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Gospel Reflection for September 23, 2018, 25th Sunday Ordinary Time

21 Sep

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 2.12,17-20; James 3.16–4.3; Mark 9.30-37

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all.”  – Mark 9.32

Jesus’ disciples aren’t catching on to his words about the Son of Man being betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him and three days after being killed, he will rise again. We Christians 2,000 years later know how Jesus’ story turns out so count Jesus as having divine foreknowledge and the disciples missing the trending conflicts with other teachers. But Jesus doesn’t need divine foreknowledge to anticipate growing opposition as his reputation for care and healing spreads. Israel’s scriptures contain numerous examples of what happens to prophets who speak out for people who are poor and need care. The disciples have more banal topics to engage them; in this care, who is greatest? Whoever wants to be top must be the servant of all.  Perhaps this is a cure for clericalism.

So a servant leader must listen to all, must seek to understand where others come from, work for the good of all, their education and health, praise all specifically for the gifts they contribute to the enterprise, respect all, even his or her opponents or slackers, refuse special privileges.

What qualities make servant leader in your experience?


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Gospel Reflection for September 16, 2018, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

13 Sep

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 50.5-9; James 2.14-18; Mark 8.27-35

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  – Mark 8.29

Jesus finally calls the question in chapter 8, the midpoint of Mark’s gospel. In a miracle just before Jesus asks this question, he has to try twice to open the eyes of a blind man. At first the man can see only blurry shapes that look like trees. This two-stage miracle anticipates the disciples response when he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers forthrightly, “You are the Messiah.”

Back to back with Peter’s declaration of faith in Jesus, Jesus teaches for the first time that the Son of Man will suffer, be put to death, and rise after three days. To this, Peter objects and takes Jesus aside to rebuke him. Instead Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on human things. Peter’s vision is blurry at this point. Only Jesus’ death destroys Peter’s received ideas of a warrior messiah. Only Jesus’ resurrection transforms his disciples’ understanding. Mark’s gospel explores how faith in Jesus develops in his disciples and calls us to the same threshold of faith at the empty tomb.

What popular ideas of Jesus have you outgrown?


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Gospel Reflection for September 9, 2018, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

5 Sep

Gospel Reflection for September 9, 2018, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.4-7, James 2.1-5, Mark 7.31-37

“Ephphatha, Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus order them to tell no one, but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”  – Mark 7.34-36

Jesus pays profound attention to the man who is deaf in Sunday’s gospel. Jesus uses his senses. He listens to the man’s friends with his ears and hears the man’s story. Jesus sees the mans with his eyes and takes him aside. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and touches them. From his own mouth Jesus spits and touches the deaf man’s tongue. From his mother he speaks words of healing, “Be opened.”

This miracle story not only shows Jesus healing the man with divine power but attending to his with human hands and using human gifts in healing the man. Our ears like his can listen to human needs. Our eyes like his can see people on the margins. Our minds can imagine ways to draw people fully into the human family. What Jesus does with human hands reveals the love we can give with our hands.

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


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Gospel Reflection for September 2, 2018, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

30 Aug

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 4.1-2,6-8; James 1.17-18,21-22,27; Mark 7.1-8,14-15, 21-23

“You forsake the commandment of God and hold to human tradition…It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” – Mark 7.8, 21

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 these rules create unnecessary burdens? Jesus defends as more essential the moral law that declares greed, arrogance, deceit, murder, and adultery unholy. Declaring that the dietary laws have outlived their usefulness sets Jesus apart from all the authorities in the temple and synagogue. Laws like those of the Pharisees and many of the customs of the pre-Vatican II Church create a fence that was meant to keep people from even thinking about real hurtful, evil, destructive sins. Sunday’s gospel asks us to evaluate whether our rules help us become holy, open our hearts, and keep us from arrogance and obtuse spirits.

What rule do you practice that keeps your heart open to God and neighbor?


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Gospel Reflection for August 26, 2018, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Aug

Sunday Readings: Joshua 24.1-2, 15-17, 18; Ephesians 5.21-32; john 6.60-69

“The words I have spoken are spirit and life. But there are some among you who do not believe,” Jesus says. Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said the the twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” 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.”

In John’s gospel the multiplication of the loaves and fish sets off a long reflection on bread and wine as the signs of Jesus’ presence with us. Those who believe Jesus comes from God and is the living bread from heaven participate in this sacrament of his love. The reflection draws an increasingly sharp line between believers and unbelievers over the course of the 71 verses in the chapter. John wrote in the midst of contentious relationships between Jews who follow Jesus and those who follow others rabbis and eventually split into two great world religions.

Jesus does not offer ordinary bread and wine, but rather the transforming experience of entering into new life with him. Can we imagine ourselves standing in the company of the disciples trying to comprehend the mystery of this bread and wine and Jesus’ continuing presence in these signs of eating and drinking. “Do you want to leave?” Jesus asks. We live in the dynamic tension between that question and our new lives. We know how Peter answers. How do we answer?

How does participating in eucharist help transform your life?


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Gospel Reflection for August 18, 2018, 20th Sunday Ordinary Time

16 Aug

Scripture Readings: Proverbs 9.1-6; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.56-57

“Those who eat this bread and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6.58

Sometimes people speak of food and drinks as if they have a relationship. I just love peanuts. Or, I like pizza but it doesn’t like me. What if there really is a food that is a sign of a real relationship? Jesus makes bread a sign of himself and his self-giving actions, so eating the bread means having faith in him. Sharing the bread summons all who eat it  into relationship with all who believe, the whole body of Christ. It calls us into holy communion with one another. Eucharist is never solitary, me and Jesus. The bread is broken and shared; it is about solidarity.

How does joining in Eucharist give you life?


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Gospel Reflection for August 12, 2018, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

9 Aug

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19. 4-8; Ephesians 4.30-5.2, John 6.41-51

“The Jews began to murmur about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”  – John 6.41

Within the crowd following Jesus is a group whom the gospel writer calls “the Jews.” They murmur. They question how Jesus can be from heaven when they know his origins on earth. The conversation between Jesus and “the Jews” reflects the sharpening difference between the community of Christian Jews for whom John writes in the A.D. 90s and the Jews who follow other rabbis, faith to the law God gave Moses. Jesus and his followers are all Jews. The differences between between Jesus’ followers and other Jews develops after the temple is destroyed. Without temple worship to hold them together, the two groups grow into two separate world religions, Judaism and Christianity.

Jesus’ claims raise a question. 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, the living bread?

None of the subgroups in the crowd respond well in John’s account of the loaves and fishes and what it points to about Jesus. Jesus’ disciples doubt their resources to feed 5,000. The crowd wants to make Jesus king like a pork-barrel hero but wants another sign of who he is the next day. Jesus’ claim to be the real bread of life from God is unbelievable to “the Jews.”

Where do you best fit — among the doubting disciples, the fair-weather crowd, or the Jews faithful to Moses’ law and the past?


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Gospel Reflection for August 5, 2018, 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Aug

Scripture Readings: Exodus 16.2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4.17,20-24; John 6.24-35

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” – John 6.28

Jesus interests the crowd that he fed the day before in working for the food that endures for eternal life. Eternal life is the lure. That is why they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Believe in the one whom God has sent is Jesus’ answer. The abundant bread proved no sacrament to them. They fail to catch on that it points to who Jesus is. They fail to see that Jesus’ teaching, healing, loving presence is the sign of God among them. The crowd wants another sign if they are to believe Jesus is from God. They are hungry for more than food?

For what do I hunger? Of what do I want more of? In a budding friendship each person wants to discover who the other is, what he or she is about, what and who is important in the other’s life? We yearn to know one another more deeply. A new book entices us to join a book club. An encounter with a neighbor leads to a joint gardening project. You try volunteering and find a whole new purpose. Faith may become a hunger that leads to a prayer group or to bible study. A hunger for justice may lead us to work for legislative action.

Who do you feed in your daily life and work? For what do you hunger?


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Gospel Reflection for July 29, 2018, 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

24 Jul

Gospel Reflection for July 29, 2018, 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Ephesians 4.1-6; John 6.1-15

Jesus saw a large crowd coming toward him and said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? He said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here with five barley loaves and three fish. But what are they among so many?”  – John 6.5-9

In John’s gospel healing and feeding are called signs rather than miracles. A sign points to more than is visible. For the next several Sundays the Church reads from John gospel, chapter 6, which points to Jesus as the living bread and invites us to reflect on our eucharistic faith.

John’s theology riffs off the story of Jesus feeding a multitude with five barley loaves and two fish and having 12 baskets full of leftovers for those of us down the centuries and around the world who didn’t make the original feeding. To begin, Jesus’ disciples hit the wall about providing for such a crowd. The real crisis is about more than food. The real crisis lies in the disciples’ own resources and lack of imagination. Philip prices out the cost. Today he might be saying, “There aren’t enough priests, so we can no longer have the bread of life for everyone who is hungry.” Andrew finds resources but they’re meager. He reports a count, too. The boy who isn’t in a box gives what he has and it proves enough. Quite amazing.

To what does the sign point? What resources do the people of God have to nourish us today?


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Gospel Reflection for July 22, 2018, 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

18 Jul

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-34

“As he went ashore, Jesus saw a great crowd. His heart is moved with pity for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He began to teach them many things.” – Mark 6.34

In Sunday’s gospel the twelve return from the mission to preach and heal which Jesus sent them out to do in last Sunday’s gospel. They come back woofed. Jesus’ growing popularity surrounds them with crowds and keeps them from eating let alone resting. Mark often creates literary sandwiches, a story within a story. Last Sunday’s gospel served us the first slice of story–Jesus sending the twelve out in pairs; this Sunday we hear the second slice of story–the return of the twelve. We don’t hear the 17 verses that form the meat in the middle of the sandwich. These verses tell the story of John the Baptist’s senseless and gruesome beheading. They do more than supply time for the twelve to be out on mission. The story of John the Baptist’s tells us the twelve have embarked on the same mission that cost the Baptist and Jesus their lives. It foreshadows the cost of prophetic ministry.

Jesus cannot shut off his compassion to the people to come to him in droves. The gospel call us to preach the good news with our lives, to turn on our compassion, not turn it off.

When has pity or compassion moved you to action?


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