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?

Gospel Reflection for October 23, 2022 – 30th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Sirach 35.12-14,16-18; 2 Timothy 4.6-8,16-18; Luke 18.9-14

Jesus told this parable to his disciples. Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed these things concerning himself—”I give you thanks, O God, that I am not like other people— greedy, unjust, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on all that I own.” The tax collector, standing far off, did not raise his eyes toward heaven. He beat his breast. “O God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am.” Then Jesus said, “I say to you, this man rather than the first went down to his house worthy in God’s sight. All who make little of themselves will be lifted up, but all who make much of themselves will be brought down (Luke 18.10-14).

Neither character is faultless. The pious Pharisee is boastful; the exploitive tax collector is humble. Both raise questions to ask ourselves. Who do we praise in our prayer, God or ourselves? Does the mercy we seek from God really lead us to change, to stop exploiting people who are poor, to seek reconciliation with those we hurt?

The Protestant Reformation began more than 500 years ago with Martin Luther’s insight that God is gracious, rather than judging. God freely bestows love and life upon all of us, not because we deserve it or have earned God’s blessings, but because God is God. God is love. In the end, perhaps the parable is really about God and the abundant mercy God has for all.

Finish the Pharisee’s prayer, “I thank you, God, that I am not like…” in your own words.Finish the tax collector’s prayer, “God, be merciful to me…” in your own words.

How does your prayer insulate you from others? How does your prayer connect you with others?

Gospel Reflection for October 9, 2022 – 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 14-17 2 Timothy 2.8-13 Luke 17.11-19

On their way the 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. Then Jesus asked, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Did none return to give glory to God but this man who is not of our country?” –Luke 17.14-17

This miracle story ends with a twist that probes how the physical healing affects the ten lepers within themselves. Does the miracle lead to faith or require faith? Is the Samaritan the only believer? Is he grateful because he is whole or does he bring a grateful attitude to the miracle?

Gratitude has power within us. In her book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We Are in Without Going Crazy, Joanna Macy reports studies that show we are more likely to help people to whom we are grateful. Gratitude builds trust because it marks times we have been able to count on one another.

Expressing gratitude plays forward; it creates a widening spiral of helping, trust, and cooperation. Macy also thinks gratitude prevents consumer values. A life of gratitude creates a reservoir to tap into when things don’t go well. One can remember and cherish all one does have.

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 light. Our stem cells contain the memory of God’s love unfolding.

To be part of giving life gives parents a moment in the evolution of all that is. The birth of a child takes them to a place of awe and closeness to God. The child immediately breathes in the oxygen that plants and trees make every day out of sunlight.

What are 10 things you are grateful for today?

Gospel Reflection for September 11, 2022 – 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

The elder son tells his father, “For years now I have slaved for you. I never disobeyed one of your orders, yet you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends. Then, when this son of yours returns after having gone through your property with loose women, you kill the fatted calf for him.” The father explains, “My son, you are with me always, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice! This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found” (Luke 15.31-32).

Jesus tells three parallel parables in Sunday’s gospel. A shepherd leaves 99 sheep to find the one. A woman with ten silver pieces loses one and sweeps until she finds it. A father has two sons, one is the well-known prodigal who breaks away from his father, wastes his inheritance, then feels desperate in a famine, repents and returns.

Each story ends in celebration. The shepherd carries his lost sheep home and calls friends and neighbors to celebrate. The woman calls her friends and neighbors to share her joy. Likewise, the father welcomes the son, dresses him in fine clothes, kills the fatted calf, and calls in the neighbors to eat and dance.

The first two parable conclude by comparing the lost to a sinner and emphasizing the joy in heaven when a sinner repents. A sheep, a coin, and one son have been lost and found. But the father has two sons, the elder responsible, hard-working, obedient son reacts with anger and jealousy when he hears his less than deserving brother is home and his father throwing a welcome party. The parable ends without him knowing what the elder son does.

What do we do with anger and jealous feelings? What would you do in the brother’s shoes?  

Gospel Reflection for August 21, 2022 – 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 66.18-21, Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13, Luke 13.22-30

Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. A person asked him this question. “Teacher, will only a few be saved?” Jesus replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ Then the householder will say, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’”

A door or gate always represents choice. As long as a room has a door we can enter and exit it. We can choose to go in and choose to leave, to enclose or expand ourselves.

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 we can imagine the persons we want to become.

The narrow door is Jesus self-giving way of life. His way means turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, loving even our enemies. In Luke’s narrative Jesus presses his followers to invest in the poor rather than in bigger granaries, to store up unfailing treasure with God. His way calls us to forgive other’s debts and invest ourselves and our wealth in providing a leg up for those our economy leaves behind and who have no hope of repaying us.

Luke places Jesus’ saying about the narrow door in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his clear commitment to his unfolding mission. The narrow door is not an isolated saying but an image of Jesus’ way.

What door do you want to open or shut this week?

Gospel Reflection for August 14, 2022 – 20th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 38.4-6,8-10; Hebrews 12.1-4; Luke 12.49-53

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12.49-51)

In the first two sentences in Sunday’s gospel Jesus speaks with urgency first about fire, then about baptism. When Luke writes in the mid 80s of the first century, Jesus has completed his baptism—his suffering, death, resurrection, and return to God, but he has not come again in glory.

Meanwhile Christian faith has spread not only among Jews but among Gentiles and created conflicts. Baptism is one such conflict. Among Gentiles baptism takes the place of circumcision, the sign for men of Jewish faith. But some of the Pharisees who have become Christians object. They think Gentiles should be circumcised and instructed in keeping the law of Moses.

The first Church council convenes in Jerusalem in AD 49 to discuss and pray about whether Gentiles entering the Christian movement need to be circumcised. Both Peter and Paul agree circumcision is not necessary.

The fire Jesus wishes were already kindled points to this challenge of Jews and Gentiles in Christ working together to reconcile divisions, even in families and households. Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the giver of our lives, who coexists with us and accompanies us in success and failure.  Jesus anticipates fires will persist. To widen our perspectives, we have to interact.

Every election season lights fires and puts Catholic social teaching to work. Who includes the least among us in their vision of economic life? Who values the family and puts people to work? Who listens and learns as well as speaks and stands up for their constituents? Who can negotiate for the common good?

What divisions do you experience in the Church today? What value do you experience in talking about difficult, even divisive, questions?

Gospel Reflection for August 7, 2022 – 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

Do not live in fear, little flock. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make investments that never depreciate; establish inexhaustible accounts for yourselves in the heavens. For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be, too.

Be dressed for hard work; keep your lamps burning. Be like people expecting their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open up for him the moment he comes and knocks . . .

Bear this in mind: if a householder could know just when the thief would break in, the householder would never leave the house to be broken into! You have to be ready the same way, for the Son of Man will come at an hour you don’t expect (Luke 12.32-36, 39).

In Sunday’s gospel Luke gathers together sayings and parables that speak to an unpredictable delay in the glorious return of Christ. Many early Christians expected Jesus’ second coming in glory to be immanent and must have grown weary of waiting. The rich fool in last Sunday’s gospel sees his biggest problem as lack of storage space for his harvest. His wealth becomes his source of whatever confidence he has in the world. He wants to “Eat, drink, and be merry.”

The end times may be delayed but rush toward us in our own lives. The element of surprise pervades Jesus’ sayings. Jesus counsels us to dress for hard work and to keep our lamps burning. The kingdom may startle us, erupting as suddenly as a thief breaking in. The gospel calls us to establish inexhaustible accounts by continuing Jesus’ mission: to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and free the oppressed. The wedding feast of the messiah may delay but we foretaste this meal in every Eucharist, which calls become what we celebrate: the body of Christ in our world.

What in the way you live each day indicates where your heart is? When have you had to reassess your Christian hopes?  

Celebrating Mary Magdalene

Jesus chose a woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the first to see him after his resurrection and the one to announce this good news to his other disciples. St. Thomas Aquinas recognized Mary’s unique role and named her “the apostle to the apostles.”

Pope Francis elevated Mary’s feast day, July 22, to the status of a solemnity. All the other apostles are celebrated with solemnities and now so is she.

You can honor Mary on her feast day by honoring a woman you know, or know of, who witnesses to Jesus’ good news of love and mercy.

Gospel Reflection for July 17, 2022 – 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Genesis 18.1-10; Colossians 1.24-28; Luke 10.38-42

Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him to her home. She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teachings. Martha, who was busy with all the details of hospitality, came to Jesus and said: Lord, is it of no concern to you that my sister has left me all alone to serve? Tell her to help me. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is necessary. Mary has chosen the better portion, and she shall not be deprived of it” (Luke 10.38-42).

Mary and Martha appear in two gospels, Luke and John. The five-verse story in Luke forms Sunday’s gospel. It sets the two sisters at odds and requires Jesus to mediate. In John both women are visible, central characters chapters 11 and 12. With Lazarus, their brother, they are friends Jesus loves.

To be remembered by name makes people stand out. Perhaps tradition remembers Martha and Mary because their home was not only a place Jesus stayed during his lifetime but a house church, where after Jesus’ resurrection, Martha welcomed a community of disciples to remember his teaching and break bread as he asked.  In Sunday’s gospel Mary seats herself at Jesus’ feet to listen to his teachings and Martha serves him. These two actions— listening to Jesus’ words and serving a meal—are the same actions that take place in the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the eucharist.

Luke’s gospel places Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary during his historical ministry, A.D. 30. However, Martha addresses Jesus in the story not by name but by the post-resurrection title Lord. This detail reminds us that the community for whom Luke wrote lived some 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Women’s roles in house church have become controversial.

Sunday’s gospel shows Martha offering table hospitality as Christians do at Eucharist and Mary listening to the Word. Jesus tells Martha to give up welcoming others to her table and join her sister in preferring the better part—silent listening to Jesus. Jesus’ words effectively silence the ministries of both women.

What roles do you imagine Martha and Mary played in the post-resurrection community? Describe sermons you have heard preached on this gospel. What inspired you? What frustrated you?

For information on the global synod’s work on restoring and extending the work of deacons to women, visit DiscerningDeacons.org.

%d bloggers like this: