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?

Gospel Reflection for December 4, 2022 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-9; Matthew 3.1-12

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, the reign of God is at hand.” It was of John that the prophet Isaiah had spoken. “A herald’s voice in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Holy One, make straight God’s paths’” (Matthew 3.1-3).

The Baptist attracted crowds with his fierce preaching, calling all who come to repent and turn toward God. The Baptist challenges the sincerity of some who seek his baptism of repentance, comparing them to a brood of vipers and trees that bear no fruit. John warns he is preparing them for someone more powerful who will come with a winnowing fan in hand to separate grain from chaff.

Every Advent we hear the Baptist calling us to shape up, to prepare a way in our hearts for God’s coming. The Baptist echoes the prophet Second Isaiah, whose preaching called the captive Israelites home from exile in Babylon to rebuild a destroyed Jerusalem. God is in action, making a way.

An earlier prophet Isaiah, a priest in the Jerusalem temple, speaks in Sunday’s first reading, insisting God will not forsake Israel. The family tree of King David and his father Jesse will sprout again. God will send a leader filled with the gifts of the Spirit, the same seven gifts Christians receive in confirmation—wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and awe at who God is. This king will not serve other gods or go to war but act with justice and seek peace.  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard with the kid.

So how are we to use our gifts of the Spirit today? Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kin*dom challenges us to put our gifts into action, to learn about opposing positions, to understand and value where others come form, to speak from our experience, and listen to the perceptions of others. These are peace-building, community-building skills.

What characterizes the Christianity you inherit from your family? What do you wish to nurture more?

Gospel Reflection for November 27, 2022 – 1st Sunday of Advent

Sunday Readings: 1 Isaiah 2.1-5; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.37-44

Be sure of this: If the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming he or she would keep a watchful eye and not allow the house to be broken into. You must be prepared in the same way. The Son of Man is coming at a time you do not know (Matthew 24.43-44).

The 1st Sunday of Advent begins the Church year with a focus on Jesus’ second coming, an event that seems even farther off to us than to the Christians for whom Matthew wrote. We celebrate liturgies in our churches that help us appreciate God’s presence and gifts in our lives. We celebrate rituals in many other places—tucking a child in bed every night, honoring birthdays with cake and memories, gathering in times of sorrow.

To not miss God’s comings, Jesus cautions us to stay awake. Staying awake spiritually simply means paying attention— living, loving, remembering consciously. Now is the time to live like Jesus. Now is the moment to feed the hungry, to forgive those we really love, to restore depressed spirits to joy. Now is the time to watch birds eating the seeds of last summer’s blooms and to let “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” no longer go unsaid. Now is the time to give ourselves to those we love and those whose lives we touch.

Advent says, “Just in case you have been dozing, wake up and be ready for something wonderful!” God promises us gifts and graces as the Church year unfolds. Many gifts will come through the liturgies of our lives together— tears shared together, ears that listen to our joys and sadnesses, eyes that appreciate the house bedecked once more for Christmas, hands that set the tree straight and deliver food baskets.

What gifts has God given me to share?

Gospel Reflection for November 20, 2022 – Feast of Christ the King

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 5.1-3 Colossians 1.12-20 Luke 23.35-43

One of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus and said, “Aren’t you the messiah? Then save yourself and us.” The other criminal, rebuking him, said, “Don’t you even fear God? You are under the same sentence of death yourself. We deserve it, after all. We are paying the price for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23.39-43).

This crucifixion scene shows us Luke’s gospel in cameo. As king of the Jews, Jesus reigns from the cross, not a throne. He forgives a thief as his final act, which completes the mission he announces in Nazareth, his hometown—a jubilee year, Israel’s tradition of freeing the indebted from prison, the enslaved from oppression every 50th year. A jubilee is about righting relationships, restoring earth, restoring community to equality before God.

In his gospel Luke tells his community and us that Jesus is God’s Spirit-filled prophet, innocent of charges brought and faithful to the mission for which the Spirit anointed him. He brings good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to those who have lived in darkness.

To the good thief, Jesus acts as the bearer of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He welcomes the repentant thief to paradise. Luke emphasizes the mystery and universality of God’s favor and Jesus’ mission and message: the poor, the ignorant, and wrongdoers who recognize their need are the chosen ones and the kin of God.

What harm or injustice is within your power to set right?

Advent Resources

It’s not too late to plan for Advent. Good Ground Press can help you make this holy time special for just yourself, or for family and friends, or even for your whole parish. Between Advent readings and FREE family Advent activities, we hope we have something for you: https://goodgroundpress.com/resources/advent/.

Gospel Reflection for November 13, 2022 – 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Malachi 3.19-20, 2 Thessalonians 3.7-12, Luke 21.5-19

Some people were talking about the temple and how it was adorned with precious stones and gifts dedicated to God. Jesus said, “These things you are talking about—the day will come when not one stone will be left on another, all will be torn down. People asked, “When will this occur, Teacher? And what will be the sign it is going to happen?” Jesus said, “Take care not to be misled. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,” and “The time is at hand.’ Do not run after them” (Luke 21.5-8).

As Sunday’s gospel passage begins, people admire the stones and adornments of the temple. Jesus stands in this scene before a magnificent, 500-year-old building no one can imagine flattened. Yet by the time Luke writes more than 50 years after Jesus’ public ministry, these prophetic words have proved true. The Roman legions destroyed the temple in A.D. 70.

For Luke, Jesus, who was rejected as Messiah and put to death, has risen and become the cornerstone of a new community. Those who believe in Jesus are living stones in the new temple, the Christian community.

Jesus offers four imperatives for surviving the profound upheaval that wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions bring among us. In the face of rampant virus, melting glaciers, rising seas, and  drought, Jesus recommends patient endurance—don’t stray from Jesus, don’t panic, give witness, endure.

Jesus has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone besides themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away wreckage. Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgive, include, speak the truth, listen, learn, build, rejoice, have compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand.

What would you like to be caught doing in a crisis?

Gospel Reflection for October 30, 2022 – 31st Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 11.22—12.2; 2 Thessalonians 1.11—2.2; Luke 19.1-10

Murmurers in the crowd said, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus spoke to Jesus. “I will give half my possessions, Lord, to the poor. If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house for he, too, is a son of Abraham. The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost” ( Luke 19.1-10).
Jesus invites himself as a guest into Zacchaeus’s life, demonstrating his mission to reach out to all and enter our lives. In this act Jesus reaches out to befriend an outsider and a sinner. Jesus’ final statement in the gospel makes his mission clear: he comes to seek out and save the lost. Jesus draws the marginalized tax collector into the mystery of God’s unconditional love.

In response Zacchaeus pledges the almsgiving that marks a true Jew, a son of Abraham. He pledges half his possessions to people who are poor. He promises to repay anyone he has defrauded fourfold. He shares the love he has received, moving toward his neighbors, putting his wealth to work for the common good, acting for the well-being of the whole rather than his own. His actions show respect for the dignity of the poor and their rights to food, shelter, work.

For Luke, his actions demonstrate how Christians should use their wealth. In the gospels that end the Church year Luke invites us to evaluate with Jesus our place in the whole, to invest our gifts and wealth in the common good, and extend hospitality outside our usual circles. At every eucharist Jesus comes to our house. His gift of himself gathers us into a holy communion that we daily live out.

To whom outside your circle of friends do you reach out? How do you use your gifts for the common good?

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