Tag Archives: Year C

13 January 2019: Baptism of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 42:1-4, 6-7 or
Is 40:1-5, 9-11
RCL: Is 42:1-9
  Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 or
Ps 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
  Acts 10:34-38 or
Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7
RCL: Acts 10:34-43
  Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

Baptism: gift and mission

White_gold_banner_sm The Baptism of the Lord concludes the Christmas season’s celebrations: the Incarnation and God-with-us (Christmas), the revelation Jesus as son and savior (Epiphany), and the start of Jesus’ saving mission (Baptism). Today’s feast invites the believing community to reflect on God’s promises and fulfillments made present in God’s saving gift of Jesus.

The first reading can be either of the following:

  • Isaiah’s first Servant song (Is 42) describes a son/servant on whom God “put his spirit,” and the Servant’s mission of service to “the nations,” “the blind,” and to “prisoners.” Christian hearers understand Jesus as Isaiah’s prophesied Servant who fulfills the Servant’s mission by his life and transformative death.
  • Isaiah (Is 40) foretells the Jewish exiles’ liberation and return from Babylon. Christian hearers understand Isaiah’s prophecy as describing the messianic age that Jesus’ baptism inaugurates.

The second reading can be either of the following:

  • Peter’s kerygmatic speech from Acts traces Jesus’ mission, “beginning with his baptism,” how “God anointed him with the holy Spirit” and he did “good works and healing.” This passage is the only reference to Jesus’ baptism outside the gospels, and emphasizes that Jesus’ baptism was the start of his ministry.
  • The letter to Titus reminds the believing community that we are “saved through the bath of rebirth” and the “Holy Spirit’s renewal.” The “bath of regeneration” is a late first century term for baptism, which captures the idea of the messiah renewing the entire world through his coming.

Luke’s gospel describes Jesus’ baptism. Luke announces several theological themes that carry through both his writings (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles):

  • The Baptizer. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke downplays John the Baptizer’s role in Jesus’ baptism. Instead, he tells us about John’s imprisonment by Herod, and skips John’s role in Jesus’ baptism. Theologically, Luke places the Baptizer as the last of the Hebrew prophets, rather than as the start of Jesus’ ministry. The Baptizer belongs to the time of promise and prophecy; Jesus’ baptism marks the messianic age of prophecies fulfilled.
  • The Theophany. A theophany is a manifestation of God. Luke presents the Three-in-One using Hebrew scripture symbols. Luke describes the Father as “a voice from heaven;” the Israelites heard God’s voice at Sinai/Horeb (Dt 4:12). The voice identifies Jesus as “my beloved son;” Luke’s hearers already know Jesus is God’s son (Lk 1:32) and messiah (Lk 2:11). Luke identifies the Spirit “descending in the physical form of a dove,” suggesting God’s spirit hovering over the world (Gn 1:2).
  • Fulfillment of prophecies. For Luke, all Hebrew scripture prophecies, especially those from Isaiah, point toward Jesus and his mission. God’s voice announcing “with you I am well-pleased” fulfills the work of Isaiah’s Servant (Is 42:1; today’s first reading). The Spirit’s presence over Jesus fulfills other promises by Isaiah (Is 11:2, Is 42:1, Is 61:1). Luke also points out fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies in Acts 10:38 (see Peter’s kerygmatic speech in today’s second reading).

As the Christmas season ends, the readings ask the believing community to recall God’s initiative in bringing the gift of salvation to us. We had nothing to do with God’s gift: God didn’t owe it to us; we didn’t earn it. God places the gift before us. Do we understand its value? Do we respond with indifference, or with faith and discipleship?

—Terence Sherlock

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30 December 2018: Feast of the Holy Family

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or
1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
RCL: 1 Sm 2: 18-21
  Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5   Col 3:12-21 or
1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24
RCL: Col 3: 12-17
  Lk 2:41-52

 

Families: seeking and finding

White_gold_banner_sm On the first Sunday after Christmas the believing community celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. Today’s readings ask us to consider how real human families meet the challenges of everyday life.

The first reading from the writings of Sirach is a wisdom commentary on the fourth commandment to “honor (obey) parents.” Sirach describes family life’s roles and responsibilities, especially of children toward parents. He suggests that honoring parents morally atones for one’s own failings. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to contrast with Jesus’ obedience in today’s gospel.

The second reading from the letter to the ekklesia at Colossae is also about family life. The author lists qualities that should be part of every Christian community, including the Christian family: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other, and forgiving each other. “Putting on” these particular virtues and “taking off” vices suggest the Christian baptismal rite. That is, the elect puts off his old clothes, is baptized, and puts on a white garment, symbolizing his new life. Many scripture scholars believe this material is from an early Christian catechism.

Luke’s gospel concludes his infancy narratives, ending as they started in the Jerusalem temple. Luke presents a compelling story about a lost child, parental heartache, a frantic search, the found adolescent’s distancing reply, and general misunderstandings.

  • The anxious parents. How did Mary and Joseph lose track of Jesus? In Middle Eastern culture, a boy of Jesus’ age would be transitioning from childhood (staying within the private household world of women) to manhood (entering the public world of men). In caravans, men travelled with men, and women and children travelled with women. Jesus could have been part of either group; Mary (with the women) and Joseph (with the men) each assumed Jesus was with the other group. Luke is clear that Mary and Joseph aren’t neglectful parents; that Jesus himself chose to remain in Jerusalem (Lk 2:43).
  • The self-aware adolescent. The first words Jesus speaks in Luke’s gospel are “Why were you seeking me?” The question foreshadows one of Luke’s major themes: if people understood the meaning of events (such as Jesus’ presentation) or words (Jesus’ passion predictions), they would not have to “seek” Jesus. They would know where to find him. As an explanation, Jesus says to his parents, “Didn’t you know it was necessary for me to be about my Father’s things?” Luke suggests that Mary and Joseph should have known what Jesus had to do. The Greek verb δεῖ (DYE) indicates divine necessity, in this case Jesus’ need to fulfill the Father’s divine plan. Who can’t identify with an adolescent’s tension between the respect owed to parents and the impulse of a higher calling?
  • The obedient son. The Greek verb ὑποτάσσω (hoo-poh-TAHS-soh) means “to obey” or “to subject oneself (to someone).” Luke uses this verb in its imperfect tense, indicating Jesus’ obedience was ongoing: “he remained obedient.” Luke suggests that Jesus is obedient not only to Mary and Joseph, but also to his heavenly Father.

Today’s readings identify the family as the place in which all members grow to physical, mental, and spiritual maturity. Sirach, the author of Colossians, and Luke each describe the virtues and attitudes parents and children need to grow together as a family community. As sons and daughters, do we seek to know and to understand our parents’ daily needs and worries? As fathers and mothers, do we hear and honor our children’s hopes and anxieties?

—Terence Sherlock

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25 December 2018: Christmas: Mass at dawn

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 62: 11-12
RCL: Is 62: 6-12
  Ps 97: 1, 6, 11-12   Ti 3: 4-7   Lk 2: 15-20

Liturgical note: Christmas readings
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 the Christmas mass at dawn.
You can find the other Christmas readings on this blog.

 

Incarnation: the message and the sign

White_gold_banner_sm On the feast of Christmas, the believing community celebrates the incarnation, and the readings invite us to reflect on the meaning of the mystery.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah proclaims “your savior has come!” For Jewish hearers, this passage recalls how God’s mighty acts delivered the exiles for Babylon. For Christians, this passage foretells Jesus’ incarnation and his redemptive death and resurrection.

The second reading is from the letter to Titus. The author identifies the incarnation (“the kind and generous love of God”) as the starting point of redemption. Through baptism (“the bath of regeneration”), we receive the gifts of grace (“mercy”) and divine adoption (“heirs of eternal life”).

The gospel completes Luke’s nativity story, begun at Midnight Mass: the shepherds, having heard the angel’s message about the messiah’s birth, travel to Bethlehem to see the angel’s sign revealed in Jesus.

  • The message and sign. Luke’s angel announces to shepherds in the fields that the “messiah and Lord” is born (Lk 2:11). Luke contrasts God’s glorious messenger with the working shepherds, who are anawim (“the Lord’s poor”). The shepherds “go in haste” to Bethlehem because the angel also gave them a sign (Lk 2:12): “a swaddled child lying in a manger.” To poor shepherds, a newborn was a common sight, but a newborn in a feeding trough was unusual. Only poor and displaced parents would need such a makeshift crib.
  • The sign’s fulfillment and impact. In Bethlehem the shepherds find the child “lying in the manger,” fulfilling the angel’s sign. The shepherd’s encounter with the also-poor Sign (the newborn in a feeding trough) compels them to tell everyone the angel’s message and the sign they had seen. Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ incarnation is a public and cosmic event.

Luke draws strong opposing images of Jesus’ birth. He places the Roman empire’s absolute power against the occupied people who are powerless to object to the census. He contrasts the angel’s and heavenly host’s glory with Mary and Joseph’s indigence and the shepherds’ poverty.

The Christmas mystery we celebrate is not how God became human, but why God would want to take on the weaknesses of a created human at all. Luke’s message is that God’s love and fidelity is worked out in human events, even when appearances seem to deny God’s very presence. Like Mary, the believing community must “turn over these words and events in our hearts” repeatedly to understand what incarnation really means. Do we hear and see God’s mighty act? Do we celebrate the message and mystery of God-made-human, or only the sign and sentimentality of the makeshift crib?

—Terence Sherlock

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23 December 2018: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Mi 5:1-4a   Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19   Heb 10:5-10   Lk 1:39-45
RCL: Lk 1:39-45 [46-55]

The fulfillment of all things

Purple_banner_sm On the fourth and final Advent Sunday, the prophecy-and-fulfillment readings prepare the believing community to greet God-made-flesh.

The first reading is from the prophet Micah. Like Zephaniah last week, Micah has only one reading in the Lectionary cycle. Micah foretells that God will bring salvation through a messiah, or “anointed one,” from David’s line. Bethlehem-Ephrathah is David’s home town and the promised birthplace of the messiah. Micah’s writings capture the hope of a restored Davidic monarchy after the Babylonian exile. Christians hear Micah’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’ coming.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews. Using Hebrew scripture’s Psalm 40 as prophecy, the author explains how Christ “came into the world” to offer himself (“a body you prepared for me”) as a transformative sacrifice. That is, Jesus’ incarnation was necessary to accomplish salvation: Jesus’ human body is the vehicle through which he expressed perfect obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus fulfilled the psalm’s promises through his incarnation.

Luke’s gospel tells the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, in which many promises are fulfilled, and new prophecies are spoken. This passage is filled with Semitisms that imitate the sound and rhythm of Hebrew scripture.

  • Leaping for joy. John the Baptist “leaping” in Elizabeth’s womb fulfills the angel’s promise to Zechariah that his son “will be filled with the Spirit, even in his mother’s womb” (Lk 1 15). That is, the Spirit inspires John to recognize Jesus as the messiah.
  • Mary, Jesus, and disciples. Just as the Spirit fills and inspires John, the Spirit also fills and inspires Elizabeth.
    • Elizabeth says Mary is “blessed.” Elizabeth uses the same “blessed” word that Hebrew scripture uses to describe the Jewish heroines Jael (Judg 5:24) and Judith (Jud 13:18). Like Mary, Jael and Judith were commissioned by God to help Israel. Elizabeth foretells Mary’s special role in God’s saving plan.
    • Elizabeth reveals that Mary is pregnant with God’s son (“the mother of my Lord”), fulfilling Gabriel’s promise to Mary in Lk 1:32.
    • Elizabeth “blesses” Mary’s faith (“you who believed”) as a disciple. Luke, using the same word that introduces the beatitudes (Lk 6:20-22), foretells this blessing for Mary and for all future disciples who believe what the Lord speaks.

Like Advent itself, today’s readings look back to the prophecies and promises of a messiah and look forward to Jesus’ coming in history. John’s words of preparation and metanoia (change of mind/heart) continue to echo throughout the liturgical year. Our discipleship work of turning away from self and turning towards God is never complete. In the final days of Advent, the readings remind us of what God has fulfilled and what remains to be done. What is the Spirit inspiring us to recognize? What is our prophetic mission? What blessings fulfill our future?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 December 2018: Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Zep 3:14-18a
RCL: Zep 3:14-20
  Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6   Phil 4:4-7   Lk 3:10-18
RCL: Lk 3:7-18


Liturgical note: Gaudete Sunday
The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. The Latin verb gaudete (gow-DAY-tay), which means “rejoice,” comes from the entrance antiphon for the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always: again I-say, Rejoice!

The liturgical color for Advent is purple, a color that reminds us of our need for conversion and change. Gaudete Sunday’s liturgical color is rose, a color that represents joy during this season of waiting.

Gaudete! Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Rose_banner_sm During the Advent season the Lectionary readings present prophecies and exhortations about the Lord’s coming. This week’s readings ask the believing community to once again prepare the way for Jesus’ incarnation.

The first reading from the prophet Zephaniah is the only time Zephaniah appears in the Lectionary reading cycle. The reading describes Israel’s restoration: after God’s judgement against the nations and Israel, God will again be present (“in your midst”) with God’s people. Christian hearers understand “God is in your midst” as referring to Jesus’ incarnation.

The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippi ekklesia continues last week’s teachings. Paul’s exhortation is about the parousia, but his words are also appropriate for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. He calls the Philippians to “rejoice” because “the Lord is near.” They should not be “anxious” about Jesus’ coming; rather, they should continue living as Paul taught them, in “kindness,” in “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” The Philippians, knowing they live righteously, should be filled with God’s peace. In the same way, as the believing community prepares for the incarnation celebration through metanoia, we should be filled with God’s peace.

Luke’s gospel continues from last week. John the Baptizer gives specific instructions about metanoia (change of mind/heart) and describes the coming anointed one (messiah).

  • “What should we do?” The Baptizer’s injunctions restate the Hebrew prophets’ definition of true religion: justice and charity proved by actions.
    • To the crowds, the Baptizer says, “Share what you have with those in need.” In the first century, a tunic or coat was not just clothing, but also shelter and a bed. Only a wealthy person owned more than two tunics, but John implies that even those who owned two tunics needed only one. From everyone the Baptizer demands metanoia proved by radical charity.
    • To tax collectors, the Baptizer says, “Collect only your assigned share.” Tax collectors were universally hated, especially in Judea by religiously committed Jews, who viewed them as collaborators and sinners. The empire assessed taxes and regional tax-gatherers hired local agents to collect local taxes. If a local agent collected more than his assessed goal, he kept the difference. From those with financial authority, the Baptizer demands metanoia proved by justice.
    • To soldiers, the Baptizer says, “Don’t extort, don’t blackmail; be satisfied with your pay.” In Jesus’ time, Rome did not have a legion permanently stationed in Palestine. These “soldiers” were probably Judean men serving as Herod Antipas’ military police. The Jewish people saw these soldiers as the most visible form of foreign occupation and influence. The soldiers’ position of power allowed them to shake down citizens and extort bribes to supplement their pay. For those with temporal authority, the Baptizer demands metanoia proved by charity and justice.
  • A coming greater one. Like many Jews of the first century, the Baptizer may have expected a messiah who would be a powerful political or military leader. In any case, he understands that the messiah will come to judge everyone. His extended image of winnowing (separating the wheat and chaff), saving the wheat in barns, and burning the chaff in “unextinguishable fire” underlines his urgent call to metanoia.

The Gaudete Sunday readings call the believing community to continued preparation and metanoia, with a sense of joy: The Lord is near. Jesus has come in history and saved us. But as Paul and the Baptizer suggest, we still have work to do. Are we generous with those in need? Do we treat everyone fairly and honestly? Do we temper our authority with kindness and justice? Only then is our joy complete.

—Terence Sherlock

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9 December 2018: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Bar 5:1-9
RCL: Mal 3:1-14
  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6   Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
RCL: Phil 1:3-11
  Lk 3:1-6

Advent preparations: turning minds and hearts, clearing the road

Purple_banner_sm During the Advent season the Lectionary readings present prophecies and exhortations about the Lord’s coming. This week’s readings ask the believing community to once again prepare the way for Jesus’ incarnation.

The first reading is from the prophet Baruch, a scribe and companion of Jeremiah. Baruch lived in the sixth century BC, but scripture scholars assign this work to an unknown author writing in the first or second century BC, hundreds of years after the exiles had returned. Writing as Baruch, the author addresses Jews in the Diaspora (those living outside the Jewish homeland) to give them hope and consolation. The author suggests a parallel between the Babylonian exiles and those living in the Diaspora. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it echoes part of Isaiah’s preparation prophecy quoted in today’s gospel.

The second reading includes Paul’s greetings and prayers for the ekklesia in Philippi. He greets the Philippians as friends and “partners in the gospel,” and prays that their love may increase in “real knowledge and discernment” so as to be “pure and blameless” at Christ’s coming (parousia). The Lectionary editors chose this reading to emphasize preparing for Jesus’ coming, whether as a historical remembrance at Christmas or at his second coming.

Luke’s gospel reintroduces John the Baptizer, prophet and precursor. John warns the Jewish people to prepare for the messiah’s coming. Next week, we will hear John’s specific instructions; this week, we listen to his call to conversion or metanoia. Today’s gospel places the Baptizer in his historical and religious context.

  • John’s identity. Luke has already introduced John the Baptizer as a prophet in Lk 1. Today’s reading describes the Baptizer’s prophetic call (“the word of God came to John”) using the words and symbols of Hebrew scripture. Luke extends Mark’s version of Isaiah’s quotation by adding “all flesh shall see God’s salvation.” This allows Luke to emphasize the universality of salvation, a theme he announced in Simeon’s prophecy (Lk 2:30-32). For Luke, the Baptizer is Jesus’ precursor (Lk 7:27), a transitional figure inaugurating the time of fulfillment of prophecy and promise.
  • John’s message. John proclaims a conversion-baptism that frees participants from sin (Lk 3:3). All Jews practiced forms of ritual washing, such as before eating and before entering the Temple. John connects his one-time ritual immersion with the requirement of metanoia (change of heart/mind). That is, John’s ritual washing frees a person from sin only if that person changes: turns away (converts) from sin and does good. John’s baptism prepares people spiritually and morally to encounter the coming messiah’s message.

Last week’s readings looked forward to Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings focus on Jesus’ first coming, in his incarnation. Baruch, Paul, and the gospel describe the believing community’s need to prepare for this coming. What are we changing in our hearts and minds to get ready? Are we surveying our personal valleys for spiritual or moral deficiencies? Are we leveling our interior mountains of pride or exclusion? Are we making our path to discipleship clearer and straighter?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 December 2018: First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Jer 33:14-16   Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14   1 Thes 3:12-4:2
RCL: 1 Thes 3: 9-13
  Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
RCL: Lk 21:25-36

Advent: past, present, and future comings

Purple_banner_smThe First Sunday of Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year: the liturgical color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple, and the Sunday gospel readings change from Mark to Luke. Adventio, a Latin verb meaning “I am coming,” is the root of the English word advent. Advent’s unfolding liturgical narrative and rituals encourage the believing community to look back to Jesus’ historical incarnation, to look forward to Jesus’ parousia, and to look at our readiness now as disciples.

In the first reading, Jeremiah tells the people of Judah, oppressed by the Babylonians, that God will send a descendant of David to rule righteously (“do what is right and just”). This promise was not fulfilled during the Jews’ extended seventy-year Babylonian exile. Later Judaism interpreted the exiles’ return and Jerusalem’s restoration as the promise’s fulfillment. For Christian hearers, God’s saving act is the coming of Jesus. The Lectionary editors chose this reading in Advent because Jeremiah’s “just shoot” from David’s line foretells Jesus’ coming.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the ekklesia at Thessalonica. This letter is the oldest preserved Christian document, written in 50 or 51 AD. The reading opens with one of Paul’s key themes: love (“abound in love for one another and all”). He references Jesus’ second coming or parousia, urging the Thessalonians to remain “blameless … before God” in anticipation of Jesus’ return. As Paul has instructed them, they should follow Jesus’ way of life. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Paul’s messages of preparation and Jesus’ coming match Advent’s themes.

The gospel is Luke’s version of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. Inspired by Mark’s “little apocalypse” (Mk 13), Luke modifies the message for his hearers: a gentile (non-Jewish) believing community facing a delayed parousia. Luke emphasizes universality and faithfulness:

  • The whole world. The “day of the Lord” foretold by Daniel, Isaiah, and other prophets affects not only Jews and Jewish Christians, but the whole world. When Luke writes, “on earth nations will be distressed,” he uses the Greek word ἔθνος (EHTH-nohs), which means “nations,” “peoples,” or “gentiles.” In the same way, when he describes “what is coming upon the world,” Luke uses a word that means “the whole inhabited earth.” Luke’s point: Jesus’ coming affects everyone everywhere.
  • Remaining faithful. Jesus cautions his hearers to “be alert” and to “be vigilant” at all times. No one knows when the Son of Man will return. Luke stresses that Jesus’ coming will surprise many, but those who wait and remain faithful have nothing to fear.

Like Luke’s believing community, we live in the time between Jesus’ incarnation (Jesus’ first coming) and Jesus’ parousia (Jesus’ second coming). The readings warn us to stay alert and pray continuously as we wait in the present, remaining faithful to Jesus’ teachings. Disciples who are faithful, who continue to witness, and who remain alert in prayer will rejoice at Jesus’ coming. Advent, a season dedicated to watchful waiting, can be diluted or drowned out by commercialism. Advent’s stillness and reflection should bring a sense peace, but the pre-Christmas season often creates dismay and anxiety. Shopping, wrapping, and giving gifts are rituals that anticipate joy and gratitude at Jesus’ coming. For whom or what are we preparing? Whom or what are we awaiting?

—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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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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