Tag Archives: Year B

10 December 2017: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 40:1-5, 9-11   Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14   2 Pt 3:8-14   Mk 1:1-8

Advent: Preparing the way by turning to the good news

Purple_banner_sm As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary announces good news and reminds RCIA participants and the believing community of our need for conversion to prepare the way.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to the Jews captive in Babylon in the sixth century BC, promising their release and the restoration of Israel. God will lead them through the wilderness back to Judea, as God led Moses and the Israelites through the desert to the promised land. Isaiah tells the returning Jewish exiles to prepare a path through the wilderness for their Lord, and to shout the good news from the mountain: the exiles return and God renews the covenant! In Advent, the Christian believing community similarly prepares the Lord’s way by conversion: turning to God and away from everything else, and tells our good news from the mountain: through the incarnation God comes to be with us.

In the second reading from Peter’s second letter, the author addresses his community’s concerns about Jesus’ delayed return. Some false teachers are claiming that because Jesus hasn’t returned by this time (around 120 AD), he’s never returning. The author points out that divine time and human time aren’t the same. If humans think the parousia is taking too long, it’s because God is giving us a chance to turn back to God before the end-time. The good news is that we have time to live holy and devout lives as we await Jesus’ return.

In the gospel, Mark introduces his story of Jesus. In eight short verses Mark tells the purpose of his writing and introduces Jesus’ prophetic forerunner:

  • Purpose of Mark’s story. Mark titles his story “The beginning of the proclamation (or good news) about Jesus the messiah.” Mark’s first word–“beginning”–is the same word that opens Genesis. Mark may be suggesting his proclamation (or gospel) offers a new beginning or a new creation to everyone.
  • The one who prepares the way. Mark quickly introduces John, who is preaching and baptizing in the wilderness. John, a prophet like Isaiah and Elijah, preaches metanoia. The Greek verb μετανοέω (meh-tah-noh-EH-oh) means “to turn one’s mind/heart away from one thing and towards another.” Many bibles translate metanoia as “repentance,” but that translation is too weak. Metanoia is about conversion, turning to God. True metanoia brings forgiveness, which is the beginning of the kingdom of God.

Today’s readings call RCIA participants and the believing community to hear the good news and to change our hearts and minds. Isaiah announces that God is with us and we must straighten our ways. The second reading tells us that God is giving us the time we need to turn toward holiness and devotion. Mark’s gospel proclaims a new beginning that starts with our metanoia. Today’s three readings describe different ways God enters into human history to be with us–in covenant, through incarnation, and at the end time. God-with-us is good news that is undescribably good and always new. During Advent will we take time to consider how good the good news is? Or will we let the season’s busyness ensure that God’s news never reaches our daily lives? Metanoia is our choice: where will we turn? How will we turn out?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 December 2017: First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7   Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19   1 Cor 1:3-9   Mk 13:33-37

Advent: looking forward by looking back

Purple_banner_sm Happy new liturgical year! This Sunday marks the start of a new liturgical year and a new season. The year’s Sunday gospel readings change from Matthew to Mark; the season’s color is now Advent’s purple. In Advent, the Lectionary readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to look back to God’s promises and to look forward to their fulfillment.

In the first reading from Isaiah, the returned exiles lament what they find: the Temple burned and Jerusalem in ruins. In striking language, Isaiah asks that God “tear open the heavens and come down” to be with the people again, and through “awesome deeds” restore Jerusalem to its former glory. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to show us that God has fulfilled this request, “tearing open heaven and coming down” in Jesus’ incarnation.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinth ekklesia, Paul opens with greetings and thanksgiving for the believing community. He previews a few issues he will cover, including charismatic gifts, unity, and fellowship meals. Paul sets the Corinthian’s gifts in an eschatological context. Despite the Corinthians’ present knowledge, they are still waiting for the Lord “to be revealed.” Here Paul describes the paradox of the “already” and the “not yet:” the Corinthians already have particular gifts they need to build up the believing community, but these gifts will not be fully known or understood until Jesus’ return–the not yet. Advent reminds us that Jesus is with us now in word and sacrament, but we will know him fully only when he comes again in the parousia.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to watch and to stay awake; he summarizes promise and fulfillment in the parable of the doorkeeper.

  • The instructions. As part of his end-time teachings, Jesus admonishes disciples to be watchful and to be alert because no one knows when “the time will come.”
  • The parable. This parable is similar to the parable of the talents we heard a few weeks ago. A man going on an indeterminate trip tells his slaves to continue their work and commands the doorkeeper to watch for his return. The master will judge the slaves when he returns.
  • The meaning. Jesus intends this parable not just for first-century disciples, but for all disciples (“What I say to you, I say to all.”). His command–“Be vigilant!”–warns disciples to remain watchful for his promised return. When he fulfills his promise, the Lord will judge each disciple on how well he or she has lived as his disciple. There is no room for complacency in Christian life.

The Advent readings invite RCIA participants and the whole believing community to look back to God’s promises and forward to their fulfillment. God fulfilled Isaiah’s request to “tear open the heavens and come down” through Jesus’ incarnation. Paul tells us God has already given us the gifts we need to live as disciples, although we can’t yet fully understand or appreciate them. Jesus warns us to watch for his promised return by fulfilling our discipleship daily. Advent is a time of waiting for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and watching for Jesus’ coming again. How are we using our time?

—Terence Sherlock

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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 ekklesia (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 ekklesia 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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