Tuesday, January 26, 2016

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Through our Baptism we are called to be Prophets (because just like Jesus, as our baptism consecrates us as priests, prophets, and kings).  Being a prophet means speaking God’s truth, but when it comes to speaking that truth, especially to authority, we can find that our message is not always well received.  As our readings will show this week, being a prophet has its difficulties…

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Luke 4:21-30

Our first reading comes from the book of the prophet Jeremiah with the passage that describes for us his calling to become a prophet.  Jeremiah began his mission under the much revered King Josiah, but was eventually witness to the fall of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah understands the dangers that can befall a prophet, so in his calling the Lord reminds him that his foes will not prevail over him… that he has the protection of the Lord.  Our Psalm reinforces this idea of the Lord as protector as we sing “I will sing of your salvation.”  The Palm reminds us that the Lord is our refuge, our fortress and our strength.

Jeremiah’s story is actually quite typical.  For all the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, we here similar calling stories, and all of them at one point or another find themselves turning to the Lord as they are faced with all forms of disapproval.  Jesus also faced these difficulties throughout his ministry, starting right in his home town of Nazareth.

Our Gospel from Luke picks up where we left off last week… Jesus has just read from the scroll from the Prophet Isaiah, proclaiming that the prophecy has been fulfilled.  The initial reaction from the crowd is amazement, but that is quickly replaced with more questioning… as if to say, “Who does this guy think he is?”  Understand that these are the people he grew up with… they know him and his family very well.  They have also heard of the deeds he performed in Capernaum, but they want their own demonstration.  Jesus feels that they should know him and trust him, but it is precisely because they know him that they have doubts, and in fact become quite angry when he refuses to “show off” to them.  They’re about ready to toss him off a cliff, but in response Jesus just walks away.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Again, picking up from where we left off last week (with his discourse on the Body of Christ and our different spiritual gifts), Paul now explains the best way to seek the best spiritual gifts… by putting on love.  While Paul’s soliloquy on love is a favorite for weddings, our use of this reading this week is meant to bridge the divisions within this young church… by recognizing that everyone has unique gifts, that we are all from the one Spirit, and the best way to treat each other is with love.

Final Thoughts:
It is said that a prophet is never accepted in his own land.  This is proven time and again in our scriptures, and is even true for Jesus in his home town of Nazareth.  These are the people he grew up with… and as is true of all close relationships, it is hard for the people who know us best to accept that we’ve changed and grown in ways that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.  Familiarity breeds a certain bias that his hard for people to dismiss or overcome.  Our take-away is this:  Exercising our prophetic voice is difficult, even more so when we’re speaking with those who know us best.  But that is no reason to stop, because as the Lord said to Jeremiah, “I am with you to deliver you.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings this week:
“In the beginning there was the Word…”  These are the dramatic opening lines from the Gospel according to John, and though we will not be reading from John’s Gospel this Sunday, these words ring true for our readings for this 3rd Sunday of Ordinary time.  The people are in the midst of something new… a new beginning that, as our readings will show, begin with The Word…

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Our first reading is from the book of the Prophet Nehemiah.  Nehemiah, along with the priest/prophet Ezra, are the architects of the Restoration of Israel.  Their great Exile in Babylon is over, and through the grace of the Persian King Cyrus the Great, Israel is free to return to their land, to rebuild the Temple and to rebuild their lives as the people of God.  In an effort to guild them in this new beginning, Nehemiah and Ezra gather the people together and read to them the books of the Law so they know what is expected.  They’re all gathered at the Water Gate… because at that time the city of Jerusalem and the Temple remain in ruins.  As the Law is read, the people are weeping, but our prophet and all the other priests that this isn’t a time for tears, but for celebration, to rejoice in the Lord.  Why rejoice?  Our Psalm tells us, “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”  We should not look on scripture as a list of restrictions, but rather, a guide to loving God and loving one another, and celebrating the joy that can bring.

Our Gospel also uses Scripture as a way to introduce a new beginning.  And to emphasize that new beginning our Gospel from Luke starts with the books opening lines, where Luke explains how he has committed to investigate “everything accurately anew.”  From there our narrative jumps forward.  Jesus has been baptized by John, spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by Satan, and before setting out to gather his Apostles, he has returned to his home town of Nazareth.  As was his custom, he went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, and is given the scroll from the Prophet Isaiah.  After reading the passage, Jesus sits down (a little unusual given that they expect him to expound on the reading), but when pressed by those gathered, he tells them that this prophecy has been fulfilled in their hearing.  What was the people’s reaction?  Tune in next week to find out…

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Last week we heard Paul explain how everyone receives different gifts, but that they all come from the same Spirit.  To further explain, Paul gives us his profound teaching on the Body of Christ.  Here Paul summarizes the need for community through our diversity… that all parts, though different, are part of one, and feel as one.  It is this passage that cries out for unity among Christians, as God intended.

Final Thoughts:
Next Monday we begin our annual octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, and what better way to prepare for this than with Paul’s revelation on the Body of Christ.  Though there are divisions among the different Christian denominations, we spend these eight days in prayer to focus on our common Baptism with a continued commitment to ecumenical cooperation and discussions.  These prayers and lessons can also help us realize this vision of the Body of Christ within our own communities.  Even within our own parishes there is a tendency to focus on our differences.  Instead, like Nehemiah suggests, we should let “rejoicing in the Lord be our strength.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

New beginnings.  This is the promise of the New Year.  We bid farewell to the troubles of the previous year, and approach the new year in front of us fresh with enthusiasm and hope.  Our new year’s resolutions are a common expression of those new beginnings.  As we enter into Ordinary Time we appropriately focus on this idea of new beginnings with our readings for this Sunday…

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

Our first reading is from Third, or Trito-Isaiah.  Here the followers of the original prophet Isaiah foretell of a new beginning for the people of Israel.  Their Exile in Babylon is over!  Israel’s sins have been expiated and her vindication will become a beacon to all the other nations.  Where God was once someone to be feared (as in the earlier Mosaic texts), He now seems giddy with delight over his people, so much so he refers to the people as his bridegroom.  Isaiah uses the marriage covenant as a way to describe this renewed relationship between God and his people.  A new beginning where the people of God will show the world God’s glory.  This glory of the Lord is reflected in our Psalm as we sing “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.”  By turning back to the Lord, he has restored them as a nation.

Our gospel also speaks of a new beginning with the story of the wedding at Cana.  In a story unique to John’s Gospel, Jesus and his newly gathered disciples attend a wedding in Cana (another small town just a few miles north of Nazareth).  While the wedding itself is representative of a new beginning (for the couple being married), this story also marks a new beginning for Jesus… marking the beginning of his ministry with his first public miracle.  During the celebration Mary sees an opportunity for Jesus to take action when the wine begins to run out.  Though Jesus appears to be dismissive of Mary, he follows through by instructing the servers to fill the jugs with water and bring them to the head waiter.  Once they reach the head waiter, the water has become fine wine, leading his disciples to believe in him.

As we have now entered into Ordinary Time, our second reading does not necessarily correlate to our other readings.  Instead, we use this time to embark on an extended study of the Epistles, in this case, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  This week we hear a passage from chapter 12 (halfway through the letter) where Paul is explaining how we all have different gifts, but that all those gifts are from the same Spirit.  We cannot be all things to all people.  Instead, the Spirit has gifted each of us with certain talents and abilities, which in turn can be used to the service of the entire community.  For many of the new Christians in Corinth, this concept of living in “community” is a new idea… that we must learn to lean on each other in our service to the Gospel, and in turn, use those gifts in service to the community.  So in a way, it’s a new beginning for them as well.

Final Thoughts:
The Christian life is filled with new beginnings.  Our baptism is a new beginning… a rebirth into the community of the Church.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a new beginning, allowing us to put past sins behind us proceed with a fresh start.  Our readings this week also use a lot of marriage imagery.  Not only does this show us they type of relationship God is looking for with his people, but marriage itself is a new beginning for the couple embarking on their new vocation.  As we embark on this year of mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, we are reminded how we need to be a reflection of God’s great mercy here on Earth.  We need to be the facilitators of new beginnings.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord

What better way to bring Christmas to a close than with the celebration of the moment where Jesus was consecrated to his ministry… the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.  Whereas Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, Christmas is the season where prophecy and expectation are fulfilled… the Christ we have been waiting for is here!

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Our first reading, from Second Isaiah, is a prophecy of hope for the people of Israel held captive in Exile in Babylon.  To our Christian hears, however, it also sounds a lot like John the Baptist preaching the coming of the Lord!  In both its Hebrew and Christian perspective, it’s a message of hope…a prophecy of fulfillment.  Just as in the time of the Exodus, the Lord has heard the cry of his people and promises to set things right.  This is a momentous occasion, as heard by the exuberant language of the text.  The Lord will deliver us!  Our Psalm asks as both a confirmation of the Lord’s greatness and a prayer of thanksgiving.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s letter to Titus.  Titus, like Timothy, was an acolyte of Paul’s doing his best to form the large growing Christian community on the Mediterranean island of Crete.  This is a monumental task, so Paul is providing encouragement and guidance through the example of Jesus.  Paul says, “He saved us through the bath of rebirth…” Baptism, so that “we might be justified by his grace.”  Baptism is a new beginning, a new hope.

This is the new hope represented in our Gospel.  As this is the year we focus on the Gospel of Luke, we hear his version of the Baptism of Jesus by John.  John announces the coming of the Christ, and then we experience God’s affirmation of Jesus.  This is not only a moment of revelation for those who witnessed it, but it marks a turning point in Jesus’ life… the moment he accepts his mission and begins his ministry.  God’s voice not only was an affirmation to the people, but no doubt a comfort to Jesus as he takes on the task for which he was born.

Final Thoughts:
Free will.  Jesus was born to fulfill a great mission… the son of man that would reconcile the people back to God.  No small task.  Yet with such great expectations since before his birth, we sometimes forget that Jesus had a choice.  This is why our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord is so important.  For it is this moment that sets Jesus on the path that, while ultimately leading to his own death, leads us to salvation.