’s reading. The phrase means not only a physical journey, but a disciple’s path to understanding. Mark uses “the way” to remind readers about the choices of discipleship. Today Jesus predicts his passion, death, and resurrection a second time. The disciples “were not understanding” and “were afraid to ask.” Instead they argue about who among them is “the first.” The disciples again show that they are not hearing Jesus’ message. Jesus tries to shift their vision: “to be first, you must be the least, and the servant of all.” To demonstrate his teaching, Jesus places a child in their midst. We might interpret Jesus’ words and actions toward the child as sentimental and passively protective. First-century disciples would hear Jesus’ teaching very differently–in the ancient world, a child was legally and socially a nobody, a non-person without rights. The gospel uses the Greek word παιδίον, which can mean “child,” “servant,” or “slave.” By “putting his arms around” the child, Jesus literally embraces the non-person. He teaches and shows the disciples “when you welcome and accept the lowest one, the helpless one, the inconsequential one, you welcome and accept me.” To further drive home his teaching, Jesus adds, “You welcome and accept not only me, but also the one who sent me.” That is, the disciple’s treatment of a non-person is the measure of that disciple’s treatment of God.

The RCIA process encourages candidates and especially catechumens to think about discipleship. Under the best conditions (“who will be first in the kingdom”), discipleship isn’t easy (“take care of the unwanted immigrant”). Under the worst conditions (“you’ll be handed over and killed”), discipleship can break our faith (“they were afraid”). Discipleship doesn’t have an autopilot setting: it’s a path filled with daily decisions–faction or fellowship, selfish pleasures or service–that only we can make. Are we listening to Jesus’ great teachings, or are we worried only about our own greatness?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 September 2015: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 50:5-9a Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 Jas 2:14-18 Mk 8:27-35

Discipleship: a way of seeing

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

The first reading is from Isaiah. Scripture scholars identify the author as an anonymous poet (called “Second Isaiah” or “Deutero-Isaiah”) who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian exile (about 550-539 BC). Second Isaiah wrote four “Servant Songs” about Israel’s suffering servant, a man called to lead the nations but who was abused and condemned; in the end he is rewarded for his sufferings. Early Christians saw the suffering servant in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In today’s third servant song the suffering servant “gives his back to those who beat me” and his face “to buffets and spitting”–we see the messiah’s passion foreshadowed.

The second reading continues the letter of James. In today’s reading, the author criticizes believing community members who distinguish between faith and works. Some in the ekklasia (possibly Gnostics) see belief in Jesus as sufficient for salvation. The author asks: What good is faith without the works that make faith real? Without works, faith is a dead thing. Others in the ekklasia see faith and works as two different gifts (“you have faith and I have works”). The author corrects them: faith and works are two sides of the same coin. He says, “you can’t show me your faith alone, but I can show you works that come from my faith.”

In Mark’s gospel we hear Jesus’ teaching about discipleship. Last week Jesus healed the deaf-mute, but his disciples still can’t see who Jesus is. This week, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say I am?” The disciples give positive, but non-committal,answers. Jesus asks them directly: “Who do you say I am?” Peter, the spokesman, responds: “You are the anointed one, the messiah.” Jesus then teaches the disciples about the messiah’s mission: rejection, suffering, death, resurrection. (See the first reading’s “suffering servant.”) Peter rebukes (literally “censures”) Jesus for Jesus’ description of messiahship. Jesus rebukes Peter right back: “Go away, Satan. You’re seeing things like a human, not the way God sees!” Jesus addresses the disciples and the crowds on discipleship: you must leave your family and friends (“deny oneself”) and walk with Jesus and his followers. Everyone has a choice: follow the world’s path to have a worldly life–and lose your life in the end; or give away your life in service to Jesus’ message–and save your life.

As the RCIA process resumes its weekly sessions this week, the readings provide catechumens and candidates–and all believing community members–with stark words about what Jesus expects of his disciples: See things from God’s point of view. Give up your comfortable, clannish ways. Walk with me on my path. Our baptismal profession of faith puts us on the disciples’ path. Our Baptism and Confirmation anointings make us other Christs and other messiahs. Whom do we say Jesus is? How do we see ourselves as disciples? Have we learned to see with God’s eyes? Can others see our faith and discipleship in our works?

—Terence Sherlock

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