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Gospel Reflection for November 23, 2014, Feast of Christ the King

19 Nov

Sunday scripture readings: Ezekiel 34.11-12,15-17; 1 Corinthians 15.20-26,28; Matthew 25.31-46

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25.37-40

Matthew’s gospel places the judgment of the nations immediately before Jesus’ passion in the flow of the gospel narrative.  In his passion Jesus himself becomes the least among us, suffering the kind of execution aimed to shame and subdue rebellious slaves.  Sunday’s parable invites us to recognize Jesus is all those who suffer.

In whom that you know do you see Jesus suffering?

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Gospel Reflection for November 16, 2014, 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

11 Nov

“Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter, so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.'”

Matthew 25.24-25

One talent is equivalent to 6,000 denarii. One denarius is the standard day’s wage for a worker in Jesus’ time. Anyone who works six days a week for one denarius a day earns 340 denarii a year. An ordinary laborer would work 17 years to earn one talent. The master in Sunday’s gospel entrusts his servants with incredible wealth.

Each human person receives the priceless windfall of life itself. We each have life without having caused ourselves to be. Our ancestors have invested themselves in relationships and efforts that bring us to full adulthood. Jesus invested his life in the human race, identifying with us totally unto death, opening to us all we can become in God. How do we use these extravagant down payments on ourselves?

What is one of the most valuable ways you have invested your life energies in our world and its people?

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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.

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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On Miracles

18 Sep
via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. –Matthew 14:13-21

In my experience teaching the Gospel stories, there are three main knee-jerk reactions to Jesus’ miracles:

1) Some disregard the stories immediately using human logic and let the slippery slope of faith take over. “There’s no way Jesus could have turned five loaves and two fish into an abundant meal for five thousand people. It just didn’t happen. So what in the Bible can we trust? I bet none of it is true.”

2) Some believe the stories immediately using faith and let apply that faith to the whole Bible. “Jesus is God, fully divine, and these awesome miracle stories get at that. What is in the Bible happened as it is written and is true. God is requiring us to live in wonder and trust through faith.”

3) And others try explain the miracle in a way that uses logic but doesn’t require dismissing the story completely. “It was radical of Jesus to ask the crowd to sit and rest and be served. Originally, the crowd was individually selfish, but the miracle here is that Jesus got them to share. When everyone gave what they had, there was more than enough.”

Where do you fall when you read the miracle stories? Do you believe in miracles? How does that affect your faith lens in your daily life? How do you react when someone who believes the opposite expresses that?

What if we tried, just for a moment, to not jump into the reactionary space we are used to when reading the miracle stories? What if we suspended our instincts and sat down in the middle of the miracle stories and looked around? It’s hard to do. These stories get straight at something that divides us. We don’t want to be considered silly or faithless. Instead of jumping to a conclusion about happening truth, though, let’s ask, “What do we have to learn about the nature of God and Jesus from these miracle stories?”

One thing that strikes me about the miracle narratives is how Jesus uses very ordinary material to do extraordinary things. He turns water into wine. He stills the storm. He uses his own spit to heal the blind man. In the story above, bread and fish are the material used. Nothing could be more ordinary. It seems to me, then, that things like food and water and our imperfect bodies matter to Jesus. He pays attention to them. They are essential ingredients in his ministry. Through the remarkable, we learn that God has dominion over the mundane, the ordinary, the elemental. God has our very ordinary daily lives in God’s sight. It begs me to stay awake and pay attention to what comes out of my tap, what I’m chewing on and this body that I was given. There is truth in these stories, enmeshed in the ordinary and extraordinary, for us to ruminate on about God’s activity in our world. There are more subtle and profound truths there for me to find, and they can be missed if we hurry to explain and make sense instead of sitting in the muck of the middle and letting God whisper to us.

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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