Gospel Reflection for September 12, 2021 – 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 50.5-9 James 2.14-18 Mark 8.27-35ho do you say that I am?
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus sternly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be put to death, and after three days rise again. Jesus said all this quite openly.

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. At this Jesus turned around, and looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on divine things but on human things.” – Mark 8.29-33
Mark’s gospel explores how the faith of Jesus’ disciples matures. For all of us, faith develops across the life cycle. As children, our brains limit our understanding. As adolescents, we share the faith of our families, neighbors, and the church in which we grow up. Some of us never examine the faith we receive.

In Sunday’s gospel Jesus begins correcting the disciples’ popular image of the prophet Daniel’s popular image of the Son of Man, who will come on the clouds to rule all people, nations, and languages. Jesus insists the Son of Man will suffer and die at the hand of officials in Jerusalem and rise on the third day.

Peter has to examine his faith in Jesus.  He objects to a suffering Son of Man and clings to his popular kingly notion of who Jesus is. Only Jesus’ death destroys Peter’s received idea. Only Jesus’ resurrection radically transforms his disciples’ understanding.

The empty tomb is the ultimate threshold that invites Jesus’ disciples to a profoundly new, committed relationship with him, the crucified and risen one. It is this leap to which Mark calls his hearers.

For us in our time, the young adult years are critical to examining received faith and establishing a firm sense of self. Young adults often leave their churches if they disagree with their teachings or stands on issues. Either/or thinking tends to rule.

Today the 26 million former Catholics are the second largest Christian denomination after Catholic. Parents lament their children leaving the Church after years of costly Catholic schooling. Homosexuality, women’s ordination, same sex marriage are critical issues that lead young people to resist belonging to the Catholic Church.

Some people grow able to hold tensions without resolving them. They welcome others’ views, appreciate differences, and negotiate conflicts. Both/and replaces either/or thinking. In our polarized political and religious climate we badly need folks like this.

Jesus’ disciples keep growing after his death and resurrection. Peter, whose vision is blurry in Sunday’s gospel and teary after he denies Jesus at his trial, later gives his life as a martyr during Nero’s persecution of Christians in A.D. 64. Mark wants those who hear his gospel to recognize that faith can begin in fear and confusion.
Who do you say Jesus is? What popular ideas of Jesus and religion have you outgrown?

Gospel Reflection for September 5, 2021 – 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.4-7; James 2.1-5; Mark 7.31-37
In the region of Decapolis people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech. They begged him to lay his hand on him. Jesus took the man aside in private away from the crowd and put his fingers into his ears. He spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said, “Ephphatha.” This word means “Be opened.”  Immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. – Mark 7.31-36
Lack of hearing separates the man who is deaf from his society. He experiences the world as silent. Worse, his deafness impedes his speech and silences his voice in the conversations of the human community. These challenges marginalize the man and leave the seeing of his eyes and the commitments of his heart without words.

Yet, this man communicates. He has friends. His friends beg Jesus to lay his hand on him. When Jesus says, “Be opened,” he opens the man’s ears to human conversation and gives him voice.

In fact, as events turn out, the miracle sets this man, who is a Gentile, free to participate fully in Jesus’ mission. When Jesus loosens his tongue and calls him into speech, he cannot be silenced nor can his friends. They will not keep Jesus’ healing power secret. They tell everyone the amazing healing the man has experienced.

This miracle story shows us in cameo that God wants wholeness and freedom for people. It shows Jesus reaches out to include the marginalized. It invites us to identify who is silent in our society.

When have others silenced you? Who have you listened into speech?

Gather faith-sharing groups online with Sunday by Sunday.

Jesus said, “When two or three gather in my name, I am there with them” (Matthew 18.20). This past year we found out Jesus is with us online, too.

Sunday by Sunday brings groups together around the readings for Sunday Eucharist. Small groups gather in person or online to share the scripture and reflections. The prompts for faith-sharing in Sunday by Sunday help groups see what the Sunday Gospel is asking of them and the grace and mercy it brings them.

If you have felt isolated during the pandemic, this is your chance to make connections that will nourish you and those you love and serve.

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Sunday by Sunday has been bringing the Gospel to people for 31 years. This is our joy, one we wish to share with you.

Explore the Gospel of Mark This Fall

Beginning this Sunday, August 29, we go back to hearing from Mark’s gospel at Sunday Eucharist. These two books will open the gospel for you. Mark’s Gospel: the Whole Story is a short (88 pages) and very readable introduction to Mark. Each of the 11 chapters covers a portion of his Gospel. The questions after each chapter stimulate sharing about the portrait of Jesus Mark draws for his community and for us today. Ideal for faith-sharing groups and homilists. 

Mark devotes 60 of the 660 verses in his Gospel to stories about women. Holy Women, Full of Grace tells their stories and creates a litany of prayers to them. For both individuals and small groups. Book groups have found Holy Women a prayerful break from their usual choices. Go to goodgroundpress.com to view the art and sample pages of both books. Then order online or call 800-232-5533. Thank you.

Gospel Reflection for August 29, 2021 – 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8; James 1.17-18, 21-22,27; Mark 7.1-8,14-15, 21-23
Jesus called the crowd to him. “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters into a person from outside can make a person impure; it is the things that come out that defile. It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” – Mark 7.15
Human beings create rules and routines. People often take the same chairs in a classroom when seats are not assigned. Traffic rules tell drivers to buckle up and bikers to wear helmets. Someone will post a rule at the office when dishes stack up or the refrigerator starts to reek. Rules tend to multiply, and traditions accumulate.

The Pharisees in Sunday’s gospel question why Jesus’ disciples do not follow Jewish traditions about washing their hands. In response Jesus raises a vital question — Are these rules human made or God-given? Do these rules lead people to God? Or, do they create unnecessary burdens?

Rules have proliferated to prevent spreading COVID. Wear masks. Use this stairs down. One person in the bathroom at a time. Six feet apart at the grocery check out. Every other pew in church.

What should be regulated in our world? What about water? Is it one of the resources of creation that belong to everyone? Humans can’t live without it. What about coal and oil, resources that contribute heavily to climate change? 

The Pharisees encouraged strict keeping of many laws as a way of sustaining Jewish identity in the centuries when conquering Greek and Roman armies occupied and ruled their country. This observance created a way to show adherence to Jewish faith. Rules such as those about washing acted as a fence around the Law. By Jesus’ time, some of the laws laid on people in the name of fostering holiness had become burdens.
What is the best rule you learned in your family and still live? What religious practices bring you closer to God? What comes out of our mouths that you forbid yourself and others?

Gospel Reflection for August 22, 2021 – 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Joshua 23.1-2, 15-17, 18; Ephesians 5.21-32; John 6.60-69
Many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” But Simon Peter said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. – John 6.66-69
John’s gospel sees Jesus as the word spoken in creation who in Jesus, becomes flesh, one of us humans. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1.1).

John’s gospel originates near the end of the first century; it is more than a narrative. It’s a book of signs in which wine, water, bread, and light all point to who Jesus is. In Cana at a wedding, Jesus turns six jars of water into “the best wine saved until now (John 2). At Jacob’s well, Jesus intrigues a Samaritan woman with living water that “becomes a spring welling up to eternal life (John 4).

Chapter six begins with Jesus multiplying five barley loaves and two fish into food for 5,000 with 12 baskets of leftovers, a sign that sets off 47 verses of reflection — and contention that speaks to differences between Jews who follow Moses and Jews who follow Jesus. 

In John 6 the crowd that eats the bread seeks a second sign so they can believe in him. “This is the will of my Father that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life (6.40).

Contention rises when Jesus insists, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever” (6.51). The bread carries the promise of Jesus’ death and resurrection for those who believe.

Then the rhetoric pushes beyond the literal meaning of bread to an uncomfortable extreme in our ears, “All who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day” (6.55). Flesh is a word for human. To eat the bread that is Jesus’ sign of himself is to live faith in his power to transform us. To drink the wine that is a sign of his lifeblood expresses faith Jesus will raise believers on the last day.

Faith in the risen Jesus is an abiding relationship and transforming experience.  After the destruction of the temple, faith in Jesus separates Christians Jews from Jews that follow Moses. Some folks realize they just aren’t getting it and return to the comfort of the God they know.

Jesus is unrelenting in Sunday’s gospel, asking the twelve if they plan to leave his company, too. Peter responds, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (6.69).
How do you understand the mystery of the Eucharist?

Gospel Reflection for August 15, 2021 – Feast of the Assumption

Sunday Readings: Revelation 11.19a,12.1-6;, 10 1 Corinthians 15.20-26; Luke 1.39-56

“My being magnifies the greatness of God. My spirit finds joy in God, my Savior. For God has looked upon me in my lowliness, on me, God’s servant. Now all ages shall call me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name. Strong is God’s arm, for God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” – Luke 1.47-49, 51-53

Artists find having Mary, or Jesus in his ascension, rise through glorious clouds quite irresistible. But now that planes, space stations, and giant telescopes have tamed the skies, we envision heaven not so much in the clouds but as communion in God, a lasting relationship. At death we step into mystery, into faith and promise.

The gospels have no account of Mary’s assumption. On this feast we remember Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, two pregnant and prophetic women who trust God’s promises. The Spirit fills Elizabeth with an ecstatic testimony that Mary is three times blessed: blessed are you among women, blessed is the child in your womb, and blessed is she who trusts God’s words will be fulfilled. We reflect on Mary’s prayer magnifying God’s greatness, a song of justice and liberation.

Mary was a young teen when Herod the Great died and peasants in Galilee revolted and attacked the city of Sephoris, a tax-collection center, four miles from Nazareth. Roman soldiers put down the attack and rampaged through the villages of Galilee doing violence. Mary lived through headlines like ours today.  Her song announces God’s intent to transform history for the poor.  It testifies that God extends mercy from age to age and keeps faith with the poor and hungry.

Mary is not only an individual woman who trusts all the Spirit conceives in her and then gives birth to Jesus, but also a woman who represents her people. She comes from among their poor. Israel’s religious traditions nourish her openness to God’s dwelling in her. Like the whole people, Mary is God’s dwelling place. She bears God into the world in giving birth to Jesus. Mary gathers with the first believers on Pentecost when the Spirit sets their tongues afire with the good news in every language and gives birth to the Church.

What does Mary show us about who we Christians are? Who is Mary to you?

August 8, 2021 – 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19.4-8; Ephesians 4.30-5.2; John 6.41-51
“Very truly, I tell you whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6.47-51
Two Sundays ago, Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people — a sign which reveals Jesus’ identity as wisdom’s child, the giver of abundant life, the messiah. As the chapter unfolds, Jesus talks with three groups — his disciples, the crowd, and Jews in the crowd who follow Moses and who question how Jesus can be from heaven when they know his origins on earth. This conflict reflects sharpening differences between Jews who follow Moses and Jews who follow Jesus at the time John writes in the AD 90s.
The Jews who follow Moses openly disbelieve his claims that he, rather than the manna in the desert, is the real bread of life from God. Jesus’ claim to be the bread that came down from heaven sets them murmuring. Is God’s revelation only in the law of Moses and the God who supplied Israel quail and manna in the wilderness, or is God’s revelation in their midst in Jesus?
Jesus contrasts himself with manna. Israel’s ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and died. Those who eat the bread that comes down from heaven will not die. A double meaning emerges in the conversation. When Jesus speaks of himself as the living bread, he invites faith not only in himself but in his eucharistic presence in the continuing Christian communities. The bread he gives in every eucharist is his flesh for the life of the world.
Where do you best fit — among the doubting disciples, the fair-weather crowd, or the Jews faithful to Moses’ law and the past? Where or in whom do you find Jesus really present? People? Sacraments? Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament? Scripture?

Gospel Reflection for August 1, 2021 – 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Exodus 16.2-4,12-15; Ephesians 4.17,20-24; John 6.24-35
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6.35
The crowds that Jesus fed last week want another sign if they are to believe Jesus is from God. They fail to see that Jesus’ teaching, healing, loving presence is the sign of God among them. In Jesus’ conversation with the crowd, John’s gospel traces a step-by-step invitation to faith. With the crowd asking for the life-giving bread of God, Jesus has them ready to see who he really is. He announces, “I am the bread of life.”

In his gospel John deliberately claims for Jesus the divine name I am, a name so holy that the people of Israel never pronounce it aloud but say Adonai instead. God reveals the name Yahweh to Moses at the burning bush. The name means I Am Who Causes to Be. Repeatedly in John’s gospel Jesus uses the divine I am to reveal himself.
As if identifying himself as the divine I Am were not a sufficient leap of faith, Jesus tantalizes the crowd with the paradox that whoever comes to him will never be hungry and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. Jesus first calls the crowd beyond the bread they have eaten to see its source, God the creator of life, and then calls them to put their faith in him, the one whom God has sent.

Only faith in Jesus, the living bread, will satisfy our hunger forever. Those who eat the bread of life take this food inside themselves. In this act they express their wholehearted faith that Jesus comes from God, and they become themselves God’s bread for others.

What causes you to lose faith? What strengthens your faith in Jesus? Who do you feed in your daily life and work?

Gospel Reflection for July 25, 2021 – 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Ephesians 4.1-6; John 6.1-15
“The people sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, Jesus told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up. From the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.”Mark 6.10-13
Jesus feeds a huge crowd on a boy’s five loaves and two fish. John’s gospel refers to Jesus’ healing and feeding actions not as miracles but as signs. A sign involves a concrete and physical action that points beyond what we see or experience.

A stop sign points to an intersection with busy cross traffic people may not see. A billboard with someone in cap and gown points to the unseen benefits of a college degree. In John’s gospel five loaves that feed thousands become a sign of who Jesus is and who we are as his disciples — the Body of Christ.

Starting this Sunday, the Church breaks off from reading Mark’s gospel for five Sundays and reads instead from John 6 with its theological reflection on Jesus as the bread of life. The mathematics alone — 5 loaves, 2 fish, 5,000 people, 12 baskets of leftovers — signals this feeding points to more than we see and draws us into deeper reflection.

The twelve baskets of leftovers point to universality. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel, so enough for all. Twelve is a number symbolizing abundance. The food Jesus gives increases in being given. The crowd has more food left over than there was to start. It works like love.
What hungers does sharing Sunday Eucharist satisfy for you?

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