Monthly Archives: April, 2021

Commentary on 5th Sunday of Easter, cycle B

1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31

Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is.  The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation.  As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise.  We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)

For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.

Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas.  The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him.  It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown).  Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit.  Aren’t these related?  When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us.  When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way.  Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25).  Do you find this to be true in your life?

Why was Paul sent to Tarsus?  NT White says, “It’s hard to know what the Jerusalem community thought would happen next.  They were in dangerous, unmapped, new territory.  Saul of Tarsus, still on fire with having seen the risen Lord, eager to explain from the scriptures what it was all about, apparently careless of the hornets’ nests he was stirring up, was one problem too many.  [Perhaps they thought] ‘Let him go back to Tarsus.  They like good talkers there.  And besides, that’s where he came from in the first place…’,” Paul, A Biography, p. 67-68.

2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24

Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of salvation if they follow the command to love one another.  Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another.  Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives.  (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)

Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words.  Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness.  (Celebration, May 2000)

The Gospel – John 15: 1-8

The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”

is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John.  Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?

The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God.  Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)

John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people.  Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love:  the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us.  In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love.  Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.”  Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus.  We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.  Love forgives a multitude of sins.  M. Birmingham, W and W rkbk for Year B, 387-388

For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)

Commentary on 4th Sunday of Easter, B

1st  Reading – The Acts of the Apostles  4: 8-12

Acts show us just how radically Jesus’ followers have been transformed by His risen presence.  Before, fear ruled their behavior; now they are courageous. They boldly proclaim Christ crucified and risen; in that process they too enter into the cycle of dying and rising.  Only the power of the risen Christ and his Spirit could bring about such a profound change in their lives. (Birmingham, W& W Workbook, 376)

The word for cornerstone in Greek could be more correctly translated as the head of a corner or the capstone or keystone. When building arches, Romans first constructed the two sides of the arch; the last stone to be set in place was the capstone which joined the sides assuring stability and endurance. This capstone was a powerful symbol for Christ for the early Christians. (Celebration, May 2003)

The name of a person is more than just an artificial ‘tag’ to tell one person from another. A name represents the fullness of a person. If we do something in someone’s name, we do it as that person would do it. As a Christian we are to act as Christ, to act in his name. To live this way is to find salvation. Salvation in the name of Jesus is not a ‘magic thing.’ It is a way of life. It is a way of love.

2nd  Reading – 1 John 3: 1-2

We are children of God.  By nature we are creatures of God, but it is by grace that we are children of God.  It is like comparing paternity and fatherhood (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 73-74).  It is one thing to be created, and something entirely endearing and intimate to be family.  We are called into this kind of relationship to God.  How do we answer?  How does God reveal Godself to you?  When you sense this, do you feel more like a child of God?  Take some prayerful time to sit with these words and mull the questions.

We are called and we are.  So we have the tools (and grace) within us to be who God means for us to be, and we are sent forth to go do it.  What gets in the way of us knowing this?  What gets in the way of us doing this?  It is a bit of a paradox.  We cannot become like God (which is really being fully who we are) unless we see God; but, we cannot see God unless we are pure of heart (Matthew 5:8), (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, p. 75).  As Merton prays, the desire to please God does please God.  So trying counts despite the obstacles! 

The Gospel– John 10: 11-18

Imagine the scene.  It is first-century Palestine.  Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance.  At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves.  Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first.  He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure.  Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep.  The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else.  Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd,

Jesus is the model Good Shepherd.  He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice.  There is ownership.  Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name.  He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good.  We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death.

The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock.  The word pastor was derived from this image.  (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 378- 379)

From O Phelps’ The Catholic VIsion for Leading like Jesus:  A Shepherd-Leader (SL) abides in humility and yet moves with confidence from one challenge to the next.  This builds community and fellowship, fosters contentment and generosity in ourselves and others.  An SL builds trust and increases the flow of trust all around them.  An SL inspires making greater contributions to the common good.  Service, contribution and purpose become the hallmarks of both individual and collective lives.  It is a new way to live:  the heart that beats in us becomes a servant’s heart.  It is always a struggle.  And the struggle is lifelong (p. 63).

Commentary on 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-19

Jesus is called the “author of life” – what does that mean for you?  Mary Birmingham points out that this term is a very ancient Christian term.  The Greek word for ‘author’ means “captain” or “leader.”  Jesus is the new leader, the new captain of life’s vessel, who leads the people, just like Moses, out of bondage into a new promised land – Jesus is the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed at the Exodus event – Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God has ever planned for humankind. (W&W Wrkbk Yr B, 363-364)

St. John of the Cross said, “The soul lives where it loves.”  Think about that.  Jesus lived here among us because of love.  And that is why he died too.  Peter seems to be pointing out the guilt that the people have in handing over Jesus to death, but the emphasis is on repentance and God’s salvific message.  Jesus reaches out in love; Jesus wants us to repent and turn to him.  He doesn’t want us wallowing in our guilt and self-loathing.  He wants us to embrace the love.  Let our souls live in that love.  How can we be different living that way?

2nd Reading: 1 John 2: 1-5

What does it mean to you to call Jesus an “Advocate” – a parakletos ?  An advocate is someone who pleads our case before a court of law – one who intercedes for us. It is someone whom we call to be by our side as our helper and counselor. It is someone who “lends his presence to his friends.” Jesus is this kind of friend. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 36-38)

Jesus is also called our ‘expiation’ for sin – here we must be careful of the meaning. In the Jewish sense, sacrifice was used to restore our relationship with God. It was God forgiving us and providing the means of restoring our relationship with God.  Scholars also point out that the word could be translated as ‘disinfection’: Jesus shows us what God is like and disinfects us from the taint of sin – from the darkness and bondage of sin.  Jesus is the reconciliation, the means, by which God reassures us of His love. And as this writer, John, sees it – this work of Jesus is carried out not just for us, but for the whole world.   The love of God is broader than the measures of our human mind. God’s salvation has wide enough arms for all. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 39-40)

“perfected”:  “made complete” NIV, “show how completely they love him” NLT, “love of God been perfected” ASV, “and then we know we belong to him” CEV…

The Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48

The gospels struggle with expressing the risen reality.  It was not just another phase in the history of Jesus of Nazareth.  In a real sense he was totally “other”, living now the indescribable life of God.  And yet he was the same person and in some ways objectively identifiable.  However, the resurrection was known principally by its fruits, the faith proclamation of unlettered fishermen.  It changed people’s lives and continues to do so.  To watch people move from a state of alienation to conversion and a new direction in life is the clearest proof of the risen Christ  (Faley, R.  Footprints on the Mountain, p, 309). 

From Ron Rolheiser’s “In Praise of Skin (Blog 6/4/2000):  In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it.  Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified.  That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.  For Christians, the body is not something from which one is ever meant to escape; rather, the body is to be understood as a temple of the holy spirit, a church, a sacred place where God can come and make a home. 

Wm. Barclay says this passage really emphasizes the Christian message:

  1. The reality of the resurrection:  The risen Christ is real, not a ghost or hallucination.
  2. The cross was necessary:  The cross was not forced on God; it was not an emergency measure when all else failed and when the scheme of things had gone wrong.  The cross is the one place on earth, where in a moment of time, we see the eternal love of God.
  3. The task is urgent:  We aren’t meant to stay huddled in the Upper Room but to be sent forth, (The Gospel of Luke, p. 311-312).

The word ‘troubled’ is from the verb tarasso; the other time this is used in Luke’s Gospel is when the angel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.  M. Birmingham thinks there is a connection, for Zechariah also struggled with doubt and disbelief.  Jesus’ response to their fear is to ground them in knowing his bodily presence is real flesh.  He solidified it by eating something.  Making peace with this reality is necessary for them to do the work ahead of them as disciples, that work being to spread this message:  that Jesus’ life, mission, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan of salvation for the world, (W&W, p. 369).

Forgiveness is such a key part of being transformed by Jesus.  It’s like the shedding of all that keeps us from God in order to be free to do the good work.  Have you found forgiveness to be freeing?  Why do you think forgiveness has this effect on us, and why is it so important to Jesus?