Tuesday, June 25, 2013

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62

Our first reading from the 1st book of Kings has the great prophet Elijah choosing his successor, Elisha.  The scene in our reading is fairly straightforward (which I will discuss in a moment…), but the context of how we got here and where we are going in the narrative also play an intriguing roll, because for at the moment, Elijah is on the run.  Through Elijah the Lord has brought the great drought to an end, and King Ahab and the people rejoiced in the Lord, while slaughtered all the prophets of Baal (one of the great Canaanite gods) in the process.  This infuriated Jezebel (Ahab’s Canaanite wife and queen), who ordered that Elijah should die.  Fearing for his life, Elijah flees to Mount Horab (in the Sinai… some 150 miles south of Jerusalem… yes, that same mountain where Moses was given the 10 Commandments… and don’t for a moment think this is a coincidence…).  During his time on the mountain, which the narrative tells us was (surprise) a 40 day journey, the Lord tells Elijah to, among other things, find Elisha and anoint him as a successor (it would seem the Lord is also concerned about Elijah’s life).  This takes us to the moment in our first reading, where Elijah finds and commissions Elisha.

Forgetting for the moment what Elijah was fleeing from, and where he was headed toward, this commissioning of Elisha is meant to show us what it means to follow a great prophet.  The commissioning is quite simple… he places his cloak on him, whereupon Elisha, knowing what this means, wishes to take a moment to bid his family farewell.  Elisha knows his life is about to be dramatically different… like a Baptism, dying to our old self so we can rise as our new self… a new creation.  To stress the point of this transformation, we have Elisha slaughtering the oxen and instruments he was using to plow the fields.  The fact that he was using 12 oxen indicates he had substantial wealth… for normally a field would be plowed with only one or two oxen.  The act of slaughtering the oxen, though seemingly wasteful to our modern eyes, signifies the extent to which he is giving up his former life to take up following the prophet.  And Elisha appears to do this with little hesitation, signifying his willingness to follow.

Complementing this is our Gospel form Luke, whereupon Jesus and his followers are having a difficult time finding a place to stay.  The Samaritans don’t want to take him in because they know he’s Jewish.  As Jesus laments that they have no place to stay, still others are coming to him wishing to follow.  These new would be followers, however, ask Jesus if they can effectively get their affairs in order first before they join the caravan, whereupon Jesus basically tells them that there’s no room for those who need to look back.

To our modern ears, this behavior sounds a little harsh.  After all, it doesn’t seem like they’re asking for much in return for leaving everything behind, but Jesus is trying to make a point… and that point is perhaps better told through our second reading from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, where he tells us that our call to Christ sets us free.

Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, is trying to teach us that in order to follow him, you need to leave your “baggage” behind.  No matter how burdensome or light that may be, we need to let it go.  Now.  What does that do for us?  Paul tells us… it frees us!  And through that freedom we can now focus on what is really important, “to serve one another through love.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

On this 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, our readings focus on what we call the “cost of discipleship”.  It is a reminder that when we choose to become Christian, a follow of Jesus, we also take up his Cross.

The Word for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1
        Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
        Galatians 3:26-29
        Luke 9:18-24

Our first reading is from the prophet Zechariah.  In this reading the prophet has God pouring out a “sprit of grace” on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as they mourn the loose of that “whom they have pierced.”  What exactly is going on here?  Reading this through a Christian prism, we readily recognize the pierced one as Jesus… the one whom we “pierced.”  We must take the blame for his crucifixion, mourning the loss as one “grieves over a firstborn.”  Yet the prophet continues to tell us that God’s mercy is still at our call, “a fountain to purify from sin…” through Jesus.

So while the outward message is pretty clear (we grieve the loss of this chosen one, but from this God forgives us), but the exegesis of this reading is somewhat challenging.  With the reminder of “the house of David”, we readily think of last week’s reading where God (eventually) forgives David of the sin of getting Uriah killed by the Ammonites (and the rest of the Bathsheba affair).  David life is generally dated from 1040 to 970 BCE, but the prophet Zechariah comes from post-exile Jerusalem which dates almost 500 years later.  So what’s really going on here?  With the Israelites freshly returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile, Zechariah sees the people falling away from God, and back into their sinful ways that caused them to be exiled in the first place.  This reading, taken from his Oracles concerning the nation of Judah, Zechariah is reminding us this will lead to great mourning, but still, God will grant his mercy (the same mercy he showed David) if they change their ways and return to the Lord.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Here Paul reminds us that once we are baptized into Christ, we cease to be who we were, and become part of the Body of Christ.  Who we were is now inconsequential, for now, through Christ, we are all descendents of Abraham and heirs to that covenant.

Our gospel from Luke begins with Jesus alone with his disciples.  He takes the opportunity to query them about the crowds and who they think he is.  After an assortment of answers, Jesus then asked the disciples directly, who they think he is.  It is here that Peter speaks up and attests that Jesus is the Christ, whereupon Jesus immediately enjoins them to stay silent on this point.  Why would he want to have them keep quiet about this?  Isn’t this the whole point of his mission?  Jesus doesn’t want this to get out because he fears for the lives of his Apostles.  Jesus knows that he’s going to be persecuted and killed, and telling them just so.  Further, just as he knows he’s going to suffer and die, that same fate, he tells them, will also befall his followers.

Living openly as a Christian may not be as dangerous as it was in the 1st century, but even in 21st century America Christians are routinely ridiculed and mis-understood, and Catholics are regular targets for hate-speech in a variety of public forums.  Living a life of loving God and loving our neighbors sounds like it should be simple… yet even contemporary society tends to reject this ideal.  Society tells us that we should be selfish.  “What’s in it for me,” is the common question.  Jesus, however, teaches us to be selfless.  Instead of asking “what’s in it for me?” we should be asking “what can I do for you?”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

This week our theme is forgiveness, which we Catholics embrace as the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We open with a reading from the 2nd book of Samuel, in which we see King David, after having sinned against God, begs his forgiveness, which God eventually grants.  In our Gospel from Luke, we see Jesus dining with Simon, a Pharisee.  A sinful woman in the town, upon knowing where Jesus is dining, enters the gathering and anoints Jesus’ feet.  As usual, Jesus turns this into a catechetical moment, helping us to see the nature of sin and forgiveness, but that our faith in Jesus helps us attain salvation.

The Word for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
        2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
        Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11
        Galatians 2:16, 19-21
        Luke 7:36-8:3

This idea of "faith in Jesus" as the one necessary element for justification is also explored in our 2nd reading from continuing journey through Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Here Paul tells us that following the Law is not enough.. that this alone does not justify us.  Instead it is faith in Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ, that gives us justification.  For as Paul writes, “… for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”  This is one of the readings that help to fuel our constant debate of whether it is “faith” or “good works” that lead us to salvation.  As is typical of that dual nature of our Catholic sensibilities, it’s not either/or… it’s both/and.

You may also want to check out these supplemental readings;
Catholic Update

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2013

This week, however, marks our official return to Ordinary time.  With Easter and our other special celebrations behind us, the Church settles in to “business as usual”, just counting the Sundays from now to the end of the Liturgical Year (with a few celebrations thrown in).  But just as each of the Church Seasons has its special focus, so does Ordinary Time.  Summer is a time for slowing down and reflecting on our past academic year, and later, preparing for the Fall and the future when the pace of our lives speed up in preparation for Winter.  Similarly, the Church slows down to reflect on the life and mission of Jesus and his Apostles, walking with them through their travels, to focus more deeply on his teachings, and eventually preparing ourselves for the Advent that is to come.

The Word for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
       1 Kings 17:17-24
       Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
       Galatians 1:11-19
       Luke 7:11-17

Our readings this Sunday focus on Resurrection… Life from death.  We all remember the Resurrection of Easter Sunday, but in the joy of that moment we may not have embraced its deeper meaning.  Resurrection is one of those themes that runs like a thread through scripture.  Our first reading from 1st Kings has Elijah bringing back the son of Zarephath (the widow he is lodging with).  This is not the only resurrection story in the Hebrew scriptures.  Our Psalm, though not a direct reference to resurrection, reminds us that it is the Lord who rescues us… rescues us from the nether world, turns our mourning into dancing.  As we continue our journey through the Gospel of Luke, we have a story of Jesus entering the city of Nain, a small city in lower Galilee (60 miles north of Jerusalem, and 5 miles southeast of Nazareth).  Here Jesus comes upon a funeral party exiting the city, as a widow is about to bury her only son.  Taking pity, Jesus raises her son.  What does the Resurrection mean to you?  Is it important?  What does it teach us?  Do you find it hard to believe?

You may also want to check out these supplemental readings:
Catholic Update