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Gospel Reflection for August 17, 2014, 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

12 Aug

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15.26

 

Perhaps it is the rudeness of Jesus’ words that impels Matthew to edit Mark’s earlier version of this story.  Matthew provides a reason for Jesus’ refusal to help this Gentile woman, whose daughter is tormented by a demon.  Jesus’ mission is solely “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew also makes the woman clearly a believer.  She addresses Jesus as messiah, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” Her faith is the reason Jesus frees her daughter and includes her in his mission.  Matthew makes specific that the table from which the woman seeks crumbs is the messiah or master’s table.

In Mark the woman sasses back when Jesus refuses to free her daughter of an unclean spirit and refers to her as a Gentile dog.  The woman says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  It is for saying that Jesus frees her daughter.

She counters the prejudice against her with the truth of her experience.  Unlike Jews for whom dogs were unclean, this Gentile woman has dogs as well as children at her table.  Her comeback makes space for all.

What boundaries or prejudices have you encountered and broken down?

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Gospel Reflection for August 10, 2014, 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

6 Aug

“Lord, if this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14.28

Two spiritual heroes walk with doubt and despair in Sunday’s scripture readings.  Both the apostle Peter and the prophet Elijah live and lead in unsettled times and experience questions we are asking today.  Where is God in this mess?  Where is Jesus in this cross wind?

When Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea near his boat, he puts Jesus to a test.  “If this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus says, “Come.”  Stepping into the water and the future requires faith for Peter and all who follow.  Boldly Peter steps out of the boat, outside the comfortable circle of friends and disciples.  Immediately strong head winds and great waves frighten Peter and he falters, crying out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus reaches out his hand.

Where are you in over your head?  What are you crying out about? 

Gospel Reflection for August 3, 2014, 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

31 Jul
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Matthew 13.44


As a teaching method, Jesus repeatedly explores the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to real life stories and concrete images.  A parable links the daily and familiar with the mystery of God that is beyond all knowing.  This means our experience cracks open the door to they mystery of God.  It means we encounter God is our daily life.

To make Jesus known, to evangelize, Pope Francis challenges us to create a new language of parables in his exhortation Joy of the Gospel, “Be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word and different forms of beauty that are valued in different cultural settings (#167).

To what in your experience might you compare the kingdom of heaven?

 

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Gospel Reflection for July 27, 2014, 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

23 Jul
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full, they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good in buckets.  What is bad they throw away.

Matthew 13.47-48


Matthew never knows when to quit.  Rather than end his chapter full of parables with the promise of a hundredfold yield or with the farmer and merchant who find their treasure, Matthew includes in chapter 13 the story of a net full of fish that need sorting.  Perhaps the Christians for whom he wrote are sorting themselves out.  Some choose to open their hearts as good ground to receive Jesus’ word.  Perhaps some cannot see in Jesus a treasure worth their lives and wholehearted commitment.

Jesus’ parables don’t boss us.  Instead parables challenge us to work on what they reveal about ourselves.  They call us to throw out the useless in our lives and embrace all that gives life.

What treasure do you seek?  What does it reveal about you?

 

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Gospel Reflection for July 20, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16 Jul Photo via flickr user Digital Temi

Master, did you not sow good seed in your fields?  Where did these weeds come from?

Matthew 13.27

Life takes time; God’s reign will take time.  In the end God’s wisdom is not human wisdom.  Some apparent weeds may be flowers.  The smallest of seeds may yet grow into a plant that provides hospitality for many creatures.  Leaven may be slowly transforming the world even though human eyes cannot see it working.  Such are the mysteries of the reign of God in the human heart and in all creation.

What weeds do you notice most in others? What weeds do you notice most in yourself?

Gospel Reflection for July 13, 2014, 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

9 Jul

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

Matthew 13.8

Jesus’ parable of the sower is prophetic but the promised yield doesn’t happen within the gospel.  There Jesus’ teachings fall on path, rocks, and weedy patches where the seeds fail to flourish.  The disciples who flee when Jesus is arrested are like the seeds on the path that the birds eat.  They vanish.  Peter, whose name means Rock, is like the rocky ground where the seeds grow up quickly and gets scorched for lack of soil in which to root.  The rich young man of Matthew 19.16-23 is like the seeds sown among thorns.  The lure of wealth spoils his yield. Only after his resurrection do Jesus words sown in the lives of his disciples take root and grow.

What has hearing the gospel yielded in your life?

Gospel Reflection for April 13, 2014, Palm/Passion Sunday

7 Apr

About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud tone, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”  This means, “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46


The events of the passion test and manifest Jesus’ love for God, for the world, for his friends, and for the community that still gathers in his name.  Jesus endures not only the pain and shame of crucifixion but one friend’s betrayal, another’s denial, and God’s seeming abandonment.

When have you found Jesus with you in times of betrayal or suffering or seeming abandonment?

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Gospel Reflection for March 16, 2014, 2nd Sunday of Lent

10 Mar
via flickr user Horia Varlan

via flickr user Horia Varlan

Jesus was transfigured in front of his disciples.
Out of the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests.  Listen to him.”

Matthew 17.5

 His transfiguration takes place just after Jesus tells his disciples for the first time he will suffer, die, and rise on the third day.  This awakening to Jesus’ suffering moves the disciples from ordinary to sacred time.

In his transfiguration the disciples see Jesus as both divine and vulnerable, belonging to both heaven and earth, residing in both ordinary and extraordinary worlds.  His transfiguration terrifies his followers, but Jesus touches them gently and tells them not to fear.

This vision disturbs their lives.  The solid ground on which they stand shifts.  They move from ordinary space to sacred space, from mundane to mystery.

When has an awakening transformed your past and future?

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Praying Away the Anxiety Spiral

4 Mar

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

                                                    –Matthew 6:27

A few weeks ago, I came upstairs from starting a load of laundry to find my five-year-old face down, asleep on the couch at 5 p.m. If you knew my son, this would strike you as unusual, since he is the sort of kid who goes hard all day long, only stopping to relax when we finally force him into bed at night. Thinking, “It must have been a tiring week at school,” I started preparing dinner.

A few hours later, as we cuddled in bed reading books, my son told me his neck hurt. Thinking, “Maybe he slept funny on it on the couch,” I told him a good night’s sleep would make it feel better, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and turned out the light.

It was not until I started getting ready for bed myself, after the hustle and bustle of the day had subsided, that my brain started connecting some dots.  “A usually healthy and active boy who is suddenly tired with a sore neck… wait, isn’t there a serious illness connected with a sore neck?” These thoughts sent me to Google and then to WebMD to learn more about the signs of meningitis. I tiptoed back upstairs and into my son’s room, laying the back of my hand on his forehead to see if he had a temperature, which he did not. He was sleeping soundly and looked perfectly peaceful.

I wish I could say the same for my next few hours in bed. Despite a fairly strong intellectual sense that my son was not, in fact, sick with anything serious, I could not help but think, “What if he is ill and I do not do anything about it? What if I find him unconscious in the morning… or worse? What kind of mother would I be?” I was in an anxiety spiral, with negative, unlikely, and even macabre thoughts stacking upon each other and driving me upstairs multiple times to stick my hand in front of my son’s nose to feel the warm breath that signaled his life. Eventually, by what felt like some quotidian miracle, it occurred to me that the only thing to do was to pray. So I recited the Serenity Prayer over and over until I eventually fell into a restless sleep.

At a time when anxiety seems to be on the rise in our society, we might chuckle at Jesus’ rhetorical question in this week’s Gospel as to whether any of us can add a minute to our lives by worrying. Certainly, we know in our heads that worrying will not lengthen our lives (and we likely have been exposed to countless articles telling us that it actually will have the opposite effect), but we might also question in our hearts whether we will still be good parents, partners, employees, citizens, and people if we attempt to put an end to the anxiety spirals. Will the world still spin if we ourselves stop spinning in anxiety?

Jesus’ answer to this is very clear: the world will go on even if we stop worrying since it is God who controls the world in the first place, not us. Easy enough to say, harder to live into. In my experience, this is where prayer comes in. The act of praying invokes a greater power in the universe, reminding us that we are only human and in control of very little in our lives. Far from increasing our anxiety, prayer can help us identify that which we can change in our lives and in our world and that which we need to give over to God for safe keeping. Maybe with Lent approaching we all need to strive to give up  and give over to God some of our needless worrying and to redirect our energy to strengthening our relationship to God, the One whom Jesus assures us will provide for our needs.

Gospel Reflection for March 9, 1st Sunday of Lent

4 Mar

Jesus said, “Scripture says, ‘Not by bread alone do people live but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4.4

Jesus lives by God’s word not by bread alone.  He refuses to put God to the test.  He worships God alone, the first commandment.  His testimony calls us to welcome and chew on God’s word this Lent and resist popular images of success.

What images of success have you tested and found false in your life?

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