Tag Archives: Year C

20 November 2016: Solemnity of Christ the King

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Sm 5:1-3 Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5 Col 1:12-20 Lk 23:35-43

 

Kings and kingdoms: who can save us?

White_gold_banner_sm On this final Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Matthew’s gospel.) The Lectionary readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider Jesus’ kingship and kingdom.

The first reading from the second book of Samuel describes the selection and anointing of David. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to introduce David’s kingship. For Hebrew scripture writers, David was the model king; the prophets promised that the messiah would come from David’s line. The messiah would be a new David: a king and a shepherd of his people.

The second reading from the letter to the Colossae ekklesia celebrates Christ’s messianic kingship. The words “delivered” and “transferred” in v 13 echo the Israelites’ Exodus experience and introduce the kingdom theme. The author explains redemption as “forgiveness of sins” (v 14). The Christological hymn (vv 15-20) describes Christ’s kingship in three sections: creation (vv 15-16), preservation (vv 17-18a), redemption (vv 18b-20).

The gospel, from Luke’s passion narrative, gives three human views on Jesus’ kingship and kingdom. These human misunderstandings hinge on the interpretation of the word “to save,” which appears four times in vv 35-39. The three views are:

  • Rulers: “He saved others, let him save himself.” The Jewish people’s rulers or leaders mock Jesus because he is a failed political messiah who couldn’t translates his miracles and healings into a populist movement. When they tell Jesus to “save himself,” they fail to see Jesus’ saving act as leading (“shepherding,” see the first reading: 2 Sam 5:2) and redeeming everyone.
  • Soldiers: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” The Roman soldiers mock Jesus because he is a failed human king who has no armies. The soldiers confuse the transient Roman emperor’s military power with God’s just and eternal kingdom. When they tell Jesus to “save himself,” they fail to see Jesus’ saving act as establishing God’s kingdom in the midst of their oppressive human empire.
  • Criminal: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The criminal mocks Jesus because he is a failed military messiah who can’t deliver the Jews from their Roman oppressors. When the criminal tells Jesus to “save yourself and us,” he fails to see Jesus’ saving act as transforming all human life and death.

Although the rulers, soldiers, and the criminal urge Jesus to “save himself,” Jesus is the only human who doesn’t need saving. The reason that Jesus comes into the world is to save everyone else.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about what Jesus’ kingship and kingdom means to us. Jesus’ saving act redeemed everyone. God’s kingdom, now present, exists for everyone. Jesus’ death and resurrection changes the meaning of human death and life. Do we think human leaders will save us, or do we know we need redemption? Do we think power will save us, or do we see such justice and peace only when God reigns? Do we think we can save ourselves, or can we ask the saving king to remember us in his kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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13 November 2016: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Mal 3:19-20a Ps 98:5-6, 7-8, 9 2 Thes 3:7-12 Lk 21:5-19

The end of the world: a time of fear or faith?

Green_banner_sm On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on the end times and Jesus’ return. This week’s readings invite us to consider the coming kingdom.

In the first reading, Malachi (the name means “my messenger”) describes the coming “day of the Lord.” The prophets use this phrase to signal the hoped-for messiah’s appearance: God will establish God’s kingdom, save those who remained faithful to the covenant, and punish the unfaithful ones. The Lectionary editors chose this reading with its apocalyptic images to match today’s gospel theme.

In the second reading, from the second letter to the Thessalonians, the author addresses a specific problem: some members, believing that Jesus had already returned, stopped working. These members were now were living off the work of the rest of the community. The letter’s author states clearly: everyone works together to support the believing community.

Luke’s gospel presents part of Jesus’ “eschatological discourse.” Eschatology is “the study of the last things:” the end times, God’s judgement, and the establishment of God’s kingdom. Jesus (and Luke) want us to know the following:

  • Destruction of the Jerusalem temple: As Jesus is teaching in the temple, he hears some people ooh and aah about the temple’s expensive decoration. Jesus tells them that “the days are coming” when all this will be destroyed. When Luke writes his gospel (mid 80s AD), Jesus’ prophecy is already fulfilled: the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Luke offers Jesus’ fulfilled prophecy as evidence of who Jesus is.
  • Signs of the end times: Like Malachi in the first reading, Jesus uses apocalyptic images (wars, famines, earthquakes, signs in the sky) of the end times that precede God’s bringing forth the kingdom. Apocalyptic (meaning “to unveil” or “to reveal”) language developed in Jewish culture to describe the fulfillment of prophecies, especially of the end times. Jesus’ apocalyptic words place him in the Jewish prophetic tradition.
  • Persecutions: Jesus tells his disciples that they will be persecuted, but that these persecutions will allow them to “give testimony” or “bear witness” to Jesus. When Luke writes his gospel, the emperor Nero (mid 60s AD) has already executed Peter, Paul, and other disciples; and local leaders sporadically threaten Christians. Jesus’ fulfilled prophecy again shows who Jesus is.
  • Do not be afraid: Jesus tells current (and future) disciples, “by your perseverance (in faith) you will secure your lives.” Jesus comforts his disciples, reminding us that we are saved from destruction and persecution through faith in him.

On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about God’s coming kingdom. We pray in the Our Father, “let your kingdom come.” We don’t need to wait for the world to end to join God’s kingdom–we’ll join at the end of our earthly lives. As faithful Christians, we look forward to letting God’s kingdom come with hope, not fear. Our faith saves us.

—Terence Sherlock

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6 November 2016: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14 Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15 2 Thes 2:16-3:5 Lk 20:27-38

 

The end times: promise of resurrection

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. As we near the end of the liturgical year, the Sunday readings’ themes become eschatological, focusing on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings invite us to think about the meaning of resurrection–both Jesus’ Easter resurrection and our own resurrections.

The first reading from 2 Maccabees describes the torture of a Jewish family (a widowed mother and her seven sons) by the Syrian king Antiochus IV. The family chooses to follow the covenant laws rather than save their lives. As they face death, the brothers express their belief in a personal resurrection. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel’s resurrection debate.

The second reading from the second letter to the Thessalonians continues last week’s reading. Last week, the author discussed Jesus’ delayed parousia and urged his hearers not “to be alarmed” by rumors that “the day of the Lord is at hand.” This week the author concludes 2 Thes 2 with a blessing, and opens 2 Thes 3 with a prayer request for his work and for the believing community to grow in faith.

In today’s gospel Jesus spars with the Sadducees over the idea of resurrection. Jesus is now in Jerusalem, teaching in the Temple area. The Sadducees were a conservative Jewish religious faction who accepted only the written Torah as valid Hebrew scripture, rejecting the Prophets and the Writings. They try to turn the Temple crowds against Jesus by presenting an absurd case in which seven brothers in succession marry a childless widow. They then ask Jesus, “If there is a resurrection, to which brother is she married?” They expect Jesus must answer either “All, because they will all be resurrected,” or “None, because there is no resurrection.” Recognizing their trap, Jesus responds by insulting the Sadducees, answering their question, pointing out the limits of their thinking, and asking a question they can’t answer:

  • Jesus’ insult:Humans marry and are given in marriage” (v 34). Jesus states the obvious to insult the Sadducees.
  • Jesus’ answer:Resurrected ones do not marry nor are given in marriage.” (v 35). Jesus answers the Sadducees’ question.
  • The Sadducees’ limited thinking: “Resurrected ones can’t die.” (v 36). Jesus tells the Sadducees that resurrected ones are different because they are deathless. Resurrected life is not a continuation of earthly life, but something new and different.
  • A question from Jesus:Moses revealed at the burning bush that he believed in the resurrection” (v 37). Jesus uses the Sadducees’ own Torah (Ex 3:6) to prove the resurrection. Jesus asks, “If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead, how could God be the God of the living?”

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about the meaning of resurrection. Jesus’ final point–that God is a God of the living, not the dead–puts the emphasis on God’s relationship with those God loves. That relationship transcends human death. Jesus’ Easter resurrection foreshadows and promises our own resurrections. Do we believe God’s love surpasses death? Do we live that relationship?

—Terence Sherlock

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30 October 2016: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 11:22-12:2 Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14 2 Thes 1:11-2:2 Lk 19:1-10

The mercy that searches out disciples

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

In the first reading the Wisdom author reflects on the paradox of God’s infinite power and God’s infinite mercy. Despite God’s power and majesty (“the universe is like a grain in a balance”), God is “merciful to all.” God “overlooks our sins” to give us a chance to metanoia–“turn back” to God. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the theme of mercy in today’s gospel reading.

In the second reading the author tells the Thessalonians not to be “shaken” by rumors that Jesus has already returned, marking the “day of the Lord” and the final judgement. The Thessalonica ekklesia has been “stirred up” by people within their community speculating about Jesus’ return. As we get closer to the end of the liturgical year (20 November 2016), the Sunday readings will focus more and more on the end times.

In the gospel, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, whose name in Hebrew means “to be pure or clean.” The crowd, however, thinks Zacchaeus is anything but pure–he’s a head tax collector and a Roman collaborator. The story asks us to think about Jesus’ requirements for discipleship and God’s mercy to us. Consider the following:

  • Seeking: Luke says that Zacchaeus seeks Jesus (v 3). Luke uses the Greek word ζητέω (dzay-TEH-oh), which means not only “to investigate” but “to search for actively.” Luke hints that Zacchaeus wants more than a glimpse of Jesus; he wants to be Jesus’ disciple. (In verse 10 Jesus uses the same Greek word to tell his disciples that he is actively searching “for the lost.”)
  • Staying: Jesus tells the up-a-tree Zacchaeus to hurry down so Jesus can stay with Zacchaeus at his house (v 5). Luke uses the Greek word μένω (MEN-oh), which means not only “to lodge” but “to remain.” Jesus knows that Zacchaeus seeks discipleship, and Jesus offers to remain with him. (In verse 10 Jesus tells his disciples that “today salvation has come to this house,” indicating that Jesus’ remaining presence gives salvation.)
  • Living God’s teachings: Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he “is already giving half his possessions” to the poor (v 8). Luke uses a Greek verb tense that indicates Zacchaeus’ giving started in the past and is continuing, not a future event (“I shall give”) as translated in today’s reading. That is, Zacchaeus is already fulfilling Mosaic Law (and exceeding its requirements). Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus’ righteous by calling him a “son of Abraham” (v 9).

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our discipleship in light of God’s mercy. The first reading reminds us that God is merciful to all. The gospel reiterates Jesus mission: actively seeking and saving the lost. Jesus actively searches for us as disciples. Disciples actively search for Jesus and live his teachings. Jesus remains with his disciples, bringing mercy and salvation. Are we continually searching out Jesus, or do we think we have found out all we need to know? Do we find continuing joy in Jesus’ abiding presence, or do we see him as an occasional visitor?

—Terence Sherlock

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23 October 2016: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

Prayer: considering the mystery of God’s grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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16 October 2016: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

 

Prayer: more than persistence

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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9 October 2016: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
2 Kgs 5:14-17 Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4 2 Tm 2:8-13 Lk 17:11-19

Discipleship: to heal and to save

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

In the first reading from the second book of Kings, God heals the Syrian Naaman’s leprosy through the prophet Elisha’s word. Elisha refuses Naaman’s gift because Naaman’s healing is from God, not from Elisha. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Naaman’s cure of leprosy, his thanksgiving, and his faith all have parallels in today’s gospel story of the ten lepers.

The second reading from the second letter to Timothy presents a summary of Paul’s teachings (2 Tim 2: 8), followed by an ancient Christian hymn (2 Tim 2: 9-13). The hymn tells us that through baptism Christians die spiritually with Christ and hope to live with him and reign with him forever.

In Luke’s gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Luke reiterates that Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem when he encounters the lepers, presumably a mix of Jews (from Galilee) and Samaritans (from Samaria). Here are the key points:

  • Leprosy and Mosaic Law: The Hebrew and Greek words traditionally translated as “leprosy” describe a variety of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrhea, but not Hansen’s disease (modern “leprosy.”) Under Mosaic law (Lv 14), anyone who showed evidence of “leprosy” was considered unclean and could not live in the community. This is why the lepers are “outside the village.” Both Jews and Samaritans followed the same Mosaic laws concerning purity and leprosy.
  • Encountering Jesus: Seeing Jesus, the lepers call out “have mercy on us.” Jesus tells them to “show yourselves to the priests” to fulfill Mosaic law. On their way to see the priests, the lepers are healed. The Greek word σώζω (SOHd-zoh) means both “to heal” and “to save.”
  • Thanksgiving and faith: Realizing he is healed/saved, one man returns, glorifying God and thanking Jesus. Luke notes that the returning man was a Samaritan–a non-Jew and a Jewish enemy. Jesus tells the man, “Go, your faith has saved you.”
  • Meanings: First, faith in Jesus saves. This story follows last week’s teachings on faith and discipleship (Lk 17: 1-10)–especially the disciples’ request to “Increase our faith.” Luke uses the leper’s cure to demonstrate faith-in-action. Second, Jesus saves those from all nations. The Greek word ἀλλογενής (ahl-loh-geh-NAYS), here translated as “stranger,” literally means “those outside the family.” Luke uses the Samaritan leper’s healing to show that faith supersedes ethnicity and religion. Faith, and therefore salvation, is open to all people.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our understanding of saving/healing. God heals/saves Naaman even though he is a Syrian and worships Baal. Jesus heals/saves the ten lepers even though not all of them are Jewish. Although nine do not return to glorify God and thank Jesus, Jesus does not take away their healing. God’s healing/saving is a gift without strings, open to all. Do we offer our healing and salvation to all who ask our mercy, or do we limit our healing and saving only to those we know or only to those who appreciate it?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 October 2016: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

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

 

Discipleship: loyal living and faith-full acts

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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25 September 2016: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

 

The entitlement and isolation of riches

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

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11 September 2016: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

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

 

The God who actively searches for the lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Terence Sherlock

 

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

 

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