Tag Archives: Jesus teaches in stories

Gospel Reflection for September 20, 2015, 25th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

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

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

(Mark 9.35)

When Jesus begins to tell his disciples that suffering lies ahead, that he will be put to death and rise again, they find themselves too afraid to ask questions. But they did not feel too afraid to argue who among them was greatest. So Jesus has to sit them down and explain that in his company those who serve are greatest. He uses welcoming a child as an example. In the ancient world children were invisible, non-people. To receive a child is to receive him. Jesus’ teaching gives us a very different picture of Christian community than the hierarchical one in which we live. Often those who live Jesus’ teaching are invisible to us.

Whose service is vital to your day to day existence at home, at work?

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On Miracles

18 Sep
via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

via flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. –Matthew 14:13-21

In my experience teaching the Gospel stories, there are three main knee-jerk reactions to Jesus’ miracles:

1) Some disregard the stories immediately using human logic and let the slippery slope of faith take over. “There’s no way Jesus could have turned five loaves and two fish into an abundant meal for five thousand people. It just didn’t happen. So what in the Bible can we trust? I bet none of it is true.”

2) Some believe the stories immediately using faith and let apply that faith to the whole Bible. “Jesus is God, fully divine, and these awesome miracle stories get at that. What is in the Bible happened as it is written and is true. God is requiring us to live in wonder and trust through faith.”

3) And others try explain the miracle in a way that uses logic but doesn’t require dismissing the story completely. “It was radical of Jesus to ask the crowd to sit and rest and be served. Originally, the crowd was individually selfish, but the miracle here is that Jesus got them to share. When everyone gave what they had, there was more than enough.”

Where do you fall when you read the miracle stories? Do you believe in miracles? How does that affect your faith lens in your daily life? How do you react when someone who believes the opposite expresses that?

What if we tried, just for a moment, to not jump into the reactionary space we are used to when reading the miracle stories? What if we suspended our instincts and sat down in the middle of the miracle stories and looked around? It’s hard to do. These stories get straight at something that divides us. We don’t want to be considered silly or faithless. Instead of jumping to a conclusion about happening truth, though, let’s ask, “What do we have to learn about the nature of God and Jesus from these miracle stories?”

One thing that strikes me about the miracle narratives is how Jesus uses very ordinary material to do extraordinary things. He turns water into wine. He stills the storm. He uses his own spit to heal the blind man. In the story above, bread and fish are the material used. Nothing could be more ordinary. It seems to me, then, that things like food and water and our imperfect bodies matter to Jesus. He pays attention to them. They are essential ingredients in his ministry. Through the remarkable, we learn that God has dominion over the mundane, the ordinary, the elemental. God has our very ordinary daily lives in God’s sight. It begs me to stay awake and pay attention to what comes out of my tap, what I’m chewing on and this body that I was given. There is truth in these stories, enmeshed in the ordinary and extraordinary, for us to ruminate on about God’s activity in our world. There are more subtle and profound truths there for me to find, and they can be missed if we hurry to explain and make sense instead of sitting in the muck of the middle and letting God whisper to us.

Gospel Reflection for October 20, 2013, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

14 Oct

Jesus tells the parable of the unjust judge who gives in to a widow who persists in seeking her rights.

Jesus asks, “Will God not do justice to those chosen ones who call out day and night?  Will God delay justice for them?”

Luke 18.7

In Luke’s time widows have little place in society but many find a home in Christian communities.  The widow’s voice demanding her rights would perk up the ears of Luke’s original listeners.  The poor widow represents the helpless and abandoned of the world; she has no legal rights without a husband.  She lives at the mercy of those who ought to protect her.

People who are poor today often become victims of the powerful, pawns of the mighty.  The recession, the sequestration, the stall in Congress—all hurt those most in need.  Yet our heritage is one of a hope that comes through faith in the goodness of God and the goodness of those who follow Jesus’ way.

Whose persistence do you admire?

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Gospel Reflection for September 22, 2013, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16 Sep

Jesus said, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  Neither can you serve both God and wealth.”

Luke 16.13

In the parable that forms Sunday’s gospel (Luke 16.1-13), Jesus surprisingly holds up an embezzler as a role model in ingenuity in protecting his own interests when he get fired.   Luke’s gospel does not let the self-serving manager go without criticizing him.  A series of sayings follow that pass judgment on dishonest people.  The saying insists that whoever is dishonest with a little can’t be trusted with a lot.  No one can trust a cheater.  No one can serve two masters.

What good things do you take for granted that are beyond the reach of poor people in your area or in the world?

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

9 Sep

Jesus tells three parables in Sunday’s gospel, ending with the story of the prodigal son.

“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

The parables in this Sunday’s gospel are about losses—a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son—and about celebrations for the found sheep, the found coin, and for the returning repentant child.  The longest parable is about a father’s losing not only the son who leaves home but also the son who has been distant for far too long and whose resents consume him when his brother returns.

On one level in these stories, Jesus is telling his critics and us that in our judgment of others or when we are most critical of ourselves, we are missing the reality that God’s love and forgiveness transcend anything that they or we may have done or said.  On another level, Jesus affirms that experiences of loss, of grief, and of powerlessness may be precisely the ones that lead us to new awarenesses and new reasons for gratitude.

What have you learned about yourself, about others, and about God from your experiences of loss?


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Gospel Reflection for July 14, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

8 Jul

The story of the Good Samaritan leads Jesus to pose the question, “Which of these is your neighbor?”

The lawyer responded, “The one who treated him with compassion.”
Jesus said, “Then go and do the same.”

Luke 10.36-37

The parable stands at the heart of Jesus’ message of salvation.  In effect, Jesus tells the lawyer (and all of us) that to be saved, whole, and happy we must love God and ourselves by loving our neighbors, including those for whom we may have no understanding or liking.  Jesus asks us to act as the Samaritan does when he stops to help and heal another marginalized person, someone whose wounds and distress everyone else has ignored.  He asks us to allow compassion to change our hearts and lives.

What experiences have taught you compassion and the need to be less judgmental?

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Gospel Reflection for March 17, 2013, 5th Sunday of Lent

11 Mar

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery.
Jesus said, “Let the sinless one among you cast the first stone at her.”

John 8.7

Only John’s gospel tells the story of the hypocrites who take a woman they catch in adultery to trap Jesus. The Romans have denied the Jews the right to administer the death penalty. Both Jesus and his opponents know this and know that the Mosaic law prescribes stoning a married woman guilty of adultery (Deut. 22.23-24). Actually the law calls for stoning both a man and woman caught in adultery.

In this story Jesus confronts individuals that can exist in any religious group or organization—those who are inflexibly certain they are right.

What double standard have you experienced in which one person takes public blame for many who have done the same actions?

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Which son are you?

7 Mar

The topic of siblings usually provokes conversation. Siblings may consider some of us oldest children bossy even though parents might use the words dependable and responsible.

Many of us have the wild or special-needs brother or sister who absorbs more attention than the rest. This is the one who wrecks the car or who gets taken to the police station for spraying graffiti on garage doors or stays at a friend’s house without asking or telling.

My next younger sister needed constant attention to learn to speak because she was severely hard of hearing. Mother put all her teaching skills to use on constant phonics lessons. If Jan held her ears or suggested any of the rest of us were bothering her, we got a reprimand. Naturally my sister became very creative in using her ears against us – sounds as if I haven’t entirely let that go!

I’m the dutiful oldest child who spent a week retying the bamboo shades on the porch and painted the cattle sheds. I’m the one who could do errands the fastest.

I’m not the prodigal younger son in the parable Jesus tells this Sunday. I’m the older son who is supposed to celebrate the homecoming of my brother who hurt our father, wasted money on his wild friends, and lost everything.

How do you characterize yourself – more a wild, willful, wasteful child or more a responsible, obedient, dutiful child?

This excerpt from Sunday By Sunday is by Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Gospel Reflection for March 10, 2013, 4th Sunday of Lent

4 Mar

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 lives again.  He was lost and is found.

Luke 15.31-32

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, Luke holds up not only a model of conversion in the younger son but also a characterization of Jesus’ faithful and forgiving Father.  The father in the parable does not wait for his son to arrive home but runs to meet him, embraces him, and kisses him lovingly.

The father never allows the son to finish the confession he has planned, which ends in asking to be a hired a hand.  The son’s act of coming home acknowledges his new desire to reconnect as much as any words can say.  The father restores him as a son with robe, ring, and sandals and sets a homecoming table for him.

But the elder son resents his father welcoming his brother home.  Will he join the celebration as his father urges?

What does the father in the parable tell us about God?

Gospel Reflection for March 3, 3rd Sunday in Lent

26 Feb

Jesus tells a parable about a man who plants a fig tree in his orchard but finds no fruit after three years.  The man tells the gardener to cut it down.

The gardener said, “Sir, leave it one more year while I hoe around it and manure it.  Perhaps then it will bear figs.  If not, you can cut down.”

Luke 13.8-9

Jesus’ parable of the fig tree reveals God’s hope and compassion for people.  The gardener, who cares for each tree, pleads for more care and more time.  Let it grow another year.  A little loosening of the soil, a little more nourishment, maybe it will bear fruit.

In what ways are you like the owner of the vineyard?  In what ways like the gardener?

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