Tag Archives: Year B

18 February 2018: First Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Gn 9:8-15   Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9   1 Pt 3:18-22   Mk 1:12-15

Preparing for Easter: baptism and testing

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, and foretells his coming glory to the temple leadership, Nicodemus, and his disciples. For RCIA participants, the Lenten season is a time of rites and prayers that prepare them for the sacraments they will experience at the Easter Vigil. The readings recall the meaning of our baptism and ask us to consider how our discipleship is tested.

The first reading from Genesis tells the story of God’s covenant with Noah, his family, and all living things. God will never again destroy the world by water. God seals this covenant with the rainbow as its sign. Early Christian writers understand the flood story as prefiguring baptism. The Lectionary editors chose this story to match today’s second reading.

The second reading is from the first letter of Peter. Today’s selection is part of a baptismal homily. The author draws on Jewish tradition about the “imprisoned spirits,” spirits of the wicked drowned by the flood of Noah’s time. Christ’s “proclamation” is the good news of salvation, and the wicked dead are now given a chance to repent. This interpretation sets up his typology of the flood water and baptism. Noah and his family are saved though water, which the ark sails on or through. Christians, also, are saved through baptismal water, which they float on or through. As part of baptism, the catechumen “appeals” or pledges to God a “clear conscience” or changed heart (metanoia). Jesus preaches this same metanoia in today’s gospel.

Mark’s gospel contains two related narratives: Jesus’ testing in the wilderness, and the start of his mission and message.

  • Testing in the wilderness. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11), the Spirit drives him into the wilderness, traditionally a place of testing and revelation. Satan, God’s adversary, wants to find out what God’s words–“You are my beloved son”–really mean. Satan tests Jesus to see who he is, and to determine Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus has come to break Satan’s grasp on the world and on humanity. Mark connects Jesus’ baptism and testing to warn the newly baptized that baptism does not make them immune to ongoing testing.
  • Mission and message. Mark summarizes Jesus’ good news and the action required from those who hear his proclamation: “God’s kingdom is near. Change your hearts (metanoia) and believe in the good news.” For Mark, Hebrew scripture’s promises are the root of Christian faith, and Christian life and experience reflects those fulfilled promises. Their path to faith in the good news leads them through metanoia and baptism.

Today’s Lenten readings remind RCIA candidates and the believing community about the meaning and power of baptism. Discipleship requires that we live in the ambiguity of the wilderness: a place of both testing and revelation. Evil attacks us–pride, greed, addictions, institutional violence, and on and on. At the same time, through baptism, we share in the Spirit’s power to break evil’s grip and to live out salvation’s good news. What tests do we face every day? How do we respond? What is revealed?

—Terence Sherlock

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11 February 2018: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Who may join the believing community?

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time, the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to think about separation and healing.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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4 February 2018: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jb 7:1-4, 6-7   Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6   1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23   Mk 1:29-39

Suffering and service

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time, the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to think about the human condition and a disciple’s response.

In the first reading from the book of Job, the author attempts to understand and to explain why innocent people suffer. In the author’s time (seventh-to-fifth century BC), Jewish thought focused on God’s othernessGod is not like humans. The author concludes that God is beyond human understanding. Human suffering has a divine purpose humans can’t know. For Christians, Jesus’ incarnation means God has become human. Jesus answers Job’s question through Jesus’ transformative life, death, and resurrection. Today’s gospel shows that God is knowable, present, and engaged in human life; someone who also suffers, heals, and saves.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul considers his right to be supported by the community to which he preaches. Paul’s service of the good news is a repeated choice or commitment, not a one-time decision. He freely chooses to be in slavery “to all” so that he might reach more people (to save them). Paul preaches about what he believes, and, in doing so, hopes to share in the promises of the good news.

In the gospel, Mark concludes Jesus’ first day of ministry: Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus ministers to the whole town, and his disciples forget why he came:

  • Simon’s mother-in-law. On arriving at Simon’s house, Jesus and the disciples find Simon’s mother-in-law too sick to perform the traditional demands of first-century hospitality. Jesus’ touch heals her. As proof that she is healed, she fulfills her obligation of hospitality by “serving them.” The Greek verb διακονέω (dee-ah-koh-NEH-oh), root of the English word “deacon,” means “to serve” or “to wait on.” Simon’s mother-in-law embodies the ideal disciple as someone in service to others–a point that disciples James and John miss (see Mk 10:43).
  • All who were ill or possessed. As the Baptizer foretold in Mk 1:7-8, Jesus comes with power and authority preaching and healing. Jesus’ power/authority to heal breaks evil’s hold on this world and displaces demons, which makes room for God’s kingdom. The Greek verb θεραπεύω (theh-rah-PYOO-oh), root of the English word “therapy,” means “to serve” or “to heal.” Its use here implies that Jesus did not simply heal, but spent time ministering to each person.
  • Everyone wants you. The reason that Jesus came was to preach God’s kingdom (Mk 1:14-15). Jesus’ healings were just a small part of his ministry. Unfortunately, Peter, Andrew, James, and John (and everyone else) want to promote Jesus’ powerful acts above his message of salvation. Jesus reminds them why he came: to tell everyone that the time is fulfilled, God is near, and to change their hearts and minds.

Today’s readings display how far we have progressed in our understanding of suffering. The believing community and RCIA participants find Job searching for a reason and encounter Jesus proclaiming an answer in words and actions. Job experiences God as a distant power and wisdom; Simon’s mother-in-law and Capernaum’s suffering people experience Jesus’ physical touch and personal attention. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus transforms the meaning of suffering. As disciples, Jesus calls us to continue his individual service and ministry to make God near to everyone. Where do we drive out today’s demons? How do we heal those who suffer? How do we serve to make others whole?

—Terence Sherlock

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28 January 2018: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Teaching and acting with authority and power

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to think about authority and power.

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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21 January 2018: Third Sunday of Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jon 3:1-5, 10   Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9   1 Cor 7:29-31   Mk 1:14-20

Discipleship: hear, change, follow

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings ask us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings encourage every RCIA participant and everyone in the entire believing community to examine his or her own call to discipleship.

In the first reading the prophet Jonah finally arrives in Nineveh and begins to preach God’s message. God spares Nineveh because its gentile people heard God’s warning (“Nineveh will be destroyed”) and changed their minds (they “believed God”) and actions (they “fasted and put on sackcloth”). The connection between the first reading and today’s gospel is the Greek verb μετανοέω (meh-tah-noh-EH-oh), which means “to convert” or “to turn away from one thing and turn toward something else” (Joh 3:10). Jesus uses this same word in preaching the good news (Mk 1:15).

In the second reading, Paul suggests that the Corinthian ekklesia live “as if not,” that is, with a sense of detachment from this world’s priorities. Paul’s apocalyptic view–that “the world is passing away” and Christ would return soon–colors his advice. Christians who know this life and world is temporary should live differently from those who are unaware of Jesus’ promise to return and to fulfill God’s kingdom.

In today’s gospel, Mark introduces Jesus’ teaching and his call to discipleship.

  • Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ teaching has three parts:
    1. “The proper time has been fulfilled.” Through the Baptizer’s preparatory preaching (Mk 1:4-8), Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10-11), and Jesus’ testing (Mk 1:12-13), Jesus is ready to proclaim the good news and the people are ready to hear it.
    2. “God’s reign (or kingdom) is nearby.” The Greek word translated here as “nearby” means both “near in time” and “near physically.” In Jesus’ physical presence, God’s kingdom is within reach; in Jesus’ preaching about God’s kingdom, God’s kingdom is close to being implemented in time (although not yet fully arrived, not until the parousia).
    3. “Change your hearts/minds and believe in the good news.” The metanoia that Jesus calls for, and which he demonstrates in his words and actions, is the heart of Mark’s gospel: turn away from evil and turn toward God. The believing that Jesus calls for is not a simple intellectual assertion, but trust and personal commitment, often when facing a threatening or uncertain future.
  • Jesus’ call to follow him. After someone hears Jesus’ teaching, that person is ready to be invited to “walk the road” with Jesus. Jesus calls each disciple by name. His invitation requires an immediate response. Simon, Andrew, James, and John literally drop what they are doing and follow. The Greek word translated here as “to follow” also means “to become a disciple.”

 

 

The readings confront RCIA candidates and the believing community with the reality of discipleship: hear God’s message, change our mind/heart, and immediately follow. Metanoia is at the heart of discipleship: we must change before we can follow. Jesus’ invitation begins when we hear what God asks. God’s request turns us around and changes how we see ourselves and the world. How do we respond? Do we drop everything and follow this different and unknown path? Or do we stay in our familiar boat, content to follow a safe and known way?

—Terence Sherlock

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14 January 2018: Second Sunday of Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19   Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10   1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20   Jn 1:35-42

Discipleship: called by name into an abiding relationship

Green_banner_sm This week the liturgical calendar changes to Ordinary time, and the Lectionary readings invite us to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. Today’s readings ask the believing community and RCIA participants to examine their call to discipleship and its implications.

In the first reading, the book of Samuel describes Samuel’s call by God to be a prophet. Samuel is living in the tabernacle in Shiloh with Eli the priest. God calls Samuel by name into a special relationship and mission. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel Jesus’ call of his disciples in the gospel.

In the second reading from his first letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul writes to correct the Corinthians misunderstandings. In this passage he addresses the ethical problem of sexual immorality associated with temple prostitution. Through three metaphors, Paul asks three questions:

  1. Your bodies are members of Christ. The idea of Greek citizens as parts of a civic body is a favorite figure in Greek life and philosophy. Paul applies this image to the ekklesia members who are parts of Christ’s body. Paul asks: why would Christians defile Christ and themselves through unions with unbelievers?
  2. Your body is a temple. Paul imagines the ekklesia as a temple, where each member is a living stone in the temple’s construction. God’s Spirit resides in this temple, just as God’s presence resided in the Jerusalem Temple. Paul asks: why would Christians seek God in pagan temples and rites?
  3. You have been bought by Christ. Paul believes all people are slaves to sin. Through Christ’s redeeming action and Christian baptism, Christ buys Christians out of slavery, as the Greeks buy slaves in the market. Paul asks: why would Christians want to enslave themselves again to pagan gods?

In the gospel, the Baptizer has just completed his testimony about Jesus. John now tells the story of Jesus’ disciples, describing two ways to encounter Jesus, and Jesus’ response:

  • Those who seek. Andrew and his unnamed companion (the beloved disciple) begin following Jesus after the Baptizer points him out. Jesus asks them “What are looking for?” The Greek verb ζητέω (dzay-TEH-oh) means “to seek” or “to search after.” Jesus is asking them, “If you want to be my disciple, what do you seek from me?”
  • Those who are brought by others. Simon receives his call to follow Jesus though his brother Andrew. Jesus looks at Simon and calls him by a new name. Simon’s renaming to Peter, like Abram’s renaming to Abraham (Gn 17:5), and Jacob’s renaming to Israel (Gn 32:29), indicates Peter will have a special role in God’s plan.
  • Jesus’ invitation: come and abide. Whether a disciple seeks out Jesus or comes to Jesus through another, Jesus invites the disciple to experience life with Jesus. John uses the Greek verb μένω (MEHN-oh) to describe life with Jesus. μένω means literally “to stay with” and metaphorically “to remain-in-relationship” or “to abide.” John uses μένω to indicate that the disciples not only stay with Jesus, but began to experience an abiding relationship.

Today’s readings prod RCIA candidates and the believing community to examine Jesus’ invitation to discipleship. Like Samuel in the first reading and the disciples in the gospel, God calls each of us by name to fulfill a task only we can complete. But first we must answer Jesus’ question: what do you seek? The question isn’t a test; it’s a call to self-examination. Choosing to walk the same road with Jesus requires not just sacrifice, but self-sacrifice. In Baptism and Confirmation God calls us by a new name. Whose voice do we hear? What or whom do we seek? Are we ready to complete the unique task for which we’ve been called-by-name?

—Terence Sherlock

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7 January 2018: Epiphany of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 60:1-6   Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13   Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6   Mt 2:1-12

Epiphany: the Gift is made present to all

White_gold_banner_sm Today the believing community celebrates the Epiphany. Epiphany means “shining upon” or “manifestation.” It is also called “little Christmas” or “Three King’s day,” and, in many places, it is the day Christians exchange gifts. Traditionally, Orthodox and Roman churches celebrate Epiphany on 6 January as the twelfth day of Christmas. The feast commemorates the magi’s (or “wise men”) visit to Jesus.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah urges the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Jerusalem and Judah. He promises that God will restore the people and city to its former glory under David. God’s restoration draws “all nations” to Jerusalem. Foreign (gentile) kings will bring “gold and frankincense” as tribute and gifts. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to highlight the magi’s gifts in the gospel.

In the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, the author summarizes Paul’s mission and message: God’s kingdom includes all people–gentiles as well as the Jewish people. Together the Jews and gentiles are “co-heirs, co-members of the body of Christ (the ekklesia), and co-partners in the gospel promise.” All are invited into God’s kingdom. This reading highlights the gentiles’ role in recognizing the kingdom.

Matthew’s gospel recounts the magi’s visit, which further reveals Jesus’ identity:

  • King of the Jews/Judeans. The magi are astrologers (early astronomers) who discern Jesus’ title based on naturally occurring celestial events (the star). They ask Herod, “Where can we find the king of the Judeans?” (Their question surprises Herod, because he rules the Jewish lands of Judea, Perea, and Galilee. That makes Herod king of the Judeans and king of the Jews, a title he wrangled from his Roman overlords. Matthew lets the magi’s question hang in the air as Herod spins his conspiracy theories about a potential rival.) Herod calls his Jewish priests and scribes and asks “What do you know about this?” They search Hebrew scripture and find the prophet Micah’s prophecy that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Matthew shows that both nature and scripture reveal Jesus’ identity to all who seek him.
  • Worthy of homage. The magi come to “do him homage.” Here and throughout this passage, Matthew uses the Greek verb προσκυνέω (“prohs-koo-NEH-oh”), which means “to prostrate before” or “to worship.” Matthew shows that the gentile magi recognize that Jesus is worthy not only of human honor, but of divine worship.
  • Gifts reveal Jesus’ destiny. The magi give Jesus not only honor and worship, they also give him symbolic gifts. Gold is an appropriate gift for a human ruler. Incense is a gift offered (burned) to honor a divinity. Myrrh is spice used as a salve and for embalming. Matthew shows that the gentile magi recognize Jesus’ kingship, his divinity, and his mission to suffer and die.

Marking the Christmas season’s end, Epiphany calls RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on the incarnation’s meaning. God’s gift of God-made-flesh and God-with-us is given to us without any possibility of our repayment. The incarnation, like all sacraments, is God’s superabundant presence. Epiphany–manifestation–tells us that God is found everywhere (God’s kingdom is already here, open to all), God is worthy of our worship, and God’s giving-ness fuels us to give our own lives in service. What star do we follow? What king do we seek? What treasure do we offer?

—Terence Sherlock

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31 December 2017: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or
Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3
  Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or
Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
  Col 3:12-21 or
Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
  Lk 2:22-40
Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents optional readings for the Feast of the Holy Family (Year B): the first reading can be either from Sirach or Genesis, the responsorial psalm can be either Psalm 128 or Psalm 105, and the second reading can be either from Colossians or Hebrews. This reflection uses the Sirach and Colossians readings.

Christmastime: the real holy family

White_gold_banner_sm On the first Sunday after Christmas the believing community celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Although homilists sometimes use this feast to extol the “perfect family,” the Lectionary editors present real human families facing everyday issues for us to consider.

The first reading, from the book of Sirach, advises parents and children about how to act towards one another, especially fathers and sons. If human families were perfect, Sirach wouldn’t need to remind us how to behave.

In the second reading the author of the letter to the Colossae ekklesia, the author advises family members to treat each other with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” The author’s language of “putting on” these attributes recalls the catechumen’s “putting on” a new garment at baptism, and the “putting on a new self” (v 10).

In the gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ first visit to the Jerusalem Temple. Mary and Joseph’s joyful family celebration also includes unsettling news about their child’s and their own futures.

  • Fulfilling the Law. Luke tells us four times (v 22, 23, 24, 39) that Mary and Joseph “fulfilled the Law” to emphasize their faithfulness and piety. Jesus’ parents had to complete two rites: Mary’s purification and Jesus’ dedication.
    • Purification. Mosaic law specified that a woman had to be purified forty days after giving birth to a son (Lv 12:2-8). The law specified the woman’s offering: a lamb. If the woman could not afford a lamb, she offered two turtledoves or two young pigeons (as Mary does in v 24).
    • Dedication (or presentation). Mosaic law also specified that first-born sons be consecrated to the Lord (Ex 13:2, 12). While at the Jerusalem Temple, Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus to the Lord.
  • Prophecy about Jesus. Luke has both a male and a female prophet speak about Jesus at his presentation. This is in keeping with Luke’s theme that Jesus comes for everyone. These two witnesses testify (v 25, v 28) that Jesus will fulfill God’s saving plan to all nations, to Israel and to the gentiles (v 31-32). But they also warn that Jesus, like every prophet, will be opposed. Jesus’ ministry will be filled with conflicts and disagreements.
  • Prophecy about Mary. Simeon tells Mary that a “sword will pierce her soul.” That is, Mary will be affected by others’ reactions to Jesus (Lk 2:34) as well as by Jesus’ own declarations (Lk 11:27-28). Mary is not only Jesus’ mother, she is his disciple as well. Like all disciples, Mary must sacrifice her own self to accomplish all God asks.

As we gather with family during the holidays, RCIA participants and the believing community can hear in today’s readings the joy and challenges of family life. Sirach offers practical wisdom about being a parent and caring for parents. Colossians reminds us that family life means “bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” Mary and Joseph faithfully follow the Law, but that doesn’t guarantee a perfect family life. Discipleship challenges us to see beyond our own failings and the failings of others and to “put on love” so we too can “continue to advance in wisdom and favor before God and others.”

—Terence Sherlock

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25 December 2017: Christmas: Mass at midnight

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 9:1-6   Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13   Ti 2:11-14   Lk 2:1-14
Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents four different sets of readings for Christmas: the Christmas Vigil mass, Midnight mass, Christmas mass at dawn, and mass during Christmas day. This commentary uses the readings for Midnight mass.

Christmas: God and God’s kingdom is with us

White_gold_banner_smThis week the RCIA participants and the believing community celebrate the Incarnation mystery and rejoice at the savior’s birth. The Lectionary readings invite us to think about human rulers and the Divine ruler.

In the first reading, Isaiah reassures the northern kingdom of Israel, which has suffered a punishing defeat (732 BC). Because Israel’s king ignored God and the people were unfaithful, God allowed the Assyrians to conquer Israel. Through Isaiah, God promises that a coming king from David’s line will drive out their oppressors and restore God’s people. Christians find Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, who overcomes death and reconciles God and humans.

In the second reading from the letter to Titus, the author describes the two comings of Jesus, and how the community should live based on these two events. “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” refers to Jesus’ coming in history at his incarnation, birth, death, and resurrection. “As we await the blessed hope” refers to Christ’s return at the end of time (parousia) to destroy death. Because of these two events–Jesus’ already coming in history, and Jesus’ not yet coming parousia–we should be “eager to do what is good:” turn away from sin and turn toward God.

In the gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth: an “orderly story,” based on research and interviews (Lk 1: 3). He places Jesus’ birth in the larger historical context of the Empire, sounding these themes:

  • The savior comes to all. Luke uses the word “all” three times in fourteen lines: Augustus’ decree covers “everyone in the empire” (v 1); “all go to register” (v 3); and the angel announces “great joy for all people” (v 10). While Matthew’s infancy story and genealogy emphasize Jesus’ coming to the Jewish people, Luke’s nativity and genealogy describe a savior engaged in world history, coming to save all people.

 

  • God’s kingdom is greater than human empires. Throughout Luke’s gospel, heavenly authority and earthly powers are in constant conflict. In today’s reading, for example, Augustus claims to be “god” and “savior” (as minted on coins from this period), while Jesus is God and savior (v 11); Augustus issues a royal tax decree (v 1), but the angel proclaims a royal message of salvation (v 11); Augustine creates the Pax Romana (“peace of Rome”), but Jesus’ birth brings “Peace on earth” (v 14); Augustus rules over the world (v 1), but Jesus rules heaven and earth (v 13-14).

 

  • God’s peace is God’s kingdom. The peace that comes from Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection is not Augustus’ Pax Romana, but the Hebrew shalom, meaning “wholeness” or “completeness.” The angel’s announcement of peace indicates that the messianic kingdom of God is now present among people.

Jesus’ birth changes everything. Salvation has come to everyone. An infant supersedes the emperor. The empire’s rule over the inhabited lands passes to God’s reign over heaven and earth. Isaiah’s promise is now our lived experience. For this we give glory to God. Let us be eager to do what is good, always.

—Terence Sherlock

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24 December 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29   Rom 16:25-27   Lk 1:26-38

Advent: God’s promises are fulfilled

Purple_banner_sm As our Advent waiting and preparation comes to a close, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with the culmination of the mystery of God-with-us.

In the first reading, the book of Samuel records David’s wish to build God a permanent temple (house). God answers David through the prophet Nathan: God pledges to build David a house (a lineage) that last forever. Christians hear in God’s promise that, from David’s house, an anointed one (messiah) will come to lead and to protect God’s people. Jesus, born with Mary’s active participation, fulfills this prophecy.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Roman ekklesia that God’s mystery, “kept secret for long ages,” is revealed in Jesus’ coming. In Jesus, all Hebrew scripture prophecies attain their full meanings. Gabriel’s words to Mary begin to reveal these hidden meanings.

In Luke’s annunciation narrative, Gabriel presents God’s invitation to Mary. She responds in three parts:

  • Mary’s reaction. Gabriel greets Mary as “God’s favored one.” Luke says the greeting “perplexes” or “greatly confuses” Mary, and then that she “thinks carefully about its implications.” Mary does not passively receive Gabriel’s greeting. She carefully considers what being “God’s favored one” might mean for her.
  • Mary’s question. Mary asks Gabriel: how will this happen? Luke’s Greek Christian community is expecting a Greek mythological divine/human impregnation story, but instead, Gabriel answers Mary using Hebrew scriptural allusions:
    • First, “the holy Spirit will-come-to you.” In Genesis, God’s creative spirit “hovers over” the unformed world (Gn 1:2). Luke uses the same Greek verb to describe the Spirit’s coming both to Mary in today’s reading (v 35) and to the apostles at Pentecost (Ac 1: 8). Luke connects the Spirit’s action at Jesus’ conception with the Spirit’s action at the ekklesia‘s (believing community’s or church’s) beginnings.
    • Next, “God’s-presence-will-shadow you.” The Greek verb ἐπισκιάζω (eh-pee-skee-AHd-zoh) means “to cover” or “to shadow.” Hebrew scripture uses this word to indicate God’s presence at Sinai (Ex 19:9) and especially in the Tent of Meeting (Ex 40:34). Luke uses the same word (v 35) to show Mary as a new Ark of the Covenant, the place where God’s glory resides. Luke connects God’s presence at Jesus’ conception with God’s covenant and protection throughout history.
  • Mary’s answer. Mary’s first statement acknowledges her relationship to God doesn’t require that God offer her a choice. But God invites Mary to participate in human salvation. Mary’s “yes” is a model for Christian discipleship: I give up my plans and myself to do whatever God requires.

For this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God fulfills the promise of salvation. God promises David that his house will last forever. Paul explains to the Romans that we understand God’s promises only through Jesus’ coming. Luke shows us how God’s promises are fulfilled only through human cooperation. The annunciation is neither history or myth. Luke presents a theological conversation between Mary and Gabriel, revealing that Jesus is God and savior, incarnated into our human experience in a unique and extraordinary way, with the cooperation of someone just like us. Jesus invites us to discipleship. Like Mary, we can choose to cooperate in God’s saving plans.

—Terence Sherlock

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