Gospel Reflection for March 19, 2023 – 4th Sunday of Lent

Sunday Readings: 1 Samuel 16.1,6-7,10-13; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41 

Jesus heard that the teachers had expelled the man born blind from the synagogue, Jesus found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The man answered, “Tell me who he is, sir, so I can believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have already seen him.  The one speaking to you is he.” “I believe,” the man said and worshipped Jesus” (John 9.35-38)

Where do we find God? One common answer is deep within. How do we find God deep within? Common answers include time for solitude and silence, time to listen to one’s own aspirations and desperations apart from those of others in our lives. A retreat can help us sort what and who we really value or maybe we need a little time with a fishing hook in the water.  The man born blind in Sunday’s gospel finds God in a different place, in encounters with others who question him.

Jesus leaves the scene after he puts mud on the eyes of the man born blind and sends the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. In Jesus’ absence—the middle of Sunday’s gospel—the man with new eyes faces neighbors, teachers, and parents in turn. Explaining his new eyes helps the man find words to explain what has happened. He progressively gains insight into who Jesus must be, recognizing Jesus must be a prophet, a man from God.

The seeing man’s witness models the value of articulating and sharing our own experience of God and of persisting in dialogue with those who challenge us. He finds faith in dialogue, in the space between us, where grace and amazement attend our efforts to bridge our separate selves and glimpse the mystery of God among us.

When have the questions and opinions of others called you to explain who Jesus is to you, who God is, or how Spirit stirs in you?

Gospel Reflection for February 12, 2023 – 6th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Sirach 15.15-20; 1 Corinthians 2.6-10; Matthew 5.17-37

Jesus taught his disciples about the law, saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill them (Matthew 5.17).

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus urges his followers to live more than the commandments not to kill and not to commit adultery require of us. Jesus challenges his hearers to deal with angry actions that have killing effects, to practice reconciliation, to keep promises others can trust, pay our pledges, recognize desires can inspire work for justice but also sidetrack intimate relationships and entice us to value pleasure over people.

Jesus invites us to reach into our inner conscious lives where we can transform any anger and abusiveness that lives inside. He calls us to reflect on our attitudes and measure our actions by his standard of love and compassion and participate in the work of transforming our relationships.

The commandments reach back 12 centuries before Jesus. The gospels reach back 20 centuries to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t address friending and unfriending on Facebook or how texting wounds without face-to-face contact. He teaches against swearing false oaths but nothing about sorting truth from lies in a global world that feeds on sensation and 24/7 spin. We have to wrestle with wrongs and hurts we experience today and do the work of conscience for our time. In doing so, we bring Jesus; teachings into our own lives and time.

By what new rules and old commandments do your family, colleagues, neighbor, friends build communities of love, justice, and fidelity today?

Gospel Reflection for February 5, 2023 – 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 58.7-10 1 Corinthians 2.1-5 Matthew 5.13-16

Jesus continues speaking to his disciples. “You are the salt of the earth, but what if salt loses its flavor? How can you restore its flavor? Then it is no good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel basket. The place for a lamp is on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5.13-16).

As Jesus, whom Matthew sees as the new Moses, teaches his disciples in Sunday’s gospel, he compares them to two everyday things—salt and lamp light. In Jesus time people valued salt because it allowed fish and meat to be dried and cured and thus last a long time. The Latin word for salt is salarium. Roman soldiers received salarium as payment for their work. Salt was their salary. Jesus encourages his disciples to realize their value in God’s sight, as precious as salt in preserving life.

Jesus encourages his disciples to let their lamps of their faith in him to shine among others and light the way of his teaching. As disciples, Jesus calls us, too, show kindness, be gracious, generous, respectful toward others–actions that invite the same. Our actions speak louder than words. These two sayings use every examples for living our everyday Christian lives.

What does the saying being worth your salt mean to you? Who has used the saying in your life? What light shines in your actions? What do people tell you they value in your contributions to your family, neighborhood, parish? What actions do they urge you to do?

NEW! The gospels of Lent in art and prayer

“Use the eyes God gave you.” Lent Cycle A: A Call To Newness makes seeing a way to reflect on the Sunday gospels of Lent. Art works magic. Places the seer in the gospel scenes. Pulls scattered thoughts into focus. Try it. View a sample page.

Engage the questions, prayers, and practices. Even better, interest friends and neighbors in keeping Lent in this new way. Form a weekly group. “Where two or three are gathered, I will be with them,” Jesus says.

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Gospel Reflection for January 29, 2023 – 4th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Zephaniah 2.3, 3.12-13; 1 Corinthians 1.26-31; Matthew 5.1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside. After he sat down, his disciples gathered around him, and Jesus began to teach them.
    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are the sorrowing, for they shall be consoled.
    Blessed are those of low status; they shall inherit the land.
    Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for holiness, or they shall have their fill.
    Blessed are they who show mercy, for mercy shall be theirs.
    Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall see God.
    Blessed, too, are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of holiness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
    Blessed are you when people insult and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you.
    Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great
(Matthew 5.1-12).

In Jesus’ time all wealth flowed toward Rome. In our time all wealth has flowed toward the wealthiest 1%, 10%, yet God accompanies us in our lives and blesses 100% of us. The beatitudes challenge us to think twice about what we consider God’s blessings and recognize the blessings we find in our own experiences of losing status, of mourning loved ones, of hungering for fairness.

Even more, beatitudes call us to be the blessing people need, especially those who live in poverty or oppression. Jesus lived among the poor and saw injustice around him. The kingdom Jesus envisions values people who are poor and blesses those who suffer with the sorrowing, endure hunger and thirst for food and for justice, who show mercy.

Jesus uses the word blessed nine times in the beatitudes. Blessed, berakhah in Hebrew, is not a verb, but rather an adjective that affirms God’s creative goodness at work. Jesus teaches that when we live the beatitudes, we live God’s way with love and justice for all.

Lists of the beatitudes usually include only eight. The last beatitude repeats the eighth but changes voice from the third person to the second person, addressing us, the readers. It challenges us to live Jesus’ teaching and continue his mission even if bringing the poor and hungry to our tables causes persecution.

Which beatitude comes closest to how you live your life right now? Who do you bless with loving actions in your daily life?

Gospel Reflection for January 22, 2023 – 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 8.23-9.3; 1 Corinthians 1.10-13,17; Matthew 4.12-23

As Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon known as Peter, and his brother, Andrew, who were casting a net into the sea. They fished for a living. Jesus said to them “Come, follow me. I want you to gather people into your nets.” Peter and Andrew immediately abandoned their nets and became his followers. Jesus walked along farther and saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in their boat, getting their nets in order with their father. Jesus called them and immediately they left their boat and their father to follow him (Matthew 4.18-22).

Upon John the Baptist’s arrest Jesus begins his ministry. Matthew makes a point of telling us that Jesus moves from Nazareth to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee where he calls his first disciples.

Many Christians today may wonder why the four so unhesitatingly follow a man who comes walking along the lakeshore and invites them to, “Follow me.”  Matthew is telling the story of the first disciples’ response to Jesus’ call more than 50 years later. This initial response hints the full commitment they grow into. They give their lives wholeheartedly to spreading Jesus’ good news after his death and resurrection.

Responding to Jesus’ friendship redirects their lives from casting nets for fish to gathering people into the Christian community. With them Jesus reaches out to the people of Galilee in their local synagogues. Jesus teaches that God is near; he brings God near in healing the sick.

In Matthew’s gospel not only James and John follow Jesus but so does their mother, who asks Jesus to give her sons positions at his right and left in his kingdom (20.20-21) and who is among the spice-bearing women at the tomb on Easter morning. (27.56).

Who has called and empowered you to minister? How did you respond? How did your response change your life?

Gospel Reflection for January 15, 2023 – 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 49.3,5-6 1 Corinthians 1.1-3 John 1.29-34

John the Baptist caught sight of Jesus and said, “Look there. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”…John also gave this testimony, “I saw the Spirit descend like a dove from the sky, and come to rest on him. But, as I say, I did not recognize him. The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is he who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen for myself and have testified, ‘’This is God’s chosen one’” (John 1.32-34).

Awe is the beginning of wisdom in the bible. Wisdom results from our human capacity to discover God’s handiwork in creation, its order, its fruitfulness, and beauty. Our minds perceive God’s activity, learn and teach about God by interacting with creation and appreciating life. Our wisdom mirrors God’s activity in the world.

The evangelist John sees in Jesus wisdom finding a home among us—“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1.14). In his humanity Jesus reveals God as creation reveals God in its workings. Jesus ranks ahead and before the Baptist.  Like Wisdom, the Word comes from above and was from the beginning.

In Sunday’s gospel the Baptist also compares Jesus to the Passover lamb, whose blood on doorposts helps free the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. The Baptist likens Jesus to God’s chosen servant,  the defeated Israelites who suffer exile but also make God known among the nations. Jesus is the Spirit-filled leader to whom the Baptist’s preaching points. 

What insights into who Jesus is do these images from the Hebrew bible give you? 

Gospel Reflection for January 8, 2023 – Epiphany

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 60.1-6; Ephesians 3.2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2.1-12

After their audience with the Herod, the magi set out. The star went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They received a message in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route (Matthew 2.9-12).

The magi follow a star. They search for God in the visible, natural world, the world we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. This is the world that engages our affections and nightly turns our hearts toward morning and waking anew. We live in its rhythms and by its lights.

Creation reveals God’s life-giving and sustaining presence, the first source of revelation. Today we follow the stars with the Hubble telescope, which has confirmed Einstein’s theory that we live in an expanding universe. Physics has taken us within the atom. Biology has decoded the human gnome and learned how molecules splice and proteins fold. Yet we are seekers still like the magi.

In our world God acts not only in the beginning but in all 13.8 billion years of our unfolding evolution. The God of our cosmic story is not fixed and static but dynamic and life-giving. God comes to us from the future as we experience the lure within us to become all we can be. In our relationships with each other and our partnerships with Earth, evolution continues. In Jesus God shows us all we can become.

When has the mystery in which we live astounded you?

Gospel Reflection for December 25, 2022 – Christmas

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 9.1-6; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20

It happened while Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem that the days of her pregnancy were completed. She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

There were shepherds in the same area, living in the fields and keeping night watch over their flock. An angel of the Lord came suddenly upon them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid. The angel said, “You have nothing to fear! I bring you good news, a great joy to be shared by the whole people. For this day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. Let this be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2.6-12).

Mary and Joseph face all the challenges any child presents new parents, but Luke’s story also tells us their baby is extraordinary—the savior, the Messiah, God’s Son.  Christmas celebrates the significance of Jesus’ whole life in his birth story, crafting it to communicate to every hearer the same tidings of great joy the shepherds hear. A savior has been born to us. The messiah that Israel has long awaited has come. God’s own Son is with us.

The angels give the shepherds—and us—a sign. The sign is the baby, lying in a manger. A manger is a place of very low status, a place among animals at the margin of human society. Luke wants us hearers of his story to recognize with the shepherds that this child is good news for the poor. Mary treasures the shepherds’ words and ponders them in her heart. Mary models faith as an ongoing process; she holds onto what she cannot yet interpret.  

The Son of the Most High is joy to poor shepherds and safe with temporarily homeless parents. As Jesus begins life in a world without room for him, Caesar meanwhile is counting the potential taxpayers in his empire. 

What experiences of your children’s birth do you bring to hearing the Christmas gospel? Who are the lowly who most concern you this Christmas? How can you or your Christian community help raise them up?

Gospel Reflection for December 11, 2022 – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.1-6,10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11

When John the Baptist heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples to ask, “Tell us, are you the one to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind can see; the lame walk; lepers are cured; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them” (Matthew 11.2-6).

During Advent we create wreaths using the boughs of trees that stay ever-green and symbolize the encircling, sustaining life and holy mystery in which we live. We humans depend on trees and plants to make oxygen. The breaths we take in and out without thinking image the invisible Spirit, the giver of life, who sustains us.

In a sense God is green; that is, God is life-giving. In the prophetic poetry of Second Isaiah, Sunday’s first reading, the Earth greens and people become whole wherever God steps. Second Isaiah speaks from exile in Babylon. He envisions God leading a new exodus that is not a triumphant military march but a healing, life-giving regathering of a scattered, defeated people and leading them through a desert that bursts forth with springs of water and blossoms wherever God passes.

When the Baptist hears about Jesus’ healing and preaching, he wants to know if Jesus is the Messiah. In his answer Jesus’ quotes Isaiah 35. Jesus brings the compassion of God among the people, healing and preaching God’s nearness.

Every Advent we prepare to celebrate the surprise of God becoming one of us and the challenge to live the same compassion for others.

What does green symbolize or express for you? What broken people can you help mend?

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