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Gospel Reflection for September 17, 2017, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Sep

Sunday Readings: Sirach 27.30-28.7; Romans 14.7-9; Matthew 18.21-35

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?” – Matthew 18.21

We know Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question. Seventy times seven times. That’s always. In the Our Father we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others every time we pray it–scary. Forgiveness may not be our first impulse when someone hurts us. We may want to strike back or perhaps just nurse festering resentment, or perhaps like Peter we want to count. This is not God’s way or Jesus’ way.

The parable that follows Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer is about the servant who owes his master a big debt that a generous master forgives. Then the forgiven servant insists a fellow servant pay a debt of 100 denarii, refuses pleas for patience, and puts the fellow servant in prison. The master finds out and hands the unforgiving servant over to be tortured. The parable challenges us to recognize God’s expansive love and mercy and make room for growth and grace in our relationships.

How has making room for grace and growth helped you forgive others or yourself?


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Gospel Reflection for August 27, 2017, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Aug

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 22.19-23, Romans 11.33-36, Matthew 16.13-20

“Who do people say that I am?”  – Matthew 16.14

Jesus asks his disciples this question, “Who do people say that I am?”, halfway through his public ministry. Is he the long-awaited leader that prophets dreamed would bring peace? His disciples think so. Is her God’s servant like the Israelites in exile who pours out his life to reveal God’s vision of justice for the nations? Hmmm. Jesus’ disciples haven’t made that connection. Jesus’ question is a brave one. What are people saying about me?

We are still asking who Jesus is. Is he a prophetic reformer who hopes to breathe life into the legalistic religion of his day and whose example challenges us to do the same today? Is he a revolutionary whose inflammatory preaching catches him in the gears of the Roman Empire? Is he the greatest party giver of all time who invites everyone to come to his banquets.

In the new context of evolution we ask, “Isn’t Jesus, who is the Christ, the omega point in whom all creation will converge? Isn’t he the firstborn of a new creation who testifies that love is the ultimate transforming power in the cosmos?”

Who do people say you are? Who notices you are a Christian?


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Gospel Reflection for August 20, 2017, 20th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Aug

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 56.1, 6-7; Romans 11.13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15.21-28

“It is not faith to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus said, but the Canaanite women said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” – Matthew 15.26-27

In both Matthew’s and Mark’s version of this gospel, Jesus refuses to help a Gentile mother who asks him to free her daughter from a demon. Both gospels preserve Jesus’ refusal, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This saying insists Jesus’ mission is only to the Jewish people. In using the saying, Jesus not only refuses the woman’s request, his only refusal to help in the gospels, but he insults her. He uses an ethic slur. The saying makes her a dog.

How can Jesus, who everywhere else in the four gospels reaches out to sinners, lepers and crazy people, express such close-minded prejudice to this woman? This story reflects conflicts in Christian communities after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some Christian must claim Jesus taught the saying, “Don’t throw the children’s food to the dogs.” In both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, the woman counters with the truth of her own experience. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” At her house both messy children and hungry dogs eat. Her comeback makes space for children and dogs at the same table, for Jews and Gentiles. Her quick wit challenges the meaning of the saying and shows exclusion is not Jesus’ teaching.

What practices today exclude you or fail to nourish you? What experiences have broadened whom you accept into your house or parish community?

Gospel Reflection for August 13, 2017, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

8 Aug

Scripture readings: 1 Kings 19.9,11-13; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.22-33

“Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened. Beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his had and caught him.” – Matthew 14.29-30

This gospel reflects Christians struggles in the A.D. 80s between the experience of having Jesus among them in the flesh and the promise of his risen presence. How does Jesus continue with the community?

Peter puts Jesus to a test. He requests a miracle. “If this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”  This if statement repeats the bystanders’ taunts to Jesus on the cross–“If you are the messiah, save yourself.”

Jesus quickly says, “Come.” The scene invites faith. It suggests the journeys of early Christians to baptism. An early Christian baptistry at Dura-Europa in Syria has this scene painted on its wall above a baptismal pool (A.D. 250).

Stepping into the water and the future requires faith for Peter and for all of us who follow. Boldly Peter steps our of the boat, outside the comfortable circle of disciples and friends in the boat. Immediately strong head winds and great waves take his attention off Jesus and fill him with fear and terror. As he falters, Peter cries out to Jesus, who saves him.

Where are you in over your head and faltering?  What do you cry out for?


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Poem of the Week

4 Aug

Gate A-4
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands— had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.


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Gospel Reflection for August 6, 2017 Feast of the Transfiguration

31 Jul

Scripture Readings: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1.16-19; Mathew 17.1-9

“Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John and led them u on a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured before their very eyes. His face became as dazzling as the sun, his clothes bright as light.  Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.” – Matthew 17.1-3

In the transfiguration Peter, James, and John glimpse Jesus in glory, his divinity shining through his humanity. The three fall on the ground overcome with fear and awe. Words fail Peter. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary respond much the same way when Jesus appears to them after they find the tomb empty. The women hold his feet and worship him (Matthew 28.9).

Both the transfiguration and the resurrection are numinous experiences that take the witnesses beyond words. The creative love that lies at the heart of the evolving life of the universe touches the disciples on the mount of transfiguration and at the empty tomb.  The transfiguration embeds in the heart of the gospel narrative a post-Easter theological vision. The vision expresses who Jesus is and who we disciples are to be. We live in the future this scene envisions–Easter time.

How has a numinous, holy moment affected you? What have you carried with you from it?


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Gospel Reflection for July 30, 2017, 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

27 Jul

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 3.5, 7-12; Romans 8.28-30; Matthew 13.44-52

“The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid, and then in joy goes and sells every belonging and buys the field.”  – Matthew 13.44

Sunday’s gospel begins with a parable about buying and selling. The treasure in the field requires all one has to possess it. The choice to buy totally realigns the buyer’s life and resources. What treasure is worth selling all one has to find joy? What was the buyer looking and what did the buyer find?

Jesus lets us reveal ourselves in imagining what the treasure is. Is it family, spouse, purpose? Is it Jesus? Do I find a person who becomes an abiding source of joy in marriage. Do I find in Jesus and his mission a friendship and purpose worthy my life, love, and energy?

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


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Gospel Reflection for July 23, 2017, 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

17 Jul

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 12.13,16-19; Romans 8.26-27; Matthew 13.24-43

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom. The weeds are children of the evil one.” – Matthew 13.37-38

The gospel last Sunday took us to the parable section of Matthew’s well-organized narrative, chapter 13. We heard the parable of the sower. This Sunday we hear the next three parables: the risk of weeding wheat, the promise of growth in tiny seeds, and the effect of leaven in bread dough.

When Jesus interprets the weeds and wheat parable for his disciples, he recommends letting them grow together until the harvest. This means separating sinners from righteous folks bis not our work. Similarly Pope Francis insists, “Time is greater than space,” and gives priority to processes that build and develop communities over time rather than pass judgment. The mustard seed suggests how an insight, a moment of grace can grow with time. Another of Pope Francis’s pastoral principles is  “unity is greater than conflict.” Most of us recognize how easily we magnify differences rather when in fact we have more in common than divides us. “The Spirit can harmonize every diversity,” says Pope Francis.

Life and growth take time. God’s reign takes time to grow in each of us just as leaven takes time to transform bread dough. In light of our daily breaking news, it’s comforting to imagine all the daily loving actions Jesus’ disciples do invisibly in our world.

What leaven do you hope you are in your neighborhood? What small effort do you hope grows much bigger?


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Gospel Reflection for July 9, 2017, 14th Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Jul

Scripture Readings: Zechariah 9.9-10; Romans 8.9,11-13; Matthew 11.25-30

“No one knows the Father except the Son.” – Matthew 11.27

For Israel, wisdom begins in awe at God’s gracious work in creation and envisions human harmony shaped out of wise, God-centered, Spirit-animated relationships among people. The book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman who is with God from the beginning. Lady Wisdom is God’s delight. She delights in the human race and seeks to instruct us as her children. Creation is Wisdom’s house. She sets her table of bread and wine for the simple and the foolish, inviting us to the way of insight (Proverbs 9.1-5).

Sunday’s gospel draws on the intimate relationship between Creator and Wisdom to describe the relationship between Father and Son. No one knows the Father but the Son. Like Wisdom the Son seeks to reveal God and the goodness of creation to all. This is the way of insight.

Just as Wisdom invites the simple and those without sense to her table, Jesus invites the weary and burdened to come to him. As Wisdom’s messenger, Jesus welcomes the least to his table and his community. He brings among the people God’s dream of shalom for humankind.

How has creation helped you come to know God?

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