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Gospel Reflection for October 26, 2014, 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

21 Oct

“Teacher, which commandment is greatest?”  

Matthew 22.36

Gospel love is not an idea or an emotion but an imperative–a call to act.  The two great commandments–to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves–recognize that acts of love weave us into community, just as selfish and violent acts fray the social fabric.  The commandments are more than rules to keep and thereby gain heaven.  The actions to which they call us are the hammer and nails of Christians community.”

Who that you once treated as an alien or no-good have you treated as a neighbor?  With what result?

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Recover Your Life

17 Oct
via Flckr user Ali Catterall

via Flickr user Ali Catterall

What do I need to do to make it to heaven?

How do I be first?

I want one of my sons to sit on your right and one on your left in the kingdom of heaven.

Who is the greatest among us?

I’ve done all that, what am I missing?

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, the people just don’t quite get it. Frantically, they try to identify the hoops they need to jump through to assure their salvation. They want assurance. They want homework to check off. Heaven will be their gold star. Jesus keeps presenting tricky, paradoxical parables where things aren’t fair. Workers get the same wages without working the same amount as the others. It’s maddening. Jesus doesn’t answer our questions with what we want to hear.

I can’t blame these people in Matthew in the slightest, for I have similar instincts daily. We are all striving for the good life, now and later, and we can forget that God uses power, rewards, forgiveness and love differently than humans. It’s not about working harder and getting more gold stars on our chart. It’s not about being first in this world and checking to make sure God is watching. It’s frustrating because a lot of us kid ourselves into thinking we are pretty good at that game. But then, if we can sit in God’s love for just a second, we hear the good news:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30

These verses are my learning edge. No one has ever had to tell me to work harder. Ever. I’m a prime candidate to perpetually fall into the spin cycle of work and life. I get frantic. And when I catch myself in franticness, I also know I am in a space of proving myself, of not feeling enough. It’s exhausting, this striving. My work is to stop working so hard from that place and feel the tempo of grace. It’s not a tempo that comes from laziness. It’s a tempo that comes from a deep place of peace, worthiness, and love. It’s recognizing the ill-fitting and learning to walk freely and lightly with Christ. I don’t have to walk on my knees for miles to prove that I am good. I just have to believe that God loves me and work joyfully from that place of peace.

I’m tired and worn out, and I know it is time to recover my life, to find real rest, and to once again attempt to learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

World Food Day

16 Oct

“For I was hungry and you gave me food.” - Matthew 25.35

Today is World Food Day. World farmers produce enough food for Earth’s more than six billion people, but nearly 870 million people struggle to survive on less than a $1.25 a day with little access to Earth’s abundance.

Contact Bread for the World or worldfoodday.org to involve your Christian community in the advocacy efforts on behalf of policies to end hunger.

Gospel Reflection for October 19, 2014, 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

15 Oct

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

Matthew 22.20

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus confronts a worldview about who images God–Caesar or the human person.  Jesus insists we cannot keep separate our obligations to God and those to government.  God blesses and calls us to integrate the spheres of our lives and image the One who made us.

Christians image God by helping people who are poor, caring for the abused and sick, visiting the imprisoned, grieving with those who mourn, and listening attentively to those who ache.  Our advocacy for just and compassionate government policies toward the poor, toward health care, education, and immigration are examples of how we carry the image of God into the civil sphere.

How do you see God imaged in yourself?

Sunday Scripture Readings: Isaiah 45.1,4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1.1-5; Matthew 22.15-21

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Gospel Reflection for October 12, 2014, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

8 Oct

“I have prepared my banquet…everything is ready. Come to the feast.”

Matthew 22.4

Christians today don’t catch on readily to Matthew’s allegory. For first-century Jews, both Christian Jews and rabbinic Jews, the Jewish-Roman war that destroyed the temple was a watershed event. Until then, rabbinic Jews who studied the Torah in synagogues and Christian Jews who broke bread in Jesus’ name in house churches came together for temple feasts. With the temple gone, differences between the two groups sharpened. The community for whom Matthew writes lives in the midst of this conflict.

Over the centuries Christians have wrongly seen in Matthew’s allegory reason to persecute Jewish people. Matthew connects the parable to events in his time. The parable will say more to us today without these details. The parable is first and foremost the story of a man who prepares a great feast and wants others to share it.

What do you do with abundant leftovers?

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Gospel Reflection for October 5, 2014, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Oct

“The kingdom of God…will be given to people that produce its fruits.”

Matthew 21.43

We humans are like all tenants of Earth and like those in Sunday’s parable.  Our basest instincts are to draw everything to ourselves, the “owner” be damned.  God has given us a precious vineyard/planet/home, teeming with life and extraordinary resources, but we have fouled our nest, mistaking God’s gifts for our possessions.  Our greed has put our precious planet in grave danger.

If there is hope for us, it is in Jesus’ message write large across his life and death: whatever happens, love will not leave.

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Gospel Reflection for September 28, 2014, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

22 Sep

“Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” 

Matthew 21.31

Like all parables, Jesus’ parable of the father with two children invites hearers to judge themselves in making a judgement about the parable. The chief priests and elders see the first child as the one who does what the father (God in disguise) wants. This is the son who refuses to work in the vineyard but regrets his refusal and goes to work.

The leaders value the first child who actually works in the vineyard. In this way Jesus calls Israel’s leaders to do the same, to do God’s work in the temple that he has just cleansed of commerce. The leaders indict themselves for not leading people to God and for not tending to the blind and lame who sit in the temple courts.

Which son are you most like – I won’t but I do or I will but I don’t?

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Gospel Reflection for September 21, 2014, 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

15 Sep

“These workers last hired have worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

 Matthew 20.12

When the 11th-hour workers get a full day’s wage, the owner of the vineyard reorients the parable.  It is no longer about the wages workers deserve but about the owner’s generosity and a Christian social order.  The vineyard owner has a unique pay scale that shows a preferential option for the last, the poorest of the workers.  The social order of the vineyard is like a circle, in which no one has a place of privilege.

How is the owner like God?

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Fierce Love

12 Sep
via flickr user Neal

via flickr user Neal

I have a child growing in my womb who will take on the last name of my husband, which is Ruth. When we first met, he joking tried to woo me by telling me that all of his names were Biblical: Daniel Paul Ruth. I love the book of Ruth and have been looking at it with fresh eyes lately.

But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years,  both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back home. Orpah left. But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—  there will I be buried…  So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

The book of Ruth started circulating around the time of Ezra when there was some ethnic cleansing going on. The story served as a warning of sorts, a gentle corrective and reminder that limiting family and focusing on purity does not seem to end well for humanity. Fast forward to the genealogy of Jesus, where the four women who are listed are all considered outsiders. This speaks volumes about God’s idea of family.

Ruth shows Naomi her fierce love. It’s a stubborn love, a love that won’t be let off the hook easily. I try to channel Ruth’s fierce love in my own family, a love that won’t let go. A few years ago, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked if I could drop her off at the hospital for her surgery. As I pulled into the parking ramp, I realized her request was literal.

“Just drop me off here,” she said.

“No, mom. Are you kidding? I’m coming to sit with you. You are not going through this alone.”

She pushed, not wanting to inconvenience me. Like Naomi. From my vantage, her permission to leave was ridiculous. I wasn’t going anywhere. In the end, she thanked me for sitting with her, but I didn’t need her gratitude. That’s just what family does. When my sister had her third child, when my brother had a bout of depression, when another brother gets married in a few months — when times of great joy or great sorrow arise, we have an opportunity to rush in and offer a fierce love like Ruth’s. We can offer a gift of presence and accompaniment. That fierce love may be highlighted in big moments, but it can be nurtured and grown in the ordinary nature of day to day family life.

Who is the most fierce lover in your family? Most of us have an extended relation who is the source of some of the best stories that are shared every time the family comes together, the stories that tell how of your family got to be where it is today. We tell those stories because they help us understand who we are and where we are going. So it is with God’s family, and the biblical story.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for September 14, 2014, Exaltation of the Holy Cross

8 Sep

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3.14

 Sunday’s gospel refers to Jesus’ crucifixion as a “lifting up.”  Being lifted up condenses within a single verb the whole paschal mystery—Jesus’ crucifixion and death, his resurrection and return to God.  Ironically, the lifting up to put Jesus to death has the opposite effect; it lifts him and us to new life—to life with God.

Jesus saves us by showing us how to love one another.  We can listen to one another’s stories, share one another’s hurts, and lift one another’s spirits. Christians believe new life is possible.  Easter happens many times a day in our listening, laughing, forgiving, sharing together.  The risen Jesus lives and saves us in our love for one another.

How do you continue the love of God and God’s Son for the world?

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