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Gospel Reflection for October 20, 2019, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time

17 Oct

Scripture Readings: Exodus 17.8-13; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2; Luke 18.1-8

“There was a judge in a certain city who neither feared God nor respected human beings.  A widow in that city kept coming to him and saying: ‘Take up my case.  Give me my just rights against my opponent.’ For a while the judge refused but finally he said to himself, ‘I neither fear God nor respect people, but this widow—she is wearing me out.  I will settle her case justly lest in the end she disgrace me.’” – Luke 18.3-5

When Luke writes the third gospel about A.D. 85, many Christians are wondering when and if Jesus will come again in glory. The parable of the persistent widow offers a model for these believers. She persists in seeking justice in the face of a callous judge. She’s not the nagging widow we once labeled her but a model of keeping on keeping on, a relentless activist. Justice is her purpose.

In the gospel Jesus also holds up the woman as an example of praying always and not losing heart. What justice does our nation and world most need? For example, our times call us to persist in ending the mass incarceration of black men who as felons after prison can’t ever vote or get jobs with any ease. Read Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

What justice do you seek? What evils does the judge represent that Christians must resist? Whose persistence do you admire?


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Gospel Reflection for October 13, 2019, 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

10 Oct

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 5.14-17; 2 Timothy 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-19

“On their way the ten lepers found they were cleansed. One of them seeing that he had been healed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice. He fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking him. This man was a Samaritan.”  – Luke 17.14-16

A wise counselor challenged me to start finding ten things every day that I was thankful for. Ten seemed a lot at first, but practicing gratitude changed me. I began to notice more and remember bits of beauty and acts of kindness. Plus, others began to appreciate me in return. Being alive calls us to appreciate the Creator. Evolution deepens the story of God’s creative love in which we live. We see with eyes that have evolved over millions of years in creatures that sought the light. Our DNA holds the memory of God’s love unfolding.

Jesus has compassion on ten lepers in Sunday’s gospel. Jesus sends them on their way to the priests who can certify they have been cleansed of this illness. The ten set out on the strength of Jesus’ word and on the way discover the leprosy is gone.

What really happens in a miracle? How does physical healing affect people spiritually within themselves? What is the power of faith to transform us into whole people? Does a miracle require faith or lead to faith? Their healing doesn’t make nine of the lepers grateful people. Today doctors can cure Hanson’s disease in weeks. We still define and profile other humans beings by appearances and make them outsiders.

Who do we banish from our circles and society today? Who do we regard as too dangerously contagious to be in our company? What miracles have you experienced? 


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Gospel Reflection for October 6, 2019, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

4 Oct

Sunday Readings: Habakkuk 1.2-32.2-4; 2 Timothy 1.6-8,13-14; Luke 17.5-10

“Increase our faith, Lord.” – Luke 17.5

Faith is a setting of our hearts on what or who is ultimate. Faith has power. It lives in us. Like a seed it holds life and generates new life. A smidge can move mountains. The message speaks to our time when many confess they hang on to faith by a thread. Scandals in the church have disheartened many, and so has treatment of those in our families who are gay, lesbian, trans, Q. But a thread is enough, according to Jesus.

A question is enough, even a doubt. Curiosity, engagement, disgust can take us to a threshold that invites growth.

Faith lives in the currents of our relationships. Faith ties our lives to those we trust and thank. Faith grounds us in existence and purpose. Faith is about to whom and to what we belong.

Faith is to our conscious lives what blood is to the body; it sustains and animates our whole selves. Faith is our heart for embracing life, its giver and sustainer, the incomprehensible mystery of it all.

Often we inherit faith. In the sentence before Sunday’s second reading begins, the apostle Paul recalls how his protege Timothy came to believe in Jesus. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now I’m sure lives in you” (2 Timothy 1.5). Had there been a woman on the committee deciding the passages to read, the extra verse might have made the cut.

Why does so little faith go so far? 


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Gospel Reflection for September 29, 2019, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time

27 Sep

Sunday Readings: Amos 6.1, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6.11-16; Luke 16.19-31

“Remember how well you lived when you were alive and how miserable Lazarus was. Now he has found comfort but you have found torment. He cannot help you. Between you and us is a great abyss that no one can cross.” – Luke 16.25-26

The great abyss that yawns between the poor man and the rich man in the abode of the dead exists already in the distance between them when they are alive. The rich man never notices the poor man Lazarus begging at his gate, never responds to his need. The rich man doesn’t know Lazarus exists, nor does the rich man have any idea that his riches are not well-deserved blessings from God. He has no other ethic than spending his money on himself. He has no connection with the poor man at this gate.

The two characters represent extremes. The poor man is sick, hungry, and poor–about as down and out as he can be. The well-clothed, well-fed rich man is oblivious as he can be. The story invites us to place ourselves on a continuum between the two.

The many people panhandling in our cities puts Sunday’s gospel squarely at our doorsteps. Like the rich man in the gospel, most of us have people who are poor at our subways stops, our ATMs, the doorways of our churches, our stop signs. Some have burned out every relationship in their lives for booze or drugs. Others struggle with mental illness and a lifestyle too unstable to stay on their medications. Prophets like Amos in Sunday’s first reading condemn comfort and complacency without regard for people in need.

What value do you find in distancing yourself from people who are poor? What value have you found in connecting and learning from them?


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Gospel Reflection for September 22, 2019, 25th Sunday Ordinary Time

20 Sep

Sunday Readings: Amos 8.4-7; 1 Timothy 2.1-8; Luke 16.1-13

A rich man summoned his manager and said, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager anymore.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what I will do so that when I am dismissed as manager, people will take me into their homes.” – Luke 16.2-4

The dishonest manage forgives his boss’s debtors–50 of the 100 gallons of oil for one debtor and for another 20 of the 100 bushels of wheat owed. When the rich boss praises the dishonest manager, Jesus’ parable upends our usual way of looking at things. The self-serving manager does reduce the debts of the poor, carrying out what Catholic social teaching calls a preferential option for the poor.

The owner makes little of having his profits plundered for the sake of the powerless but instead admires the manager’s skillful exploitation of his accounts to create a future for himself. Luke’s gospel does not let the self-serving manager go without criticizing. Luke attaches a series of Jesus’ sayings to the parable, which pass judgment on dishonest people. The sayings insist that whoever is dishonest with a little cannot be trusted with a lot. No one can trust a cheater. No one can serve two masters.

The safest investment, according to the parable, is to throw in our lot with the poor–to serve God rather than pursue wealth. Jesus’ parables calls us to apply as much ingenuity for the sake of the poor as we do to exploit the poor for the sake of the economy.

How do you benefit from the labor of the poor? How do you invest in people in need?


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Gospel Reflection for September 15, 2019, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

12 Sep

Sunday Readings: Exodus 32.7-11,13-14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-32

The tax-collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, at which the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15.1

The parables that lure sinners and prostitutes to seek out Jesus feature a shepherd’s lost sheep, a homemaker’s lost coin, and a father’s two sons. The parables inspire compassion by singling out a shepherd’s care for one lost sheep out of a hundred, the woman’s value on one coin of ten, and a father’s enduring relationships with both his prodigal son and his righteous one.

A single, straying sheep is probably in danger, tangled in briars, caught in a crevasse, or young and not paying attention. Left alone the sheep may died. Still it seems risky to leave the 99 for the one but the parable is a story with a point. One sheep matters. The shepherd carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders is iconic of God’s compassion for each of us. The shepherd cannot help sharing with friends and neighbors the joy he feels in find the one sheep.

The woman’s search for one lost coin demonstrates how close to subsistence she lives that finding one coin matters. Her house must be small and dark. She lights a lamp to sweep. The two parables are a parallel pair, one a man’s example, one a woman’s. Many statues and medals illustrate Jesus as the compassionate sheep, including Pope Francis’s pectoral cross  Seldom do Christians see images of God as the homemaker trimming her lamp and sweeping her house until she finds the coin. Both the compassionate shepherd and the determined homemaker image God. Both parables end with joy in finding the lost.

In the parable of the father with two sons, the prodigal takes his inheritance and squanders it on fair weather friends. He repents at a pig trough when we realizes the hogs are eating better than he is, so he returns to his father to great rejoicing. The righteous son is working in the fields when he hears the music welcoming his brother home. The hard-working son thinks his father should not celebrates his brother’s return when he has never celebrated his diligence. He refuses to join in the welcome even when his father comes out to urge him. The parable ends with the righteous son lost.

Who is your God more like — the shepherd, the homemaker, or the father? Who has insisted on finding you when you were lost? Whose compassion has helped you find yourself?


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Bible Study. Faith Sharing. Small Christian Communities.

9 Sep

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Gospel Reflection for September 8, 2019, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

6 Sep

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 9.13-18; Philomen 9-10,12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes even life itself, cannot be my follower. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14.26-27

Our relationship with God comes first. It’s God’s gift that we have life. Faith in Jesus, God’s Son, makes the same demand. Jesus’ saying calls us to follow him wholeheartedly. Real faith in him is not a sideline in our lives; it shapes our lives, our willingness to serve as he served, our willingness to love our neighbors and our enemies. Hating family members seems like an exaggeration to make a point. Giving ourselves in love to our families can demand everything we have. For most of us loving God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves lays claim to our love energies slowly over the course of our lifetimes. Following Jesus can also take us away from home, into the world, even away from ourselves, and into relationships with people not like us. The saying gets our attention: discipleship expects wholeheartedness.

The second saying equates following Jesus as a disciple with carrying the cross as he did. The cross is Jesus’ brand. The cross symbolizes Jesus’ wholehearted self-giving. We use crosses to decorate our walls, homes, vestments, church towers. We tame the symbol and forget crucifixion was an excruciating painful and shameful form of execution, reserved for those Rome regarded as the vilest criminals and insurrectionists. Crucifixion aimed to deter imitators and keep control in the Empire much as lynching aimed to control African Americans after their emancipation from slavery. Both crucifixion and lynching drew crowds of ghoulish hecklers. As a symbol of discipleship, the cross calls us to end violence and join in the work of building communities of love and justice in our world.

In what ways do you carry Jesus’ cross?


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Gospel Reflection for September 1, 2019, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

30 Aug

Sunday Readings: Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24; Luke 14.87-14

“Then Jesus spoke to the one who had invited him to the meal: When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. They may invite you in return. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14.12-14

Jesus is at the house of a leading Pharisee in Sunday’s gospel. Jesus notices the guests taking places of honor for the meal and cautions against taking the first places at tables lest one have to give up the seat. He recommends taking the lowest place. In his advice for making guest list, Jesus prefers those who cannot repay their hosts with a return invitation and place of honor at their tables. Jesus wants to broaden the circle of those who eat at the tables of the elite rather than tighten the social circle. He wants our guest lists to help distribute food justly rather than cut people off as chronically inferior, deserving only distance rather than place among us.

What places of honor might you give up? What would you lose or gain? 


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Gospel Reflection for August 25, 2019, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Aug

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 66.18-21; Hebrews 12.5-7, 11.13; Luke 13.22-30

Someone asked Jesus, “Teacher, will only a few be saved?” Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able” – Luke 13.34

A doorway or threshold is a liminal space. The word limen means threshold, literally, the timber or stone that lies under a door. This space between inside and outside is transitional space, the boundary where one crosses between worlds and where imagination plays with who we may become.

The empty Easter tomb is a liminal space, the threshold between life as we know it and life as Jesus promises it. The stone has been rolled back. The open tomb calls us to faith.

Jesus opens not only the narrow door of his own self-giving but also the wider challenge of loving our neighbors. In Luke’s narrative Jesus presses his followers to invest in the poor rather than build bigger granaries. Both Jesus’ narrow and wide doors teach demanding, other-centered ethics. His way calls us to alleviate our fears by giving alms, to handle conflict by turning the other cheek, to carry people’s burdens an extra mile, to love even our enemies.

Each of us lives in a now when the door to commitment is open.

What more is Jesus asking of you? What door do you want to open or shut? What door to a neighbor do you want to open this week? 


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